With historical ties to the Union and Confederate armies, as well as the regiments of Buffalo Soldiers formed in their wake, Fort Stockton offers fascinating insight into the role of the Lone Star State in the American Civil War.
A historic fort still stands in the small town of Fort Stockton in West Texas. During the turbulent years of the late 1850s and early 1860s, the military post at the time shifted from the Union Army to Confederate forces and then back to the United States Army. Fort Stockton would later serve as the first home of the 9and Cavalry, an original regiment of African-American soldiers formed after the war for the purpose “to augment and repair the military establishment of peace in the United States,” according to a post-Civil War congressional act.
In addition to its rich military history, today’s Fort Stockton features a quirky blend of early Texas settler culture, a solid Tex-Mex food scene, oilfield history and captivating tales of the law enforcement at the end of the 19and/start 20and century in the Texas Big Bend Country.
For me, the mix of history and culture made for a unique destination on a road trip along the West Texas stretch of Interstate 10. When I stopped to explore Fort Stockton on this April drive from Austin to El Paso, I found a wind-swept, somewhat sprawling city that was brimming with Texas authenticity.
Here are eight unique places to visit in historic Fort Stockton.
1. Former Kansas City Railroad Station, Mexico and the Orient
Any visit to Fort Stockton should begin at the Visitor Center, which is located in the former 1911 Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad Depot. A walk through the building will not only give you information brochures on area attractions, but also the opportunity to visit the beautifully restored train depot from the early 1900s.
Located off Interstate 10 along East Railroad Avenue, the Fort Stockton Visitor Center is surrounded by grounds that offer a treasure trove of information about the area. An assortment of interpretive panels and cut-out sculptures tell the story of various aspects of Fort Stockton’s history. You’ll find signs on everything from Pecos County’s oil and gas industry to the early vaqueros (cowboys) on the route open to settlers who arrived in boxcars of “prairie schooners”.
The history of the railway itself is also intriguing. Historical accounts note that the railroad was designed as the shortest route between major American cities – such as Kansas City, Houston and Dallas – and the Pacific Coast at the Mexican town of Topolobampo on the Gulf of California. Through this port, the railroad was envisioned to one day link Kansas City, by steamship, to China and India (hence the reference to the Orient) – a dream that never materialized. never realized.
Pro tip: Along with all the information available, the Visitor Center is a great place to stop, park, and walk around historic Fort Stockton.
2. Historic Fort Stockton
A few blocks from the visitor center is the town’s namesake site, Historic Fort Stockton, the military fort that was built in 1867 after the original 1858 Camp Stockton fell into disrepair. Visitors to the fort can tour many of the original officers’ quarters and guardhouses, as well as two enlisted men’s barracks and kitchens that have been recreated by the City of Fort Stockton.
The United States Army withdrew from Texas during the Civil War and abandoned Camp Stockton in 1861, after which Confederate troops briefly occupied the site until they too withdrew. By the end of the war, not much remained of the first post, and in 1867 Colonel Edward Hatch, commander of the 9th Cavalry, restored Fort Stockton to its present location.
9and The cavalry was one of the first regiments of Buffalo Soldiers established after the Civil War. 9and was joined by the 24and and 25and infantry regiments, and later by the 10and Cavalry Regiment. The regiments are said to have been named “Buffalo Soldiers” by the Comanches and Apaches they encountered protecting the fort.
Until 1886, the post protected travelers and settlers on the many roads and trails that used the abundant supply of water available at Comanche Springs from Fort Stockton. Today, visitors to the fort can peruse informative exhibits depicting the lives of early frontier soldiers.
Pro tip: The third weekend in October, Historic Fort Stockton hosts an annual Living History Day, which includes re-enactments of frontier military history.
3. Annie Riggs Memorial Museum
Occupying the building that served as one of Fort Stockton’s first hotels, the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum sits near the site of the historic fort and the crucial water source for the community of Comanche Springs.
The adobe brick building, with its wraparound verandahs and gingerbread trimmings, offers an intimate look into Fort Stockton’s heritage, as well as Annie Riggs herself, one of the first women in West Texas business.
