After the Mexican War (1846-1848), the U.S. Army was charged with the defense of settlements and with the protection of travelers through Western Texas. On August 20, 1855, Companies H and K of the First Infantry Regiment, led by Captain Stephen D. Carpenter, established Camp Lancaster on Live Oak Creek where they found plenty of clear water near the San Antonio–El Paso Road crossing of the Pecos River. Camp Lancaster was an infantry post and was officially designated a permanent fort on August 21, 1856, one year after its establishment. One of the most isolated posts in Texas; Fort Lancaster’s only civilian activities were a sutler and a stage stop for mail. Soldiers maintained the post, patrolled and protected the road, and occasionally came in contact with Native Americans.
Soldiers constructed the permanent buildings at Fort Lancaster with a combination of limestone blocks and adobe. Stone was used for the foundations, corners, chimneys and sometimes the gable ends of the structure. Adobe bricks were laid in courses to form the walls. Exterior surfaces were plastered smooth and then whitewashed. The building roofs were thatched with grass, cut from the area, or had wooden shingles.
In early 1861, before the beginning of the Civil War, the U.S. Army ordered the evacuation of all federal troops in Texas. Delayed by a lack of transportation, the soldiers at Fort Lancaster, Company K of the First Infantry Regiment, finally abandoned the post on March 19, 1861.
For a time, Texan and Confederate troops attempted to maintain the frontier defense. The forts along the Lower San Antonio–El Paso Road were manned by companies of the Second Regiment, Texas Mounted Rifles, under Col. John S. Ford. A revised defensive system in 1862 left Fort Lancaster and other far western forts deserted for the remainder of the war. Fort Lancaster was reoccupied in 1867 to serve as a sub-post for the Buffalo Soldiers’ 9th Cavalry Regiment assigned to Fort Stockton. In December 1867, 40 soldiers and officers held off roughly 400 Kickapoo. Three soldiers were killed in the battle. The fort was permanently abandoned in the late 1870s.
Today, Fort Lancaster remains the only U.S. Army fort in Texas that was attacked by Native Americans. The site is a State Archaeological Landmark (January 1, 1983) and listed in the National Register of Historic Places (March 11, 1971). Archaeological excavations from 1966 to 1976 yielded the discovery of foundation ruins and artifacts from Native Americans, 19th century soldiers and civilians and early 20th century ranching.
Did You Know?
- In 1855, the U.S. Army began a unique experiment in the use of camels for military transportation in the southwest. Two shipments totaling 74 camels were sent to Camp Verde (northwest of San Antonio) and were successfully tested in the arid western regions. The camels carried extremely heavy loads, traveled long distances without stopping for water, and subsisted on desert vegetation. All three camel expeditions passed through Fort Lancaster (1857, 1859 and 1860).
- Fort Lancaster is the only fort owned and operated by the State of Texas that once hosted military camels. Today, visitors can see how these military camels were used during Fort Lancaster’s living history event.
- Fort Lancaster’s landscape has changed over time. When the fort was established, the landscape was open prairie—a grassy oasis for weary travelers. Now, the land surrounding the fort site is overwhelmed by creosote bush and other non-native plants. The fort ruins are cleared and visible.
- You can still see the old wagon road on a hillside east of the site. When traveling up Lancaster Hill on Texas Highway 290 east of the site, look to the west and you can see the white cut in the bluff where the wagons once traveled down to Fort Lancaster.
- The first major battle that the Buffalo Soldiers 9th Cavalry Regiment fought took place at Fort Lancaster on December 26, 1867.
- Fort Lancaster was the only U.S. Army post in Texas attacked by Native Americans.