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by Tumbleweed Smith

Fort Chadbourne is located on highway 277 twelve miles north of Bronte in Coke County. It is a surprising place. I have been in a number of restored military forts, but have never seen such devotion, appreciation and love for a place as I saw at Fort Chadbourne.

Eight generations of Garland Richards' family have lived on the land that Fort Chadbourne occupied. The fort was built in 1852 and was active for fifteen years. Garland's great great grandfather, Thomas Odom, bought the fort and land adjacent to it in 1877 for $500 in gold and took up residence in the officer's quarters. He turned a barracks into a barn. This established headquarters for the Chadbourne ranch.

I interviewed Garland Richards in 1999 when he was just beginning to do the restoration work on the fort. I felt at the time that he thought it was going to be an impossible task.

"We didn't know how to do all this when we started," says Garland during a recent visit. "Most of the restoration work was done by a couple of ranch hands, some volunteers and myself. We operated under the ranching theory of operation, which is patch it up and make it last one more year. We applied this to a historical project and now it'll last another 150 years."

Garland and his helpers worked on the fort a dozen years. Six buildings have now been totally restored and others, including the fort hospital, have been stabilized. One of the buildings is the only fully restored Butterfield Stage Station in Texas. The fort is now a showcase, especially the two million dollar visitors center that includes a stage coach, an Indian teepee, thousands of artifacts and 330 of Garland's firearms that he has collected since he was in junior high school. One special area has the names of all 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients.

Garland heads up the Fort Chadbourne Foundation, established in 1999. His wife Lana is secretary-treasurer. Ann Pate, a lifelong friend of the couple, gives tours of the fort and wrote a book about it. Garland's ranch theory of making something last another year certainly could not be applied to some of the outstanding and up to date audiovisual elements found at the fort. In addition to a video documentary that won an Emmy, an antique bar has a lithograph behind it that features a horseback rider that follows you as you walk past. It is created by moving optical glass tiles. Someone from the Smithsonian visited the fort and told Ann he would be very happy to have the folks who worked on the fort join his staff.

All the funds for the restoration of the fort were donated. Admission is free. Longhorns and buffalo graze nearby. Although located in a remote area, the fort entrance is easy to find. It has a giant 1850's Cavalry spur at the front gate. The fort is open Tuesdays thru Saturdays from 8 to 5. A living history event takes place the first weekend in May. The annual fundraiser is the third Saturday in September.

Tumbleweed Smith lives in Big Spring and produces "The Sound Of Texas" syndicated radio show. Contact him at ts@tumbleweedsmith.com.

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