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Day Trips: Fort Chadbourne a relic of life on the old frontier

Day Trips: Fort Chadbourne a relic of life on the old frontier

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Fort Chadbourne was a lonely place when the U.S. Army arrived in 1852 to separate the settlers and Indians. Not much has changed in 155 years among the rocky hills between San Angelo and Abilene.

The desolation protected the remnants of the old frontier fort, which was named after Lt. Theodore Chadbourne. He was killed near Brownsville during the Mexican War.

"We have hundreds and hundreds of artifacts that were found around the fort," says Ann Pate, a board member of the foundation that is raising funds and overseeing the restoration of the outpost.

Fort Chadbourne has been on private property since it was deactivated in 1868. Thomas Odom bought the land in 1874 from Mary Maverick, the widow of San Antonio Mayor Samuel Maverick. The ranch has been in the same family since.

"It was a working ranch and visitors weren't allowed to wander around the property," Pate says.

The fort is even more unusual because the eighth generation of Odom descendants have decided to preserve the stone buildings and open the site to the public.

In 1999, a nonprofit foundation was set up to steer the preservation, which includes restoring and stabilizing the remaining structures. Workmen are rebuilding a fourth building. The last remnants of the hospital and surgeon's quarters walls will be left as they are.

A large parade ground was the center of the fort, with enlisted men living on one side and officers on the other. The biggest project so far was rebuilding one of five long barracks with its porch that runs the length of the building.

The rock building would have been where the noncommissioned soldiers lived and worked. The walls of another barrack remains, but foundations are all that are left of the others. For years the ranch used the building as a barn.

One of the officers' quarters, a two-room house made of red rock in 1854, has been refurbished with furniture from the fort's heyday. At one time it served as the ranch headquarters, before becoming a storage building.

The foundation hopes to restore the remains of the Butterfield stage station in time for the stagecoach line's 350th anniversary next year. A new visitor center and museum is planned for a display of military, Indian and ranch artifacts.

As a military outpost, the fort was one of nine established as a second line of defense on the frontier. The troops stationed here saw limited action during its nearly 10 years of service. At its peak, about 500 soldiers were stationed at the post. At other times, it had as few as five soldiers. The fort was abandoned for Fort Concho at San Angelo because of its isolation and lack of water.

Mainly, the soldiers escorted wagon trains headed west. The cavalry also provided mail service for area settlements, an activity that contributed to one of the few Indian attacks during this period. A small patrol from the fort was killed while returning from mail duty.

A few days later, Indians came to the fort to trade for supplies carrying the soldiers' guns and using the letters as cigarette paper, Pate says. In the ensuing skirmish, all of the perpetrators were killed or captured.

Members of the foundation conduct tours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and on weekends by appointment. There is no fee for visiting, but donations are appreciated.

The fort is about 10 miles north of Bronte and 34 miles north of San Angelo off U.S. 277. For more information, call 325-743-2555 or go to www.fortchadbourne.org.

• Gerald E. McLeod's Day Trips, Vol. 2 is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, P.O. Box 33284, South Austin, Texas 78704.

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