U.S. troops occupied Texas cities during Reconstruction, but they were here to seize property, not protect it. They left the frontier alone, allowing it to bleed through a few more raiding seasons before the Union began to deal with its defense. In August of 1866, twenty-nine soldiers under the command of Captain Cram of the Sixth Cavalry, pitched their tents in the square of Jacksboro.
The post grew into sixty men and seventy four horses by December. In January, 1867, Major Samuel Starr arrived to take command. He split his forces in half and sent two companies to Buffalo Springs, twenty-six miles north to establish Fort Richardson. Starr took the remainder of the men to reoccupy Old Fort Belknap. Soon after the parties split up, a war party of three to four hundred Native Americans made an appearance at Buffalo Springs.
Trooper McConnell, who described his army service as an armed laborer, nothing more, gives his first-hand account of the events that followed:
"A detail consisting of a sergeant and a corporal and twelve men with four government mule teams driven by civilians had been sent early in July to the West Fork to cut timber where it was intended to set up a sawmill and build a bridge across the river. One of the teamsters was a short distance from the camp herding the twenty-four mules when suddenly a party of Indians swept through the timber, hurled the teamster, who was herding the mules, from his saddle with a spear, killing him instantly, and with a whoop and a yell were off like the wind. The soldiers not being mounted could do nothing but give the Indians a parting volley, bury the dead teamster, pack up their effects, and came on into camp and reported. Maj. Hutchins, commanding the post, at once ordered every available man to saddle up, marched out in pursuit of the Indians, leaving about fifteen soldiers and about one hundred civilian employees, unarmed. It appeared that when the Major got to West Fork instead of going toward settlements he went west to Fort Belknap, played poker with the officers there for two days then leisurely marched back to the camp. The Indians went their way unmolested.
The war party passed a few miles north of Jacksboro and moved east into Wise County, where they killed the Russell family in Chico. A bunch of cowboys spied the natives near Bridgeport and then raced to Decatur to warn the town. Fortunately, the Indians passed them by and moved on to Denton. They made camp in view of the town and continued to add to their stolen horse herd. Eventually they began their return march, retracing their trail.
McConnell continues his account at Buffalo Springs:
…I was facing the south as I stood in front of the company and looking southeasterly towards the Jacksboro road, there they came, sure enough, filing along in regular order, apparently driving a large herd of horses. They moved towards the west and had encircled our camp on two sides-the west and south. The north side of the camp was timbered and deep ravines protected the east side.
…The alarm became general, every possible measure was taken for defense. The officers' wives and laundresses were placed in the log forage houses inside the corral, all hands awaited the rush which seemed inevitable. Our whole force consisted of twenty-seven men but just then the quartermaster's employees consisting of about one hundred practically unarmed men encamped nearly half a mile north of our quarters hearing the alarm came running down in a crowd to the corral. This proved our salvation, for of course, the Indians supposed them to be armed and seeing such a large number hesitated to attack, and after, apparently, holding a council of war they deliberately began to dismount and proceeded to camp about half a mile from us. The relative position of the besieged and besiegers remained unchanged till about Tuesday noon the Indians gave signs of leaving and soon after our men came in sight and it was surely a relief to us to see them. This little encampment had for two days and nights passed through an awful trying ordeal. The Indians could have rushed and murdered the entire encampment at any time during these two days and nights. Of course many an Indian would have bit the dust at the hands of this little band of resolute men. One poor fellow became so crazed with fright his gun had to be taken from him, fearing he might accidentally kill some of his own party."
In the summer of 1867, the army decided to move the construction site of Fort Richardson to the edge of Jacksboro on Lost Creek, and began construction of Fort Griffin on the Clear Fork of the Brazos.