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Empty Saddle at the Mulberry Springs

"Saving the Lieutenant's Hair."
Gleaming in the winter sun, the traditional "empty saddle" statue commemorating fallen cavalrymen stands high above the entryway to Fort Clark. Photo by Steve Dial.
5th Cavalry
An "anachronism between two world wars," troopers of the 5th Cavalry pass in review, May 1939, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright commanding. Detail of Ekmark photo. Click to see full image. Courtesy Fort Clark Historical Society.
Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.
Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. The former Fort Clark regimental commander died in France in 1945, a year before the post closed. Photo by U. S. Army Signal Corps, courtesy Library of Congress.
Las Moras springs
The clear waters of Las Moras springs were a balm for Indian and Anglo travelers as well as for the U.S. soldiers garrisoned at Fort Clark. Photo by Susan Dial.
post headquarters
Hidden behind a burned-out façade, the remains of post headquarters exemplify some of the finest stone masonry at the fort. The construction date, 1857, can be seen dimly above the door. Photo by Susan Dial.

Long after the horse soldiers' time had passed, Fort Clark was still a cavalry post. Wheeling in dusty drills and negotiating narrow canyon trails, the troopers of the 5th Cavalry maintained the army's historical presence on the Rio Grande. They were an anachronism between two world wars.

They also were heirs to a romantic tradition. The regiment had originally been organized in 1855 as the 2nd Cavalry and led by Albert Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee. By 1938, regimental commander George S. Patton Jr. stood at the end of a line of officers distinguished by their dash and daring. Patton died in France in 1945, one of the most renowned field generals of the 20th Century. Fort Clark was abandoned early the next year, a costly relic of American frontier warfare.

Today, the traveler turning south off U.S. Highway 90 at Brackettville enters the residential community of Fort Clark Springs, the remains of one of the U.S. Army's longest occupations in Texas. Up the hill, a bronze statue stands post above the clear waters of Las Moras Creek. It is a figure reminiscent of the traditional ceremony acknowledging a fallen comrade—the solitary horse, trooper's boots reversed in the stirrups of an empty saddle.

Most of the fort's remaining 19th Century buildings are in private use. Officers' quarters and enlisted men's barracks—some dating from the 1850s—face the first parade ground, now part of a par 3 golf course. The charred remains of the old post headquarters still bear the date, "1857," etched in the soft limestone blocks above the original doorway. Down the hill and past the site of the first commissary is one of the largest spring-fed swimming pools in Texas, built in 1939 when General Jonathan Wainwright commanded the post.

The springs of Las Moras—"the mulberries," in Spanish—probably attracted travelers for thousands of years. By the late 1700s, the site was a stop on the eastern branch of the Comanche trail from the southern High Plains into Mexico. Perhaps because of the exposure to Indian raiders, no Spanish or Mexican settlement took hold there.

Between 1830 and 1833, an English-born physician named John Charles Beales secured about 50 million acres worth of empresario contracts to settle 1,450 colonists on lands north of the Rio Grande. Under the auspices of the Rio Grande and Texas Land Company, Beales in 1833 began settling Mexican and immigrant American, English, and German colonists on the banks of Las Moras Creek a few miles downstream from the springs. The settlement, named "Dolores," clung to the poor soil for three years despite harsh climate and Indian raids.

The beginning of the Texan revolt against Mexico and the approach of Santa Anna's troops finally scattered the settlers in 1836. One large wagon train en route to Matamoros was attacked by Indians, and the colonists were massacred. The village of Dolores was never reoccupied, although its remnants became a rendezvous point for traders, trappers, and other frontiersmen.

The first significant party of Anglo-Americans to pass this way was led by U.S. Army lieutenants W.H.C. Whiting and William F. Smith, returning to San Antonio after an expedition to El Paso in 1849. Within a few months, a larger expedition followed. Colonel Joseph E. Johnston, the army's senior topographical engineer in Texas, was directed to mark a road westward from San Antonio to El Paso, generally along the Whiting-Smith route . Johnston was attached to a party of six companies of the 3rd Infantry under Major Jefferson Van Horne. The expedition included 275 wagons, 2,500 head of livestock, and a group of emigrants on their way to California.

