Fort Concho Historic District
Headquarters building, September 2017
|Location||San Angelo, Texas, United States|
|NRHP reference No.||66000823|
|Added to NRHP||15 October 1966|
|Designated NHLD||4 July 1961|
|Designated TSAL||1 January 1986|
Fort Concho is a former United States Army installation located in San Angelo, Texas. It was established in November 1867 at the confluence of the Concho Rivers and on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route and Goodnight–Loving Trail. At its height during the American Indian Wars, Fort Concho consisted of 40 buildings on 40 acres (16 ha) of land leased by the US Army. The fort was abandoned in June 1889 and passed into civilian hands. Over the next 20 years, the fort was divided into residences and businesses, and its buildings were used as residences or recycled for their material. Efforts to preserve and restore Fort Concho began in the 1900s and resulted in the foundation, in 1929, of the Fort Concho Museum. The property has been owned and operated by the city of San Angelo since 1935. It was named a National Historic Landmark on 4 July 1961. Fort Concho is one of the best-preserved examples of the military installations built by the US Army in Texas.
Over its 22-year career as a US Army base, Fort Concho housed elements of 15 US Cavalry and Infantry regiments, most prominently the "Buffalo Soldiers" of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry regiments. From its establishment in 1867 until 1875, Fort Concho was the principal base of the 4th Cavalry and then of the 10th Cavalry from 1875 to 1882. From 1878 to 1881, the fort was the headquarters of the short-lived District of the Pecos, and troops stationed at Fort Concho participated in Ranald S. Mackenzie's 1872 summer campaign, the Red River War in 1874, and the Victorio Campaign of 1879–1880.
As of August 2019[update] the Fort Concho Historic District stands on the fort's original 40 acres (16 ha), with 23 of its 40 buildings, which are among the oldest buildings in San Angelo. The fort is visited annually by around 55,000 people.
Operation by the US military
Conflict in the Texas region between Native American tribes and White settlers spanned a period of more than 300 years, beginning in the early 16th and ending with the cessation of organized resistance in the 1870s. Europeans first reached what is now the Concho valley in the 16th century, contacting the Jumano people. The Jumano were driven out of the valley in the 1690s by the Apache peoples, who were themselves expelled by the mid-18th century by the Comanche. But, with the discovery of gold in California in 1849, American colonists began crossing West Texas, whose indigenous peoples stubbornly resisted white encroachment. In response, the United States Army's Department of Texas surveyed the frontier in 1850 and built a string of forts along principal routes of travel. In March 1852, American troops established a camp on the North Concho that was abandoned with the establishment, in October 1852, of Fort Chadbourne.
This phase of frontier history ended three years later with the beginning of the American Civil War, which forced the federal government to abandon its Texas forts to the Confederate States of America. As a consequence, the native peoples of Texas pushed the boundaries of white settlement back until the end of the war, when white settlement returned with interest. Many of these incoming settlers became cattle herders. They followed trails like the Goodnight–Loving Trail, established in 1866 on the route of the earlier Butterfield Overland Mail route, which had found a natural gateway through the inhospitable terrain of West Texas and followed the Middle Concho River west. After reoccupying Fort Chadbourne in May 1867, Major John P. Hatch, commanding the 4th Cavalry, sent Lieutenant Peter M. Boehm of the 4th Cavalry to establish a camp on the Middle Concho, 50 miles (80 km) to the south.
Captain Michael J. Kelly and 50 troopers established this camp that summer, albeit on the North Concho, and remained there for the duration of the summer. A committee of officers including Hatch surveyed the North and Middle Concho Rivers in September 1867, and chose a plateau at the junction of the three Conchos for its grazing grounds and the abundance of nearby limestone and fresh water. On 28 November 1867, the 4th Cavalry's H Company departed from Fort Chadbourne for the site. H Company's commander, Captain George G. Huntt, named the site "Camp Hatch", but changed it to "Camp Kelly" in January 1868 at Hatch's request to honor Kelly, who had died on 13 August 1867 of typhoid fever. Construction began of a permanent outpost immediately on a site north of the camp, which was named Fort Concho in March 1868 by Edward M. Stanton, United States Secretary of War.