Built in 1899 as the Hotel Koehler, the structure was purchased in 1904 by Annie Frazier Johnson Riggs, an enterprising woman who got into the boarding house business after her second husband was shot and killed in a shooting. The hotel, which she renamed Riggs Hotel and operated as a boarding house, served as Annie’s income until her death in 1931. The building was then donated to the Fort Stockton Historical Society, which opened it as a a museum commemorating life in the Old West.
4. Paisano Pete Road Runner
Roadrunners are famous throughout the Southwest, but perhaps none more so than Paisano Pete, a whimsical 11-by-22-foot sculpture that has greeted visitors to Fort Stockton for decades.
The statue, located across from the Fort Stockton Visitor Center, is one of the city’s most photographed attractions, and it’s easy to see why when you stand next to the roadrunner’s playful likeness. Appearing in perpetual motion, Paisano Pete perfectly evokes the frantic pace of the bird that can be seen racing on the roads of all West Texas.
Paisano Pete makes a fun stop on a tour of Fort Stockton and is irresistible as the subject for a selfie or two.
5. Historic Pecos County Jail
As one of the oldest structures in the city, the historic Pecos County Jail has a fascinating story to tell. Built in 1883 and expanded in 1913, the jail is located on the south side of the courthouse plaza in Fort Stockton, the county seat of Pecos County.
Today, the old jail serves as a museum for local sheriffs and law enforcement, but 125 years ago it was a hotbed of Old West drama. According to the Texas Historical Association, the jail was overseen in the late 1800s and early 1900s by two notorious sheriffs – one, Sheriff AJ Royal, who was murdered in his courthouse office in 1894, and the other, Sheriff “Dud” Barker, who was voted out of office in a bitter election in 1926 after serving as sheriff for 22 years.
To date, “Who Killed the Royal Sheriff?” remains one of Pecos County’s great mysteries, according to information from the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum. Modern visitors to the jail can delve into the intrigue, walk where past sheriffs have walked, and tour the original 1883 holding cell and mid-20and cell blocks of the century.
6. Comanche Springs Pool and Pavilion
During Fort Stockton’s hot summer months (with average high temperatures in the 90s from May through August), the Comanche Springs Pool and Pavilion provides both a refreshing respite and a piece of history. regional.
In the early days of Fort Stockton, Comanche Springs was an oasis in the desert, providing water for Native Americans, Spanish explorers, and early settlers. In 1936, a public bathhouse/pavilion was built by the Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) to service the natural pool that formed at the springs.
In the early 1960s, however, the springs, and the pools and streams they fed, stopped flowing – apparently due to heavy groundwater pumping upstream – and a municipal pool was built instead. from the natural pool. Today, although the pool is no longer fed by natural springs, visitors can still admire the historic pavilion and bathhouse. The pool is seasonal during the summer months.
7. Authentic Mexican cuisine and steak house
Fort Stockton rightfully has a reputation as a place for excellent Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. The Visit Fort Stockton website lists nearly 20 restaurants and food trucks that offer menus with countless variations of burritos, tacos, and enchiladas.
Standouts include Tacos OJ, known for its wide selection of taco toppings, such as beef brisket, pork al pastor, and beef barbacoa; and Mi Casita, where chili rellenos and smothered burritos are among the favorites.
Fort Stockton is also home to a number of steakhouses, including K-Bob’s Steakhouse, known for its chicken fried steak and variety of steak cuts, and the Steak House restaurant, which offers both steak and Mexican cuisine.
8. Driving tour of downtown Fort Stockton
The Downtown Fort Stockton Driving Tour is a hands-on compilation of 16 of the community’s notable locations. In addition to major attractions like the Visitor Center and the Historic Fort, it also includes significant historical sites like the Gray Mule Saloon and the Old School and Army Telegraph Office.
Pro tip: Fort Stockton has a number of motel chains and RV parks available for an overnight stay. The I-10 community also makes a good day trip option from nearby Big Bend Country towns like Marathon and Alpine.
For more must-see stops in the great state of Texas, consider: