Shortly after this year’s REH Days my friend David Piske & I took a brief single day road trip. Since we were both staying in
for this year’s events, I checked the proximity of Fort
McKavett to Brownwood:
only 102 miles, about an hour and a half drive. So, we planned accordingly.
At REH Days, in a conversation with Rob Roehm, I brought up the intended
trip. Rob perked
up and began to tell me that he thought they may have done some
re-work/refurbishing of the Fort. He wondered if the famous “Howard Spot”
would still be there as it was when he visited. He thought he had heard that the State may have rebuilt some of those buildings. I explained that we brought
along his book, and he said it had the exact coordinates of “the spot." So I surmised with those
coordinates we should be able to find the location regardless of any changes
made to the structures. Rob also mentioned that the Presidio de San Saba was on
the way to Fort
McKavett , and we should stop there and
look around. He told me he had included it in his book: Howard’s Haunts. So I
added that to our road trip itinerary. Fort McKavett
Early Sunday morning David and I loaded the car and took off. We made a quick stop at the
saw the Howard family grave site, and searched a bit for Tevis Clyde Smith’s
grave site but had no luck finding it. The offices at Greenleaf were close
(since it was Sunday) so we were unable to ask for help. We then piled back
into the car and took off for Greenleaf Cemetery in Brownwood, TX Fort
Presidio de San Saba
|The Presidio de San Saba|
"The Presidio de San Sabá was established in 1757, to protect nearby Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá constructed at the same time. An additional incentive was to pursue rumors of silver riches nearby. At the time of its construction, the fort represented the northernmost point of Spanish authority inRobert E. Howard has this to say about the Presidio,
Texas. It is still the largest Spanish fort in the state." (http://www.presidiodesansaba.com)
“You will read much of San Saba river and the surrounding territory in
Coronado’s Children. It is on the San Saba that the famous Lost Bowie Mine is suppose to be located. (Though some maintain it was on the Rio de Las Chanas, now called ). Near Menard, through which I passed on my way to Llano River , are the ruins of San Luis de Amarillas, the presidio built by the Spaniards to protect workers in Los Almagres mine.” Robert E. Howard to August Derleth, in a letter dated July 1933. (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard; 3.94) Fort McKavett
|The San Saba river as seen from|
the Presidio de San Saba
|Me on the walls of the|
Farther down the road we encountered the sign for
. And, while I
thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Presidio, my eagerness grew as we approached Fort
McKavett . Fort McKavett
“I’m enclosing a snap shot of myself, taken among the ruins of Old Fort McKavett. I drove there last Sunday and took a few pictures. Didn’t have time to work up an article, though.
Fort McKavettis in , about 155 miles southwest of Cross Plains. It was established in 1871, and abandoned the same year. Again in 1872 it was occupied by two companies of cavalry and five of infantry—largely negroes. It was abandoned permanently in 1883; and thereby hangs a tale, which is not likely ever to be written—not by me, at least. I will merely remark that the Federal soldiers found their most dangerous enemies not to be Comanches. Menard County is situated near the head waters of the San Saba river, and folks live there in the less ruined buildings which once formed the barracks and officer’s quarters.” Robert E. Howard to August Derleth, in a letter dated July 1933. (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard 3.93-94) Fort McKavett
|Robert E. Howard at Fort McKavett|
Excitement raced through me as we approached the front drive to enter
“In March 1852, the 8th U.S. Infantry established
Fort McKavettto protect West Texassettlers and serve as a rest stop for California-bound immigrants. In 1859, Fort McKavettwas abandoned due to a decline in warfare with Native Americans as a result of the establishment of reservations in Texasand immigrants using a more southerly route to California. In 1868, the Army reopened as a military post when hostilities between local Comanche Indians and the settlers increased after the Civil War. From 1868 to 1883, Fort McKavett Fort McKavettserved as a major supply depot providing food and provisions for most of the military campaigns, scientific and mapping explorations and other forts in West Texas. By 1875, hostilities in the area had been resolved, resulting in the mandatory relocation of Native Americans to reservations in Oklahoma, and was finally abandoned by Company D of the 16th Infantry Regiment in 1883. Soon after the Army left, settlers began to move into the vacant buildings and the town of Fort McKavett FortMcKavett was born, with the last residents moving out of the original buildings in 1973. was designated a state historic site on May 17, 1968 to help preserve its important role in history for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” (http://www.visitfortmckavett.com/index.aspx?page=530) Fort McKavett
