INFORMATION ABOUT THE AREA
Some visitors say our vistas look like New Mexico or Chihuahua, Mexico; others claim the striking rock formations and miles-long vistas here remind them of Australia. The fact is Fort Davis is pure Texas, as genuine as the working cattle ranches on the outskirts of town, as unpretentious as the adobe homes and ocotillo fences of its neighborhoods. Fort Davis is as real pioneer as the original El Paso-San Antonio stretch of the Butterfield Company’s Overland Stagecoach Line road, or Overland Trail, running right through our town. Matter of fact, the only existing unpaved portion of the original trail still in use today is one of the town streets, traveled daily by our townsfolk.
It’s a special place to visit. Fort Davis, Jeff Davis County and the Davis Mountains are reminiscent of an earlier old west Texas—a Texas before 90-minute commutes, traffic jams, chain stores and graffiti-scrawled walls. A Texas of spinning windmills, buzzards sunning on weathered fence posts, oaks clinging to rugged, lava mountainsides, pronghorn antelope grazing with great herds of fine, Texas cattle, families riding together on horseback, and magenta sunsets that will stop you in your tracks. Hummingbird feeders nearly outnumber the people in Fort Davis. And traffic is tied up only when a family of javelinas (collared peccaries) moseys across the highway.
It’s a friendly place, Fort Davis. You’ll hear “hello” and “y’all come see us,” hola” and “hasta luego.” Occupants of oncoming vehicles will surprise you with a friendly wave that includes all four fingers. Men tip their hats to the ladies, and children say “Yes, ma’am” to their moms. There are no theme parks, car pool lanes, stoplights, theaters or dress-up places to dine; but we do have a baseball diamond, playgrounds, rodeo arenas, football field, and a new library.
For amusement, we hike along Limpia Creek in the state park, take a horseback ride up a creek-side mesa, rock climb, play tennis at the high school, visit one of the art galleries or photograph the herds of deer and pronghorn antelope. Our pristine night skies are devoid of smog and light pollution. “The stars at night, [really] are big and bright” . . . we can still see the Milky Way with the naked eye, and satellites are easily tracked as they traverse the night sky. Folks still put corn out for the deer that come into town, suffer the javelinas eating their pecans and cacti, watch for wild mountain goats atop Sleeping Lion Mountain or just sit and enjoy the weather and our sunny days. (We do a lot of that.)
This area’s lively military history is preserved at our National Historic Site. Buffalo Soldiers in the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry and 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry manned one of the country’s best-preserved and restored nineteenth century army posts from 1867 to 1885. The soldiers were garrisoned here while engaged in struggles with the Mescalero Apache and Comanche Indians. The Neville Spring Cavalry Outpost in Big Bend National Park was an outpost of Fort Davis from 1885 to 1891. Our town took the name of the fort, grew in support of it, and now hosts the many visitors that tour it.
This part of the Southwest is where the domain of American pioneers, ranchers, cowboys, Mexicans, Buffalo Soldiers, the Mescalero Apache and the Comanche overlapped.
Another internationally known attraction is McDonald Observatory, seventeen miles’ drive up a pretty canyon north of Fort Davis. Three nights a week, you can join experts who aim telescopes at the season’s celestial events. It’s a big hit with families. Of course, you don’t need a telescope to see the stars come out to play; all you have to do is look up and get one of the best views of the stars in this country.
In our town, the constable still parks in front of the elementary school to ensure our children get safely across the highway, and the postmaster and bank tellers know almost everyone by their first name.
Every year, the sheriff lets us carry off a Fourth of July “Bank Robbery,” enacted by cowboys on horseback. The cowboys always get apprehended, naturally, and our “crime rate” returns to the lowest in the country. You’ll see folks riding horseback on our streets, unperturbed by low traffic, and you’ll hear spurs jingle in our restaurants and stores.
