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 Texas : Towns : West Texas :

INDIAN HOT SPRINGS

Hudspeth County, West Texas

Lonesomeness Redefined
Fort Hancock, "Fort Unworthy", Victorio's Secret, the Buffalo Soldier's graves and the skirmish that made them necessary.

Text by Otis Windburn
Photos by Jason Penney


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Incian Hot Springs Ranch
The Springs as they appear today
50 Feet from the Rio Grande
Very far from everyplace else

The Springs

First of all the springs are privately owned. Let's get the disappointment out of the way at the beginning. According to the excellent Handbook of Texas, Indian Hot Springs consists of seven springs with a high mineral content that are in the flood plain of the Rio Grande. They are geothermal, however the water temperature at the "hottest" spring (Stump Spring) is a mere 117 degrees. This is tepid compared to the 140 degree water temperature at Hot Springs, Arkansas, but it is the highest temperature of spring water anywhere in Texas. The lowest temperature found here is Soda Springs with a temperature of 81 degrees.

The Handbook of Texas states that "By 1988 local informants related that only Soda Spring, Stump Spring, Mason's spring and Squaw Spring had retained their previous designations." Dynamite Spring had become Salt Cedar Spring, and Beauty Spring had been changed to Itty Bitty Spring (what happens when you bring grandchildren on naming expeditions).

Sierra Blancans used the springs just after the turn of the century, and a commercial enterprise opened in the late 1920s.


THE FORTS
Camp Rice / Fort Hancock

Fort Hancock and Fort Quitman were both subposts to the "Mother Fort" at Fort Davis. Hancock had originally been called Camp Rice and was established in 1881. It was near what had been Ft. Quitman, but was established near the railroad in 1882. It was one of the few forts to be purchased by the US War Department. The Handbook of Texas graciously supplies the purchase price of $2,370, which answers the nagging question: What's a Fort Worth?"

Hancock was frequently flooded, despite small dams that had been built by the soldiers to prevent this. They also endured several fires before pulling out in 1895.

A town sprang up just East of the Fort and the post office opened in 1886, the year the Fort's name changed from Camp Rice to Fort Hancock.

The town of Fort Hancock today has an estimated population of 400 and had its 15 minutes of fame recently, when it was mentioned as a border crossing point in the end of the movie "The Shawshank Redemption."

Fort Quitman
"Fort Unworthy"

Fort Quitman was the place Army recruiters never mentioned. Its description was "forlorn and tumble-down" and that was the kindest thing anyone ever said about it. The absence of doors and windows caused Army Surgeon John Culver to say it was "entirely unworthy of the name of fort, post, or station for United States troops." He did however, say that it was well ventilated.

Since this part of Hudspeth County is not known as a garden spot, vegetables and other foodstuffs had to be brought from San Ignacio, Chihuahua. The Army left in 1877 and told their suppliers in Chihuahua what to do with their expensive produce. They reopened the fort in 1880 and told their produce suppliers in Chihuahua they were only kidding.


Victorio's Secret

The year 1880 saw the start of a campaign against the Mescalero Apache chief Victorio, AKA "The Apache Napoleon." The Mescaleros had been misbehaving and (besides littering the desert with Mescal bottles*) had robbed a stagecoach and killed Maj. General James Byrne. After a skirmish that was more demoralizing than causality inflicting (Rattlesnake Springs), Victorio and his followers crossed into Mexico to lick their wounds and build up their self-esteem. Victorio was killed in October of 1880 by Mexican forces somewhere in Chihuahua. His gravesite is unknown. That's Victorio's secret.

*It is a fact that this faction of the Apache tribe was named Mescaleros because of their fondness for Tequila's little (and more potent) cousin.


Buffalo Soldiers' grave
The Graves of the 10th Cavalry Soldiers
Photos courtesy Jason Penney
The Buffalo Soldier's graves
and the skirmish that made them necessary
So now you have the background. Fort Quitman was abandoned in 1882 and Ft. Hancock was opened near the railroad the same year. During the 1880 campaign against Victorio (October 28, according to the excellent Handbook of Texas), two groups of the major participants in this campaign met near the springs. Soldiers from Fort Quitman were on patrol when an estimated group of 30 to 40 Mescaleros attacked them. Six soldiers of the 10th Cavalry were buried above ground, close to where they fell nearly 120 years ago.

While you may think of these soldiers as being among the unluckiest and most forgotten, consider the fate that befell some of their brothers a few years before about 1873.


Keep out sign
Keep Out sign at 10th Cavalry Creek
Hwy 240, 14 miles west of Burkburnett
TE Photo
10th Cavalry Creek
Way up in Wichita County (very close to another river that's a state boundary) there's a place called 10th Cavalry Creek. It's about 12 miles west of the ghost town of Clara; about 14 miles west of Burkburnett. The stream had been called Getty's Creek, but settlers found the ruins of an Army outpost here on the banks. The soldier's bodies were all buried in a common grave (including the horses that were killed) and the exact location has never been determined.

It just so happens that we have a photo of a Keep Out sign that was taken a few feet west of the Historical Marker at 10th Cavalry Creek. Evidently the property owners are adamant enough to have the sign welded together from drilling pipe.

John Troesser
September 2000

Reader's Comments
Thank you for the piece on Fort Hancock. I was raised there and can tell you that it is a great place to grow up. - Patricia W.

See Fort Hancock, Texas
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