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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Forts the front line for Texas

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
The Spanish word for fort is "presidio." The first presidio in Texas was Fort 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.

Forts 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
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
 
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