State Historical Park
We drove through ten miles of intense downpour as we approached Jacksboro, Texas, site of
Fort Richardson State Historical Park. Even though we had been looking forward to this trip
for weeks, we were naturally dubious about the weather. As much as we love the sound of
rain on our pop up, we never (almost) set it up or take it down while the canvas is wet. It is a
“tent trailer” after all.
Five miles from Jacksboro and about sixty miles northwest of Fort Worth, the rain stopped.
Then as we turned into the park, we found the pavement was perfectly dry. Well, that’s a
Texas storm for you.
We had reservations, of course, and being about 11:00 AM on Friday, we had lots of campsite
options. Since this was our first visit, all we could do was look over the map showing some 30
remaining openings (of the 41 total sites). Knowing we could change sites, if need be, we
selected a likely spot which, on inspection, turned out to be a long back up on well maintained
asphalt within a quarter mile or so of the only rest room / shower facility in the park. Now, this
is important for you to know -- eighteen of the sites (numbers 24 - 41) are isolated from that
single potty by distance and by the very rugged Lost Creek stream bed. If you do not bring
your own toileting equipment, you really must choose your campsite accordingly.
We set up quickly as the cloud cover remained solid. Sure enough,
awning out, hook ups complete, and dogs walked, the rains came. This
time it was just a brief shower and despite threatening for awhile, the
following days were clear.
There are a couple of hiking paths, but be sure to walk the Lost Creek Nature Trail. It is half a
mile long and well marked, though a bit rugged. This trail will take you from campsite 23, north
to the road, and thus to the fort.
Fort Richardson is an historical park, so as pleasant as the campgrounds are, you must see
the old fort. Our first suggestion is that you sign on
for a guided tour. It costs one dollar donation per person, and it is
the only way to get into the buildings.
Our guide, a “re-enactor” named Ray Monroe was dressed in an 1870’s medical officer uniform.
He said he chose that uniform because the medical officer was allowed to wear a lighter material
than the standard woolens. Monroe was very knowledgeable and obviously enjoyed sharing his
information. In fact, the tour will last just about as long as you ask questions.
Fort Richardson was founded in 1867, and being just 70 miles from Oklahoma (Indian Country)
it was the northernmost of a line of federal forts. It was also the largest of these posts and
garrisoned as many as 1200 troops, but usually not so many. For example, in February 1872
there were companies of the 4th Cavalry and 11th Infantry with 488 enlisted men and 28
officers, oh, and 338 horses.
The centerpiece of the post now is a wonderfully restored hospital. Built in 1868, a walk
through reveals the Spartan conditions of the times -- especially before they moved the
morgue from upstairs to a separate building behind the hospital. Another building that has
remained intact and is being restored is the commanding officer’s quarters. By the way, much
of the furniture in this house has been purchased by our guide, from his own pocket.
Walking these expansive grounds will clear your head of those movie forts with surrounding
log walls. This is a prairie, of course, but even if there had been timber, it would have taken a
forest’s worth to build a fence around this layout.
If you decide not to take the tour, at least visit the Interpretive Center located in the former
single officers’ housing. In this old, barracks style building, you will get a feel for those times:
clothing, equipment, weapons, and a short walk through the area’s history. In the fort’s most
famous event, in May 1871, General William Tecumseh Sherman was on the grounds after
winding up a fact finding tour of the line of federal forts. He had wanted first hand knowledge
of reported Indian activities, but after the uneventful trip he had just drafted his letter to the
governor of Texas to the effect that he could not verify any wrongdoing whatsoever.
Before he could post that letter however, word came that, on May 17th, a wagon train from
Fort Richardson on its way to Fort Griffin had been attacked. The wagon master and six
teamsters were killed. Five others were wounded and found their way back to the fort.
The attack took place at Salt Creek Prairie. Sherman realized that he had crossed that very
spot one day earlier, on May 16th. Later it was discovered that the Kiowa raiding party had, in
fact, watched the General’s entourage, but had been advised by a medicine man named De-ha-
te (Owl Prophet) to wait for and attack the second party, as it would be easier to
This incident became known as the “Salt Creek Massacre”.
The Kiowa leaders were easily identified because Chief Satanta bragged about it and named
Chiefs Satank and Big Tree as co-leaders. All three were arrested at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, but
the story was far from over as two of them (Satank was killed during a desperate attempt to
escape) were the first Indians to stand trial in the white man’s courts. They were imprisoned
and released a couple of times, but Big Tree died, a free man, in 1927.
There were a number of other skirmishes over the next few years. Most notable was the Battle
of Palo Duro in September 1874 which pretty well ended any Indian threat in the region. Orders
for abandonment were issued March 29, 1878 and on May 23rd, Fort Richardson’s military
days were ended when the last troops moved to Fort Griffin.