The blue wool coat and the man’s piercing eyes.
Is this a ghost from the past in a Union Army disguise?
The old fort was abandoned just its shadows and us.
The sounds in the wind and the birds making a fuss.
On the edge was a tombstone marking the death of an infant child.
She’d died long ago when the buffalo ran wild.
Closing my mind I’d give it a try,
If I listened close I could still hear her cry.
High above a buzzard did glide.
I felt an Indian’s arrow piercing my side.
Falling on the ground, I was writhing in pain.
When a US Cavalry soldier called out my name.
Something touched my face, a hand in a leather glove.
I woke up in the desert, West Texas, the land that I love.
I was inspired to write this poem after a day trip I took back in 2017 to visit the ruins of Ft. Lancaster near Sheffield, Texas.
The infant grave I mentioned in the above poem actually exists. It is simply marked “Little Margaret and a faded inscription reads, “Children are a heritage of the Lord.” In the fort’s cemetery other graves can be found. I noticed one from the civil war era, a Private, JH Norris.
At Fort Lancaster, the old adobe walls and chimneys seem to climb out of the desert landscape like old tombstones. Tombstones that mark a place long forgotten. This ghostly frontier fort took an important role in taming the wild west.
Fort Lancaster was originally constructed in 1855 as Camp Lancaster. The camp was established on Live Oak Creek. It was named for Job Roberts Hamilton Lancaster.
The Camp was organized in order to protect the wagon trains along the San Antonio- El Paso road during the California Gold Rush.
Lancaster was recommissioned in 1867 and housed the 9th Calvary. A group of seasoned horse soldiers mostly of African descent. This group of soldiers were feared by the Native Indians and by the Natives, were nicknamed the “Buffalo Soldiers.”
On December, 26 1867 the Buffalo Soldiers participated in the only battle in Texas history where a U.S. military fort was attacked by Native Americans.
Out of the shadows and razor sharp thorn bushes surrounding the fort, 200 Kickapoo Indians made their first charge. The entire area was over run by hostile Indians, the first group came in from the West and closed off the entrance of the the corral to keep the forts horses out. Another group began capturing the horses, leaving the wool clad soldiers on foot and fighting for their lives. The Buffalo soldiers raced into defensive positions as they were attacked from the North, South and Western sides of the fort.
After the battle, these soldiers proved worthy against such a forceful attack as mentioned In a speech given by the post commander at the time, Captain William Frohock.
“ I have the honor to report that my camp was attacked from three directions by upwards of nine hundred Indian, Mexican, and white renegades at about 4 pm yesterday, the Buffalo soldiers proved their battle skills and Fort Lancaster and the surrounding area is safe once again.”Captain William Frohock
I do love West Texas. It’s history and it’s people. I could spend days just exploring these wide open desert spaces. All of my life I have visited these abandoned places and dreamed of what it must have been like to be alive when these ghostly ruins were new and populated. Sometimes I think that life must have been much simpler then, but I know there were hardships that I can’t even fathom. There were many hardships on this barren land of the Chihuahuan Desert. Illness, Insect, Animal, and the chance that a Kickapoo Indian might just take your scalp.
I am grateful today for these cavalry soldiers who did what they must to protect those early settlers.