Construction of Fort Concho was assigned on 10 December 1867 to Captain David W. Porter, assistant quartermaster of the Department of Texas. He brought in civilian stonemasons and carpenters to construct first temporary storehouses and then a permanent commissary in January 1868. Porter, also responsible for constructing Forts Griffin and Richardson, was replaced in March by Major George C. Cram, who built a temporary guardhouse. Construction was slow, as direction had been poor under Cram and his predecessor, who was rarely at Fort Concho. Over 1868, Cram began a dispute with Major Ben Ficklin, the regional mail line superintendent, that resulted in Cram's having Ficklin arrested. The United States Postmaster General soon became involved and by August, Cram was reassigned and replaced with Major George A. Gordon, who handed Fort Concho's construction to Captain Joseph Rendlebrock, the 4th Cavalry's quartermaster. By the end of the year, Rendlebrock had completed the commissary, quartermaster's storehouse, and a wing of the hospital.
Like Porter, Rendlebrock employed civilian masons and carpenters, mostly German immigrants from Fredericksburg. The first permanent military structures on the fort grounds, five of the officer's residences and the first regimental barracks, were completed by August 1869. They were followed over the next year by two more officer's residences, another barracks were built, and a permanent guardhouse and stables. Hatch pushed for the completion of the fort through 1870–71, directing the building of a quartermaster's corral, a wagon shed, and a failed attempt at producing adobe bricks that earned him the moniker "Dobe". Construction was again slowed in February 1872 with the discharging of most of the civilian workforce following budget cuts to the US War Department, but by the end of the year, Fort Concho consisted of four barracks, eight officers' residences, the hospital, a magazine, stone guardhouse, bakery, several storehouses, workshops, and stables.
In 1875, the parade ground was cleared and a flagstaff placed in its center. In the process, the adjutant's office was moved to the headquarters building. It was replaced in short order with a stone command structure, the headquarters building, built in 1876. Another officers' residence was built in 1877, as were the foundations for another that went unfinished for lack of funding. This building was completed in February 1879 as the schoolhouse and chapel. It was the final permanent structure completed at Fort Concho. By 1879, the fort was an eight-company installation of entirely limestone-built structures with a parade ground measuring 1,000 ft (300 m) long by 500 ft (150 m) wide. Construction had, by 1877, cost the US Army $1 million (equivalent to $24,009,375 in 2019) on land it had leased.
Base of the 4th Cavalry
The first act undertaken by the 4th Cavalry when establishing Fort Concho was to build a wagon road to the San Saba River to secure a supply route from Fort Mason. When not on construction details, the garrison patrolled, scouted, and escorted wagon trains on the Butterfield Overland Trail and San Antonio–El Paso Road, and cattle herds. Encounters with hostile Native Americans were rare.
On 25 February 1871, Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie took command of the 4th Cavalry. He moved the regimental headquarters to Fort Richardson a month later, but kept a few companies at Fort Concho. In May 1871, the 4th Cavalry contingent left at Fort Concho participated in a campaign against the Kiowa in retaliation for the Warren Wagon Train raid with troops from Forts Griffin and Sill. Six troops of 4th Cavalry's I Company, commanded by Captain Napoleon B. McLaughlen, joined the rest of the regiment at the Little Wichita River in pursuit of the Kiowa, but turned back for Fort Concho in September after the Kiowa escaped. Comanche and Kiowa raids increased in number over early 1873, prompting a number of expeditions that rarely saw Native Americans. A notable exception was a patrol carried out by Sergeant William Wilson from 26 to 29 March 1872 that led to the US Army's discovery of water in the Staked Plains and a large Comanche settlement at Mushaway Peak. Hatch, in charge of Fort Concho while Mackenzie was in the field, reported Wilson's findings to Mackenzie and to the Departments of Texas and New Mexico. McLaughlen set out again with two companies of the 4th Cavalry and one of the 11th Infantry and confirmed Wilson's report.
After Mackenzie and Hatch met with General Christopher C. Augur, commander of the Department of Texas, Mackenzie and McLaughlen, commanding Companies D and I, departed from their respective installations on 17 June. Over the following months, the 4th Cavalry explored the South Plains and fought the Comanche at the Battle of the North Fork of the Red River on 29 September. As a result of that battle, the 4th Cavalry captured 124 women and children, 116 of whom were taken back to Fort Concho on 21 October. The captives were interned in the quartermaster's corral and remained there until the Department of Texas ordered their release on 14 April 1873. They departed Fort Concho on 24 May under escort from the 11th Infantry and arrived at Fort Sill on 10 June.
On 27 June 1874, more than 200 indigenous warriors attacked a group of buffalo hunters camped at Adobe Walls, beginning the Red River War. In response, Augur ordered Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry back to Fort Concho in July and by August, General Philip H. Sheridan, commanding the Military Division of the Missouri, ordered five expeditionary forces of more than 3,000 soldiers into the South Plains. The southern force, under Mackenzie, left Fort Concho on 23 August 1874 with eight companies of the 4th Cavalry, four of the 10th Infantry, and one from the 11th Infantry. Over the following year, Mackenzie chased the Comanche until he found their base of operations in the Palo Duro Canyon and destroyed it on 28 September. His force continued to patrol the area over the winter, preventing the Comanche from rebuilding their supplies and forcing their return to their reservation.
Base of the 10th Cavalry
By 1875, Fort Concho had become one of the main US Army bases in Texas, but early in the year the 4th Cavalry was transferred to Fort Sill to keep the South Plains nations on their reservation. They were replaced in Texas by the 10th Cavalry, one of the two cavalry units of the "Buffalo Soldiers", commanded by Colonel Benjamin Grierson. Grierson arrived at Fort Concho on 17 April 1875, and established the regimental headquarters there. Stationed at Forts Concho, Stockton, Fort Davis, Quitman, and Clark, the 4th Cavalry was tasked with patrolling the frontier, escorting wagons and settlers, and mounting expeditions. Their surveys and patrols were invaluable for the development of West Texas, as roads could be built and telegraph lines laid. In July 1877, Captain Nicholas M. Nolan led an ill-fated expedition out of Fort Concho that achieved nothing and killed four soldiers from the 10th Cavalry's Company A.
In January 1878, in response to raids by the Mescalero and San Carlos Apaches, the US Army created the District of the Pecos and placed it under Grierson's command. In October 1879, Grierson received word that a war party of Ojo Caliente and Mescalero Apache under Chief Victorio entered the Trans-Pecos. He left Fort Concho on 23 March 1880 at the head of five companies of the 10th Cavalry and some of the 25th Infantry to disarm the Mescaleros of the Fort Stanton reservation. Grierson's soldiers fought with Apache raiders over early April, then reached Fort Stanton on 12 April. The disarmament was delayed until 16 April because of rains, and resulted in failure when the Mescalero Apache escaped with most of their arms. Grierson returned to Fort Concho on 16 May, but left the 10th Cavalry's M Company at the head of the North Concho in case the Apache appeared in the area.
On 17 June 1880, Nolan and a battalion of the 10th Cavalry at Fort Sill returned to Fort Concho by Grierson's order. Ten days later, Grierson sent Nolan to patrol the Guadalupe Mountains and himself set out from Fort Concho on 10 July. Grierson harried Victorio over the summer until he was defeated at Rattlesnake Springs and driven into Mexico. There, Victorio's band was destroyed on 15 October 1880 by Mexican soldiers under the command of Colonel Joaquín Terrazas. The 10th Cavalry left Fort Concho for the last time in July 1882 for Fort Davis, farther to the west.
Post-Texas Indian Wars and deactivation
On 27 January 1881, the Texas Rangers fought and defeated what was left of Victorio's band in the final battle of the American Indian Wars fought in Texas. The District of the Pecos was disbanded the following month. In August 1882, the 10th Cavalry was replaced at Fort Concho by the 16th Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alfred L. Hough. Ten days before Hough and the regimental headquarters arrived at the fort, a massive flood of the Concho wiped the town of Ben Ficklin off the map and badly damaged San Angelo. As a result, the 16th Infantry spent its first week on-site rendering humanitarian aid. After recovering, San Angelo began to prosper, while Fort Concho declined from poor maintenance. From 1882 until the fort's final closure, it served primarily as a base for troops awaiting transfer elsewhere in Texas. When Fort McKavett was abandoned by the US Army in June 1883, its garrison moved to Fort Concho.
By the mid-1880s, the ranches that now enclosed the surrounding plains with barbed-wire fencing reduced the soldiers, barred by law from cutting the wire, to patrolling roads. Many of the frontier forts, such as Forts Davis and Griffin, had either been abandoned or were awaiting deactivation. After the 16th Infantry left Fort Concho for Fort Bliss in February 1887, locals believed Fort Concho would also be abandoned. In early 1888, the 8th Cavalry gathered at Fort Concho from around Texas, and then left in June for Fort Meade, South Dakota. With their departure, only the 19th Infantry's K Company was garrisoned at Fort Concho. Interested locals appealed in vain to the federal government to make Fort Concho a permanent installation. On 20 June 1889, the men of K Company lowered the flag over the fort for the final time, and left the next morning.
