Set in the rugged beauty of the Davis Mountains of West Texas, Fort Davis is the best surviving example of an Indian Wars frontier military post and one of the best preserved Buffalo Soldier forts in the Southwest. Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail, and to control activities on the southern stem of the Great Comanche and Mescalero Apache war trails.
Fort Davis is important in understanding the presence of African Americans in the West and in the frontier military; the 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry and the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, all-black regiments established after the Civil War, were stationed at the post. When not chasing renegade bands of Apache or bandits, the soldiers helped build roads and telegraph lines.
The soldiers, most of whom were former slaves from southern plantations, worked long, hard hours for little pay and marginal living conditions, yet they had excellent morale. The black regiments had fewer problems with alcoholism and desertion than the army did overall. They took part in most of the major military expeditions on the Texas frontier and earned a reputation as good soldiers among whites and Native Americans.
The Apaches and Comanches called them Buffalo Soldiers because of their skin color. Despite their notable military accomplishments on the Texas frontier, black soldiers didn’t serve alongside white soldiers again until the Second World War.
Fort Davis doesn’t look like the Western forts depicted in Western movies. Instead of log walls, it was surrounded by the cliffs of a box canyon on three sides. Fort Davis National Historic Site on the edge of Fort Davis looks pretty impressive from the heights of the Scenic Overlook Trail. From this advantage, you can hear the recorded bugle call from the visitor center in the valley below while Sleeping Lion Mountain stands guard on the horizon.
Soldiers occupied the fort from 1854 to 1891. From 1867 to 1885, Fort Davis was Regimental Headquarters for the four Buffalo Soldier regiments serving in the West. After the military left, civilians moved into many of the buildings. The new occupants helped preserve the officers’ quarters, hospital, and enlisted men’s barracks.
President Lyndon Johnson turned Fort Davis into a 460-acre national historic site administered by the National Park Service in 1963.
Today, twenty-four roofed buildings and over 100 ruins and foundations are part of Fort Davis National Historic Site. The site is well maintained and thoughtfully restored with interpretive and historical displays, an excellent book shop, and a museum. Five of the historic buildings have been refurnished to the 1880s, making it easy for visitors to envision themselves being at the fort at the height of its development.
Three hiking trails climb from the Fort, with two links to the hiking trail at Davis Mountains State Park. Small plaques explain natural features and their value to the Fort when it was active.
Fort Davis National Historic Site symbolizes the era of westward migration and the essence of the late 19th century U. S. Army. It is a vivid reminder of the significant role played by the military in the settlement and development of the western frontier.
Fort Davis National Historic Site is situated at the eastern side of the rugged Davis Mountains at an elevation that ranges from approximately 4,880 feet at the fort to approximately 5,220 feet in the Davis Mountains. Annual rainfall averages 19 inches.
Fort Davis National Historic Site is on the northern edge of the town of Fort Davis. The site opens daily from 8am to 5pm. The $10 per person (or $20 per vehicle) admission fee helps maintain the interpretative programs and four miles of hiking trails.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.