Last month, my family made our first pilgrimage to West Texas. We stayed at the idyllic Fort Davis State Park, spent some time in Alpine and Marfa, and attended a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory. Quite the weekend!
It may not surprise you at all to find out that Fort Davis is named after an actual “Fort Davis.” It was one on a series of forts leading across Texas to help move settlers West. Fort Davis is now a National Historic Site , more or less set up like it was at the end of the 19th century. While it’s a national park, this little book I picked up at the gift shop is part of the Texas State Historical Associations’ Fred Rider Cotten Popular History Series.
While the Fort is the subject of the paperback, the land itself stands out as a character. German traveler Julius Frobel described West Texas’ Davis Mountains as a place in which Mother Nature is “a landscape-painter, composing a picture with the most simple yet refined taste.”
Robert Wooster observes that only 40 miles away from the area are First Nations pictographs suspected to be 1,300 years old. People have always been interested in the land – First Nations, Spain, Missionaries, Mexico, Texas, the Confederacy, the US.
As you can guess from the list of groups above, the social history of the area is complicated at best. This book delves a bit into the disappointing history of African American soldiers at the Fort, and several other books directly on the subject are available at the Fort itself. One figure in particular that stands out is Lt. Henry Flipper. He was the first Black graduate of West Point, but of course racism ruined his career. He was court-martialed and in a farcical sentencing was kicked out of the Army. While he went on to a great career as an engineer, of course the indignity still stung. After a century, his family and other advocates finally won their fight to have the dishonorable discharge overturned. Now there is a bust of him at West Point, and the road to Fort Davis is…a road named after Henry Flipper!
Coming in at a lean forty-seven pages, this little paperback is a great notebook of sorts for history buffs visiting the area. It will help the reader and amateur historian hold on to some of the interesting factoids picked up while visiting Fort Davis. The Notes section may provide a map for additional research if any particular aspects of the time or place are of interest. Recommended for history buffs and dorky dads.