Coke County-This week, we take you to a fort in Coke County, Texas that is filled to the brim with artifacts from another time. It’s the grounds of this old fort and a man’s passion for telling this story that makes Fort Chadbourne well worth a stop on The Texas Bucket List.
We’re in Coke County at Fort Chadbourne.
“If you’re transferred to Fort Chadbourne in 1852 as a soldier, you’re sitting in the middle of Comanche territory,” Garland Richards said.
Garland knows this old post inside and out because he’s been exploring it since he was boy.
“I assumed that everyone had a fort in their backyard,” Garland said. “Seriously, I did not know any different.No one has enjoyed Fort Chadbourne more than me.”
Garland’s great-great-great grandfather Thomas Odem established a 150,000-acre ranch here in 1876.
“It stretched from Fort Chadbourne almost to San Angelo, encompassed a portion of Ballinger,” Garland Richards said. “Got to realize that in 1876, there were no fences and it was all open range and this is where he chose to bring his family and raise 13 kids and utilize as the ranching headquarters for his cattle operation.”
Passed down through eight generations, Garland is now the caretaker of his own parcel that happens to feature this old fortification. A few years ago, he couldn’t bare to watch it continue to fade from memory. He decided to rebuild and reinforce Fort Chadbourne.
“This is not the brightest thing that I’ve ever done financially,” Garland said.
In 1999, he founded the Fort Chadbourne foundation and funded this entire project privately.
“They told us that you can’t raise the funds needed to complete this project without governmental funding and we did it,” Garland said.
Each building on the property was painstakingly brought back to life.
“This is the ranch headquarters building,” Garland said. “This was a double officer’s quarters. This is where my great-great-great-grandfather comes in and he chooses these two structures that are joined together and he raises 13 kids. The archaeological excavation of this building told us how it was actually constructed. That’s the way we did it. Tried to keep everything as authentic as we could keep it. I’ve been working on this for about 20 years.”
During the renovations, artifacts were constantly being found. Even today, you can find things laying around all over the fort among the red velvet mites.
Now, we’re in the Butterfield Stage Stop,” Garland said. “You’ve got pieces of hinges, you’ve got the … this is a green beer bottle. You’ve got square nails. You are literally picking up artifacts off the ground. You’ve got a piece of glass, there’s the maker. You could actually find the … There’s a BDK on the bottom of it, you could actually find who made that bottle and when. That’s all you need is three letters to figure out that all that history.”
All the military and personal items Garland and his team have found can be see just a few feet from where they originated in the Fort Chadbourne visitors center.
“There are about a million artifacts that have come from Fort Chadbourne,” Garland said. “This is one of the most historically significant, pristine, unmolested sites of any of the frontier forts in the United States.“
Since the fort has been privately owned all these years, Garland has been able to painstakingly catalog and display everything they’ve come across. I do mean everything.
“ A lot of the artifacts from Fort Chadbourne are located in some of the drawers,” Garland said. “All of these drawers are filled with artifacts. Anything from cannonballs to musket balls to surgical instruments. These came out of the cannonball shrapnel field. This is where they actually blew up. Anything from shotgun shells, to gun parts, to coffee grinders.”
Perusing the preposterous amount of pieces that were actually found on the property is impressive.
“Anything that was dropped from 1852 to 1876 there’s one of in here,” Garland said.
Coins, wedding rings, glasses and all sorts of military memorabilia have been found here.
“The buttons that you see in this case, you’ve got artillery, you’ve got the dragoons, you’ve got the cavalry, you’ve got mounted riflemen, infantry,” Garland said. “There’s Texas Military buttons. All found here. It’s part of the history of Fort Chadbourne.”
Every little thing here helps tell the story of Fort Chadbourne. With the abundance of artifacts, it’s a Texas-sized story.
“You’ll go out there and you’ll find other little pieces to the puzzle and when you put enough pieces to the puzzle back together, all of a sudden you can see the whole picture,” Garland said.
During it’s time as a fort, 27 soldiers lost their lives here. Six of them were awarded the Medal of Honor. As a tribute, you’ll find all 3,500 recipients of that honor listed among a collection of actual Medals of Honor.
“These are the current Medals of Honor,” Garland said. “This is one of the early Civil War Medals of Honor. The rarest one in here is the Tiffany Cross. To be able to walk in and see all of these all in one place is pretty incredible.”
Seeing this incredible collection, hearing the stories, and exploring the fort is truly a treat for any Texan. As an added bonus, Garland brought out the big guns: A replica mountain howitzer cannon.
If you’re looking to dive deep into some valuable Texas History, Fort Chadbourne is well worth a stop on The Texas Bucket List.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do at Fort Chadbourne,” Garland said. “I’ll die long before I ever get my job done. Somebody else will come in and take it over.”