Texas History: Fort Concho, Texas
“Horses have been repeatedly stolen within the post lines, and a citizen has been killed and scalped within a mile of the Adjutant’s office.” This statement was written by the military surgeon in his weekly report. Welcome to Fort Concho, Texas!
In the 1860s, the U.S. Army determined to protect the western frontier of Texas from attacks by Comanche and Kiowa war parties by establishing a series of military garrisons. Fort Concho was established on the Concho River, now present day San Angelo. The Fort Concho complex sprawled over 1,000 acres and consisted of more than 40 buildings, and it housed the regimental headquarters of the legendary 4th and 10th Cavalry.
The area was covered with mesquite trees and “dog towns” that were occupied by rattlesnakes and prairie dogs. Even worse, scorpions and tarantulas infested the stark sandstone buildings. Boots, clothes, and towels had to be shaken before use in case these varmints had burrowed in.
The Army assigned chaplains to each fort. The typical job description of an Army chaplain included supervision of the post education program, post treasurer, post librarian, and managing the post vegetable garden. But at Fort Concho, the post chaplain had the additional responsibility of supervising the post bakery and producing over 400 loaves of bread each day.
In 1876, when the former chaplain of Fort Concho left, the Army assigned Rev. George Ward Dunbar to the position. At the time, he was serving as rector of Christ Church in Janesville, Wisconsin. Dunbar had graduated as valedictorian of his class at Hobart College, and then graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church of New York City before entering the ministry.
The transition from Wisconsin to West Texas was noticeable, but he quickly immersed himself in the position. He was surprised to find that there was no chapel at Fort Concho. The previous chaplain had been holding services in the hospital ward, the chaplain’s personal quarters, the mess hall, and even the post barroom! In welcoming Dunbar to Fort Concho, post commander Benjamin H. Grierson, a hero of the Civil War wrote, “I hope he will succeed in saving a great many souls, his own included.”
Under Chaplain Dunbar’s supervision, a schoolhouse/chapel was erected and finished by February 1879. Dunbar began Sunday services and weekly school for the children. At night, he taught soldiers how to read and write. These duties were in addition to his regular assigned job description. In the summer of 1879, Dunbar suffered severe heat exhaustion and had to leave his grueling position. The soldiers of Fort Concho gave him a stirring farewell.
Chaplain Dunbar was an extraordinary example of a dedicated minister. May we give proper honor and respect to those who minister the Gospel. The Bible says in Romans 10:15 NIV, “And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”