Although it served for only 22 years, it remains a frontier landmark today.
Built in 1867, Fort Concho was constructed to protect settlers and the transportation routes between a chain of forts in the heartland of Texas. Situated at the junction of the North and Middle Concho Rivers, the site selected for the fort was very strategic to the government’s stabilization of the region because no less than five major trails passed nearby. Even though the fort was surrounded by miles of flat treeless prairie, it was considered to be “One of the most beautiful and best ordered posts in Texas.” But order was anything but the norm in the post’s early beginnings.
Confusion over the exact location of the post and the construction materials to be used to build the fort hampered early construction. The first site chosen for the fort was later rejected but not before 28,000 dollars had been spent to prepare the land for future construction. Once a site had been decided on, the next hurdle was what the fort would be built out of. Initially the fort’s buildings were to be constructed out of pecan wood but it proved to be too hard and unmanageable. Adobe was the second type of building material put to the test. Soldiers with little or no experience in the making of adobe saw their work go down the drain when their stock pile of adobe bricks was melted away by heavy rains.
Finally it was decided that the fort would be constructed of sandstone from nearby quarries. As there were no competent stone masons on hand, private contractors were called in from Fredericksburg to do the work. Even this was plan was not fool proof. The stockpiling of materials was done in such a haphazard way that they generally arrived after the workers had been allowed to return to their homes in the east. Ongoing construction of the fort continued for the next 22 years but the never ending comedy of errors plagued the post. Even when the fort was later abandoned it was not completely finished.
Construction problems aside, several successful Indian campaigns against the Comanches were launched from Fort Concho. In addition, the post played a pivotal role in the suppression of illegal profiteering that was being conducted by Mexican and American traders known as “Comanchero’s”.
One of Fort Concho’s most illustrious commanders was Colonel Ranald Mackenzie. Mackenzie was such a prominent character at the fort that it is said that he still attempts exert his command influence there from beyond the grave.
In September 1872, Mackenzie and his troopers successfully attacked a large Comanche camp. The attack caught the Indians completely by surprise. When the firing stopped, 23 Indians were dead and another 127 women and children had been taken captive. The captured women and children were then marched back to Fort Concho where they were imprisoned in the post’s stone corral over the winter. The following spring the women and children were allowed to rejoin their families at the Indian reservation near Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
On the morning of September 27th 1874, Mackenzie and his troops were again thrust into battle with their Indian counterparts. As dawn was breaking, Mackenzie found himself looking down into Palo Duro Canyon. To his surprise hundreds of Indian tepees dotted the valley before him. Mackenzie immediately ordered his troopers to attack. The Indians would have again been caught by surprise if Mackenzie’s “Raiders” had not been spotted by several of the Indians as they moved about the camp completing early morning chores. Despite the early warning, the Indians were routed and their village destroyed. In the army’s wake, the carcasses of more than 1000 slaughtered horses and livestock lay scattered across the valley floor.
By the mid 1880’s, it was clear that Fort Concho and its sister fort’s, Fort Richardson and Fort Clark, had helped bring peace to the plains. Since Indian attacks no longer posed a threat, it was obvious that Fort Concho was no longer needed. On June 20, 1889, the post was abandoned.
In 1935, the city of San Angelo acquired Fort Concho and began restoring the fort to its former glory. The cities plans for reconstruction of the site were so successful that in 1961, the fort was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
One of the most haunted locations at Fort Concho is the officer’s quarters also known as “Officers Row”. Located across the parade ground from the enlisted barracks, this row of sturdy stone houses serve as the impetus for most if not all of the ghostly tales that are told about Fort Concho.
Fort Concho’s most distinguished commander, Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, is said to haunt his old residence at the center of Officers Row. The ghost of Colonel Mackenzie has been seen by visitors and staff at the old house on more than one occasion. It is said that Colonel Mackenzie was fond of his house and its location because he could see almost everything that was going on in the fort at any given time. The house was also located in a position that afforded Colonel Mackenzie a full view of the old stone corral where his units 127 Indian captives were held over the winter of 1873.
While preparing for a winter event one December, a female staff member working in the Mackenzie house reported that she had heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps walking around the back of the room behind her. Just as the woman turned to see who was there, she was knocked up against a wall by an invisible blast of cold air. Frightened and disoriented, the women also noticed that the “unique sound of knuckles cracking” seemed to accompany the strange manifestation. Since Colonel Mackenzie was known for cracking his knuckles, there was no doubt in the woman’s mind that she had come face to face with the spirit of the famous commander.
