Fort Graham

Artist's conception of Fort Graham
 Artist's conception of Fort Graham

When the Republic of Texas became part of the United States in 1845, it became the responsibility of the US government to protect the frontier settlements. Less than three years later, General William Jenkins Worth, after whom Fort Worth was later named, ordered Major Ripley Arnold to move troops to a location at Towash Village  on the Brazos River.

Because of an adjacent swampy area and lack of grazing land, the choice of Towash was quickly recognized as a mistake when the surveyor arrived. A new site eight miles north, at Jose Maria Village on Bear Creek, was chosen.  The fort was named Fort Graham after Major William Graham, a distinguished soldier of the Mexican War who lost his life in the Battle of Molino del Rey [more].

Eagle D Dragoon Buttons
Eagle "D" Dragoon Buttons  

The United States flag was first raised over the fort by uniformed Dragoons [more] in March of 1849, and a new sense of security came to the settlers. The Indians made no attempts to attack the fort itself, but they did continue to make moonlight raids, stealing from and terrifying the settlers.  At times when the people felt in particular danger, they would camp around the barracks until they felt it was safe to return to their homes.

Of the nine officers who at one time or another had command of the fort, five went on to become Civil War generals, three for the Union and two for the Confederacy.  One of these, Union General William Harney, was arrested by the Confederates at Harper's Ferry and became the first prisoner of war of the Civil War.

Restored Fort Graham on original site
  Restored Fort Graham on original site

It is not clear what structures were built at the fort.  One account mentions a commissary, officers' quarters, storehouses, carpenters' and wheelwrights' shops, and log corncribs. A stone magazine [more] to store ammunition was built, but it leaked and was unusable.

The soldiers had little to do for recreation except for playing cards, hunting, fishing, and an occasional horse race.  Letters from home were few and far between.  The paymaster arrived three times a year.  His visits were eagerly anticipated, not only because of the money that he brought, but also because of his willingness to purchase items such as boots, watches and trinkets for the soldiers.

While stationed at Fort Graham, army surgeon Josephus Steiner and Major Ripley had little respect for each other. Accusations arose on both sides, guns were drawn, and Steiner mortally wounded Ripley.  The subsequent trial and the events leading up to it became a case of military officials versus the citizens of Hill County.

Fort Graham General Store
Fort Graham General Store  

By 1853, settlements had been established further west, the Indians had started their westward movement, and the fort was abandoned.   The town of Fort Graham, with its general store, blacksmith shop, cotton gin, church and school, continued to grow and prosper until the early 1880's.  In 1879, the railroad established Whitney about eight miles south of Fort Graham, and many residents moved to the new town.

Cannonball from Fort Graham
  Cannonball found in Ft. Graham area while surveying for Lake Whitney

The only remaining building, a rock barracks, was restored as part of the Texas Centennial celebration in 1936.  But after the Brazos was dammed to create Lake Whitney, the building frequently flooded.  It was torn down and moved, stone by stone, to higher ground in the 1980's, just a short distance east of its original location.

A group of archeology and anthropology students from Southern Methodist University excavated a portion of the old fort site in the early 1970's.  Among the items they found were pieces of lamps, buttons, and stone points.  These points were used on atals, spear-like weapons which the Indians hurled like a slingshot.  Little remains now of the once formidable fort that helped to protect early Hill County settlers.

True Texas Tales of the People, Places, and Events of Hill County, Texas