Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rescuing the Original Fort Brown

The drawing shows the original Fort Texas, later remaned Fort Brown in honor of Maj. Jacob Brown who was killed during the Mexican-Ameriacn War, at the left with the six-pointed star shaped fort. To the left and bleow of the fort is the once mighty Rio Grande River. Matamoros is below the river and Brownsville is at the upper, left hand corner.

When one thinks of Fort Brown in Brownsville, you envision the building that is currently still standing at UTB/TSC with its beautiful arches and gabbled roof, which is now called Gorgas Hall (The President of UTB/TSC’s oofice). You may even remember the Morgue, and the Regiment House and maybe even the Cavalry building. These structures form part of the ever expanding university and its history as many of the newer buildings were and continue to be built in the same style.

But what many people fail to realize is that these buildings were built roughly 23 years after the original fort was built. This fort was called Fort Texas and was built right along the Rio Grande River where the UTB/TSC golf course now resides. Fort Texas (later renamed Fort Brown, in honor of Maj. Jacob Brown, who died during a Mexican attack on the stronghold during the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848) was mostly a 9-ft high mound of dirt in the shape of a five-pointed star. It was built to fend off the Mexican army that laid claim to the land south of the Nueces River near San Antonio. General Zachary Taylor was sent to this region to keep the Mexican army from claiming this land because the Americans considered the Rio Grande River the official border between Mexico and the United States.

Fort Texas (Fort Brown, as I will call it from now on) held off the Mexican army’s attempt to take over the land north of the Rio Grande River until the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe that stipulated that the border between the US and Mexico would be the Rio Grande River. The war was over. Fort Brown then saw action once again during the Civil War and the Confederates holding off Fort Brown eventually had to leave before the Yankees took over the fort blowing up the fort with explosives.

After the Civil War was over, a new fort was built next to the “horseshoe” shaped resaca (oxbow lake) and closer to the downtown. The fort was once again called Fort Brown and its duty was to make sure that the Mexicans stayed on their side of the border and to bring back law and order that was threatening the area. One historical fact is that the first US military aircraft to be shot at by enemy fire happened close to the old fort near the Rio Grande in the US presumably from Matamoros.

The original Fort Brown was completely abandoned and left to the elements of time and weather where it still remains today in the UTB/TSC golf course. From my understanding, a levee now runs through it cutting it nearly in half with overgrown grass. The mound must now be about three to four feet high and could easily be mistaken for a hill. UTB/TSC nor the City of Brownsville have taken steps in rescuing this incredibly historic, albeit made of dirt, fort from disappearing altogether. It’s interesting to note that Brownsville likes to advertise the city’s and university’s historical roots but ignores the fact that many of the historical buildings, homes, and even the original fort lie near ruins.

It is also interesting to note that UTB/TSC has done an incredible job in restoring a few very old buildings like the Cueto Building, Alonso Building, and the buildings at UTB built in the 1860s to 70s and soon the Kraigher House but has either forgotten or ignored the original fort; Fort Brown (Fort Texas).

This past weekend I went to San Antonio (been there many times before) but have never been to the Alamo. It was a great experience as the Alamo was in very good conditions with hundreds of visitors at any one time. I was also happy to see that San Antonio takes pride in maintaining its history and can boast of being a historic city as many of its historical buildings have been restored or are in the process of.

Which brings be back to Brownsville. Why can’t we (B’ville) do the same with our ruined fort? It can easily be rebuilt since it was primarily made of dirt and only stood about nine feet high. One problem with this idea though is the levee running through the fort. That would required the approval of a few governmental agencies to be able to move the levee away from the fort. But I don’t think this is an obstacle since it was done when the Veteran’s Int’l Bridge was built. Another problem that I see is who would pay for the removal of the levee as well as the restoration of the fort? I know that Senator Eddie Lucio owns or is a part owner of the golf course that is present there and that the land is also on TSC land. It may just be possible to notify the Senator about this and maybe, with his help, get the approval for the removal of the levee and the funding to restore the old fort.

Once this has been completed, a museum should be built on site next to the fort and show the history and any artifacts that were found in the area; similar to the Palo Alto National Battlefield Park. I mean, if that park can be registered as a national battlefield park, why not the original Fort Brown? I don’t know but maybe the Senator may look down on this idea because he really likes this golf course and uses it regularly.