In 1852, the Army established a new chain of forts to guard the western frontier of Texas settlements. Major Joseph La Motte and two companies of the 1st Infantry bivouacked at Las Moras Springs in June and named their camp "Fort Riley." In July, the government leased the land from San Antonio businessman Samuel Maverick for a term of 20 years. That same month, the new post was named "Fort Clark," in honor of Major John B. Clark of the 1st Infantry who had died in the Mexican War.

The first temporary buildings constructed were an adjutant's office, a bakery, and a guardhouse. The post was inspected in 1853 by Colonel W. G. Freeman, who reported that the troops were at work constructing quarters for themselves. By the end of 1857, they had added a headquarters building, hospital, and permanent bakery.

Patton House
Sunset behind the Patton House. Built in 1888, the wide, balconied Staff Officers Quarters accommodated regimental commander George S. Patton during the post's final years. The fort today is a privately owned resort. Photo by Susan Dial.

Click images to enlarge

Sgt. Ben July
Sgt. Ben July, Seminole-Negro Indian Scout, shown in late 1890s in front of jacal hut, Seminole camp near Fort Clark. The famed scouts were a critical factor in campaigns against Indians. Photo courtesy Fort Clark Historical Society. Click to see full image.
photo of mulberries
Mulberry tree for which the springs, Las Moras—the Mulberries—are named.
Samuel Maverick
Samuel A. Maverick. The San Antonio businessman leased land at Las Moras springs to the U.S. government in 1852 for the establishment of Fort Clark.
"Apache Indians Attacking Wagon Train."
"Apache Indians Attacking Wagon Train." Scenes such as this, drawn in 1854, illustrated the dangers to immigrants on the southwest Texas frontier. Image from Bartlett's Personal Narratives, courtesy Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Palisado building
Built in 1869, the Palisado building was constructed of cedar stakes, as were most of the soldiers' quarters in the post's early years. The stakes, set when still green, dried in the summer's heat and separated from the floor, so that "rats and mice came and went without ceremony," according to a Mrs. Lydia Spencer Lane, who lived with her husband, Lt. William Lane, in a similar structure at Fort Clark during the 1850s. "The rats and mice were bad, but we found a huge snake on the mantel-piece and that was much worse. I was just about to retire one night, when we heard a suspicious rustling among papers, and there he was, moving cautiously among them… I fled out of doors while husband killed it with a sabre." From Lane, 1893, "I Married a Soldier." Image courtesy Fort Clark Historical Society.
Commanding Officers Quarters
Tall cedars stand sentry at the Commanding Officers Quarters, built in 1874. First occupant was famed Indian fighter Col. Ranald Mackenzie; in later years, the quarters housed such renowned commanders as Jonathan Wainwright. Photo by Susan Dial.
July and Shields
Seminole-Negro Indian scouts Cpl. Fay July and Pvt. William Shields, late 1890s. The two served as scouts for the Army for more than 20 years. Photo courtesy of William Warrior.
Ft. Clark hospital
Sick call by the post surgeon at the Fort Clark hospital, circa 1896. Mosquito nets protect the patient's beds in the expansive sunlit room. Photo courtesy Fort Clark Historical Society.

Fort Clark sent more soldiers into battle in 1856 than any other Texas post except Fort Mason, headquarters of the new 2nd Cavalry. Various units from Fort Clark, Fort Inge, and Fort McIntosh fought 10 more actions in 1857. The next year, the army shifted the 2nd Cavalry north to operate against Comanche and Kiowa camps in the Indian Territory. Infantry and artillery units were left at Fort Clark until the beginning of the Civil War; the Army abandoned the post in March, 1861.

When the war ended, the presence of French occupation forces in Mexico once again drew the U.S. Army's attention to the lower Rio Grande. The 4th Cavalry reoccupied Fort Clark and Fort Inge in the fall of 1866, and almost immediately began confronting hostile Indians. When the 9th Cavalry replaced the 4th at Fort Clark in 1868, the post began its long association with the black troops of the U.S. Army. During the ensuing decade, companies of the 9th and 10th Cavalry, 24th Infantry, 25th Infantry, and Seminole-Negro Indian scouts would be instrumental in most of the patrols and all of the major campaigns emanating from Fort Clark.

