The Davis Mountains area has a long history of human occupation dating back at least 10,000 years. Native Americans used the mountains and canyons as a sanctuary through the late 1800s. The lower end of Limpia Creek provided water for them year-round.
In 1583, a Spanish expedition led by Antonio de Espejo passed through the area and camped in Keesey Canyon. Hopes of mineral wealth, pastoral lands, and Christianizing the native peoples drew the Spanish here.
Few Americans had seen the mountains prior to 1846. After the war with Mexico, a wave of gold seekers, settlers and traders arrived. As West Texas settlements increased, raiding in Mexico and along the San Antonio-El Paso Trail became a way of life for Apaches, Kiowas and Comanches. The settlers needed protection.
U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (who later served as president of the Confederacy) ordered the construction of the Fort Davis army post. The mountains carry his name, also.
Fort Davis was active from 1854 until 1891, except for certain periods during the Civil War. The federal government declared the fort ruins a National Historic Site in 1961. The National Park Service has since restored and preserved the fort.
In 1923, the Texas State Legislature directed the State Parks Board to investigate the Davis Mountains region as a major park destination. However, Davis Mountains State Park wasn’t established until 1933 with 560 acres largely donated by local landowners devastated by the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built much of the park.
Civilian Conservation Corps
Imagine yourself with little food, less money and no job. This was the case for many Americans during the Great Depression.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The CCC provided jobs and job skills by hiring young men to work on conservation projects. The program enrolled men between the ages of 17 and 25 who qualified for public assistance. They earned clothing, food, medical care and $30 a month; they sent most of their pay home to their families.
CCC’s lasting impact
Davis Mountains State Park was one of the earliest projects for the Texas CCC. Between 1933 and 1935, the CCC built many of the facilities still used in the park today. Among these is the Indian Lodge, a 16-room full-service hotel, including original furnishings. TPWD added 24 more rooms in 1967. The new rooms complemented the original section.
Another CCC-built feature of the park is the five-mile scenic Skyline Drive. The road ascends via switchbacks to the top of a ridge. It ends at a stone overlook shelter, with a “picture window” framing a breathtaking view.
The men of CCC also built a mess hall, recreation hall, and stone picnic tables, fireplaces and steps.
The park opened to the public in the 1930s. TPWD added campgrounds in 1967.
For more information:
- The Look of Nature: Davis Mountains
- A New Deal for Texas Parks (interactive exhibit)
- Texas Beyond History: Fort Davis and the Trans-Pecos Trails
- Texas Beyond History: Nineteenth-Century Forts and the Clash of Cultures on the Texas Frontier
- Handbook of Texas Online: Fort Davis
- Fort Davis National Historic Site