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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Ghost in No. 7
Fort Concho

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
A small light flickered through a broken pane of glass in the dilapidated old officer’s quarters at Fort Concho.

Glancing at the light, the folks who occupied the adjacent officer’s quarters bolted their doors and left a loaded gun in a convenient location—just in case.

Established on the Concho River in 1867 to protect Texas from hostile Indians, the fort had been abandoned since 1889. The old fort had become a residential area known as the Fort Addition by the early 1900s.

Grown men and women did not believe the popular legend that Officer’s Quarters No. 7 was haunted, yet the town’s younger generation found the two-story structure terrifying. The adults merely agreed strange things went on inside the house.

Interviewed by a reporter in the 1930s about a year-and-a-half before her death, Mrs. Mary E. Rogers, who claimed to be the first Anglo child born at the old fort, said “mysterious things happened in that old house (No. 7). They just couldn’t keep it rented.”

The haunted house label was attached – apparently by children—following the discovery of a murdered man in the old building about 1895 or ’96.

The limestone quarters had been built in 1877. Col. Benjamin Grierson, commander of the post at the time, wrote his wife saying the building contained a “double set of quarters for unmarried officers.”

After the fort’s abandonment, as were many of the other buildings, No. 7 was used as a private residence and occasionally rented out.

At the time of the murder, the house sat abandoned. Someone found the body of a man inside, shot to death. After that day, rumor and legend spread faster than rigor mortis.

Mrs. Rogers, who remembered a lot about the old fort, said the man killed was a trapper of coyotes, wolves and badgers, Apparently he had been killed is a dispute over trapping rights.

One woman said the man believed to have committed the murder later was killed himself over a matter of grazing rights.

“He ran his sheep all over the country,” she said. “There wasn’t much water at the time, so a land owner told him, ‘Don’t drive your sheep in my pasture --.”

But just like a scene out of a Western movie, the determined sheep owner ran his stock across the other man’s land anyway.

The landowner and a companion were riding in a wagon one day when they saw the sheep owner coming. The passenger gave the man a rifle and ran. The driver stayed on the wagon as the herder approached. The sheep owner and purported creator of the ghost in No. 7 ended up with a bullet between his eyes.

The old government building could attract spooky living characters as well as the more ethereal sort.

Mrs. Rogers said that when she was a young girl living with her family at the fort, two men once approached her and asked if her mother might have a candle. She said she was sure her mother did, and the two asked her to bring them one.

“I brought them a candle and they went down into basement of No. 7,” she continued. “The people next door saw a light over there that night.”

The next day, she related, lawmen from Brownwood showed up looking for a pair who had robbed a ranching family and made off with two of their best horses.

The officers spotted two horses hitched up behind No. 7, arrested the two men inside and took them back to Brownwood to face charges.

As for Mrs. Rogers, she “liked to got ate up” by her mother for giving the two strangers a candle.

Author’s note:

This story, with some editing and a few additions, is from my first book, “Red Rooster Country,” published in 1970 and is based on a feature article I did for the San Angelo Standard-Times in 1968. Another Standard-Times journalist working a generation before me is the one who interviewed Mrs. Rogers.

Though Mrs. Rogers had said she was the first white child born at the fort, Suzanne Campbell, head of the West Texas Collection at Angelo State University, says a couple of other pioneers asserted they were the first Anglo kids in Tom Green County.

When I wrote the story back in the late ‘60s, No. 7 remained in private hands as rental property. It has since become part of the Fort Concho National Historic Landmark. These days, it houses the fort’s library-archives and an office.

According to tour guide Michael Smith, the staff at Fort Concho has heard of No. 7’s supposed haunting, but no one reports having any spooky encounters in the old building. Indeed, most of the ghost hunter attention at the old fort gets focused on Officer’s Quarters No. 1, where Col. Grierson’s young daughter – Edith -- died of typhoid fever on Sept. 9, 1878. Many believe her ghost has stayed around after all these years.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
August 27, 2008 column

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