Long before drivers sped across West Texas going 80 mph on Interstate 10 with nary a glance at the Trans-Pecos topography, travelers could rest in Fort Stockton. Today, those who venture off the interstate can peer into the past by going on the self-guided Historic Fort Stockton Driving Tour.
At the Fort Stockton Visitors Center, receptionist Laura Stoner provides a brochure highlighting points of interest that hark back to the frontier days. About 150 years ago, Fort Stockton lay at the crossroads of the Old San Antonio Road and Comanche War Trail on the Comanche Springs system. Early travelers and the U.S. military frequented sites that are now repurposed, preserved or abandoned, including the Oldest House, which Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Arna McCorkle encourages visiting at night to investigate rumors of haunting.
After a stroll at the visitors center, a converted Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway depot from 1911, the tour continues to the First National Bank building on business-lined Main Street. The police department now headquarters in the gray monolith, built in 1912, working under a pressed tin ceiling and among windows etched with Native American symbols.
Nearby, the Gray Mule Saloon, a cowboy watering hole circa the 1890s, finds new life as a tasting room for Mesa Vineyards. The company produces wines such as Ste Genevieve at a facility about 30 miles east of Fort Stockton.
Across the street, the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum tops a hill. Here, Annie Frazier Johnson Riggs hosted lodgers between 1904 and 1935 in her boarding house, a territorial adobe structure with Victorian-style trim built in 1899. A breeze sweeping across Big Chief Spring, now the seasonal Comanche Springs Pool and Pavilion, might have drifted to the hotel’s wide wraparound porches.
Today, the museum’s 13 rooms and common areas showcase local and frontier memorabilia. Inside, museum employee Lorraine Roberts directs guests to the dining room to watch a video highlighting Fort Stockton’s more nefarious tales.
In one story from 1894, an unknown shooter gunned down Pecos County Sheriff A.J. Royal in the Pecos County Courthouse. Evidence of the bloodshed remains. “If you open up the drawer,” Roberts says of Royal’s desk at the museum entrance, “there are still stains in there.”
Not all of Fort Stockton’s history is dark. Two churches built before 1900 represent frontier faith. St. Joseph Catholic Church, with earthy stucco and carved wooden doors, has been remodeled many times since it was built in 1874. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, in light turquoise with a white cross steeple and a bell that peals through the desert air, was constructed in Pecos in 1896 and moved to Fort Stockton in 1958.
Royal rests at the Historic Fort Stockton Cemetery alongside his 5-year-old son, Andrew Boy Royal. Established in 1875 and used until 1912, the small lot contains tombstones of many people not older than 40: beloved wife, precious daughter, infant son, husband dear and precious one, the markers read. Soldiers buried there were reinterred at the San Antonio National Cemetery in 1888.
Those soldiers served at Historic Fort Stockton, where the U.S. Army served from 1858 to 1886, excluding a period during the Civil War. Fort tour guide Delia Ramirez explains that Fort Stockton once had more than 30 buildings on 960 acres. Today, only four original structures remain: the guardhouse and three officers’ quarters. The barracks, rebuilt in the 1980s on salvaged limestone foundations, now house historical displays.
The fort’s original buildings have fared better than the Oldest House, built sometime between 1855 and 1860. The outcast of a modern residential neighborhood, the home once served as merchant quarters. Today, wind, water and likely vandals penetrate the chain-link fence, leaving adobe bricks to crumble in mounds below doorjambs without walls. Observing the relic at dusk, it’s clear even the ghosts have moved on to find another resting place.
Suzanne Haberman is a staff writer.
Sites on the Historic Fort Stockton Driving Tour
- Visitor Center
- Downtown Fort Stockton
- First National Bank
- Grey Mule Saloon
- Annie Riggs Memorial Museum
- Pecos County Courthouse
- Zero Stone Park
- St. Joseph Catholic Church
- Historic Old Jail
- Oldest House
- Old School & Army Telegraph Office
- Young’s Store
- Koehler’s Store and Comanche Springs
- Comanche Springs Pool and Pavilion
- St Stephen’s Episcopal Church/Hovey School/Rollins Sibley House
- Historic Fort Stockton
- Historic Fort Stockton Cemetery
Correction: July 10, 2014
This story misstated where soldiers from the Historic Fort Stockton Cemetery were reinterred in 1888. They were reinterred at the San Antonio National Cemetery, not the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.