FORT MARTIN SCOTT


1606 E. Main, about 2 miles east of downtown Fredericksburg * 997-9895

Texas wasn't even officially a state yet when General Zachary Scott led the Army of Observation into Texas in July 1845. In March 1846, Taylor's army established Fort Brown, the first permanent U.S. military installation in Texas, on the north bank of the Rio Bravo, across from the Mexican city of Matamoros. It was here that the war with Mexico over who owned Texas began.

With the end of the war in 1848, the Army began constructing a line of forts along the Rio Grande from Brownsville to El Paso, and another line of forts along the edge of Texas' rapidly expanding western frontier, from Fort Duncan at Eagle Pass on the Rio Grande, north to Fort Worth. These forts were designed to protect settlers and travelers from attacks by Indians and brigands.

One of these frontier posts was Fort Martin Scott, established in December 1848, two miles east of Fredericksburg on Barons Creek. Folks called the place "the fort at Fredericksburg," or "Camp Houston," until December 1849, when the Army finally got around to officially naming the post, in honor of a U.S. army officer killed in the war with Mexico. Established by Company D of the 1st U.S. infantry, the Fort was subsequently garrisoned by companies of the 8th Infantry and the 2nd Dragoons, which were mounted infantry. Mounted infantry was cheaper to fund than cavalry, which was important to the penny-pinching U.S. Congress.

At the tail end of 1850, the Army finally decided to build some permanent housing for the troops stationed here. The Army regarded the fort as just a temporary position, so it directed that the buildings be of the most economical character, consistent with the health and comfort of the troops. This meant an assortment of log and adobe buildings for the troops and officers, and a stout stone guardhouse for the prisoners.

The buildings put up by the Army at Fort Martin Scott may have been cheap, but they were well-built, thanks to the meticulous German craftsmen from Fredericksburg who constructed them. Most of the lumber they worked with came from the Mormon sawmills at Zodiac, located east of the Fort on the Pedernales River. A government inspector noted in 1853 that "the buildings put up are of a better description than at most of the posts in Texas," where soldiers often lived in tents or stick-and-mud huts of their own construction.

Fort sites were carefully picked. Grassy meadows where the animals could graze, wood for fuel, and building materials such as wood or stone had to be readily available. But the most essential factor in choosing a fort site--for the health and well-being of everyone to be stationed there--was a location near good water--a spring or perennial, clear-running stream. The ideal site also had to have good drainage--standing water was to be avoided like the plague. Malaria, yellow fever, tuberculosis, cholera, dysentery and breakbone fever were just some of the better-known diseases associated with poor drainage and stagnant water. Scientists didn't know enough yet about the nature of sickness and health to finger mosquitos and microbes as the culprits; they blamed bad humors, spontaneous generation, or mysterious poisonous mists and vapors that may or may not have been caused by rotting vegetable matter.

Catching and storing rainwater in rain barrels and cisterns was a common way to ensure a supply of clean drinking water in the 1850s, but in the Hill Country, it maynot rain a drop for months. Then, the sky will open up for 2 days straight and dump half the year's rainfall in a torrent that washes away anything and anyone in its path. Fort Martin Scott stood at the eastern edge of what was then called the Great American Desert, which was considered uninhabitable, because of the scarity of rain and surface water. Digging a well by hand through the rock was not a practical option. The windmill and mechanical drilling equipment, which would help transform the arid Great American Desert into the irrigated, fertile Great Plains, wouldn't come to the Hill Country and West Texas until the 1880s.

The fort played an important role in the lives of Fredericksburg and Zodiac, but the relationship between the soldiers and the settlers was not always gracious. The soldiers came from many different states and sometimes different countries, so it was inevitable that conflicts would flare up. One incident led to a fire that destroyed the earliest records of Gillespie County, on July, 1, 1850. John Hunter, the county clerk, kept all the county records at his store (located where the Bank of Fredericksburg now stands). Like most merchants of his time, Hunter sold whiskey at his store. On the last night of June 1850, a young soldier cursed Hunter when Hunter refused to sell him any more liquor. Angered, Hunter threw the drunken soldier across a table and stabbed the soldier in the chest with a knife, killing him instantly.

Naturally, the killing aroused much resentment among the dead man's compatriots, and the next night about 40 of them came to the store looking for revenge. Hunter wasn't there. Forewarned, he was hiding at a friend's place on Live Oak Creek. Since Hunter was not available for slaughter, the soldiers were content to burn down his store. Efforts to rescue the county records from the flaming log structure were thwarted by the vengeful soldiers.

Fredericksburg and Fort Martin Scott were regularly visited by the Penateka Comanches and Lipan Apaches. These visits were usually peaceful. Richard Irving Dodge was stationed at Fort Martin Scott from the spring of 1851 until February 1852. Then a second lieutenant,

Dodge oversaw road construction between the fort and San Antonio. He wrote of one visitor: "Years ago, when matches were not so universally used as now, a Lipan Indian was visiting Fort Martin Scott in Texas. One day an officer to whom he was talking took from his pocket a box of what, to the Indian, were merely little sticks, and scratching one on a stone, lit his pipe. The Lipan eagerly inquired into this mystery, and looked on with astonishment while several matches were lighted for his gratification. Going to his camp near by, he soon came back, bringing half a dozen beautifully dressed wildcat skins, which he offered for the wonderful box. The exchange was accepted, and he went off greatly pleased. Some time after he was found sitting by a large stone, on which he was striking match after match, holding each in his fingers until forced to drop it, and then carefully inspecting the scorched fingers, as if to assure himself that it was real fire. This he continued until every match was burned."

By 1853, Fort Martin Scott had been demoted to a forage depot for wagon trains that supplied the new upper frontier posts. The garrison consisted of a sgt., coporal, and 16 men of the 8th infantry, under the command of Lt. Theodore Fink.

