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Fort Concho
                              building used as header for Buffalo
                              Soldier


After the Civil War ended newly free African American men began searching for a place they could earn a living with dignity and respect, two attributes that were in short supply for African Americans in September 21, 1866 when the first all black regiments of the peacetime army were formed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. They were the 10th Cavalry, 9th Cavalry 24th Infantry, and 25th Infantry regiments. Their main purpose was to protect America’s frontier from Indians.

Officers Row at Fort Concho
Officers Row at Fort Concho

Companies of all four regiments served at Fort Concho from 1869 to 1885. The 10th Cavalry had its headquarters at Fort Concho from 1875 to1882. Over Fort Concho's 22-year active history, the Buffalo Soldiers represented half of the soldiers stationed at the post.

Officially they were referred to as the "Negro Cavalry" but earned the nickname by which they are best known, “Buffalo Soldiers,” from the Native American tribes they fought in the Indian Wars.. Their Indian foes respected the bravery of these soldiers and likened it to a buffalo who continues to fight even when gravely wounded. They also saw a similarity of the African American hair style to the buffalo’s tightly curled fur.

On April 17, 1875, the 9th and 10th Cavalries headquarters were transferred to Fort Concho, Texas. They had already been quartered at Fort Concho since May 1873. From 1873 through 1885, Fort Concho was home base to 9th Cavalry companies A–F, K, and M, 10th Cavalry companies A, D–G, I, L, and M, 24th Infantry companies D–G, and K, and 25th Infantry companies G and K.

Bob Bluthardt explains the furnishings of a barracks at Fort Concho
Bob Bluthardt explains the furnishings of a barracks at Fort Concho

 

Fort Concho closed down in 1889. Today it is the best preserved frontier fort west of the Mississippi and a wonderful place to get an accurate picture of the life of a Buffalo Soldier. The fort became a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and is a living historic museum owned and operated by the City of San Angelo, Texas. There are 23 buildings total on site but only about 10 buildings are of interest to the public: Barracks #1 now the Visitors Center with videos and some exhibits, Soldiers Barracks #2 is filled with wagons and guns, Soldiers Barrack #5 is recreated as it was in the fort’s active years. a mess hall behind,  Headquarters Building, two Officers Quarters, Living History Stable, the hospital now the Robert Woods Johnson Museum of Frontier Medicine  and the Chapel Schoolhouse.  One officers quarters bldg is now a bed and breakfast.

The Visitors Center is the best place to start whether you chose a guided or self-guided tour.

Exhibits at the Vistors Center at Fort Concho including horse and field chest
Exhibits at the Vistors Center at Fort Concho

 

We took a guided tour with Bob Bluthardt, Fort Concho Museum director, who explained the purpose of the fort. “Think of this as Homeland Security of its day. Forts in the West did not have walls. They were basically a police department but served a variety of other tasks.”

Bob showed us through the places the soldiers lived, worked, learned and were treated when ill.  He told us regarding the Buffalo Soldiers, “They were treated no different from any others. They were fed, outfitted and paid the same as white soldiers. Although there is documentary evidence of racism in discipline and in some treatments by soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers had higher reenlistment rates, lower disciplining rates, and higher rates of achievement. Many made the army a career. They had basic benefits they could not get any other place in life at that time.”

Stepping into the barracks, Bob pointed out what the soldier had “a cot, a field box, some pegs and a couple of sets of clothes that were uncomfortable, scratchy and hot.”

To the rear, we visited the mess hall. Each barrack had its own mess hall. Not unlike today, many men didn’t know how to cook so the sergeant usually picked one man to do the cooking. The benefit for the cook was he was relieved of guard duty, latrine duty, and other unpleasant tasks.

Typical enlisted men;s mess hall at Fort Concho including utensila sn cookware on tables
Typical enlisted men's mess hall at Fort Concho

 

The hospital is a high spot for its glimpse of the ailments common in that time. Typhoid, fevers, lots of stomach ailment, mule kicks, gunshot wounds, knife cuts were all common.  TB was prominent Accidental drowning was the most common cause of death then. There was no water control and no advance warning of floods or storms.

communal toilet consiting of earth toilets at Fort Concho
How would you like to use this communal toilet?

 

The toilet facility, called an “Earth Closet,” was a very primitive arrangement. The beds were the same as the ones in the barracks. Being sick in that era was a dangerous situation.

Hospital at Fort Concho with cots,
Hospital at Fort Concho

 

The chapel was one of the later buildings and doubles a schoolroom. Ironically, the chaplain was in charge of the bakery. He was also in charge of education. It was only by the 1880s that soldiers were required to read and write. The army assigned a chaplain to the Buffalo Soldiers’ regiments rather than just to the base in an effort to improve education rates among the soldiers. That way, the chaplain moved with the regiment when they were sent elsewhere.

The chapel/schoolroom  at Fort Concho with peopel sitting in it
The chapel/schoolroom was one of the last buildings built at Fort Concho

The Officers Quarters were far nicer than the enlisted men’s barracks. Furnishings were similar to a upper middle class home of the era.  

As might be expected the old fort has its share of ghostly tales. One involves the Buffalo soldiers of the  10th Cavalry, the most famous of the Buffalo Soldier units, which was stationed here from 1879 to 1882. Their commander Colonel Grierson had a young daughter, Edith, who loved to play jacks. Edith died in 1879 of typhoid fever in the upstairs bedroom of Officers Quarters One when she was only 12 years of age. Visitors have often seen a little girl playing jacks. The room turns suddenly cold when she appears. She usually turns and smiles then resumes her game.

A stairwell at one of the officers quarters at Fort Concho
A stairwell at one of the officers quarters at Fort Concho

Another tale relates to another of the famous commanders at Fort Concho, Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie.  His presence is reported in his former home at the center of Officers Row.  Staff and visitors have heard someone cracking their knuckles, a well know of habit of Mackenzie’s.

The fort is well worth a visit whatever you reason. But the Buffalo soldiers have earned their place of honor here. Thirteen enlisted men and six officers from these four regiments earned the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars. This year celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Buffalo Soldiers who pushed the frontiers of both their country and of prejudice long before the works “Civil Rights” were coined.

For more info:

http://fortconcho.com/

 

 

 

 


 

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