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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark FORT RICHARDSON

Location: Jack County, on U.S. 281, southern edge of Jacksboro.

This fort, the most northerly in a line of Texas forts and one of the most important in the region during the post-Civil War era, helped replace prewar Fort Belknap. Founded in 1867 not far below the boundary of Indian Territory (Oklahoma), Fort Richardson was a key defense bastion against the Kiowa and Comanche raiders who swept eastward from the Staked Plains and south ward from their reservations in Indian Territory to prey on Texas settlers. It also guarded the stagelines running westward to El Paso over the old Butterfield route. In time, with Fort Sill, Okla., and other forts, Fort Richardson ended the Indian threat on the southern Plains.

As raids into Texas from Indian Territory accelerated in the ear1y 1870's, mainly because of the launching of President Grant's Peace Policy at the Oklahoma reservations, the wrath of settlers mounted. Yet Fort Richardson's busy garrison, whom the Peace Policy prevented from pursuing marauding Indians beyond the Red River boundary, could only rely on such defensive measures as providing escorts for travelers and sending out large scouting parties.

The hospital, one of the surviving buildings at Fort Richardson. (phot Russell Jones, Jack County Historical Society)

In 1871 the settlers gained a chance to vent their emotions. At Fort Sill General Sherman arrested the Kiowa chiefs Satank, Satanta, and Big Tree, who in May had led a war party that had wiped out a wagon train near Fort Richardson and the adjacent town of Jacksboro, and took the unprecedented step of sending them to Fort Richardson for imprisonment pending a civil trial in Jacksboro. Satank was shot en route while trying to escape. The trial demonstrated the wide variance in attitudes of frontiersmen and eastern humanitarians and attracted national attention. To frontiersmen, it marked perhaps the first instance of Indians being tried by a civil court and implied that in the future they might be judged for their crimes by the white man's standards rather than their own.

At the end of the trial the judge sentenced the two chiefs to death by hanging. Federal officials, however, influenced by humanitarian agitation, first pressured the Governor of Texas into commuting the sentences to life imprisonment at the Huntsville, Tex., penitentiary; and, after the chiefs had served only 2 years, into freeing them. On their return to the Fort Sill Reservation, the Kiowas and Comanches intensified their raiding.

Yet the Texas settlers had gained some revenge in the trial and imprisonment. The Government in Washington, which had been convinced the Peace Policy was working and had usually ignored pleas for help from military officials and settlers, was also probably better aware of their need for protection. And General Sherman had begun a series of aggressive campaigns that would before long reverse the Peace Policy, subdue the Kiowas and Comanches, and open western Texas to full-scale settlement. Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie's 4th Cavalry, assigned to Fort Richardson, began the punitive actions with an 1871-72 campaign onto the Staked Plains. The final thrust came in the Red River War (1874-75), in which the fort served as a troop depot and its garrison participated in many engagements, including Mackenzie's victory at the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon. Following the war, the need for Fort Richardson declined. For a few uneventful years, its troops patrolled along the Red River and escorted cattle drives northward. In May 1878 they abandoned the post, which then served for a short time as an Indian school.

Fort Richardson is now a 41-acre State historical reserve, administered by the city and the Jack County Historical Society. Although urban and industrial development have encroached on the site, seven original buildings remain in various stages of restoration, reconstruction, and repair. The hospital building, built of native sandstone, is the central feature. It houses a museum, the historical society offices, and an archives room. Other stone structures are the morgue, where Satanta and Big Tree were confined awaiting trial; bakery; guardhouse; and powder magazine. One frame officers' quarters, 1-1/2 stories in height with dormered windows and wide porch, has been restored. A sandstone commissary warehouse, originally connected with another by a frame shed and now an abandoned ruin, is separated from the restored fort by a railroad track.

NHL Designation: 11/27/63

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Last Updated: 19-Aug-2005