The unit perhaps most closely associated with Fort Clark was known formally as the Detachment of Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts (also referred to today as the Black Seminole scouts). The Seminole Negroes have a complex 300-year history stretching from Florida to Oklahoma, Mexico, and Texas. In 1870, a band recently arrived at Fort Duncan was mustered into army service by Major Zenas R. Bliss to serve as scouts for the 25th Infantry. They received a regular army private's pay, arms, ammunition, and rations. Their performance in the field drew the attention of Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Merritt, 9th Cavalry, who succeeded in having a number of them transfer with their families to Fort Clark. There they came under the command of 24th Infantry Lieutenant John L. Bullis, who would lead the scout detachment for 10 years.

The Seminole Negroes living in the vicinity of Fort Clark contributed to a rich ethnic mix for the nearby town of Brackett, whose population in 1870 was approximately one-third native Mexican. The town had been named for its first merchant, Oscar B. Brackett, who opened a dry goods store near Las Moras Creek when Fort Clark was established in 1852. It had a stop on the San Antonio-El Paso stage line, but the population remained small, only 61 persons in 1860. When the army returned after the Civil War, Brackett experienced a boom, and the population had reached 1,204 by 1870.

The forts constructed on the Texas frontier in the antebellum period had fallen into disrepair during the Civil War, and those that were reoccupied in the late 1860s required repair and renovation. Fort Clark also required expansion to accommodate the increasing numbers of soldiers garrisoned there. Additional quarters for officers and enlisted men were constructed, along with a new hospital, bakery, and "meat house." Colonel Ranald Mackenzie was the first occupant of the new commanding officer's quarters constructed in 1874.

Second lieutenants at Fort Clark
Second lieutenants at Fort Clark, 1878. Photo courtesy Lawrence Jones, III.
Post hospital
Post hospital, constructed in 1876, took the place of an earlier structure. Photo circa 1896; courtesy of Fort Clark Historical Society.
John Jefferson
Pvt. John Jefferson—Buffalo Soldier, Seminole-Negro Indian Scout, and World War I cavalryman—is shown wearing marksmanship medal in this circa 1890s photo. Photograph courtesy of William Warrior.
Remnants of a bustling past, nineteenth-century stone buildings line a historic strip in Brackettville. Photo by Susan Dial.
Ft. Clark
Fort Clark by Melvin Warren. Cavalry troopers are shown in front of the stone commissary, built in 1882. The imposing structure was the largest on the post and still stands today. Image courtesy of Mrs. Melvin Warren. View full painting.
Raynald S. McKenzie
Ranald S. Mackenzie commanded the 4th Cavalry in an all-out effort to end cross-border raids by Lipan and Kickapoo Indians.
In an unusual 1870s photo, a Lipan Apache scout (possibly also a chief) is shown in front of a Seminole-Negro jacal, ca. 1870s. The Seminole-Negro Indian scouts and their families lived in a village near Fort Clark. Many of the scouts' campaigns targeted Lipan raiders. Photo courtesy Lawrence Jones, III. View large image.

Mackenzie was a favorite of General Philip H. Sheridan, who as commander of the army's Military Division of the Missouri directed all major military affairs on the Plains. Mackenzie was offered one of the few post-war commands open to an officer so young, that of the 41st Infantry. He accepted the command and a colonel's rank, but in 1870 transferred to a more prestigious assignment—command of the 4th Cavalry.

By 1873, the 4th was known as one of the army's hardest-riding outfits, having followed Mackenzie on three expeditions from Fort Richardson in north Texas to the Staked Plains of western Texas and eastern New Mexico. When cross-border raids into southern Texas by Lipan and Kickapoo became intolerable, Sheridan ordered Mackenzie and his regiment to Fort Clark, with directions to conduct a campaign of "annihilation, obliteration, and complete destruction," according to his regimental adjutant.

Mackenzie departed the vicinity of Fort Clark before dawn on May 17, 1873, and crossed the Rio Grande that night with six companies of the 4th Cavalry and Bullis's Seminole-Negro Indian scouts. Their target was a group of Lipan and Kickapoo villages near Remolino, Mexico. Early the next morning, the soldiers attacked and destroyed three villages, killed 19 Indians, and captured an aging Lipan chief and 40 women and children. One soldier was killed and two were wounded. Some 160 miles and 32 hours after leaving Fort Clark, the troopers returned with the captives and 65 horses.

