Shortly after leaving Presidio behind and beginning our journey on FM 170, we came upon Fort Leaton. Unencumbered by any sort of schedule, we decided to check it out.
Although Zach and I have a general knowledge of the history of the area, the fort proved a wealth of information. We emerged with a greater understanding of the people, the region, and the economics of the time.
The surrounding region, La Junta de los Rios, was a major draw for native peoples, missionaries, outlaws, and eventually settlers due to the confluence of two rivers, the Conchos in Mexico and the Rio Grande, which provided water and fertile soil.
In 1848, Ben Leaton and Juana Pedrasa moved to the La Junta region to land Pedrasa had inherited. They bought additional acreage, strengthened adobe structures already on the site, and made their home, trading post, and fortification. Originally called El Fortin, the fort was a trading post on the Chihuahua Trail (which stretched from San Antonio, Texas, to Chihuahua City, Mexico) from 1848-1884. The Leatons and their guests used the fort to protect themselves from Native American and outlaw raids. The fort stayed in Pedrasa’s hands with Ben Leaton’s death in 1851 but was eventually abandoned around 1927. It wasn’t until 1967 that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. acquired the fort. With Ft. Leaton’s restoration finally complete, it was opened to the public in 1978.
Some of the rooms inside the fort were decorated to give visitors an idea of how the rooms were used. We also met a native of the region who told us about a couple of the fort’s characteristics. He showed us rooms at the front of the fort which were left mostly untouched during the restoration so that visitors could see the original adobe on the walls and the Saltillo tiles on the floor. My favorite room had an original chimney which had been damaged by treasure hunters looking for gold.
Ft. Leaton was a wonderful pit stop. It gave us a lot of insight into the region we now inhabit while prepping our minds for our journey down FM 170. I can imagine how much different the isolation would have been traversing that stretch along the Rio Grande in a carreta or on horseback with no town in sight for miles. Surely a lonely, dangerous, yet wondrous journey.