About the Fort that was not Spanish
Though Spanish Fort has a storied past, there are few reminders of it. The last remaining building from its commercial district dates from the
1910s and has become one of the most photographed ghost town ruins in the state.
One of the Red River Valley's most intriguing ghost towns is Spanish Fort in Montague County, Texas. Throughout its
fascinating history, this little hamlet -which wasn't really that little when it was in its prime - saw cowboys, Indian battles, French
traders, Spanish dragoons, card sharps, boot makers, and wildcatter's traverse its streets. The town's name intrigues, as well...
so, how did Spanish Fort come to be known as Spanish Fort?

The San Bernardo Trading Post
Spanish Fort's history reaches all the way back to the first half of the 18th century, when Louis Jucherau St. Denis, governor of
Natchtioches, tasked envoy and explorer Jean Baptiste Bernard de la Harpe with establishing trading posts along the Red River. The
French hold on Louisiana rested on generating good relationships with the Indians who lived along the rivers, and it was trade -
specifically, guns and furs - that established French dominance of the Red River Valley throughout the colonial period. Thus, de la Harpe
founded two trading posts by 1719: the Nassonite Post along the
Great Bend of the Red River (by Fulton, Arkansas) to trade with a large
Caddo village, and a post that the Spanish later called San Bernardo. San Bernardo was on Petersburg, Oklahoma of the Red River, and
was named in 1771 in honor of the Spanish Governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Galvez. The San Bernardo trading post, which was
established amongst an already large Tayovayan camp, became a fairly busy place, but it did not bustle with French traders. Mostly, Indian
tribes converged on the post to conduct horse and captive trading. By the mid 18th-century, the Toyovayans (a Wichita tribe) and the
Comanches had settled in a large, permanent village that stretched to both sides of the river.

The San Bernardo Battle
According to the Comanche, their territory stretched all the way to central Texas. When they learned that the Spanish had erected a
mission and a Presidio along the San Saba River in today's Menard County to missionize the Apaches (one of their ancestral enemies),
warriors from San Bernardo decided to stage a raid. In 1758, several dozen men converged on the mission, where they killed 19 friars and
stole the remuda. They also burned the mission to the ground. New Spain's governor tasked Colonel Diego Ortiz Parrilla, the commander
of the San Saba Presidio, to neutralize the Comanche threat. With over 400 Spanish and Indian troops, Parrilla tracked the Comanche and
Tayovayan warriors north to the Red River, pillaging and burning other Indian villages along the way. However, when he reached San
Bernardo, he came across a much larger settlement than he had anticipated. Though Parrilla and his men did engage in battle, they were
quickly overwhelmed and fled, leaving much of their military gear behind. Some historians argue that it was this defeat that prevented the
Spanish from further encroachment in the Comancheria, as the "Nortenos" proved too ruthless an enemy.

The San Teodoro Village
Even after Spain gained control of Louisiana in 1763, the Spanish continued to rely on the French to maintain relationships with the
Indians along the Red River. The Frenchman Athanase de Mezieres, lieutenant governor of Spanish Louisiana, tried to re-establish
communication with the tribes along the western Red River. He wrote that the Nortenos continued to be defiant against the Spanish. He
also described the San Bernardo trading post as more of an Indian village than a fort, with a sizeable population on the Texas side of the
river. De Mezieres christened this village San Teodoro.

Holy Site
One of the first American mentions of San Bernardo and San Teodoro was made by Henry Glass, a horse and slave trader and cotton
planter from Natchez, Mississippi. In 1806, he set out on the Red River to buy horses from the Wichitas. He met with them at the old
French trading post, and after successfully conducting business with them, he was bestowed the honor of visiting one of the holiest sites
of the Native Americans who lived in the western reaches of the Red River. Not too far from the massive village lay a giant stone, which
the Indians called the "medicine rock." Glass noted the reverence paid to this stone - it was considered a great healer, with magic
properties. He also noted that the rock may be made of platinum.* Upon his return to the Louisiana Territory, he relayed his findings to Dr.
John Sibley, the Indian Agent along the Red River. Sibley charged several men with stealing the rock, which was ultimately ferried to New
York for further determination. There, geologists determined that the rock was a giant meteor.**

It is interesting to speculate that the theft of this very important religious relic may have spurred Comanche hatred against American
settlers in Montague, Young and Wise Counties. Until the end of the Civil War, American men and women lived in terror of Comanche
depredations, which only subsided after the defeat of the Southern Plains Indians during the Red River Wars.

