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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Buffalo Gap and Phantom Hill

On today's agenda was planned a trip to the Buffalo Gap Historic Village, located about eight miles south of Abilene and to Fort Phantom Hill, about 11 miles north of town.

Buffalo Gap got its name from the "gap" in the Callahan Divide, a range of hills that extend twenty-six miles from west to southeast through Taylor and Callahan counties and separates the Brazos River from the Colorado River. Thousands of buffalo traveled down from Kansas in early October when the first cold winds began to blow, and traveled down through the "gap", migrating back north in early March. Because of the availability of so many bison, they brought the Plains Indians (mostly the Comanches) to the area. The Indians were very dependent upon the bison, and it was their downfall.

The U.S. Government wanted to contain the Comanches after the Civil War, so the bison were targeted to be killed. The government's thinking was that if the Comanche's food supply would be eliminated, then maybe there would be a chance of ending the hostility on the frontier. This, in turn, brought many buffalo hunters to the area. Buffalo Gap became one of the main gathering spots for the civilian hunters. The American hunters were only interested in the buffalo hides, which brought in around $2.00 to $2.50 each, and the tongue and the hump of the bison. They left the rest of the animal to rot. This was very different compared to the Indians who used every part of the bison.

The real money was made by those who outfitted the hunters, supplying them with all their hunting needs and every day necessities.

The first buffalo hunters came in 1874, and by 1877, the buffalo were all gone. Many of the hunters stayed in the area and became ranchers and farmers.

Buffalo Gap was the first township in Taylor County and served as the county seat until 1883 when it was relocated to the town of Abilene. The Buffalo Gap Historic Village takes you through the last 50 years of the Texas frontier - from horses to horseless carriages. The site is divided into three historic areas: 1883, 1904, and 1925.

In the 1883 area, there are three authentic buildings: 1) The John Thomas Hill House, which was built in 1881 and was the home of Abilene's first marshal. It is the only remaining structure of box construction left in Taylor County. 2) First Taylor County Courthouse and Jail - construction started in 1879 and was finished the following year. This served as the Taylor County Courthouse until the county seat was moved to Abilene in 1883. Bottom floor contained County Clerk, Sheriff, and Judge's office as well as the courtroom. Upper floor contained a cell for hostile prisoners and a larger "run about" for general prisoners. 3) Knight/Sayles Cabin: Built in 1875 by J.M.C. Knight, a former buffalo hunter, for his family. Six of the family's thirteen children were raised in this cabin, which was originally located six miles to the west.



In the 1904 area, the buildings are typical of what you would find in a small town; a doctor's office, post office, barber shop, railroad depot, blacksmith shop, and wagon barn.





In the 1925 area is the two room rural schoolhouse dating from 1930, a Texaco Service Station that was built in 1926, a banking institution from the 1920's, the original free standing post office in Buffalo Gap built around 1950, and the Print Shop.



The Nazarene Church was built in 1906 and was originally located nine blocks from the current location. It is one of the first Nazarene Churches in Texas.

All of the artifacts are original in the buildings.

It took all morning for us to complete the self-guided tour of the Buffalo Gap Historic Village. We had really enjoyed ourselves and had worked up an appetite so we left to grab some lunch before we headed up to Ft. Phantom Hill.

It was a beautiful sunny day to go strolling across what was left of Ft. Phantom Hill.

In 1851, Lieutenant Colonel J.J. Abercrombie brought five companies of the Fifth Infantry to build Phantom Hill. This fort and the other nearby ones were built to protect the settlers who were moving further west on the frontier, from the Comanche Indians. There was a lot of hardship at this fort due to inadequate water supply (Elk Creek was often dry and the waters of the Clear Fork of the Brazos were brackish), and scarcity of building timbers. A stone quarry was located two miles south. Despite the shortage of timber, the officers' quarters and hospital were built of logs which had to be brought in by ox wagon from 40 miles away.

The fort was never officially named; it was referred to as the "Post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos." It became "Fort Phantom Hill" because of the hill on which it was located. The name refers to the fact that from a distance, the hill rises sharply from the plains but levels out as it is approached, retreating like a phantom.

The fort was abandoned in 1854, and shortly thereafter, was burned mysteriously. Those accused have ranged from an irate officer's wife to Indians to Federal sympathizers. No evidence existed to prove who did the dirty deed.

This is what is left of Phantom Hill.

Some of the chimneys.




Remnants of the Permanent Commissary Storehouse





The Guardhouse



The Magazine (where the ammunition was stored)

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