Way Out West at Fort Phantom Hill

by Jessica on August 31, 2011


The stretch of highway along Interstate 20 between Fort Worth and Abilene gives travelers an opportunity to envision what life was like for the settlers of the Texas. Out here, you don't have to imagine what life was like on the open prairie.  The bald, desolate vastness surrounds you on every side, making you constantly wonder about the bravery (or insanity) that was required to tame this unforgiving land.   Just outside Abilene, after driving through miles of emptiness, take the next exit to nowhere and drive over more nothing to reach a well preserved Texas fort.

Fort Phantom Hill is one of the most intact historical forts in the state of Texas.  Built in 1851 as a part of a chain of forts from the Red River to the Rio Grande, the fort served to provide protection to settlers and as a supply station for passers en route to gold riches in California.  In the 1850's the fort was known as the "Fort on the Clear Fork of the Brazos," which doesn't exactly roll of the tongue.   It was rumored that an Indian ghost haunted the fort in the moonlight, so the easier moniker of Fort Phantom Hill stuck.

As we walked through the ruins, we quickly learned a couple of obvious lessons that can only really be appreciated after you have experienced them first hand.   I had barely gotten the words out of my mouth before the boys were giving me the 'duh' look and answering that of course the stone remained because the wood had rotted away.  Logically, this is an easy conclusion to make, but there is something about seeing the tower chimneys and rock lined cellars that solidify the concept once and for all.

As one obvious lesson rose above our heads, another lesson was right beneath our dusty feet.  As we picked our way across the hard- packed, red earth, we dodged prickly cacti, snake holes, and huge cicadas that darted across our paths.   Clearly this was a harsh and barren land and those that settled here deserved some admiration.  Nothing like dodging reptiles and picking spines out of your socks to make you appreciate your predecessors. 

Fort Phantom Hill encompasses 22 acres, but we visited only the nearest buildings before the dust and heat begged us to hike back to civilization.  Admission to the fort is free and pamphlets are provided at the first building to help guide your path.  It is important to note that the Fort is really out in the middle of nowhere and there are no facilities or drinking fountains.  A trip to the bathroom and a cooler of water are a must for a successful trip.  Should you forget these details, you can make a stop at the Big Country Bait Store, about two miles from the site.  Although, to be perfectly candid, this is the kind of place where you will be greeted by a three-legged dog, and won't want to actually sit in any of the facilities, but then that is somewhat implied by the name on the sign.

Covered wagon headed west

As we packed up the car and guzzled down some water, I asked the boys if they would have wanted to live at Fort Phantom Hill.  Resoundingly, but not surprisingly, they all answered no.  The climate and the creatures were just to merciless for those of us used to modern conveniences.  I waited until we were back on the road facing nothing but empty, dusty space to ask if they would be happy to stop at Fort Phantom Hill if they were travelers across the prairies in a covered wagon.  In that case, they all agreed that Fort Phantom Hill would be a welcome site.  It's all about perspective.


Barbara September 1, 2011 at 2:40 am

I love the little story at the end, it is all about perspective!  As always great pictures!

Judy Haughton-James September 1, 2011 at 8:18 am

It was good seeing these pictures and reading about this area.
                                                              Judy from Jamaica

Michelle Brown September 1, 2011 at 8:55 am

What beautiful pictures, and what a great experience for your kids.  I loved the bit about the bait shop and the three legged dog, it had me laughing.
Stopping by from the blog hop.

Jill September 1, 2011 at 11:01 am

That is so neat! I love learning about the history of our early settlers and seeing buildings that have stayed in tact for so many years through who knows what. What a great experience for your family!

Becca@R We There Yet Mom? September 1, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I had no idea this was out there!  So cool!
Thanks for sharing!

walkingontravels September 1, 2011 at 9:17 pm

I love the two different perspectives you gave the boys at the end. I too would not want to live there, but if I was headed west and it was the first civilization I had seen in days I would have happily stopped. Maybe even for a few weeks. As always, thank you so much for my weekly (well more than that) dose of Texas culture and history. I am learning so much about one of our largest states!

Sarah V. September 2, 2011 at 12:40 am

Your pictures remind me of Fort Leaton State Park, at the opposite end of the state. Pretty sure I wouldn't have made it if I'd lived back then!

Sophie September 4, 2011 at 3:10 am

I lived in Oklahoma for a few years (at uni) and the only bit of Texas I managed to see was Dallas. Time to go back to visit – with kids. This looks (and sounds) such an interesting place; really like that first photo.

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