FORT D. A. RUSSELL. In 1911 the Mexican Revolution in progress alarmed the citizens of Presidio County, Texas, who feared that Mexican forces might raid across the border. To provide protection the United States government sent military forces to the Mexican border areas, including Marfa, Texas, where several cavalry troops were sent. The post at Marfa, first named Camp Albert and then renamed Camp Marfa, also was the base for Signal Corps biplanes that patrolled the Rio Grande during the crisis.
From 1913 to 1916 cavalry units from Fort Bliss rotated to Marfa for garrison and field duties. During World War I, Camp Marfa was expanded to accommodate numerous units, including federal, state, and national guard troops. In 1920 the post was designated as headquarters for the Marfa Command, which replaced the Big Bend District. Between 1923 and 1936, the War Department took advantage of the remote location of Camp Marfa to conduct simulated combat maneuvers on a large tract of land made available by local ranchers.
On January 1, 1930, Secretary of War Patrick Hurley announced that Camp Marfa was to be renamed Fort D. A. Russell in honor of Gen. David Allen Russell, a native New Yorker who served in the Mexican War and Civil War and was killed fighting for the Union at Winchester, Virginia, in 1864. A Wyoming fort had previously borne the name, but it had been renamed Fort Warren. Hurley also announced that the post was to be a permanent installation instead of a temporary army post.
When the government began to consider abandoning the fort in 1931, the Marfa Chamber of Commerce and civic and political leaders tried to retain the installation. The 650 officers and men, maintenance for 400 horses and mules, and payroll of $480,000 a year added greatly to the Marfa economy during the Great Depression. However, in 1932 Marfa lost its fight, and on January 2, 1933, Fort Russell was left in the hands of caretakers.
In 1935 the post was regarrisoned by 700 men of the Seventy-seventh Field Artillery. In 1938 the first group scheduled for officer training arrived. Training continued at the fort for several years. During the prewar and World War II years, Fort Russell added 2,400 acres donated by the citizens of Marfa, planted 1,000 trees, improved existing buildings, and built new ones. By this time 1,000 men were stationed at the fort.
In 1944 the first woman officer was assigned to the post, and civilian women replaced soldiers as drivers of cars and trucks. During the war a camp for prisoners of war also was established at Marfa. Fort D. A. Russell was deactivated in 1945, closed on October 23, 1946, and transferred from the army to the Corps of Engineers in preparation for transfer to the Texas National Guard. In 1949 most of the fort area and facilities were sold to private citizens.
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