Rich In History

Frontier Town of Ft. Griffin

Ft Griffin MainIn the 19th Century, the U.S. Government established forts along Texas’ frontier to protect pioneers. By the early 1850’s, Colonel Jesse Stem farmed along the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, and Thomas Lambshead established his Clear Fork Farm, as others moved to the area, troops at Camp Cooper in present-day Throckmorton county, including then Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, provided military defense. Camp Cooper closed at the start of the Civil War in 1861. After the war, the U.S. Army established Camp Wilson, later renamed Ft. Griffin, near this site in 1867.

Ft. Griffin sat on the high grounds above the river. A settlement developed between it and the water’s edge. The town, also known as “the flat,” included merchants, cattleman, and their families. Its permanent populace supported a newspaper, the Fort Griffin Echo, as well as an academy, Masonic Lodge and several stores and saloons. A rough element of cowboys, gamblers, and renegades mixed with black and white troops to form a lawless scene. Among those attracted to the town were Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Lottie Deno, Big Nose Kate, Hurricane Bill and Hurricane Minnie.

Ft. Griffin was a stop for buffalo hide trade, and hides awaiting shipment crowded town lots. Located along the Western Cattle Trail, it included immigrant residents from several countries. Due to the distance from governmental authority, area residents formed Shackelford County in 1874. The town’s population steadily declined after Albany became the county seat and the terminus of the Texas Central Railroad. Notable local businesses included the Beehive Saloon, the Conrad and Rath Store, the Glesk Boot Shop and the Occidental Hotel. The Fort closed in 1881, but elements of the town remained in operation until the mid-20th century. The school consolidated with the Albany district in 1942.

Fort Griffin Lodge Hall

Fort-Griffin-LodgeOn site acquired August 18, 1877, for fort Griffin Lodge No. 489, A.F. & A.M., chartered on December 14, 1878. Stone was quarried nearby on Collins Creek. Volunteers built the hall. School, civic affairs and church services of many denominations were held downstairs, the lodge upstairs. In 1881, community was dealt two blows: The U.S. Army vacated Fort Griffin and the Texas Central Railroad line bypassed the town. In 1886, the lodge moved to Throckmorton.

School, held here until 1937, was consolidated with Albany in 1942. Structure is still used by clubs and for church services. (Recorded Texas Historic Landmark-1973)

Fort Griffin Civil Jail

Civil-JailThis structure was the jail used in the Town of Fort Griffin. Near the United States Army Post of Fort Griffin which defended the frontier from 1867-1881. During this period lawlessness was common in the town. Citizens built this thick-walled jail in 1878, although a conspicuous stone bears an earlier date. Gamblers, trail drivers, buffalo hunters, and skinners were frequently held here, as many as 18 at one time. The jail was used as a cowshed after the 1880’s.

The Mackenzie Trail

Mackenzie-TrailIn the fall of 1874, Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie and his 4th Cavalry Regiment were under orders to drive large bands of hostile Indians in Northwest Texas back to the Ft. Sill Reservation. In a fierce battle September 26-28, 1874, In Palo Duro Canyon, the Indians, who dismounted and fought from the rocks on the bluffs, were routed. The better of their captured horses were used as Cavalry remounts and others were given to the Tonkawa Guides but nearly 2,000 had to be killed because it was too far for any Army post to drive them there. Set afoot, the Indians could no longer depredate.

Mackenzie’s big supply base for the campaign, at the confluence of Duck Creek and the Salt Fork of the Brazos, was furnished from Fort Griffin, 1-1/4 miles ESE of this site. The road crossed here and the ruts made by the frequent wagon trains of supplies were plainly visible when pointed out about 1926 by J.A. Matthews, then owner of this site. The road continued west along the present fence line between the Matthews and Nail Ranches, crossing the Clear Fork on the Nail Ranch at what is still known as “The Mackenzie Crossing.” The Mackenzie Trail became a well travelled road used by both buffalo hunters and plains settlers.

Born in New York July 27, 1840, Mackenzie Died January 19, 1889, and was buried at West Point, where he had graduated highest in the class of 1862. Early in his career, General U.S. Grant had regarded him as “the most promising young officer in the army.”

Black Cemetery

Black-CemeteryThis pioneer burial ground contains more than a dozen graves of African Americans. The land was part of the Veals Addition to the Town of Fort Griffin. Milton Sutton bought the property at public auction in April 1882. Two visible markers are for Elijah Earls (d. 1880), who the Fort Griffin Echo reported as a “Tonsorial Artist,” or barber, and Marriah McKay Williams (1781-1891), who came to Fort Davis (Stephens Co.) before the Civil War as a free black. The Echo also reported the June 1880 burial of James Lowe in this cemetery. Most of the other burials are unknown. When Fort Griffin disbanded, many African Americans stayed nearby and homesteaded here. Their lives as ranchers, farmers, cowboys, and domestics are remembered.


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