About 15 minutes from where I work, there are wonderful old remains of an authentic 1850’s Texas fort. And with a name like Fort Phantom Hill, I thought it would be the perfect topic for a late October post.
In November of 1851, five companies of the 5th Infantry were dispatched to establish a post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River at a place known as Phantom Hill. It was built to protect the growing number of western settlers and those traveling to the California gold fields from the fierce Comanche. The harsh west Texas conditions made things difficult. Freezing winters, blazing summers, little water or grass to feed the horses, and sparse game. Nearly all supplies had to be transported to the fort from elsewhere. Conditions were so bad, that almost every soldier ever stationed there made at least one visit to the hospital, most often due to poor nutrition. Water on site had such a high mineral content, it was difficult to drink due to the bad taste. Clean water had to be hauled in from a spring four miles away.
One of the few positives at the fort was the fact that relations with the Comanche were amicable. Until 1853. A wagon was attacked in September. A woman by the name of Jane Wilson was taken captive. The driver of the wagon was scalped and left for dead. Jane managed to escape the Comanche and hide until a group of traders found her and escorted her to New Mexico.
As Indian raids increased, the military decided they needed cavalry units patroling the area, not infantry like they had at Fort Phantom Hill. On April 4, 1854 the order was given to abandon the fort. The fort was severly damaged by fire soon after, and it is believed that the garrison who left set the buildings ablaze. Perhaps as a way to repay some of the misery the fort had given them?
All that is left there today are the few stone buildings that had been constructed and several of the stone chimneys.
Once the fort closed and the soldiers moved on, the buildings were taken over by the Butterfield Stage and used as a stage stop. Cowboys would shelter in the abandoned buildings during cattle drives. Buffalo hunters roamed the area as well.
There are ghost stories that people have passed down through the generations regarding Fort Phantom. Several regarding the Lady of the Lake, the ghost of a young woman who was killed by her jealous boyfriend, a returning WW II soldier. (A lake was built south of the fort in 1938.) However, tales of strange sightings have been around since the fort’s earliest days.
The true explanation for the name of Fort Phantom Hill is much less spooky. The place got its name because, from a distance, a hill appeared to loom above the landscape. Yet as a man neared on horseback, an extremely gradual slope evened out the ground so that when he arrived, the hill seemed to have disappeared. Hence, the Phantom Hill.
So do any of you have local legends of ghosts surrounding historical places? Have you visited any old ruins that got your imagination spinning? I’d love to hear about them.