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A New Fort

FOR NEARLY 2 YEARS AFTER THE Confederate surrender at Appomattox, the Texas frontier and the road to El Paso lay exposed to Comanche and Apache raiders. The Reconstruction policies that followed the war kept Federal troops in Texas too occupied to devote much attention to the Indian menace. Attacks on frontier settlements and the El Paso road, however, finally brought about the reactivation of the frontier defense system. The 9th U.S. Cavalry, one of two newly organized mounted regiments composed of Negros with white officers, was assigned to Fort Davis. On June 29, 1867, four troops of the regiment under Lt. Col. Wesley Merritt, distinguished Civil War general, marched into the wrecked post on Limpia Creek.

On the prairie at the mouth of the canyon, Colonel Merritt began building a stone post such as Colonel Seawell had planned in the years before the war. A row of 19 sets of officers' quarters with separate kitchen buildings would face, across a 500-foot parade ground, a row of 6 barracks, with offices and other utility buildings fronting the parade ground at each end. Although only a few structures were finally built of stone and some originally planned never emerged from the drawing board, the post that took shape proved commodious and vastly more comfortable than its predecessor.

About 200 civilian carpenters, masons, and laborers went to work on Fort Davis. By March 1869, nearly 2 years later, they had finished about half the buildings and begun work on the rest. On March 20, however, the department quartermaster inspected the post and, probably for reasons of economy, ordered all work halted. Thereafter, the fort expanded sporadically as limited construction funds became available. Not until the middle 1880's did it assume its final form. During the period of active field operations, therefore, the garrison occupied 10 sets of officers' quarters and 2 barracks and discharged the routine duties of the post in limited office and utility space. Most of the structures were built of adobe bricks, in the manufacture of which the Mexican laborers who lived in the neighborhood were experts.

During the decade of the 1880's, even though the Indian menace had been eliminated, the garrison was increased beyond any previous number, and new buildings were therefore necessary. Band barracks, infantry barracks, and two new cavalry barracks were built in this period, together with additional quarters for officers. A new 12-bed hospital had been erected in 1874—75 to replace the temporary structure in use since 1868, and in the eighties this was enlarged by the addition of a second ward. The installation of an iceplant, gas street lamps, and a water system added a touch of civilization to the remote frontier. By 1890, the number of buildings at Fort Davis had risen to more than 60.


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