Just a few miles north of Abilene are the picturesque ruins of Fort Phantom Hill, a frontier fort that shouldn't have been there in the first
place.

In the 1840s and 1850s, the U.S. Military ordered several military forts constructed to guard settlers from Comanche raids - and to establish
the lands for the U.S. General William G. Belknap had decided to place a fort southwest of
Fort Belknap along the Brazos river, but General
Persifor F. Smith, unfamiliar with the area, ordered the fort to be built on a hill on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River instead.

That was a bad idea: this area was sparsely timbered, and for miles there was no source of potable water. The fort had to be constructed of
stone quarried a good two miles away, and the wood used for most buildings had to be brought in by oxen. (Ironically, a reservoir now lies
just a few minutes away, and timber planted by later farmers seems quite abundant. Very strange what a few years' worth of human
interference can do to a landscape!)

In its short life, the fort - which was plainly called Fort on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River and not by its colorful name until years later -
saw little action. Several tribes friendly to the Texans came to trade and visit. The soldiers had to fight boredom and the elements, but not
men.

The fort was abandoned in 1854. Though the wooden buildings mysteriously burned soon after, what remained found a second life as a
stop on the Butterfield Overland Stage Coach route. During the Civil War the outpost acted as a sort of way station for Texas Rangers, and  
both General William Tecumseh Sherman and Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie spent time there during the
Red River War campaigns.

Fort Phantom Hill centered a small town of the same name in the 1880s, where the main source of income derived from buffalo slaughter.
When the supply of animals diminished and the railroad bypassed the town in favor of Abilene, the town and the fort faded from maps.

Today, the fort sits on private land. A local historical society has made the fort accessible, with informational brochures available to guide
the visitor along foot paths.
Fort Phantom Hill - Ghostly Remains
The fort's former buildings are identified by chimneys left over from the 1854 fire.
The Fort Phantom Hill Historical Society has done a great job keeping up the fort. This old schooner sits on the grounds as if waiting for a
pioneer to hitch it up for a long journey.
The fort's armorty/ magazine sits across the highway from the rest of the buildings. With its stores of live ammo, it was probably a good idea to
set it away from most of the fort back in the 1850s.
From Abilene (located on Interstate 20
between Fort Worth and El Paso - you
can't miss it!), take FM 600 north for about
11 miles. The fort will be on your left.
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com
A watercolor by Miller (no information on first name) is the only extant, contemporary image of the fort. (Fort Phantom Hill)
The fort's jail could have seen action, if there had been action to see. Most of the men at the post whiled their time by building roads, fetching
water, and perfecting military formations.
How to get
there