The blacksmith was an important person in early settler life. The shop was also a frequent gathering place to talk and share information. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
On the northeastern edge of the Texas Hill Country, what would become Burnet County was wild with resources and the promise of a good life for those who could withstand the initial hardships. While the draw of water and land for farming and ranching made settling desirable, Fort Croghan made it possible.
“I don’t think there’d be a Burnet without Fort Croghan,” said Judy Lively, president of the Burnet County Heritage Society. “It’s hard to say one hundred percent, but Fort Croghan had a lot to do with settlers coming here.”
In 1849, members of the U.S. Army 2nd Dragoons moved into the fort and soon built a hospital, barracks, a bakery, a munitions shed, and more.
“The Dragoons were like the Special Forces of the Army at that time,” Lively said.
Fort Croghan’s mission was to protect settlers from raids by Native Americans angry at being pushed from their homelands. The presence of a military unit of about 130 men brought more than safety to the community. The fort and its hungry men represented business opportunities as well.
Peter Kerr, a veteran of the Texas war for independence, owned a great deal of land in the area.
“He found out the U.S. government was going to build a line of forts from Fort Worth to Uvalde, so he leased about 1,200 to 1,500 acres to the United States government,” Lively said.
Kerr’s friend and fellow businessman Logan Vandeveer saw an opportunity as well.
“He knew the Army was going to need beef,” Lively said, “so he raised cattle and sold beef to the government.”
As the number of settlers grew, the United States began to move its military farther west. After about four years, the U.S. military closed the fort, although a small number of soldiers remained for an additional two years. The fort was finally abandoned in 1855, three years after the area was officially established as Burnet County.
Even with soldiers at the fort, some Native Americans still posed a threat, such as Yellow Wolf, a Comanche chief. Vandeveer turned to diplomacy. He sat down with Yellow Wolf to see if the two could come to an agreement.
“Yellow Wolf was no pushover,” Lively said. “He was a well-known Comanche leader, but Logan was a very impressive person, you know. He was tall, probably six feet or taller. This was a time when men weren’t that tall. When he walked into a room, people paid attention.”
By all accounts, Logan Vandeveer was a fair man. In his dealings with Yellow Wolf, he told the chief that, if the raids stopped, he would furnish his people with beef.
“Yellow Wolf, he probably saw the benefit of this agreement,” Lively said.
A deal was struck.
With Fort Croghan decommissioned, the area became known as Hamilton after the nearby creek. In 1858, residents changed the name to Burnet, after David. G. Burnet, the first (provisional) president of the Republic of Texas. The change wasn’t so much in honor of the former president but because a city named Hamilton was already etched on the Texas map.
Backed by the entrepreneurial and pioneer spirt of its residents and men like Kerr and Vandeveer, Burnet began to grow and take care of itself, even without an active fort.
“I think Fort Croghan is the reason this area was settled,” Lively said. “Sure, some would have moved here, but the fort was protection. People knew this, and they came here for it.”
Still standing as Fort Croghan Grounds and Museum at 703 Buchanan Drive in Burnet, the fort is open March through mid-October, but arrangements can be made to visit in the off-season by calling Lively at 512-909-9162.
Re-enactors bring the fort to life on Fort Croghan Day, which is Saturday, October 12, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission and parking are free.