nearly a century, soldiers at Fort
Clark protected the border from hostile Indians and Mexican
Established at Las Moras Springs in 1852 in what is now Kinney
County, the fort remained an active military post through World
War II. The town of Brackettville
grew up around it.
Through the 1870s, troopers stationed at Clark
occasionally skirmished with Indians but most of the time they adhered
to daily military routine, from reveille to taps. Later, during
the Mexican Revolution, the garrison kept a watchful eye on the
Rio Grande that flowed only 13 miles below the post. But most of
the time, life on the border was more boring than action-packed.
Except on pay days.
In the fall of 1933, about the time national prohibition was down
to its figurative "last call," retired Army Lt. Col. Jasper Ewing
Brady, Sr. wrote the New York Herald Tribune to recollect the time
he spent at Fort Clark
in 1889 as an enlisted infantryman.
across Las Moras Creek, he wrote, lay Brackettville,
"a nondescript frontier town...and about the worst place on the
map." With a population of only 500, it had "saloons on every corner
and plenty in between, dance halls, brothels-let your imagination
run riot and you may approximate what this town was in those hectic
Back then, Brady recalled, soldiers got paid every 90 days. Privates
earned $13 a month, corporals $15 and sergeants $18. The first day
of Brady's Fort Clark
tour happened to be pay day.
that night, he continued, "it was wild-not a revel, but an orgy,
such as would have made Nero look like a piker."
At two of the more infamous places, the Blue Goose and the Gray
Mule, "there were several kinds of dances indulged in that are not
seen on stage or ballroom floor. There were cheap liquor, cards,
all kinds of gambling, women and no legal restraints."
The next morning,
110 of the post's 1,100 soldiers-10 percent of the entire garrison-lay
sobering up in the post's guard house or under arrest elsewhere
since the lockup was full to capacity. Ninety days later, the arrest
count grew slightly to 112.
On the third pay day after Brady's arrival at the post, the situation
changed dramatically. An Army canteen had been built at the fort
and soldiers were barred from going to Brackettville.
At the post facility, only beer and wine "so light it would not
stand alone" were sold to the troops and no one could have more
than five drinks a day.
Brady did not say what economic impact the Army's move had on Brackettville,
but it sure reduced pressure on the post's guard house. The morning
after the next day pay found only eight troopers in stir. The next
pay day the number rose slightly to 10, but on the third payday
after the change, the guard house held only six soldiers.
"It was the finest example of controlled temperance I have ever
seen, and everything was working against that control," Brady wrote.
Of course, the policy did not last and Brackettville
continued to cater to off duty soldiers with money in their pockets
until the post's abandonment at the end of World
morning in the early 1960s, a cavalry veteran who had hung around
after the military left was sitting at the counter in a hotel-cafe
across Highway 90 from the old fort drinking coffee and holding
forth for several visitors.
"One story in particular I just can't forget," he began, "is about
a green recruit and a sergeant with a sense of humor."
A young recruit freshly arrived at Fort
Clark did not know how to ride a horse.
"They sent him down to the corral for his first training," the veteran
The rookie appealed to the sergeant for a break.
"Gimme a gentle horse, sarge, I've never ridden before and I'm kinda
The sergeant pointed at a horse penned by itself.
"Well, now, look yonder," he said. "He's kinda nervous, too. He
ain't never been ridden. You're gonna ride him, soldier, and y'all
can learn together."
The anecdote sounds suspiciously apocryphal, but it's not a bad
story, either way.
The two-story hotel across from the fort survived for more than
a decade after the military abandoned Fort
Clark . The cafe lasted into the 1970s.
A fire finally did what the loss of the military payroll had not
quite done. Today there's no trace of the old hotel, but most of
old Fort Clark has been preserved as a retirement community called
Fort Clark Springs. And while the cavalry no longer rides the Rio
Grande, the U.S. Border Patrol stays active in the area. Brackettville
still benefits from federal dollars, though certainly not on the
scale it once enjoyed.
"Texas Tales" February
22, 2018 column
An award-winning author of more than 30 non-fiction
Cox is an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters.
A long-time freelance writer and public speaker, he lives near Wimberley
in the Hill Country. To read about more his work, visit his website
at mikecoxauthor.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.