front line for Texas
by Delbert Trew
Spanish word for fort is "presidio." The first presidio in Texas was
St. Louis, built by French explorer La Salle in 1685. It was inland
from Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast, used for only a short time
and abandoned. The French claims are included in the legend, "Six
Flags Over Texas" but historian J. Frank Dobie once described the
French part as, "The French flag waved over Texas for a short time
tied to a pole standing in Louisiana."
The Spanish established the second presidio in Texas on the San Antonio
River in 1718 near a mission. The frontier was so dangerous at the
time that even the early missions were enclosed behind walls for protection.
When danger threatened, the frontier settlers often "forted-up" at
walled compounds joined together for protection from the Indians.
Each time they returned to their settlements they had to start over
almost from scratch because of Indian damage.
The most famous fort in Texas is the Alamo.
Ordered built in 1716, it was a mission serving also as a presidio
first for Spain, then Mexico and later the Republic of Texas. Even
later in history it served as a military depot for the U.S. government
and last as a monument to its many heros.
or presidios were an important part of Texas history as it suffered
through 150 years of wars. First came the Mexican War of Independence
from Spain, second the Texas War of Independence from Mexico and finally
the Civil War between the states. As each war began, the proper authorities
assumed command of the nearest fort defending it to death.
There were 37 major forts built and operated in Texas by its various
governments and military detachments. Hundreds of encampments, cantonments,
supply depots and temporary battlements were built and used for short
periods of time as needed for supplying and protecting the settlers
and military forces.
The effectiveness of these many forts depended on the opinion, objectives
and talents of those in charge at that particular moment. The tactics
and whims of the commands often changed from day to day. Many of the
top echelon of the military did not take the Indian depredations seriously
until General Sherman barely escaped massacre during an inspection
trip to the frontier.. Finally, the military effort turned aggressive
settling the Indian troubles permanently.
Good planning, competent officers and adequate mounts and supplies
implemented the Red River Wars, which quickly gathered the Plains
Indians onto reservations. Texas fort history is long and tedious,
suffering from budget cuts, poor pay, low morale, incompetent officers,
short supplies and crude facilities barely livable by any standards.
Pay was delayed for months at a time often resulting in mass desertion
by personnel. Battles were often fought with a shortage of ammunition
and communications were almost non-existent.
In spite of it all, the military won more than they lost. The unbelievable
vast expanses of hills and prairies were crossed, mapped and finally
conquered. Ultimately, the entire frontier was opened for settlement
and the forts, whatever their successes or failures, were abandoned
as they were no longer needed for protection.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" June 26, 2008 Column