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Camp Cooper By: Trent McKnight

Camp Cooper was a military post set up by the Federal Government in the mid-nineteenth century to oversee a newly organized Comanche Indian Reservation. The camp is located on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, ten miles north of Fort Griffin, in the southern part of what is now Throckmorton County. It was named in honor of Major Samuel Cooper of the US Army who later became Adjustant General of the Confederate Army. Even though Camp Cooper is rich in a colorful history of engaging occasions, like many other military posts of the time, much of its history has been lost and forgotten. Hopefully we can recap some of its most exciting moments.

By January 1856 a newly organized United States Calvary regiment was on the march to bring stability to Clear Fork country. The Indians arrived a year earlier than the soldiers and were finally alerted that they were to receive military help. The regiment, under the command of Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston had marched from Jefferson Barracks, Missouri through Indian Territory and then southward through Fort Washita and Fort Belknap, to Clear Fork River where they arrived January third to begin its occupation of Camp Cooper. Johnston accompanied by his wife and children arrived in the middle of a raging blizzard. They were leading two companies of calvary and two foot soldiers.

Johnston did not stay in command very long. He moved southward to Fort Mason by way of Fort Chadbourne leaving Captain William J. Hardee in command. Major Hardee put the soldiers to work by building tents. Here officers and troops alike lived in these canvas houses. The hospital, guardhouse, bakery, and arsenal were also tents and storehouses were roofed with tarpaulins over frames. The fine cavalry horses were kept on picket lines, as there were no stables.

Yet, Hardee's command was only temporary. On April 9, 1856, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Edward Lee arrived to take his place. Hardee scarcely had the camp in order when Lee came. Therefore, Lee was left with hardly anything.

Here Lee was far from his wife Mary and his children, but he wrote them quite often. He didn't like this so called "desert land," but he would have to live with it for nineteen months in what he called his "Texas home."

In one letter he wrote to his baby daughter, he said teasingly, "My rattlesnake, my only pet is dead. He grew sick and would not eat his frogs and died." Rattlesnakes made life hazardous around the post. Because of them, Lee had to build his chicken coop well above ground.

In the winter when food was scarce the Indians would go to Camp Cooper and the government would feed them. But, when spring came and game was plentiful the Indians would become savage enough to kill those who helped them.

One notable engagement with the Comanche's occurred on December 18, 1860 when Governor Sam Houston commanded Captain L.S. Ross to take sixty men from a strong Texas Ranger force (aided by First Sergeant J. W. Spangle) and take the field against the Comanches. To this number of men a detachment of Company H, and Second Calvary, sent from Captain N.G. Evans at Camp Cooper, surprised and destroyed a large Nakoni camp. The Indian camp was near the junction of Mule creek and Pease River, a few miles northwest of present-day Margaret, in Northeastern Texas. In the Fight, Ross killed a warrior, mistakenly thought to be Pete Nacona.

One of Ross's men grabbed an Indian woman with a baby around her neck running from the camp. Suspecting the Nakoni female could be the lost Cynthia Ann Parker they took her back to the camp with them. At Camp Cooper, Ross sent for her uncle, Isaac Parker. When he arrived, he interviewed her. She sat on a box with her baby, little Prairie Flower and her chin on her knees. When Isaac Parker could get no satisfactory replies, he said, "She isn't Cynthia Ann Parker!" With her face aglow, she said, patting her breast, "Cynthia Ann! Cynthia Ann!" One man noted, "A ray of recollection sprang up in her mind that had been obliterated for twenty-five years."

She was then taken to live with her relatives in Parker County. She died in 1864 and is buried in Oklahoma.

On February 18, 1861, Brevet Major General W.A. Twiggs, commanding the Department of Texas, agreed to surrender all the federal military posts in Texas to Confederate troops. But, the surrender of Camp Cooper however, was not affected until three days later.

Weeks before the firing on Fort Sumter, at Camp Cooper, Captain S. D. Carpenter with 250 men had to make a fateful decision of peace or war. Confederates surrounded the camp. Fortunately, Carpenter decided to surrender his post without resistance, there by postponing the outbreak of the War Between the States.

Carpenter headed north with his men to Fight in that tragic event, The Civil War.

Among the famous Generals of the Civil War stationed at Camp Cooper were:

Union— "the Rock of Chickamauga" George H Thomas*, I. N. Palmer, George Stoneman**, Denner Garrad, and R. W. Johnson.

Confederates— Robert E. Lee, William J Hardee, N.G. Evans, Earl Van Dorn**, E. Kirby Smith*, John B. Hood*, Charles W. Field, and Sidney Johnston*.

What other military post would put off such fine commanding Generals!

* - separate biography in World Book Encyclopedia
**- under Civil War in World Book Encyclopedia

Trent McKnight

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