Burlington? No, Thank You
Holland Coffee, who is best known for his trading post at Preston and his plantation Glen Eden, briefly set up a trading post at San
Bernardo in the 1840s, but he was forced to leave it by federal authorities in Indian Territory (he sold liquor and may have dealt with
stolen horses). The loss of trade, coupled with disease and Anglo-American encroachment, eventually got the better of the tribes
residing at San Bernardo and San Teodoro. By the 1850s, they had moved away from the location.  American settlers came upon the
remains of the village and assumed it was a Spanish fort. When a settlement was founded close by, its name "Burlington" was rejected in
their post office application in 1876. So inhabitants renamed it in honor of who they thought had lived there previously - Spanish Fort.

Cowboy Haven
Spanish Fort's location was advantageous to the Tayovayans, Comanches, French, and Spanish... so of course it was for the Americans,
too. By the late 1860s, Texas had resumed its profitable cattle trade. However, the old route gave way to a new one founded as a
commercial enterprise by Joseph McCoy - this trail has become known as the
Chisholm Trail. As cattle herds began their long trek
towards the new trail's end station in Abilene (KS), cowboys stopped at Spanish Fort to get supplies and have a little bit of fun. A hotel,
restaurant, saloon, laundry, and dry goods store appeared. Another store that debuted in Spanish Fort was the cobbler shop founded by
H.J. Justin from Indiana, who supplied superior boots to the trail drivers. Justin Boots would become synonymous with Texas cattle
driving history. Soon, Spanish Fort gained a rather sordid reputation as a place for drinking, gambling, and carousing, as well as an ideal
hide-out for men wanted by the law, as they could very easily slip into Indian Territory from Spanish Fort.

The cattle and cowboys did not ford the Red River at Spanish Fort, however, They instead crossed at Red River Station, where dipping
tanks and tax agents had set up shop to keep control over the enterprise.

The Railroad does not Commeth
Spanish Fort was doing very well until the railroad came through in the late 1880s. A new town - Nocona - was platted about 15 miles
south, and Spanish Fort began losing population to this new burgeoning burg. The town rebounded in the 1920s, when oil exploration
made its way to the fields outside of the town. The brief boom that ensued helped to fund a new,brick school in 1924, but a major
explosion in a nearby well and several dry wells hurt Spanish Fort's viability.  By the late 1960s, Spanish Fort began to shrink until
ultimately, it became the ghost town it is today. During this time, both Texas and Oklahoma, independently from each other, conducted
research and archaeological expeditions on the sites. Today, Southern Methodist University and the University of Oklahoma house
artifacts collected from San Teodoro and San Bernardo, which today sit on private property.

*Much of this information was supplied by Dan Flores' transcription of Henry Glass' journal. Dan Flores is one of the preeminent scholars of the Red River
Valley.
**The "Red River Meteorite" now resides in the Peabody Museum at Yale University.
Spanish Fort's 1924 school house may be abandoned, but it's still a looker.
You may think I posted this map on the wrong angle, but you'd be wrong. The Red River runs north/south parallel to Spanish Fort. San Teodoro
was on the Texas (western) side, and San Bernardo was on the Oklahoma eastern) side of the river. (TGLO)
An 1896 map of northern Texas, found in Green's Atlas (LOC), shows Spanish Fort in bold - denoting its importance at this time. Red River
Station is to the west of Spanish Fort.
Brass ornament, either French or Spanish in origin, found at San Bernardo during an archaeological excavation in the 1960s.
(OK Genweb, Jefferson County.)
Lamp, lawnmower, and bed springs, American or Chinese in origin, found at Spanish Fort during my nosing around in the 2000s. Ha, ha.
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com