Fort Phantom Hill

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FP - WelcomeAbout 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.

FP - WagonOne 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.


Part of Officers' Row
Part of Officers’ Row
Commanding Officer's Quarters
Commanding Officer’s Quarters









Guardhouse or Jail
Guardhouse or Jail



Hospital and Surgeon's Quarters
Hospital and Surgeon’s Quarters







Magazine (Ammunition Shed)
Magazine (Ammunition Shed)



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.

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

33 thoughts on “Fort Phantom Hill”

  1. I have heard a few ghost tales around here, but nothing too exciting. I’ve gone on ghost tours in San Antonio and Galveston and really enjoyed hearing the stories from those places.

  2. Good morning, Karen! What a fascinating history of a frontier fort. I figure any building in that part of the country at that time witnessed many deaths, some probably pretty violent. Sort of stands to reason people would make up ghost stories as a result. Nevertheless, from the pictures alone, not sure I’d want to explore the sight at night. Too much potential for a woo-woo moment. 😉

  3. Thanks, Sherri. I’ve been wanting to do a post on Fort Phantom for a long time now and just never got around to it. I ran out there Monday at lunch to snap some pictures and immediately got sucked into the atmosphere. I love waling through historic sites. I didn’t feel any ghostly presence, but it was fun to imagine what life must have been like back in the 1850s.

  4. Hi, Renee. I found a site online that was called Southwestern Ghost Hunters or something along those lines who apparently did some kind of investigation out at the fort several years ago. They reported some weird readings on their last day and believe they encountered some sort of spector. Can’t say I believe in any of that, but the ruins sure are cool to walk through. I collected several dozen grass burs on my shoes and pant legs that were all too real. Ha! At night, the spook factor would definitely go up.

  5. Karen, I wish I could say we had an experience on the ghost tours, but we didn’t. Basically, they just take you around different areas (in Galveston it was a van tour of the collage with the face, the cemetery and the Strand district and past the historic homes) and In San Antonio, it was a walking tour. I don’t know if I just wasn’t interested in San Antonio one or the tour guide just didn’t make it exciting. I felt bored most of the time. Oh, but one time touring Ashton Villa (one of the historic homes) in Galveston, it did have a creepy feel to it. When we got there, no one else was there and the guy was surprised we showed up saying how all the other tourists were leaving the island because of the hurricane coming. Of course it was the regular tour, but he also told us about the 1900 Hurricane and how a lot of people were saved by seeking refuge in that house on the upper floors, but how many people were seen just floating past in the water. I swear it felt like were were being watched in every room we entered. When we were done, for some reason, we just wanted to head back to Dallas, back home. The storm wasn’t really bad that time, it hit further up the coast. But, we didn’t want to take a chance. it was like we were given a warning to get out and we took it.

  6. Karen, when I lived in Abilene back in the 70’s I loved going out to Fort Phantom Hill. I wasn’t a writer back then but the place sure stirred my imagination. Although I don’t know if it’s haunted, it sure is a haunting place. The location of it I think. So desolate out there. I’d sure hate to have to haul water four miles. Good grief!

    Another place I’ve visited that gave me goosebumps was Fort McKavatt. It’s down by Sonora, TX. Sits on top of a plateau. Some of the garrison buildings still remain and a schoolhouse the military kids went to. And then there’s Fort Concho over at San Angelo. They’ve done a remarkable job preserving that one.

  7. Good Morning all, California has Ghost Towns, too. Just north of where I live is Bodie and a number of small towns and diggings. (I’m on the east side of California). The gold country on the West side has a lot too, but we are mostly in line with Nevada. Bodie is wonderful because it still has a tremendous amount of information and is preserved. There are a lot of strange sensations around there, too. I haven’t been there for a number of years, but used to go a lot in my younger days before it was a State Park.

  8. Janine – That definitely counts as creepy! What a fascinating experience that must have been! I’ve heard about the devestation of the 1900 hurricane. Wow. I’d like to see that house.

  9. Linda – How fun that you remember Fort Phantom! I haven’t visited Fort Concho, but I have relatives in San Angelo. I might have to hop over there for a visit and spend some time exploring. Thanks for the tip!

  10. Karen, the fort I visited recently, the first year, they didn’t get there until late in the summer and they build the fort on low lying ground near the river and ended up with a terrible winter and spring flooding and poor supplies and so many of the soldiers died, many from diseases related to deprivation like scurvy.
    The next spring they abandoned the fort and moved up the bluff, renamed it and all was well for seven more years. They just didn’t know what they were getting into.
    Also it was an usually harsh winter with heavy spring flooding so many years they’d have done okay down on that low land.
    It cost hundreds of lives. I wonder if there are ghosts there!

  11. Hi Karen, brrrr. What a great post, so informative and timely. The Alamo and Queen Mary (drydocked ship now a hotel) are supposedly haunted. I so wanted to to the ghost tour of San Antonio but I was there alone after a retreat, and too chicken. Oh, I think the Menger Hotel there is haunted, too, one of the ghosts is the King Ranch guy. Had lunch but no ghosts. Fun today!

  12. Thanks for this great post. My kids are just starting Civil War history and I am adding this place to a folder for places our family can visit to make it come alive for them.

  13. Hey, Tanya. The Alamo definitely has that other-wordly feel to it. It feels almost like sacred ground to walk there where so many gave their lives for a cause bigger than themselves.

  14. There are so many interesting places in our country to visit! You just introduced me to yet another one. Hope I get to visit one day.

