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
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.
A watercolor by
Miller (no
information on first
name) is the only
extant, contemporary
image of the fort.
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.
Several fires have
destroyed the wooden
buildings that made
up the fort. Only the
rock chimneys
remain, but they are
numerous - Fort
Phantom Hill, though
occupied only briefly,
was a substantial
installation.
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.