Another of the “row’s” many distinguished families was that of Colonel Benjamin Grierson, regimental commander of the 10th cavalry. It is said that Colonel Grierson’s, 12 year old daughter Edith died in the upstairs bedroom of one of the houses around her twelfth birthday. Over the years, many people have encountered Edith in the houses along officer row. In most instances, Edith is often seen quietly playing jacks.
Those people who have encountered her say that the first thing they notice is that the room where the girl is playing is substantially cooler than any of the other rooms in the house. Edith will acknowledge the presence of a person when they enter the room by turning her head and smiling at them before she turns her attention back to her game of jacks, but she will rarely say anything them.
One day, a florist delivered some flowers to one of the houses along Officers Row. The lady of the house told the driver to place two bouquets of flowers in the bedrooms at the top of the stairs, one to the right and one to the left. As the delivery man ascended the stairs with a large bouquet of flowers in each hand, he noticed that the temperature seemed cooler than in the foyer of the house. Reaching the top of the stairs, the man turned and entered the first bedroom on the right nearly tripping over a small girl playing jacks on the floor just inside the doorway. The man excused himself but the girl never appeared to even acknowledge his presence. The florist placed the flowers on the bedside table as instructed. Once finished, he left the room and placed the last bouquet of floors in the bedroom across the hallway.
Before going back down stairs, the florist looked in on the little girl across the hall and noticed that she was gone. He noted with some satisfaction that the flowers he had placed on the nightstand had been moved to a table in the corner of the room. He figured that the little girl had moved the flowers because he noticed that the girl’s jacks were now laying on the table next to the bed.
Just as the florist was about to leave, he happened to see a picture hanging above the fire place. To the man’s surprise, the little girl in the picture was a twin of the young girl he had just saw upstairs playing jacks. Believing that the small child was the daughter of the woman staying in the house, the florist mentioned that he had met the girl in the picture only moments before and commented on how she had moved the flowers from the nightstand. To the delivery man’s surprise, the woman stated that she did not have a daughter and explained that Colonel Grierson’s daughter Edith had died in upstairs bedroom where he had placed the flowers. Chuckling to herself at the delivery man’s apparently look of distress, the woman informed the florist that countless others have seen the ghost of Edith in the house, and that he was not the first.
The Officers Quarters is not the only location at Fort Concho where ghostly activity has been report. The fort’s headquarters building is also reputed to be a hot bed for paranormal encounters.
Once during one of the Christmas tours, Conrad McClure, a staff member working in the headquarters building saw a shadowy figure in a blue soldier’s uniform brush past him while he was tending to the fireplace. Intrigued by his encounter with the unidentified ghost, McClure did a little detective work and learned that Second Sergeant Cunningham was the only soldier to ever die at Fort Concho. Cunningham was a chronic alcoholic who was hospitalized due to complications from liver disease. Knowing that he was going to die, Sergeant Cunningham requested that he be moved back to his barracks so that he could spend his last days with his friends and fellow soldiers. The end for old Irishman finally came one cold Christmas Day. Sergeant Cunningham suffered no more! After reading compiling all of this information, McClure was sure that the spirit he encountered in the headquarters building could be none other than that of Sergeant Cunningham.
Several of the other staff members believe that Sergeant Cunningham does not like females to be in the headquarters building but that he always seems to be looking out for the building and it occupants.
In addition to the ghosts of Colonel Mackenzie, Sergeant Cunningham, and Edit Grierson, several other lesser known but still active spirits have taken up residence at Fort Concho. The disembodied voices of Chaplain Dunbar and that of an unidentified officer’s wife have been heard talking in the post’s chapel and phosphorescent lights believed to be the ghosts of several drifters murdered in one of the officers quarters in the 1890’s have been observed in what is now the museum’s library.
No one knows why Fort Concho is so haunted. Clearly the post’s ordered appearance does a good job of hiding the truth about the invisible figments that hide in its shadows. If you doubt whether ghosts exist, a visit to Fort Concho when the spirits are restless will make a believer out of you.
Fort Concho National Historic Site
630 South Oaks
San Angelo, TX 76903
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© Copyright 2003 by David Goodwin. All Rights Reserved.