When Howard visited
back in 1933, as indicated in his letter to August Derleth (see above) there
were people still living in the barracks and officer’s quarters. Fort McKavett
|Fort McKavett view from the car lot|
From the window of the office she pointed out the area where the ruins were located and told us we should walk the small museum adjacent to the guest office before walking the grounds. I must admit, I had a hard time walking through the small museum and reading the material. My mind was distracted by the idea of finding "the spot" where Robert E. Howard stood and took that snap shot. But, after a few minutes, I forced myself to quiet my mind and take in the history presented in the museum. If you ever visit
, be sure and walk through this
mini-museum, it has some nice historical information, original items and
pictures. Fort McKavett
|A model scene of the Fort in the|
museum at the guest center
Finally, we left the visitor center and museum and made the trek toward where Howard would have snapped his photo. As we approached we noticed several of the buildings were not in ruins. I wondered if those had been restored, and would the spot now be inside one of those buildings. But, according to the attendant in the front office, the building she pointed out, next to the old Captain’s quarters (which was still in ruins), was also itself in ruins. We checked our map, wandered around the Captain’s quarters for a little while trying to decide which of the two other ruined buildings close-by was the actual location.
We trekked to what we thought was the building. It was definitely in ruins and several of the fireplace areas looked like the ones in Rob’s book (and thus Howard’s snap shot). After a few minutes of searching, we found the spot. Everything lined up from Rob’s photograph in Howard’s Haunts. An unusual feeling of excitement overcame me; the same feeling I felt when I stepped inside the Howard House for the very first time. Here I was standing in the same spot as Robert E. Howard, one of my favorite authors. My imagination took hold and all the history of the Fort and what I knew of Robert E. Howard flooded my mind.
Me at "the spot" , July 9, 1933; I like this snap; it makes me feel kind of like a Vandal or Goth standing amidst the ruins of a Roman fortress or palace.” To H.P. Lovecraft from Robert E. Howard, July 9, 1933. (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard 3.92) Fort McKavett
I was having a moment like what Howard described in his letter to H.P. Lovecraft, and the fact that Howard had been here too made it even more special. We actually spent about 20 or more minutes at the spot, taking pictures, wandering around, and talking about the history of the place. After we had soaked in the excitement of finding the place where Howard snapped his shot, we then turned our attention to the rest of the Fort.
I can't even begin to depict how
stirring the Fort was. Seeing the buildings, canons, soldier’s quarters, and
reading the various plaques with historical information, all of these things certainly spark the
imagination. At one point, we rounded a building and David said, “Can you
imagine being here in the late 1800s when all the soldiers were here?” He
pointed off in the distance and said, “It would be so cool to just ride up on horseback
toward one of the soldiers after scouting the area and shout, “Hey, soldier,
where’s the Captain? I have my report!” This is the kind of thing the Fort
elicits from the imaginative mind. I can see why Howard was so taken in by the
|My friend, David, at "the spot."|
Several of the quarters were open, so we entered them and explored the buildings. What surprised me most about the inside of the buildings was the fact that even though it was in the upper 90s outside (quite hot), it was much cooler inside. I placed my hand on one of the walls and the brick was actually cool. The buildings were designed to let the outside air enter in the front, swirls around several of the rooms and then exit out a back window or door; all the while cooling the rooms as it passed through.
We spent several hours wandering the grounds. When we finally decided to leave, I mentioned going back to the visitor center to look around before we took off. However, I wanted to see the “Howard spot” one last time. So, we split up. David headed back to visitor center, and I made my way back to Field Grade Officer’s Quarters where Howard took his snap shot. I spend a few minutes, took a few more pictures, walked a little around the ruins of the old building, and imagined what it would have been like when Howard was here. I then made my way back to the guest center.
