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Very Busy Fort Belknap

Fort Belknap was in ruins in the 1930s before it was resurrected by locals (LOC).

In June 1851, General William Belknap set up a small fort in Young County that served as a protection for white settlers against Plains Indians and for Indians on the Brazos River Reservation against white settlers. Fort Belknap, as it came to be known, was first made out of rock dugouts called jacals, but eventually the campus included several native stone buildings quarried from the area. Belknap centered the western frontier as a hub for the various roads that crossed North Texas. The ubiquitous Butterfield Overland Mail line stopped here, as well as feeders for the Shawnee cattle trail.

Fort Belknap became an important trading hub for Anglo settlement into the Comanceria. Its role as a protector of the Brazos Indian Reservation also made it a target of Indian-hating whites, who led raids against the reservation, murdered Natives indiscriminately, and even killed Belknap's Indian Agent, Robert S. Neighbors.

A small auxiliary town sprung up around the fort, housing whites, blacks, and Tonkawas, who sought refuge from the more powerful Comanche. Tonkawa men also served as scouts, and stayed with Confederate forces as the Union troops headed for Leavenworth in 1861. While the fort was too far west for major Civil War action, the Texas Rangers - who led raids on non-Confederates, or anyone they considered an enemy - used Belknap as a staging area.

Many depredations from Anglo and Native gangs took place in the area during and after the Civil War, which eventually led to the Red River Wars. Upon defeat, the fort briefly held troops to secure the frontier until Fort Griffin and Fort Richardson opened, thus moving the frontier further west -and Belknap was abandoned. Locals and new settlers dismantled many buildings and fences to help build their own houses. However, the Citizens Group of Young County, together with the help of Senator Benjamin G. O'Neal, restored what was left of the camp in celebration of the Texas Centennial.

The fort is now a jewel of a relic, with camp sites and a large picnic area. Inside the administration building is a very interesting museum, and a restored barrack is home to fort archives. One of the outbuildings serves as a historic dress museum, at least when I visited it (it's not always open). Fort Belknap is unique, too, in that it's a county park and not a state park.

Robert Neighbors, Indian Agent out of Fort Belknap, was most likely killed for his advocacy of the Caddos, Wichitas, Comanches, and Tonkawas he was responsible for. His grave is at the Fort Belknap cemetery, where a marker was placed for him in 1936.

The grounds are quiet and scenic, and the museum inside this building has many artifacts.

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