A few years after Texas' statehood,
the U. S. built a more westerly chain of forts anchored on the
north by Fort Belknap and the south by Fort Mason. Jefferson
Davis was the U. S. Secretary of War in the early 1850s. He served
in the Indian wars in Texas and was well aware of the successes
enjoyed by the fast-moving, hard-hitting, far-reaching Ranger
patrols and he intended to use his new forts in a similar fashion.
He persuaded Congress to authorize a cavalry unit. This was not
without some difficulty, cavalry costs three times as much as
infantry. Northern congressmen rightfully feared the assignments
would go to officers from southern states. Former Republic of
Texas Secretary of War, Colonel Albert Sidney Johnson was given
the command and the officers were allowed to select their own
sergeants and requisition mounts from the thoroughbred stables
in Kentucky. Each troop had its own color of horse.
In December of 1855, Colonel
Johnson, accompanied by his wife, led seven hundred fifty men
south from Missouri. They reached the Red River during a ferocious
norther. A hunger-crazed cougar repeatedly attacked the horses
on picket during the night. When they arrived at Fort Belknap,
the Brazos was frozen six inches deep. There wasn't sufficient
housing for all the arriving officers and their wives, therefore
all the newcomers including the Johnsons, resided in tents. Part
of the Second moved on into Fort Mason. Between and west of these
two posts, patrols were mounted. They constantly crisscrossed
Indian country Ranger-style, searching out and destroying Comanche
camps and engaging war parties where they could be found.
Robert E. Lee led a surveying team out
of Fort Mason until he took command of Camp Cooper, which was
attached to the Comanche reservation, west of Fort Belknap.
Lee returned to Fort Mason in 1860 and spent his final year
in the U. S. Army before returning to Virginia at the outbreak
of the Civil War. Fort Belknap was involved in the Elm
Creek Raid; one of the largest and most devastating raids
in the history of the Indian wars.