Upon arriving at the guest center I discovered David talking to a different person than when we first arrived. Fortunately, this gentleman was the site manager. He gave us a brief history of the Fort and told us of the spring head and lime kiln about a quarter mile down a certain trail over by the picnic area. We talked a little about Robert E. Howard, he knew much more than the first person we encountered in the guest office. He also told us that periodically people came from all over the country just to visit the spot where Howard took his famous photograph. He explained that nothing had been altered since the Fort was first built. This was good information. He said they had not intended to do any renovations on the Fort because they wanted to keep it faithful to its historical roots. I was glad to hear this.
After talking with the site
manager. We made our way to the picnic area in order to walk the quarter mile
down the trail to the limestone kiln and spring head. The kiln was still there, but
mostly filled in with large limestone rocks. I could imagine the men creating
these exceedingly hot fires to melt the limestone in the kiln. Just on the
other side of the kiln was a direct drop of about 20 or more feet. I leaned a
little over the edge and could see a large hole in the side of the cliff where
the fire was created.
|An original engraving on the outside wall of one of the|
Farther down the path, we entered another world entirely. From open ground, high grass and rocks to trees thick as a forest. This change occurred almost abruptly, so I knew we had to be close to the spring head because only a constant flow of water could provide the area with this many trees. At the end of the trail we ran right into the spring head. The water came out through the rocks pouring its way into a small creek and flowing away toward the San Saba river. We were told that the spring head never dried up. I can now see the importance of
location and how people could survive in this area with this constant flow of
water. Fort McKavett
I’m so glad we decided to take this small excursion after REH Days this year. To tromp around in the very places Howard did is quite exciting, especially having read his accounts of these places. If you ever decide to make the trek to
and visit the Presidio De San Saba and ,
I can tell you now it is well worth the trip. To visit the historical sites
that made Fort McKavett Texas
what it is today and to see first-hand how the state was maintained, protected, and served, is an experience like no other. It definitely helps those readers of
Robert E. Howard’s work understand why he wrote some of what he wrote. It's quite obvious that Texas certainly had a
huge influence on the barbarian from Cross Plains.
Above is a brief video of a pictorial tour with a bit of historical information included.
For Further Research on the Presidio de San Saba & Fort McKavett:
Presidio de San Saba Sources:
Texas Beyond History (UT Austin Website)
Fort McKavett, TX:
More pictures at Fort McKavett . . .
|A Portion of Lieutenants Row|
|Inside the Post Headquarters|
|Inside the Soldier's Quarters|
|Another portion of Lieutenants Row|
|The School House|
|A Map of Fort McKavett|
Additional Facts about Fort McKavett . . . (From the Fort McKavett State Historic Website)
- Fort McKavett was home to soldiers from all four of the famous Buffalo Soldier regiments. Many of these African American soldiers used the educational and financial opportunities given to them by the Army to become successful businessmen after their service.
- Sgt. Emanuel Stance of the 9th Cavalry received the first Medal of Honor awarded to an African American soldier after the Civil War for his service at Fort McKavett.
- Women were employed by the Army at Fort McKavett as laundresses. It was common for a woman to do the laundry of 19 men for $1 per soldier a month, including housing and food. Although it was difficult work, these women made $19 or more a month while an Army private made $13.
- Under direction of the Fort McKavett surgeon, Army personnel at the fort became the first weathermen in the area by keeping records of temperatures and rainfall at the post.
- Fort McKavett’s structures are considered among the most well-preserved of the Texas frontier forts.
"Brief History." :
Commission. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2015. <
Howard, Robert E. The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howardf. Ed. Rob Roehm. Vol. 3.
Plano: Robert E. Howard Foundation, 2007.
Roehm, Rob. Howard's Haunts. N.p.: Roehm's Room, 2007. Print.
"Visit Us at the Presidio in
Presidio De San Sabá. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2015.<
http://www.presidiodesansaba.com> Menard, Texas