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Texas State Flag - Lone Star Legends IconTEXAS LEGENDS

The Ghosts of Fort Phantom Hill

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Located in Jones County, Texas, Fort Phantom Hill is one of the most pristine historic sites in the Lone Star State. Built in the early 1850s to protect the westward moving pioneers, the historic site not only provides today’s visitor with a rich historical view of the past, but is also said to be extremely haunted.

 

In 1849, the federal government sent Captain Randolph B. Marcy to explore the vast region to the north and west of Austin to establish a route through the area. Long inhabited by the warlike Comanche Indians, the area was known as the Comancheria. The purpose of Marcy’s exploration was to establish a safer passage for immigrants headed to the California gold fields. As a result of Marcy’s recommendations, a cordon of forts, including Fort Phantom Hill, were established on the new route through the Comancheria.

 

Fort Phantom Hill, Texas

Welcome to Fort Phantom Hill, Kathy Weiser, November, 2009.

 

 

 

Acting on orders from General Persifor F. Smith, Lieutenant Colonel John J. Abercrombie arrived at the Clear Fork of the Brazos River with five companies of the Fifth Infantry on November 14, 1851. His first impression was not a good one, as a wet snowstorm blew in killing one teamster, and twenty horses, mules, and oxen that froze to death.

 

Fort Phantom, Texas SoldiersAlso Abercrombie found, much to his dismay, that the site had neither wood for construction nor suitable water for the men and the animals. Though he sent word of the poor conditions the orders were unchanged and construction on the fort began. What was unknown to both Smith and Abercrombie is that the fort was being built at the wrong location. Smith had just recently taken command from his ailing General who had been supervising the construction of the forts along the route.

 

The plan had been to build the fort at a site in Coleman County but Smith, unfamiliar with the area, changed the locale to the Clear Fork near its junction with Elm Creek. This decision affected the post’s future as the fort was built in an area with inadequate water and building timbers to supply the needs of new garrison.

 

Stone was brought in from Elm Creek about two miles south of the fort and oak logs for the officers' quarters and hospital had to be brought in by ox wagon from as far away as forty miles. The guardhouse, magazine and commissary storehouse were built entirely of stone, but the other buildings were built in an adobe style.

 

Clear Fork of the Brazos RiverFort Phantom Hill was never officially named. Rather, it was simply referred to as the "Post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos."  There are two legends about the origin of the unofficial designation Phantom Hill, the first of which is that the hill rises sharply from the plains when approached from a distance, but seems to level out as it is approached, vanishing like a phantom. The second account is that of a nervous sentry who fired on what he thought was an Indian on the hill. The investigation that followed failed to discover the presence of any Indians, and one of the troopers suggested that the man had seen a ghost.

 

Life at the fort was difficult for the soldiers as Elm Creek was often dry, and the waters of the Clear Fork were brackish.  Early on, an eighty-foot-deep well was dug near the guardhouse, but even it was not always reliable. More often than not, it was necessary to haul barrels of water in wagons from a spring about four miles upriver from the post. Because of the lack of water a post garden could not be toiled, leading to a shortage of vegetable in the men’s diet. As a result the soldiers began to suffer from scurvy, fevers, dysentery, colds and pneumonia. Desertions at the fort were said to have been common due to the monotony and loneliness at the isolated fort.

 

One member of the garrison, Lieutenant Clinton W. Lear wrote a letter to his wife in Fort Washita that described it this way:

"When I say to you that we have a beautiful valley to look upon, I have said everything favorable that could be said of this place. We are camped in a grove of blackjack two or three hundred yards from the creek which is alt. Everybody is disgusted. Like the Dove after the Deluge, not one green sprig can we find to indicate this was ever intended by man to inhabit. Indeed I cannot imagine that God ever intended for white man to occupy such a barren waste.”

 Continued Next Page

1853 watercolor of Fort Phantom Hill

1853 watercolor of Fort Phantom Hill provided courtesy of the Fort Phantom Foundation.

 

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