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Fort Belknap - Fighting the Comanche

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Welcome to Fort Belknap, TexasLocated three miles south of present-day Newcastle in Young County, Texas, Fort Belknap is one of the many posts along the Texas Forts Trail. Following the U.S. annexation of Texas in 1845, and the Mexican War of 1846-48, Texas frontier settlers began to demand protection against Kiowa and Comanche raids. The Army set up a string of forts: Martin Scott, in 1848; and Worth, Gates, Graham, Croghan, Duncan, Lincoln, the following year. But the rapidly advancing line of settlement soon brought new outcries from the frontiersmen. Another system of forts came into being: Forts Belknap and Phantom Hill, in 1851; and Forts Chadbourne, McKavett, and Clark, the next year.


The northern anchor, Belknap, on the Brazos River, was the nearest to the dangerous Kiowa and Comanche country. Besides watching out for settlers, Forts Belknap and Phantom Hill guarded the Fort Smith-El Paso Road, a major link in the transcontinental route pioneered in 1849 by Captain Randolph B. Marcy.


Belknap was first established on June 24, 1851, two miles north of its present site by Brevet Brigadier General William G. Belknap. Ordered to build the post, Captain C. L. Stephenson of the Fifth Infantry, directed his men to find water; however, after digging shafts 65 feet deep, they were still unable to reach water and moved the fort two miles south, where adequate water was found in springs by the Brazos River. The first buildings were built of adobe and later replaced with stone. The fort housed four companies of soldiers and was the northern-most anchor in the chain that spread from the Rio Grande to the Red River. The fort did not fit the standard image of a frontier fort since it lacked defensive works such as walls, berms or trenches.


Fort Belknap was the base of the expedition of Captain Marcy and Lieutenant George B. McClellan in 1852. This was Marcy's third expedition, the first tow having originated at Fort Smith, Arkansas. Marcy and McClellan explored the Canadian River and discovered the headwaters of the Red River, the last segment of the southern Plains to be explored.


Marcy returned to Fort Belknap in 1854 to help Indian Agent Robert S. Neighbors survey and establish two Indian reservations. The State authorized the reservations in response to Neighbors' humanitarian efforts, which had begun as early as 1845 and included the negotiation of peace treaties between the Indians and white settlers. In 1854-55 he and Marcy founded the Brazos Agency, a few miles south of Fort Belknap; and the Comanche Reservation (Comanche Reserve), 45 miles to the west, guarded by Camp Cooper. Within three years, more than 1,100 peaceful Indians from various small tribes had settled around the Brazos Agency, but only 400 Comanche moved onto the Comanche Reservation. Under Neighbors' tutelage the reservation Indians relinquished their nomadic ways and took up agriculture.


In the early 1850's large numbers of Regulars, often bolstered by Texas Rangers and State troops, did their best to deal with Indian raids, but success was not found until Colonel Albert S. Johnston's newly organized 2d Cavalry Regiment arrived in December, 1855 and dispersed among the forts in the chain.


The major offensive involving Fort Belknap troops was Captain Earl Van Dorn's 1858-59 Wichita Expedition, a march into Indian Territory to retaliate for raids into Texas. Van Dorn led 250 of the garrison's cavalrymen and infantrymen and 135 Indian allies northward; founded Camp Radziminski in Oklahoma as an advance base, and won victories against the Comanche in the Battle of Rush Springs, Oklahoma on October 1, 1858 and the Battle of Crooked Creek, Kansas on May 13, 1859, near present Dodge City.




A Comanche camp in 1873

A Comanche camp in 1873.

This image available for photographic prints and  downloads HERE!


These aggressive measures caused the Comanche to divide into smaller bands. Many fled to the Staked Plains of eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle, while those remaining near the more populated areas of Texas curtailed their activities.


The next year, a regiment of State troops organized at Fort Belknap and pushed north as far as Kansas, but took part in any engagements.


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