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FORT LEATON
Presidio, Texas


The fort was originally founded back in 1848 by Ben Leaton, a scalp hunter for the Mexican government -- it is a place of death, secrets and perhaps even lost treasure!

In 1848, Ben Leaton, a reputed scalp hunter for the Mexican Government, built Fort Leaton on the abandoned site of a Spanish mission. El Apostol Sabriago, the first mission on the site, had been built in 1684. This adobe place of worship, later named El Fortin De San Jose was abandoned in 1810 and used as a private residence. When Leaton arrived in 1848, he purchased the old mission and began building his legacy of bloodshed and violence.

Ben Leaton, who had gained a reputation for his hospitality and his ability to get along with the local Indians, built an adobe homestead that encompassed a large courtyard and contained more than 100 Spanish style rooms. Though Fort Leaton had walls, a guardhouse, and lookout positions, it was always considered a private residence. Various military units would visit Leaton while exploring the frontier or chasing Indians, but it was never officially garrisoned by military troops.

There appears to be some debate about exactly how Ben Leaton got along so well with his Indian neighbors. It was often noted that the Indians living in the area never seemed to bother Leaton and that he seemed to have established a rapport with them. Later, this unwritten understanding between Leaton and the native population would be attributed to his sale of guns and ammunition to renegade Indians. But could Fort Leatonís fragile frontier tranquility be attributed more to ďfearĒ rather than illegal commerce?

According to legend, when Leaton first arrived, he held a peace counsel at Fort Leaton with the local Indians. The next morning, following the peace talks, Leaton arose and found that Indians had stolen every horse and mule he owned during the night. Leaton knew that he could not let this encroachment go unpunished. Leaton set about a devious plan and later invited the Indians back for more talks. Once his Indian guests were seated for dinner, Leaton excused himself from the table and left the room. Unknown to all but Leaton, a cannon had been pointed into the room. It fired; spraying those assembled with canister shot. Armed men firing into the crowd from nearby rooftops killed any one who survived the initial blast. It is unclear if this story has any basis in fact, but it could explain why the Indians never bothered Fort Leaton.

In 1851, Leaton died of yellow fever. His wife later married Edward Hall. Apparently, Hall was not a financial wizard. Using the fort as collateral, Hall arranged two mortgages through John Burgess, an old friend of Leatonís. When Hall failed to make good on his debts; Burgess foreclosed demanding that Hall leave the fort immediately. Hall refused to leave the premises, and two assassins allegedly hired by Burgess, killed him in the fort. In 1877 Burgess himself, was gunned down by William Leaton in retaliation for his step father's death.

In 1926, The Burgess family abandoned the fort and homeless families later used it as shelter. In 1968, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department acquired the property. Prior to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department taking custody of the dilapidated mission, treasure hunters had scoured the ruins, and had dug a large pit looking for gold that Leaton allegedly buried in the fort before he died. Two park employees assigned to clean out this treasure pit reportedly fled the fort in terror after they claimed that they felt something invisible trying to pull them into the hole.

Other park employees have reportedly observed the transparent figure of Edward Hall, in the same room where he was shot to death at the dinner table. An elderly woman, possibly the ghost of Mrs. Hall or Mrs. Burgess has been observed several times by park employees rocking in a rocking chair in the fortís kitchen.

Even today, it is rumored that during thunderstorms, a headless specter, a victim of a freak equestrian accident, rides around the fortís corral on a white horse. Apparently, this unfortunate cowboy was riding near Fort Leaton when he was caught in a sudden thunderstorm. It is said that the thunder and lightening spooked the riderís horse, throwing the man off his saddle. Instead of landing on the ground, the cowboy became entangled in the stirrup of his saddle and was dragged to his death behind his terrified horse. The day after the storm, several of the missing cowboys friends from a near by ranch went to find their friend. The cowboys were mortified when they found the headless body of their friend wedged between a tree branch and a large boulder. After a couple more minutes of searching the cowboys, already shaken by the horrific death of their friend, found their coworkers severed head several hundred feet from his body. Now, when ever there is a sudden thunder storm near the fort, it has been reported by eye witnesses that a headless horseman has been seen riding around the fortís grounds on a brilliant white horse. The moral of this little vignette, if you ever find yourself caught in a sudden thunderstorm near Fort Leaton, be afraid, be very afraid.

Many of the rooms at the historic ruins of Fort Leaton have been restored. Visitors to the site will experience interpretive exhibits and audio-visual programs that are guaranteed to stir the soul of both the young and the old.

Park Information:
Fort Leaton is located along the River Road, four miles southeast of Presidio, Texas.

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© Copyright 2003 by David Goodwin. All Rights Reserved.