A government inspector noted that year, "An Ordinance sgt. is stationed here, but there is little for him to do, the only ordinance at the post being a 12-pounder mountain howitzer, with less than 100 rounds of fixed ammunition and 33 pounds of powder.

"Provisions are obtained from the San Antonio depot. Some 3000 rations are on hand and they are in good condition. The cost of the rations delivered at the post is 17 and 1/2 cents. No parts of it could be bought on advantageous terms in the vicinity. On account of the smallness of the command, fresh beef cannot be obtained. It's sold generally at 5 cents per pound."

There was a notable absence of spit and polish at the fort, the inspector noted. "Black belts and white belts are intermixed; some are destitute of parts of their equipment. One was without arms and almost all had a very limited supply of clothing. They had not received much instruction and made but an indifferent appearance on parade."

Soon after this report, the Army closed Fort Martin Scott; in its opinion, the frontier had been tamed. It was certainly swarming with Americans now, at the expense of the Indians. In just three years--between 1847 and 1850--Texas' non-Indian population increased by nearly 50 percent, to over 212,000 persons.

On the other hand, the total Indian population in Texas in 1849 was only about 29,000 souls, and rapidly decreasing. About 20,000 of these were Commanches; the rest were Kiowas, Lipan Apaches, Tonkawas, Wacos and other smaller groups.

Bison and the other game that the hunting tribes of Texas depended on for food, clothing and shelter had dwindled to the point that the tribes were frequently on the brink of starvation. Disease also hit hard. The Penateka Commanches, whose territory included Fort Martin Scott, were ravaged by epidemics of smallpox, cholera, and venereal diseases in 1848 and 1849. Thousands died, including the great chiefs Old Owl and Santa Anna, who had made peace with Meusebach and the Germans in 1847.

The basic dress of 19th century Lipan and Commanche men was buckskin moccasins, leggins and breechclout. In cold weather, a buckskin shirt was added, and a buffalo robe or blanket wrapped around the body.

Women--both Lipan and Commanche--dressed in knee-length buckskin skirts, moccasins, leggins, and loose-fitting, poncho-like blouses fashioned from a single deerskin. These were often decorated with fringe, beadwork and tin jingles.

Commanche women were dominated by their men, who refused to do anything beyond eat, fight and hunt. Lipan women, on the other hand, enjoyed a rough equality with the men. They maintained gardens, and sewed and decorated elaborate outfits. Lipan men, in addition to hunting and fighting, also did drudge work like hauling water and packing meat on the horses. Commanche men would never stoop to such tasks, leaving them to the women.

One notable Commanche woman bucked the tribe's male supremacy. The widow of the great chief Santa Anna formed a semi-autonomous band of 7 women, all widows like herself. She owned a large herd of horses and was a successful hunter, having shot with her rifle 15 deer in a morning's hunt.

Commanche warriors painted their bison-hide shields, attached feathers to the rims, and imbued them with much symbolic and magical importance. Though acquainted with firearms, the Lipans and Commanches of the 1850s still preferred the bow and arrow. They used 3-4 foot long bows. The arrows had hardwood shafts and iron points cut from barrel hoops or other metal. Commanches also carried long lances, decorated with feathers and other ornamentation, and tipped with long sharp steel blades as wicked as any Bowie knife. As intimidating as these lances were, they could not hold back all the white people, who outnumbered the indigenous peoples 20 to 1.

Faced with such odds, the tribes could either fight and die, accomodate the whites, which meant settling down and adapting the white lifestyle, or move on, into someone else's territory. In practice, they generally died or moved on.

In 1855, camels came to Texas, the vehicles of an Army experiment to improve trans-continental travel. Fort Martin Scott was first considered, and then dismissed, as home base for the camel corps. Little of the fort remained. Many of its 21 buildings had already been dismantled and recycled into other nearby buildings, like perhaps an adobe wall in Fredericksburg's old Nimitz Hotel, which was a favored hangout for frontier soldiers. The camels, trainers and troopers finally settled at nearby Camp Verde; you'll read about them elsewhere.

The fort was reoccupied sporadically by the Confederates during the Civil War before being closed for good by the US Cavalry in December 1866. John T. Braeutigam bought the property in 1870. He and his family made the officers' quarters their home. Using materials salvaged from the fort's remaining buildings, Braeutigam built a dance hall and saloon up at the front of the property (alongside present-day US 290) and called it Braeutigam's Garten. It was possibly the county's first such hall; at any rate, the first annual Gillespie County Fair was held on the Garten grounds in 1881. This continued for several years, and then Braeutigam was robbed and murdered at the Garten in 1884. The fair moved elsewhere; the family tried to keep the place going for a while, but it soon closed. The land stayed in the family until 1959, when Raymond Braeutigam sold the property to the city of Fredericksburg. It was closed to the public until 1989, when the old fort grounds were opened as a public park. Of the several buildings on the grounds, only the old guardhouse/stockade is original. The other buildings are reasonably faithful replicas, for example, the adobe, stuccoed officers' quarters, which consist of two rooms, each with a fireplace and a large shaded front porch. Scheduled for reconstruction are the commanding officer's house and a large, log barracks. The fort's drill grounds were located across the creek, in what is now a meadow. Tradition says that this is where the county fair's horse races were later run. At any rate, we can be sure that everyone was well lubed. This stretch of Barons Creek is generously littered with the shards of ancient champagne bottles and glasses, long since shattered and worn smooth by 120 years of flowing water.

Fort Martin Scott has its own resident garrison of period reenactors, who do several public reenactments per year, with fascinatingly scrupulous attention to the details of life in that era. Call for current schedule.


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