Fort Davis and the “Child of the Fighting Tenth”

 

“I was graduated at a private school near Philadelphia the last of June 1884, when I was barely past my seventeenth birthday, and went with my parents, brother, and sister to Fort Davis, Texas, where the Regimental Headquarters of the Tenth Cavalry was then stationed. Regimental Headquarters meant having the band at our garrison. I eagerly anticipated my return to the old regiment in which I had practically spent my life.”

– Forrestine C. Hooker, Child of the Fighting Tenth

The children’s author Forrestine C. Hooker was what we would call today an “army brat”. The daughter of Captain Charles Cooper, she grew up on many of the army posts scattered across the plains and the southwest. She wrote children’s stories mostly about horses and dogs. After she wrote an article about Troop A’s ordeal of being lost on the Llano Estacado, she was asked to write her memoirs. Her book, Child of the Fighting Tenth, is a charming look at life on military posts in the 1870’s and 1880’s.

I got to visit Fort Davis in October of this past year. In addition to visiting the fort, I also got to see Wild Rose Pass, and attend a star party at the McDonald observatory. One of the first things you notice when you arrive in Fort Davis is that there are no franchise chains or stores. No Wal-Mart, no Burger King, no McDonald’s, no Home Depot, no Marriot, and even no Motel 6.  And at the observatory, there is no signal for cell phones and no WiFi.

The fort is operated and maintained by the National Park Service and they have an information page: Fort Davis National Historic Site

As with most forts from the Indian Wars era, only a few buildings have been restored. The homes on “officer’s row”, two of the enlisted men’s barracks, the commissary, and the hospital.

“The garrison was laid out in the regulation square, a line of quarters for the officers, opposite the low, long barracks for the troops. Back of the barracks were the cavalry stables. Quartermaster, commissary, and adjutant’s office grouped at a third side of the big parade ground, and on the fourth side was the trader’s store, officers’ club and mess.”

– Forrestine C. Hooker

officers_row
Officers quarters from across the parade ground.
enlisted_mens_barracks
Restored enlisted men’s barracks, viewed from an officer’s quarters across the parade ground.

One of the enlisted men’s barracks had been restored with the furnishings and uniforms of the 1880s. The mattresses were less than two inches thick and looked awfully uncomfortable. Everything was behind a thick plexiglass window, so it was hard to get a good photograph. Another of the barracks was set up as a museum with wagons, artillery, and other equipment used by the troops.

enlisted_quarters_atempt
Enlisted quarters behind plexiglass.
escort_wagon
Wagon used to carry supplies on campaign, usually grain for the horses.
field_gun
Light Field Gun, one of 3 types of ordinance used on campaign.
gatling_gun
Gatling gun.
mountain_howitzer
The mountain howitzer could be towed or carried on pack animals.

I’ve created a small gallery of some of the pictures I took. Touring the fort took a bit of time. It is a huge place. The original fort occupied 454 acres and like 98% of all western forts, it had no walls. Sorry, if you prefer the Hollywood Old West.

To cap off a wonderful day of visiting the fort, take the short winding drive up to McDonald Observatory. It is a fantastic place and the star party is awesome, but take a jacket, it gets cold on that mountain when the sun sets.

mcdonald_observatory
Part of the observatory complex taken from the visitor’s center.

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