Fort Phantom Hill

The occupation of Fort Phantom, north of Abilene, only lasted two years and five months.  Yet, on some days, it must have felt like a lifetime.

Soldiers traveled from forts in Arkansas and from the Indian Territory to erect this new fort.  The purpose of the fort was to protect travelers and settlers from Comanche raiding parties.

The grand, ghostly chimneys don’t begin to convey the hardships endured during these short years.  Yet, the feeling of isolation is still present even though a state highway divides the fort.

While living in tents, the soldiers constructed wooden houses for the officers using limited building supplies.  The enlisted men lived in pole huts with dirt floors and grass thatched roofs.

The Guard House or Jail was used to house soldiers for fighting or drinking whiskey, called bug juice.

Unusual for Texas, some houses had a cellar.

The ubiquitous Prickly Pear Cactus was as thorny a problem for them as for present day land owners.

Rattlesnakes are a fact of life in Texas. As the soldiers traveled to this location, a Texas Blue Norther struck.  Temperatures dropped quickly and the wind blew fiercely.  One teamster, twenty-seven oxen and mules froze to death in the sudden cold.

In the beginning, there were few problems from the Comanches.  But by 1853, travelers were attacked, some killed and scalped and others kidnapped.  After Indian Agent Jesse Stern was slain, the mood changed.  A new commander did not change the situation and the fort was abandoned.  As they left, he ordered that the fort be burned.

The water near the fort was full of minerals and tasted bad.  A deep well was dug but often ran dry, so water had to be hauled from a small spring four miles away.

Mesquite trees provided the only shade.

Hardships included scorching hot summers, freezing winters with ice and snow, and the ever present wind.  And, then, there were snakes, spiders, insects, ants, and other vermin.  There was rarely enough food and illnesses resulted.

What is it?

This stone bottom level of a two story commissary remains.

The monotonous view contained these three elements:  cacti, prairie grasses, and mesquites.

Across the present day highway, the Magazine still stands.  It was designed with a tall ceiling and vents to keep the gunpowder and shot dry.  The fort had muskets, rifles, and two brass cannons for protection.

Anyone want to go back to the good old days?  Not me.

“I cannot imagine that God ever intended white man to occupy such a barren waste land.”  Lt. Clinton W. Lear, Nov. 19, 1851

“Other states were carved or born, Texas grew from hide and horn.”  Berta Hart Nance







Ready or Not

Most years everyone would be anxious for signs of spring.  This year, however, since trees and plants are leafing out so early, we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop – a late freeze.

earlyearlyspringIn Brownwood there are lots of Mexican Plum trees (Prunus mexicana) covered in blossoms.  The plums on this native tree are small and hard but make good jams and jellies.

earlyearlyspring1So pretty.

earlyearlyspring2Along the highway near us, the native Redbuds (Cercis canadensis var. texensisare) are flowering.

earlyearlyspring6In our yard a Cherry Laurel  (Prunus laurocerasus) is covered with racemes.   I read recently that Cherry Laurels will not grow in alkaline soil, and if it is growing, it will die at some point.  I definitely hope that person is wrong.

This one came from a sucker in my friend’s yard 12 years ago.  I would really hate to lose it because it’s evergreen and a nice shape.  Plus, it provides a thick shade.

earlyearlyspring7Although I couldn’t see them, inside the tree bees were loudly buzzing.

earlyearlyspringdIn the field between the house and the barn is this jumble of small shrubs.  The blooming Algarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) caught my eye.

earlyearlyspring4To the right of it is a Mesquite, I think.  When they leaf out, that is an omen that there will be no more freezes this winter.  It doesn’t have a single leaf on it.

earlyearlyspringeThe shape of the Algarita leaves with the sharp tips are pretty, but those and their thorns make it a look, don’t touch bush.  Some brave souls gather the berries for tea jelly.

earlyearlyspringaSpotted a few Sweet Williams or Prairie Verbenas the other day as we were out walking.  Their toughness makes me smile.  In a few weeks, there will be clusters of them in all the fields.

earlyearlyspring9Last fall we scrapped a place in the field to plant wildflower seeds.  The directions from the owner of Wild Seed Farms in Fredricksburg were to rough up the ground, toss the seeds, and then move the top soil around a little.  Soon we’ll know if we were successful.

earlyearlyspring8I’m thinking or hoping that the little plant in the center of this picture is a Bluebonnet.  The leaves look right.

earlyearlyspringfAlso, in that field are rows of Irises.  These were planting years ago.  Some years there are lots of flowers.  Other years, not so much.  I’m not as faithful about fertilizing them as I used to be.

