Fort Houston, built as haven, social center for pioneers

Published on Sunday, 1 December 2013 23:19 - Written by BETTY WATERS blw@tylerpaper.com

PALESTINE — Fort Houston was built two miles west of present-day Palestine in what was then Houston County as a protection against the Indians on orders of Gen. Sam Houston in about 1835-36.

 The stockade and a blockhouse, named for Houston, was one of a string of early forts built to defend widely scattered settlements of pioneers in frontier days. Fort Houston was one of the first built in the Republic of Texas as a fortification and haven from the Indians, states historical documents.

 Besides serving as a defense against the Indians, Fort Houston also became important as a social and political center, according to historical materials in Palestine Public Library.

 The fort was a stockade enclosing about an acre of land and inside the stockade was a log building or blockhouse.

The stockade consisted of two lines or walls of hewn timbers, 10 feet apart, set firmly 6 feet in the ground, loopholed for rifle or musket fire, and each timber was pointed at the top to make climbing the stockade difficult.

Inside the stockade was a two-story log building about 25 feet square and 10 feet high which had only one entrance. A second story was about 8 feet high, jutting over the first structure 2 feet with portholes for rifles for directing fire laterally. There also were openings between the upper and lower stories through which to shoot perpendicularly.

 The fort was built to serve as a place where soldiers and families in the town of Houston could retreat for safety if ever attacked, according to historical accounts.

 Mounted inside the fort was “a 12 pounder” cannon weighing 963 pounds transported from Fort Jessop, a port east of the Sabine River, according to reports.

 Historians theorize that the Indians never attacked the fort probably because they knew about the gun.

 A garrison was stationed at the fort in 1837, according to historical accounts.

 Marauding Indian and Mexican war parties found the sturdy bastion with its complement of militia too strong to attack, states one historical document.

 Nevertheless, there was fear of an attack, and men cultivated land with their guns strapped to their plows, and women at times stood with guns ready to defend the fort, according to historical materials. Wary settlers often slept inside the blockhouse.

Men from Houston formed one of the state’s first Texas Ranger units, according to a historical marker.

 Refugees from the Fort Parker Indian raid moved to Fort Houston in May 1836, historical documents state. Eighteen refugees came on foot following the massacre at Fort Parker 65 miles to the west on the Navasota River.

 The fort was abandoned in about 1841, when Indians ceased to be a threat to settlers, according to historical papers.

 The gun was transported to Parker’s Bluff on the Trinity River, where it was used as a signal for arrival of steamboats. On one occasion, the gun reportedly burst due to having been overcharged.

The town of Houston flourished from 1836 to 1846, when Anderson County was carved out of Houston County and Palestine was chosen as the county seat because it is nearer to the geographical center of the county, historical reports state. Residents of Fort Houston then moved to Palestine, according to one historical account.

 The site of the fort eventually became a part of the home of Judge John H. Reagan, which was called Fort Houston. Reagan acquired the site of the old fort and its town site just before the Civil War and had his family home built there, historical documents state. Reagan died there in 1905 and his wife died in 1917. The home was then occupied by Reagan’s son until his death.

 The home was razed in 1946.