History of Eagle Pass, Fort Duncan & Maverick County

This webpage contains the early-day history of frontier-day army post, Fort Duncan and the area settlements including Eagle Pass & Maverick County.


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EAGLE PASS (settled in 1840; renamed Eagle Pass in 1851)

William Leslie Cazneau founded the Eagle Pass townsite in 1840. Ten years later (1850), Rick Pawless opened a trading post called Eagle Pass. That same year, San Antonio merchant James Campbell opened a trading post and was soon joined by William Leslie and bride Jane Cazneau. The village, which as named after the crossing on the Rio Grande, changed its name from El Paso del �guila to Eagle Pass as the Anglo presence grew.

As Eagle Pass developed below the fort, emigrants bound for the California gold fields (via Mazatl�n) established a staging area above the post known as the California Camp. The resulting trade at the California camp shifted the population center from Eagle Pass and it's original crossing down stream to its present location above the fort.

John Twohig,owner of the land near the Eagle Pass Trading Post, surveyed out a townsite in 1851, which he named Eagle Pass thus formally establishing the town of Eagle Pass. Friedrich W. C. Groos contracted to haul supplies for the military and brought some seventy Mexican families to settle near the fort. A stage line between Eagle Pass and San Antonio was also established in 1851 and Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church was constructed in 1852.

The early history of Eagle Pass was a violent one. The settlement and adjoining fort were frequently attacked by the Lipan Apache and Comanche Indians. Piedras Negras, established in 1850 across from Eagle Pass in Mexico, became a haven for fugitive slaves, and both banks of the river were home to many outlaws.

In 1855 James H. Callahan crossed into Mexico at Eagle Pass with three companies of volunteer rangers pursuing the Lipan and Kickapoo tribes. After a fight with Mexican forces on the Escondido, Callahan returned to Piedras Negras and set the village afire as he crossed back into Eagle Pass.

During the Civil War, a party of renegades crossed from Piedras Negras and overran the Confederate garrison at Fort Duncan. However, the townsmen, fighting from behind cotton bales, successfully drove off the renegade attack.

In June 1865, the Shelby Expedition, a force of Confederate soldiers who refused to surrender to Union troops after the Civil War retreated across Texas and made their way into Mexico. While crossing the Rio Grande near Fort Duncan, General Joseph Orville Shelby and his men ceremoniously buried a Confederate flag in the river.

In 1871 Maverick County was established and Eagle Pass was named the county seat. During the remainder of the 1800s several schools and churches were opened, the mercantile and ranching industries grew, a railway was established and Eagle Pass grew to a town of approximately 2,000.

In 1912, Will Rittenbery operated a Dixie Flyer business in Eagle Pass (photo curtesy of Carla L Artis)

In 1933 the city of Eagle Pass began maintaining the old fort as a public park and formally acquired the property in 1935 naming it Fort Duncan Park. In 1942 the mayor offered the fort to the military for use during World War II. The government accepted and used the Fort Duncan Country Club as an officers' club and the swimming pool for commissioned personnel stationed at Eagle Pass Army Air Field.

The Fort Duncan site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Seven of the original buildings were restored and the old headquarters building is currently a museum.

An new area attraction is the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino operated by members of the Kickapoo Indian tribe.

The Camino Real (Old San Antonio Road), a network of trails used by explorers, military and merchants during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, crossed the Rio Grande River at Guerrero, Coahuila approximately 35 miles southeast of present day Eagle Pass. This route served as the primary artery for trade between San Antonio and Mexico prior to the Mexican War.

In 1871, Maverick County was established, and Eagle Pass was named the county seat. During the remainder of the 19th century, schools and churches opened, the mercantile and industries grew, and a railway was built.

Fort Duncan (1849)

The United States Army established Fort Duncan on March 27, 1849, two miles upstream from the crossing known as El Paso del �guila . Captain Sidney Burbank supervised the construction of Fort Duncan, which was named after Colonel James Duncan who had fought in the Mexican War. After the Mexican-American War, trade flourished under the protection of the fort. The fort was near the trail of westward immigration to California andserved as an outpost against hostile Apaches. It was abandoned and reopened several times. In March 1860, it served as the base of operations against the border assaults arranged by Juan N. Cortina. Fort Duncan was held by the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. In 1870, Colonel Dariela Velazquez de Longoria trained African American scouts at Fort Duncan. Fort Duncan was activated as a training camp during World War I. In 1938, the City of Eagle Pass acquired the fort and still operates a museum and children's library at the site.


Received the following email from from Lynette Harrison

My name is Lynette Harrison and my dad was born in Eagle Pass in 1913. He died without my ever having seen Eagle Pass or having met any of his family, except for his grandmother whom I met in the 1960s when she was really old and lived in Florida (and I was really young!).

My dad was Robert Floyd White Jr and his dad was, of course, Robert Floyd White Sr. My dad's mother was Vivienne Rittenberry, and it was her mother I met in Florida. My dad was an only child. His dad had a brother named Alfred White, and his grandfather was J. B. White, who owned a drug store (and pharmacy, I think) in Eagle Pass.

I know that Robert F. White, Senior died in Eagle Pass around 1930 or 1931, of malaria and alcohol... Prior to his death, my grandfather was a Texaco oil business man of some (minor) sort who also lived (with his wife and son) in Piedras Negras for quite some time. My dad was fluent in Spanish and probably spoke Spanish before English, and he was wet-nursed by a Mexican woman whose name I wish I knew.

When they lived in Piedras Negras, their home was called La Hacienda del San Gregorio. They always had (according to my dad) a bucket of mescal and fruit by the driveway for the migrant (?) workers when they walked past.

In Eagle Pass, my dad and his family had a neighbor named Mrs. Stevenson or Stephenson, who took my dad to church because his parents weren't into that. I have a picture of my dad's 5th or so birthday party at his neighbor's house.

Vivienne Rittenberry White married after her husband's (my grandfather's) death, and her last name was then Stanley. She moved with Mr. Stanley to Missouri where she died at the age of 49 of "dropsy" (according to my dad). She had always said she never wanted to be as old as 50 and she wasn't.

I have looked at (and listened to) your website, and you invite people to email you. I have very few pictures, but I do have my dad's report card and other stuff like that. If you're interested, I will happily find a way to scan and send to you what I have.

Lynette White Harrison

This is a work in progress. Bookmark this page and come back often. If you have old photographs or family history relating to the Fort Duncan area, please email me a copy and I'll include your photos on this webpage.

Leonard Kubiak (lenkubiak.geo@yahoo.com), 1264 FM2116, Rockdale, Texas 76567


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