Fort Belknap - Fighting
miles south of present-day Newcastle in Young County,
Belknap is one of the many posts along the
Following the U.S. annexation of Texas
in 1845, and the Mexican War of 1846-48, Texas
frontier settlers began to demand protection against
The Army set up a string of forts:
Martin Scott, in 1848; and Worth,
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
in 1851; and Forts
Clark, the next year.
The northern anchor, Belknap, on the
Brazos River, was the nearest to the dangerous
country. Besides watching out for settlers, Forts Belknap and
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
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
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
and white settlers. In 1854-55 he and Marcy founded the Brazos Agency,
a few miles south of Fort Belknap; and the Comanche Reservation
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
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.
offensive involving Fort Belknap troops was Captain Earl Van Dorn's
1858-59 Wichita Expedition, a march into
to retaliate for raids into
Van Dorn led 250 of the garrison's cavalrymen and infantrymen and 135
allies northward; founded Camp Radziminski in
as an advance base, and won victories against the
in the Battle of Rush Springs,
on October 1, 1858 and the Battle of Crooked Creek,
on May 13, 1859, near present
These aggressive measures caused the
to divide into smaller bands. Many fled to the Staked Plains of eastern
Panhandle, while those remaining near the more populated areas of
curtailed their activities.
The next year, a regiment of
State troops organized at Fort Belknap and pushed north as far as
but took part in any engagements.
In the meantime, the
on the reservation were remaining peaceful, but, this was not always the
case with non-reservation Indians.
Bitter area settlers blamed the depredations the reservation Indians
for the depredations and in July, 1859, Indian
Agent, Robert S. Neighbors, and troops from Fort Belknap were required to
repulse a mob of settlers intent on murdering the reservation inhabitants.
Neighbors then realized the only solution was abandonment of the two
reservations, and before long, a squadron of cavalry moved a caravan of
to a spot on the Washita River 12 miles west of the newly established
Wichita Agency in
protected by Fort Cobb. Upon his return, Neighbors was assassinated by a
disgruntled settler in the town of Belknap, founded in 1856, near the
Also occurring in 1859, the troops again suffered a major
water shortage, the fort was abandoned, and the troops transferred to
Camp Cooper. However, the Butterfield Overland Mail Station that had been
situated there in 1858, continued to operate until 1861.
In early 1861, believing that war was imminent, General
David E. Twiggs, in San Antonio, ordered Colonel William H. Emory to
gather all federal troops and move them north to Fort Leavenworth,
On February 9, 1861, General Twiggs surrendered all United States forts
and military equipment in
During the Civil War, Confederates of the Texas Frontier Regiment used the
post for a base against hostile
and for the protection of settlers, but the inexperienced troops could not
After the Civil War, U.S. troops returned to Fort Belknap
in April, 1867 and began to restore its buildings. However, they continued
to suffer from poor water supplies and because the frontier had moved
westward, the fort was abandoned for the last time in September, 1867.
Forts Richardson, to the northeast, and
Fort Griffin, to the southwest, replaced Belknap
in the frontier defense system. For the next several years, detachments
were occasionally stationed there to watch over the mail road or to
uprisings, but after the subjugation of the southern Plains tribes in the
Red River War of 1874-75, the fort fell into ruins and settlers dismantled
In 1936, during the
Centennial, the state, using supplemental Federal funds, began to restore
the fort. At that time, only the magazine and part of the cornhouse were
standing. The State restored these structures and reconstructed the
commissary, a kitchen, two 2-story barracks, and the well. All of these
are on the original foundations except the kitchen, constructed between
the barracks. The buildings are of stone construction and have shingled
roofs. The 20-acre site then became a county park.
The site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in
1960. Today, the Fort Belknap Society administers museums in the
commissary and cornhouse; and, jointly with Texas Wesleyan College, the
Archives of Western America, is located in one of the barracks.
One of the former infantry barracks is now used as a community
center. In the town of Belknap is a monument to
The fort is located in Young County, at the terminus of
Highway 251, about three miles south of Newcastle.
Compiled and edited by
of America, November, 2009
Primary Source: National Park