Every time we drive, walk, ride or bike, we are struck by the great, peaceful expanses of Texas ranch land, prairie, canyons and mountains all around our home. Two miles out of town, you feel like a time warp has sent you back to the days of yesteryear . . . wide open, unpopulated spaces, cattle, deer and antelope; and just like the old days, “the skies are not cloudy all day”!
As a bonus, in the summer, it’s often cooler in the Davis Mountains than anywhere else in Texas. We have four seasons (milder than the rest of Texas), seasons almost devoid of severe weather of any kind. It’s not likely you’ll see us on the Weather Channel. During times when the rest of Texas is broiling, flooding or experiencing other natural weather phenomena, this little town and the surrounding countryside are cool, dry and peaceful. Like Santa Fe and Colorado Springs, we’re on the Front Range of the Rockies.
So come visit and wind down a little, refresh yourself and relax in Fort Davis—West Texas at its finest!
Unincorporated, Fort Davis, population 1250±, serves as the county seat of Jeff Davis County, population 2207±, and hosts the county courthouse, judge, sheriff and county clerk’s offices. Valentine, population 187±, is the only other town in the county. We still have blacksmith and livery shops, hairdressers, wagon and wheel smiths, nurseries, cowboys and chuck wagon cooks mixed in with a (couple of) lawyers, real estate agents, a title & abstract company, tax preparers, notary publics, CPA’s, writers, artists, photographers, poets . . . and web page publishers. Industry/farming/ranching in the area include a huge tomato greenhouse operation, pecan and apple orchards and of course good old Texas ranching. A post office, a bank with ATM, water, electric, gas and TV cable companies all serve the county.
Fort Davis has a volunteer fire department, rescue (EMS) and ambulance service, a resident doctor, visiting nurses and a weekly newspaper, the Jeff Davis County Mountain Dispatch. Twenty miles down the road is Big Bend Regional Medical Center, a modern, full-service hospital facility in Alpine, Texas.
Movie companies utilize locations all around this area. Some of the films shot here and in the Big Bend include “Giant,” “The Gambler,” “Lonesome Dove,” “The Good Old Boys,” “Streets of Laredo,” “Dead Man’s Walk,” “There Will Be Blood,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Dancer, Texas Population 81”—the latter filmed almost entirely in Fort Davis with many locals used as extras. (click here for list)
Texas’ highest golf courses are located in Alpine and Marfa, 24 miles equidistant to Fort Davis. Law enforcement includes Town Constable, County Sheriff, and Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers. An elected County Judge, Justice of the Peace and County Commissioners administer to the wellbeing of the county. Our schools—elementary, pre-K through grade 6, and secondary, grades 7 through 12—are uncrowded. The teacher-to-student ratio is approximately 1/22 at both schools.
Here are several books that offer helpful or interesting information about Fort Davis and Texas’ Big Bend area:
Images of America: Fort Davis by Lawrence J. Francell. Arcadia Publishing 2011. Larry Francell is a long term resident of Fort Davis. He tells the story of Fort Davis through hundreds of his own photographs and those he has collected by various sources over the years. Larry himself is a current county commissioner, historian and retired museum director with an extensive amount of knowledge on the region and the kindness to preserve and share it.
From Big Bend to Carlsbad by James Glendinning. Texas A&M University Press. Glendinning a transplanted Scotsman provides a perceptive and thorough guide to southwest Texas and southeast New Mexico. This book is packed with useful information.
West Texas and the Big Bend by Eric O’Keefe. Texas Monthly Guidebooks, Gulf Publishing. Freelance writer O’Keefe, a West Texas native, provides a well-organized, thorough review of restaurants, accommodations and tourist attractions, including information about Mexican border towns. The book covers all of West Texas, from the Big Bend to Amarillo.
Big Bend: A Homesteader’s Story by J. O. Langford. University of Texas Press. This highly readable account of pioneer life in the Big Bend was written by the man who developed the Hot Springs that are now a part of the national park.
The Mysterious Lands by Ann Haymond Zwinger. University of Arizona Press. Zwinger writes lovingly about the plants and animals in the deserts of North America, with several chapters focusing on the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas and southern New Mexico.