Fort Davis: The Controversial Black Military Officer from West Point

Lunch in Alpine or in Fort Davis or in Marfa?

The end of September desert heat could wear you down, making you lose perspective. Reflecting on our decisions not to visit Big Bend National Park again the second day, I believe we made a big mistake. We never got to explore the west side of the Big Bend, including the interesting Terlingua Ghost Town and Santa Elena Canyon. As much as we would have liked to go back to the park and continued on westward, we made a tough decision for the next day’s exploration to Alpine, Fort Davis, and Marfa, triangular on the map.

Alpine is the county seat of Brewster County, Texas.

Actually, when we first got to this region, we came to Alpine to buy groceries for our Marathon home, because the grocery store there are much bigger with a better selection and competitive prices. I remember we bought fried chicken dinner, wine, green onions, frozen pizza, mushrooms, bottled water, ice cream, sausages, and tortillas. They were all good.

Coming from Marathon to Alpine, it was a 30 minutes drive. You will see some red brick stately buildings as you enter the town that contain Sul Ross State University before you arrive to commercial section.

It was about 11:30 am when we parked the car in the commercial area of the city.

An old cowboy in a convertible

“What is going on? We used to be packed on Saturdays!” An older gentleman in a cowboy hat directed his question and comment at me. He was in a convertible, looking friendly. I guess the locals spotted us as visitors and kind of apologized for not being as cool as we had imagined, lol…

I suggested having lunch in Alpine. My logic was that we would have more choices here than in smaller cities like Fort Davis and Marfa. However, my husband made up his mind to having lunch in Marfa, the supposed cool town of artsy people, who made some big waves in the internet world. Even though I had proved myself hundreds of times in the past for having good common sense and instincts, my husband was stubborn insisting he was right 🙂

Alpine reminds us of typical USA small towns: The town was always small enough that no one insisted on tearing down the old buildings to make parking lots. It is still too small to interest most big-box store chains. The downtown businesses are still owned by local families and with this pandemic, who knows how they are doing. Most of the buildings here are one-story, except for the university building and Holland hotel, a landmark, built during a brief mercury mining boom, designed by Henry Trost, a distinguished regional architect.

No lunch in Alpine. We continued on with our journey to Fort Davis.

The research for Fort Davis was delegated to my husband. This man first drove us to a residential area. When being asked by a resident if he could help us, my husband said no. No idea where we were going. What I did know was we got to a dead-end, some jagged mountains in front of us, a church by one side of the road, and some barking dogs from some houses around us. Instead of irritating him by asking him questions, I decided to make the best out of the situation: leaving him alone and taking some pictures.

Dead Stop in Fort Davis
Dead Stop in Fort Davis
Fort Davis Mountains
Fort Davis Mountains

By the time I was done with my pictures my husband looked sure of himself again. 5 minutes later, we were at Fort Davis National Historic Site. A key post in the defense system of west Texas, Fort Davis played a major role in the history of the Southwest. From 1854 until 1891, troops stationed at the post protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road.

Fort Davis
Fort Davis, one of the many buildings

The place took us a good 2 hours to tour. Despite the 90+ degree weather, we went to the visitor Center, Enlisted Men’s barracks, Commissary, Office’s Kitchen and Servant’s Quarters, Post Hospital, and the Commanding Officer’s Quarters…according to the park ranger, 800 men and 400 horses used to live here during its peak times.

Fort Davis Jagged Mountains
Fort Davis Jagged Mountains

The whole visit was a vivid reminder of the significant presence of the military in the settlement and development of the western frontier. One story, in particular, stood out for me is Henry Flipper story.

Henry O. Flipper

Henry O. Flipper the first black graduate of West Point

He was the first black graduate of West Point. He served at Fort Davis in 1880-81 and assigned the rank of second lieutenant. However, he was later tried in a controversial court-martial and was dismissed from the army in 1882.

What impressed me the most was that in spite of the setback, Flipper continued to strive for success. He became a prominent civil and mining engineer. Also, Flipper worked throughout Mexico and Latin America as the right-hand man to the Secretary of the Interior.

Honorable Discharge

And he and his descendants didn’t give up on seeking to clear his name. In 1976 the military board reviewed the discharge circumstances and finally changed Flipper’s discharge to an honorable discharge. In addition, President Bill Clinton posthumously pardoned Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper on February 19, 1999, 118 years after his conviction. The sense of honor of Flipper and his descendants is one of the spiritual strength to make this nation great.

Henry O. Flipper

By 2:30 pm, we were done with the Fort Davis tour and felt hungry. My husband still insisted on going to Marfa for a late lunch. He read about the food trucks there, which captured his imagination. Did we make it to Marfa? Did we have lunch there from one of the food trucks? I will write a new article all about our trip to Marfa and our lunch.

The end of the September heat in the desert is grilling hot. The heat can make one lose his mind.

Until next time, please take care!