This may be a job for Preservation Brownsville and all those interested in rescuing the original Fort Brown. Just imagine the amount of tourism that could be created by just restoring the original Fort Brown with its canons and all and the view that would be created by standing at the top of the old fort. You would easily see into Matamoros and Brownsville. It would be a beautiful site, indeed. Then Brownsville can boast its history to for all to see, just like San Antonio.


Anonymous Javier Garcia said...


I appreciate the info you post about your latest efforts to play a role in preserving Brownsville's history. In this latest entry you mentioned Panch Villa in Brownsville and Matamoros. I think his presence was marginal at best and he probably never stepped foot in our town. The real hero/bandit was Juan Cortina but that's getting off topic. Also, in reference to the plane, it was shot AT, not shot down, as you stated. If I'm mistaken and what you wrote is indeed a "historical fact" could you please cite the source of that information? Thanks

11:45 AM  
Blogger Jorge Krieg said...

Give me a break! You are comparing a mound of dirt to the Alamo?

9:46 AM  
Blogger TonyL said...

Yes. It's not the bulding that made the Alamo famous, it was the people defending it. Read a little bit more about the history of the Old Fort Texas. Unfortunately, the Alamo has been memorialized through songs and in history classes but forget to mention other forts and people's bravery at protecting the US border.

So yes, I'm comparing it to the Alamo, more of the people who fought and died there than the 'mound of dirt" as you so vividly describe it. But the only true way to memolrialize the soldiers who died and defended the fort is to restore it.

One more thing. The only reason the Alamo still exists is because S.A took the couragous effert to restore it because it was going to be demolished back in the 1970s or 80s for more room for growth. It came close to not being there today if it wasn't for the efforts of the community and city govn't to it's rescue. So why can't we (B'ville & community) come together on this? It could very well be our "Alamo" to teach our generation and future generations about the Old Fort Texas. A lot of famous people fought and died there.

If you live in Brownsville,there will be a meeting by the Preservation Brownsville Inc (PBI) and will have as a guest speaker Mr. Douglas Murphy of the Palo Alto National Battlefield to talk about the Old Fort Texas. Please visit the link at the top of the Brownsville Talk blog and see the date and time for the meeting.


President of PBI.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Jorge Krieg said...

Not to be mean or anything, but I never saw the big deal about the Alamo. In my opinion, the people that illegally occupied the Alamo were criminals. Some were even traitors to Mexico. The men in the Alamo stayed b/c they had no other choice. Many had sold out (money wise) to take up on their quest to take (not buy) Texas by force. In my opionion the Alamo had nothing to do with heroism, but more with greed, and the Alamo occupant's belief in manifest destiny. Sometimes you have to think outside the "box".

1:07 PM  
Blogger TonyL said...

yes Mr. Kreig, but he victor writes the history. I'm well aware of your comments about the people who occupied the fort but they still stood their grround and fought to the bitter end. And, oh, about outside the "box", no one seems to complain about the cowardly spaniards who raped and pillaged this side of the world for on behalf of 'Christianity" and turn these people into civilized people or else get wiped off the face of the planet. Talk about greed. So what happened at the Alamo is no different that what has happened since men began to fight each other for the same reason we do now (Iraq), land.

History glorifies the Spaniards for domesticating America but leave out the aweful trueth of their tirany and abuse. No diffent from the Alamo. I'm sure that Fort Texas might have had a similar story about greed but in all honesty, all wars are about greed. They happened and their is no shame in telling the story. And that's the reason I would like to see the Old Fort Texas rebuilt. To tell our story, and not just our version of it cuz there must be a million versions to any war.

thanks again for your comments and it's a pleasure to answer any questions or comments you may have.


12:20 PM  
Anonymous fran said...

Tony, stand up for the truth! Some are denying the Holocost! Our history is who our forefathers were, who we are and who our children and grandchildren will become.

6:42 PM  
Blogger TonyL said...

^Huh!!!? What the HELL are you talking about? You need to get out a little more cuz the Holocost has nothing to do with my article.

Also, our history is also about where we live and how it came to be. Grow up...

7:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home