Guarding them is a vulture made from a shovel.  I found this at a second hand place in Brownwood.  It’s call This Old House and is on the highway 279 to Brownwood Lake.  They have several pots and yard art pieces as well as furniture and knick-knacks.

“Your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.”   unknown

Ain’t Spring Yet

One of the gauges used in Texas to determine if there will be a final freeze after the middle of March is when the Mesquite leafs out.  Leaves means no freeze.

Frank Grimes (1891–1961) was the editor of Abilene Reporter News for over 40 years.  In March, 1939, he wrote the following poem that the Abilene paper reprints in March almost every year.

“The Old Mesquites Ain’t Out”

 We see some signs of returning spring –
The redbird’s back and the fie’larks sing.
The ground’s plowed up and the creeks run clear,
The onions sprout and the rosebud’s near;
And yet they’s a point worth thinkin’ about –

We note that the old mesquites ain’t out!

The fancier trees are in full bloom.
The grass is green and the willows bloom.
The colts kick up and the calves bend down.
And spring’s a-pear-ently come to town;
And yet they’s a point worth thing’ about –

We note that the old mesquites ain’t out!

Well, it may be spring for all we know –
There ain’t no ice and there ain’t no snow.
It looks like spring and it smells so, too –
And still they’s a point worth thinkin’ about –

We note that the old mesquites ain’t out!
redbudThe native Redbuds (C. canadensis texensis) are definitely in bloom.  Their color pops in front of green cedars or the bare branches of oaks.

redbudbloomUp close is the best way to view them, although they brighten up a drive in the spring.

redbudbloom3redbudbloom2leafbuds2Some trees in the yard are leafing out.

leafbudsThe brown leaves are a result of an earlier budding that was killed by a freeze.mesquiteHere’s a bare Mesquite – no leaves.  Mesquites (Prosopis glandulosa)) are extremely hardy and drought-tolerant  because they reach the water table, which can be as deep as 290 ft.,through long taproots.They’re also able to use water in the upper part of the ground, depending upon availability. The tree can easily and rapidly switch from using one water source to the other.

For these and other reasons, Mesquites are considered nuisances.  Ranchers want the moisture in the land available for grasses.  Chopping down the Mesquites does not kill them, even if cut off at ground level.

mesquite2The positive aspects of the mesquite include its very hard wood, which is used for furniture and hardwood flooring. The flowers provide bees with nectar to produce honey. Their rapid growth is both a blessing because they provide shade for cattle and a bane because that root grows ever deeper.  The bean pods were ground up by the settlers, who used it as flour for baking.

The photos of the Mesquites shown above were taken four days ago.  Day before yesterday I noticed that they have in fact leafed out.

Then the last two mornings, we’ve had light freezes.  So the old wives’ tale is not necessarily true.  But it’s probably more reliable than Punxsutawney Phil.

“Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”  Benjamin Franklin

Bare Bones

After several hard freezes, the skeletal systems of trees and shrubs stand stark against the sky.cabinThis hunting cabin was on the property when we bought the place.  It required major renovation to be inhabitable.  Now we use it for extra guests.  This  Popular tree has survived many different droughts.

treePopular trees have a fascinating branch growth pattern.  The leaves rustling in the breeze soothes what ails a body.

treetrunkThe rough, thick bark can easily be peeled off.  Of course, that is not recommended,  but sometimes chunks get knocked off.

deadoatMany majestic Spanish Oaks stood tall in the yard of the stone cabin.  But many years of drought has felled all of them.  Spanish Oaks are not as hardy as some other oaks.  Extreme heat, lack of water, and oak blight has killed more oaks than can be counted across Texas.

Since I don’t want to sit and cry over them, for now I consider them as sculptures in the landscape.

fallintreesThey are all around the perimeter of the house.

deadtreeThankfully, they were not close enough to the house to fall on it.  One day we heard a loud whack as a huge branch fell from this tree.  We were grateful no one was standing nearby – especially our grand kids.

postThis is the remains of a hitchin’ post for horses.

mesquiteMesquites are considered a menace because they take water from other trees.  They are almost impossible to eradicate.  Everyone has a remedy to suggest.  But still they survive. pecan2The state tree is the pecan.  All the pecans have dropped from the husks.

tickle2This small native Texas tree is called Tickle Tongue (Zanthoxulum clava-herculis).  Other names include Hercules’Club, Prickly Ash, and Toothache tree.  When the leaves or bark are chewed, it numbs the inside of the mouth.  It’s said that native Indians and early pioneers used this tree to ease toothaches.

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”  Hal Borland