Relationship with San Angelo, Texas
In 1870, entrepreneur Bartholomew J. DeWitt purchased a half-section of land across the Concho from Fort Concho. He divided the area into plots to build a town, later to be known as San Angelo. The township was not a profitable venture, and its lots were sold at low prices. By 1875, San Angelo was a collection of saloons and brothels, and had a reputation befitting that. Relations between the town and Fort Concho's garrison were strained and often outright hostile. San Angelo's inhabitants were especially hostile to Fort Concho's black servicemen, and violence between Buffalo Soldiers and townspeople was common. This state of affairs remained in place until the 10th Cavalry was replaced by the 16th Infantry in 1882. Humanitarian aid rendered to locals by the garrison, especially following a devastating flood in 1888, eventually evaporated the lingering animosity.
Fort Concho was crucial to San Angelo's early growth. The presence of its garrison attracted traders and settlers, and allowed diversification in the town's economy. The fort's chaplains were some of the first preachers and educators in the town and its medical staff, chiefly surgeon William Notson also civilians. One of Notson's civilian assistants, Samuel L.S. Smith, became San Angelo's first physician, and in 1910 helped establish its first civilian hospital. The government-contracted sutlers who serviced the fort would all settle in San Angelo and be counted among its architects.
Following the closure of the fort in 1889, it was divided into commercial and residential lots and its buildings were accordingly renovated or demolished. Enlisted Barracks 3 and 4 were replaced with a series of residences, while the officer's residences were preserved as private homes. Additional buildings, including what is now Fort Concho Elementary, were building in around the fort. As early as 1905, however, influential locals tried to conserve the fort. J. L. Millspaugh, one of the sutlers contracted to supply the fort, suggested without success that the city buy the fort for $15,000 (equivalent to $426,833 in 2019). That same year, realtor C.A. Broome formed the Fort Concho Realty Company in 1905 to sell his properties on the fort's grounds to the city. The eastern third of the fort grounds, which had remained preserved, was given to the city by the Santa Fe Railroad Company in 1913. A decade later in 1924, the Daughters of the American Revolution raised funds to preserve the fort but could only raise enough for a small monument.
In 1928, Ginevra Wood Carson founded the West Texas Museum in a room of the Tom Green County Courthouse. The next year, she raised funds for and made a purchase of the headquarters for $6000. Over 1930, she moved the museum into the building and renamed it the Fort Concho Museum. The city of San Angelo assumed partial administrative responsibility for the museum in 1935, then fully annexed the museum in 1955. Fort Concho was named a National Historic Landmark District on 4 July 1961 and added to the National Register of Historic Places on 15 October 1966, bringing federal resources to Fort Concho. The National Park Service prepared a three-stage plan in 1967 for the fort's future, which began the next year with the hiring of a museum staff and continued expansion of the district. Another master plan was prepared for the fort in 1980 by Austin-based architectural firm Bell, Klein and Hoffman, with funding provided by matched grants from the National Park Service (NPS) via the Historic Preservation Fund. A NPS survey in June 1985 found that the fort was in generally good condition, though a number of later buildings were still on its grounds. By 1989, the district consisted of 16 original buildings, six reconstructed buildings, and a stabilized ruin.
Involvement in the YFZ ranch raid
On 3 April 2008, following a call from an alleged victim of abuse by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist Mormon sect, Texas authorities raided the YFZ Ranch. The authorities began removing children from the ranch the next day, and relocated them to Fort Concho on 5 April. The State of Texas was granted conservatorship over the children on 7 April, and seven days later moved all women accompanying children older than five years to the Foster Communications Coliseum, also in San Angelo. On 2 June, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the seizure of the children was unlawful, and the children were released from state custody.
Grounds and architecture
As of August 2019,[update] the Fort Concho Historic District consists of 23 buildings standing on a 40 acres (16 ha) site, with a museum collection of 40,000 items. The fort is visited annually by 55,000 people.
As was standard for American frontier forts, Fort Concho's buildings were arranged around its parade ground, which was also the hub of its activity. Those buildings were constructed from limestone and lime mortar from a quarry south of the fort. Most of the wood used in the fort's construction was shipped from the Gulf Coast, as the native pecan and mesquite trees were unsuitable for construction. The style of the fort buildings is Neoclassical, with little ornamentation.