  15. Hi, Brittany. Fort Phantom is a great place to walk around and explore. It is right along FM 600, visible from the road. There is a flyer you can pick up at the front building, then you can just explore at your own pace. Makes for a great place for kids to get out and run while learning about history. Hope you get a chance to see it!

  16. Karen, I didn’t know the extent of the history of the island until I toured some of the homes. I love learning about the people who lived in places that I visit. There really is a lot to learn there other the the great storm history. The Moody home was really interesting and had a good guide too. We toured that one 2 years ago and it still had a musty damp smell from hurricane Ike in 2008. They were still working some repairs and the guide showed the line where the water came up in the bottom. We had hoped to get back down there this year, but we just didn’t have the money for a vacation.

  17. Great stories, Janine. My next full-length novel is actually partially set in Galveston, so I’m particularly interested in that locale. Time period is nearly half a centure before the famous hurricane, but still a fascinating place. Did you know that it started off as a pirate colony with Jean Laffitte? Pirates in Texas – sounds like another blog post. 🙂

  18. HI Karen, I can’t wait to read your next book. I pick everything I can on Galveston. It is one of my favorite places for a quick getaway. I actually learned about Jean Lafitte during one of the ghost tours.

  19. Hi Karen,

    Fort Phantom Hill looks like a place the imagination could definitely run a bit wild. Even picturing the cowboys seeking refuge in a storm.

    The local Sheridan Inn is said to be haunted by the ghost of Buffalo Bill Cody’s son-in-law. He killed himself in one of the rooms. Also, lady Miss Kate who devoted her life to the Inn is said to haunt the halls. Speaking of Miss Kate, it’s said one of the things she does is turn lights off and on. Last winter we (the local museum) went in to take the artifacts out of the Inn while it was for sale. We gathered in the old ballroom and right when my boss said “okay, here’s what we’re going to do” the lights went off. There was a round of nervous laughter and then we got busy.


  20. We live in an 1898 victorian farm house with 3 resident ghosts.

    When we lived in the Washington, DC area of Northern VA, there were lost of ghost stories. One that was most interesting involved a picture that was printed in the Washington Post. There was a large exhibit of needle work in one of the historic colonial homes (related to the Washington’s family, don’t remember exactly, it has been over 20 years). A reporter was there taking pictures of the event and the items displayed. When the pictures were developed, there was a picture of a footstool and next to it was a man’s calf and foot but no more of the body. The picture was not a double exposure and no one was in costume that day. The white stockinged leg and buckled, black shoe were exactly what was worn when the house was first occupied. The only explanation was a ghostly visitor to the exhibit.

  21. I walked through the foundations of an old Army Fort in the Colorado area. But, can’t remember what the name of the Fort was. Made your mind wonder about all that had happened there. Another thing that has always fasinated me was old fallen down houses. I always wonder about the people who had lived there and what had happened. I used to say, “If only walls could talk I wonder what stories they could tell.” There many remains of old buildings in the little KS. town where I lived in KS. Even a bank building that still stood. And, it was an old town where the cattle drives took their cattle from Texas to load onto the train. A real western town. The tree in our yard was said to be a hundred years old. I use to wonder how many Indians and pioneers had been there in the shade of that tree. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

  22. Great story! I love old ruins and imagining what went on there. I can’t think of any place too spectacular around me – just up north the Mackinaw Fort is a great place to visit.

  23. Britney – I hope you get a chance to come see Fort Phantom sometime. There is a lake with a park close by that makes for a great picnic spot.

    Janine – My book will feature a fictional pirate dagger that some believe has mystical powers–a dagger that once belonged to Jean Lafitte. I had fun researching the early history of Galveston island.

    Kirsten – Oooo, spooky light tricks. I’m glad you didn’t let it scare you off. That historic inn sounds like a wonderful history trove.

  24. Melanie – Thanks for stopping by!

    Patricia – 3 resident ghosts? And you didn’t even tell us about them!! Are they friendly?

    Maxie – Playing the “I Wonder” game is one of my favorite pasttimes. I love that you can sit beneath a tree that sheltered pioneers and homesteaders. So cool!

    Susan – It’s amazing what history we can find in our own backyard, isn’t it? The sad thing is that because it is so close, we tend to take it for granted. Until this week, I hadn’t been to the Fort Phantom ruins since I was a young college student – some 20+ years. How sad is that? I’m so glad I found an excuse to go back.

  25. Two are. We have the ghost of a young woman who appears on the upstairs landing. Supposedly this only happens before someone dies. My daughter said she saw her the day before our cat died of old age. My son woke one night to a girl of about 10 standing near his bed.

    Our daughter is the only one who has encountered the one threatening ghost. She was watching our house for us but didn’t feel comfortable sleeping in the old part of the house. She slept on the sofa in the family room added onto the old farm house. Her baby was asleep in the crib next to her and our black lab asleep on the floor near her. In the wee hours of the morning, she got up to deal with the baby and the hairs went up on the back of her neck. She had the feeling something very unfriendly was staring at her. When she turned around, there was a green form taking shape in the hallway connecting to the old part of the house. At the same time, the dog started to growl and every hair was up on her back. The dog took off for the figure growling. Before she got there, it just disappeared. She stopped growling and came to lie back down near the sofa.
    Odd, but she won’t stay here any more.

    I have felt the presence of entities, but have not seen any.

  26. Patricia – That’s so creepy! I don’t blame your daughter. I don’t think I’d be comfortable staying there either. Especially not with my baby. I’m sure she drew comfort from the dog’s protective nature. I’d be hugging that dog all night long if it were me!

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