From Ghosts to Forts, Work Goes On

11 Oct

Life at TSTC Publishing is just too fun lately. Last Friday, Intern Kristine Davis, Editor Ana Wraight and I headed up to the Abilene and Albany area to tour two of the forts in the Texas Forts Trail system: Fort Phantom Hill and Fort Griffin.

Then on Monday while our publisher Mark Long was in the Valley, cooking up some book deals, many of the staff participated in a media tour, promoting our forthcoming book Cotton Bales, Goatmen & Witches: Legends from the Heart of Texas.

A full moon shone brightly as we climbed aboard a van, driven by our Office Coordinator Melanie Peterson. Only problem was, Melanie got a little scared herself as she drove into the dark Cameron Park with trees overhanging while listening to Author Bradley T. Turner tell some of the legends that made their way into the book, set for release Nov. 22. I’m not going to spoil your fun, though, by telling any of the tales found in the beautiful 11×11-inch coffee table book. Photographer Mark Burdine makes the present-day sites of the more than 70 legends come alive, page after page.

A big thank you to Sales Manager Wes Lowe for portraying the Gambler, whose story also is found in the book, and to our editor, Ana Wraight, for her portrayal of Clara, one of the Cameron Park witches. I started the night dressed as a witch, too, but it was too bewitching for me. And of course, thanks go to our driver, Melanie, who managed to keep her wits about her! Baylor Editorial Intern Debra Gonzalez decorated spook-filled (Thanks, Publisher Mark Long!) treat bags. She did a wonderful job!

The Monday night tour just whetted my appetite. I want to return to Oakwood Cemetery and find William Cowper Brann’s gravesite. The Cooper House at Austin and 18th streets more than intrigues me. I’m also getting excited about the reaction of those who see the book. If you want to take a peek, go to Amazon, where you may pre-order the book.

As for the Texas Forts Trail book in the works, I cannot describe what it feels like standing on the same ground as soldiers of the frontier stood. First, we went to Fort Phantom Hill, just north of Abilene on Farm-to-Market Road 600.

Chimneys. More chimneys. That’s what we saw when we drove up to Fort Phantom Hill, chimneys standing tall in the clumps of cactus. The name Phantom Hill wasn’t an official name, but perhaps came from the fact that from a distance, the hill rises sharply from the plains but levels out as it is approached, retreating like a phantom. Much work has been done here in restoration efforts. Much is left to be done.

Still, one gets the feeling of the frontier as pioneers headed west. The forts helped provide protection from hostile tribes. The forts were in operation for only a few years, yet still show historical significance today.

The complex at Fort Phantom Hill once housed five companies of infantry. Lt. Col. J.J. Abercrombie brought the five companies of the Fifth Infantry to build “the Post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos,” in 1851. Why the fort was built there instead of where an ailing Gen. William G. Belknap had planned adds to the fort’s mystique. Unfortunately the change in plans meant a lack of water supply and scarcity of building timbers.

Lt. Clinton W. Lear wrote to his wife in Fort Washita: “We have arrived at a point known as Phantom Hill. Too much cannot be said for its beauty. The country around is alive with deer, turkey and bear.” A week later, he wrote: “When I say to you that we have a beautiful valley to look upon, I have said everything favorable that could be said of this place. We are camped in a grove of blackjack two or three hundred yards of the creek which is salt. Everybody is disgusted. Like the Dove after the Deluge, not one green sprig can we find to indicate this was ever intended by man to inhabit. Indeed I cannot image that God ever intended for white many to occupy such a barren waste.”

Even today, we understand his words as we look over the grounds. Other than cars passing on the road, we saw no one but the past at Fort Phantom Hill.

Next, we headed over to Fort Griffin, but first stopped for lunch at the infamous Beehive restaurant and did a little fort research at the Old Jail Art Center (which is a story or book in itself!). We arrived later than we had anticipated, but the fort still was bustling with activity. White tents formed two rows on the parade grounds, and a visitor’s center indicated this fort offers tours, charges admission and also has a campground. The fort, a Texas Historical Commission property since 2008, also is home to the official State of Texas Longhorn Herd.

The staff had welcomed more than 800 area school children to the fort’s Living History Days earlier that day, and now the events were winding down for the day. And so were we.

The day was almost over for us, but we left, feeling as if we were leaving much behind.

-Sheila

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