A year later, Mackenzie was given command of the southern column of the campaign against Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne that became known as the "Red River War." Private Adam Paine, one of 13 Seminole-Negro Indian scouts accompanying the expedition, would become the first of four of the scouts to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. The others, Sergeant John Ward and privates Pompey Factor and Isaac Payne, were recognized for saving Bullis's life in an action against a superior force of Indians at the Eagle's Nest Crossing of the Pecos River in 1875.

By the end of 1875, the two cavalry regiments most associated with Fort Clark in the post-Civil War era—the 4th Cavalry and the 9th Cavalry—were transferred out of Texas. The 8th Cavalry took the place of the 9th on the border. The 10th Cavalry took the former place of the 4th on the northern frontier and the Edwards Plateau. Both would see duty on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

When cross-border raids into southern Texas by Lipan and Kickapoo became intolerable, Sheridan ordered Mackenzie and his regiment to Fort Clark, with directions to conduct a campaign of "annihilation, obliteration, and complete destruction."

A group of Seminole-Negro Indian scouts, including two Medal of Honor recipients, shown near Fort Clark, late 1880s.
Lt. John Bullis, shown as an officer of a company of the 24th Infantry, prior to leading the Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts at Fort Clark. View large image.
Soldiers on parade ground at Fort Clark, 1870s. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Jones, III. View full image.
Soldier's helmet. Worn for parade dress, the helmets had a tendency to fly off the heads of the soldiers during stiff winds. Fort Clark Museum.
grave of Pompey Factor
Grave of Medal of Honor recipient Pompey Factor in the Seminole-Negro Indian Scout cemetery near Fort Clark. Photo by Susan Dial.
hill at the site of 1881 Lipan attack
"Buzzard's Roost" hill overlooking site of 1881 Lipan attack on the McLauren family in their Frio River cabin. At Fort Clark, the McLauren massacre prompted a "pursue and destroy" order given to Bullis who pursued the Indians into Mexico. The ensuing battle was the last fought by U.S. Army forces in Texas against Indians. Photo by Susan Dial.

Lieutenant Colonel William R. "Pecos Bill" Shafter had been Mackenzie's second in command in the old 41st Infantry, later reorganized as the 24th Infantry. He had been transferred from Fort Duncan to Fort Concho in 1875 to lead the 10th Cavalry in a sweep of the Staked Plains in which Bullis and his Seminole-Negro Indian scouts played a prominent role. He returned to the border in 1876 to lead the army's efforts against Lipan and Mescalero Apaches raiding Texas from villages in Mexico.

Shafter was authorized to send his soldiers across the border when in "hot" pursuit of Indian raiders. Operating out of Fort Clark and Fort Duncan, companies of the 8th Cavalry, 10th Cavalry, and the Seminole-Negro Indian scouts attacked camps of Kickapoo and Lipan and Mescalero Apaches in Mexico four times in 1876 and 1877.

Mackenzie returned to Fort Clark in 1878 to combine with Shafter for a show of force south of the border—more than 1,000 men comprising the 4th Cavalry, 24th and 25th Infantry, Bullis's scouts, three batteries of artillery, and a supply train of 40 wagons. The display humiliated the Mexican army, enraged the Mexican government, and seemed to prompt a series of aggressive campaigns by General Geronimo Trevino to pacify the Indians and bandits on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

The next year, Mackenzie and the 4th were again summoned for a special assignment, this time to help put down a Ute Indian uprising in Colorado. There would be no more cavalry campaigns against Indians conducted from Fort Clark. There would, however, be one more action for the Seminole-Negro Indian scouts.

In April, 1881, a band of Lipans attacked the McLauren cabin at Buzzard's Roost in the canyon of the Frio River, killing John McLauren's wife Kate and a teen-aged boy who was living with the couple. Lieutenant Bullis received a "pursue and destroy" order at Fort Clark 12 days later. Bullis and 30 scouts picked up the Indians' trail and tracked them for six days, crossing the Rio Grande above the Pecos River and following into the Sierra del Burro Mountains. There, in a dawn attack on May 3, the scouts killed four Indians and captured a woman, a child, and 21 horses. A Lipan sub-chief was later reported to have been found dead of wounds received in the battle.

It was the last action fought against Indians by U.S. Army forces stationed in Texas.

Pecos Bill
Lt. Col. William R. "Pecos Bill" Shafter led the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers regiment in campaigns on the Staked Plains and on the border.
Cabin on the Frio River, similar to those built by settlers in the area. Photo by Susan Dial.