The enlisted men's barracks were some of the first buildings erected at Fort Concho, from 1869 to 1872. Civilian laborers provided skilled labor, such as carpentry, while soldiers performed the construction work. Barracks 1 and 2 were built in 1869 and 1870, respectively, and each contained two cavalry companies. These barracks are unique in having sally ports in the middle of the structures for leading horses through, rather than around, the barracks to reach the stables, located behind the buildings. Barracks 1 is currently the visitor's center, while Barracks 2 is a display space housing wagons and replica artillery pieces.
The other four barracks buildings were built to house infantrymen and had an attached mess hall. Barracks 3 and 4 were completed by the end of 1872, but were demolished some time after the fort was abandoned. Barracks 5 and 6 are living history spaces, and are furnished to appear as they would have during Fort Concho's military career.
At the end of Barracks Row was a guardhouse, built in 1870 to replace an earlier, temporary structure.
The headquarters building was built in 1876 by order of Colonel Grierson, and served as the command building for the fort until its deactivation in 1889. From 1878 to 1881, the building was the headquarters for the District of the Pecos, which included Forts Davis, Stockton, and Griffin. In addition to the adjutant's office, which it replaced, the headquarters housed the court martial, and the 10th Cavalry's regimental headquarters. Another addition was a library of 292 books established by Chaplain Norman Badger in late 1873. By the end of 1875, the library had grown to 720 books. The headquarters building was used in various capacities in the 20 years after the US Army left Fort Concho. In 1929, Ginevra Wood Carson purchased the building and moved the West Texas Museum into the building. Four of the rooms on the ground floor, the court martial, orderly's room, adjutant's office, and regimental headquarters, have been remodeled to appear as they would have during the fort's military career.
The post hospital was one of the earliest buildings at the fort, built from 1868 to 1870 according to the same plan of Fort Richardson's hospital. During Fort Concho's military operation, its hospital served both military and civilian patients but had few supplies and was unsanitary. After the fort's deactivation the hospital was used as a rooming house and for storage until it was destroyed by fire in 1911. The building was rebuilt in the mid-1980s with the aid of architectural and historical records. Presently, the hospital contains a museum about frontier medicine in its north ward, a library in the south ward, and general medical exhibits in the center.
The Officers' Row are the ten buildings on the south side of the parade ground, comprised by Officers' Quarters 1 through 9 and the schoolhouse and chapel. The officers' quarters were built in several phases from 1869 to the mid-1870s, and generally follow an L-shaped plan and face north. They were built atop a low stone foundation, usually with three fireplaces, with sash windows and a wooden veranda.
Officer's Quarters 1 was the residence of the fort commander from its completion in 1872, replacing Officer's Quarters 3 in that capacity. Grierson, who lived there from 1875 to 1882, added the west office, kitchen, and carriage house, and placed locks on every door in the building. The Fort Concho Museum purchased the building in 1964, and it served for years as the meeting place of the Tom Green County Historical Society. Officer's Quarters 1 was renovated in 1994 and became the Concho Valley Pioneer Heritage Center.
Until the completion of Officer's Quarters 1 in 1872, Officer's Quarters 3 was the home of Fort Concho's commander. This building may also have been first of the officers' residences to be completed, in 1870. Because Officer's Quarters 3 had the greatest abundance of original interior fabric, it was restored to appear as it would have in the 1870s.
The schoolhouse, also functioning as a chapel, was the last permanent structure to be built at Fort Concho. The structure was begun in November 1872 as another officer's residence, but only the foundation and basement of the kitchen were completed. When funding for construction was slashed, a schoolhouse and chapel were decided to be built, instead, for the education of the garrison's black soldiers and religious ceremonies. Both of these had been held in various places around the fort. Chaplain Badger had requested, fruitlessly, the construction of a permanent chapel, and for want of such a building, built a picket and sod chapel. Badger died at the fort on 3 June 1876, and was succeeded by George W. Ward, who dedicated the chapel upon its completion on 22 February 1879. After the US Army left, the building continued functioning as a schoolhouse, and at one point, a private home. The Fort Concho Museum acquired the schoolhouse in 1946 and restored it. Since 1976, it has housed a living history event to teach local elementary schoolers about life in 1880s Texas.
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