Until someone invents a time machine, a visit to Fort Stockton is the next best thing to traveling back to the Wild West. Frontier history seeps through every corner of the city, where cowboys once stopped to drink at the saloon and U.S. soldiers and Texas Rangers kept the peace and protected denizens from outlaws and Comanche raids. Needless to say, the top things to do in Fort Stockton involve diving into local lore and experiencing local heritage up close and personal. From the carefully preserved relics at the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum to the intricate artwork depicting life in the south over a century ago, Fort Stockton’s singular past makes for a wildly entertaining present.
Few Texas towns can claim a past as colorful, or well preserved, as Fort Stockton. The best way to experience all the cultural treasures here is to take a self-guided driving tour, beginning at the Visitor Center inside the railway depot for the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient line that was built in 1911. During the tour, you’ll pass more than a dozen legendary sites, such as the Pecos County Courthouse, the Historic Old Jail of 1884, the “Oldest House” that is believed to have been built as early as 1855, and the Comanche Springs Pool. The tour ends at the Historic Fort Stockton Cemetery, the final resting place of assassinated Sheriff A.J. Royal. Following this route takes you to some of Fort Stockton’s most fascinating places, a great way to get acquainted with this exceptional West Texas town.
Though they’re included on the driving tour, two pieces of Fort Stockton lore deserve special mention. Built in the 1880’s as a watering hole for cowboys, Texas Rangers, and soldiers stationed nearby, Grey Mule Saloon is enjoying a revival as a tasting room. Owned by Mesa Vineyards, the largest winemaker in the state, the saloon has exchanged whiskey and bourbon for Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling from Ste. Genevieve, Mesa Vineyard’s most popular brand. They also pour a number of wines made from grapes grown exclusively in Texas. Enjoy a glass in the quaint tasting room, with its hardwood floors and stainless-steel bar, or step out onto the patio if you want to stretch out. In the tasting room gift shop, you can find accessories, wine baskets, chocolates, olive oils, and more.
The second standout stop on the historic district driving tour is the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum, operated by the Fort Stockton Historical Society. Named for the widowed wife of a murdered gunslinger, the building is something to behold, with its Victorian-era wrap-around porches and wide verandas. Inside, priceless items from some of the town’s colorful collective memories are displayed, like the desk of murdered Sheriff A. J. Royal (complete with blood stains), and a 1902 ballot box from a Pecos County election that made some voters unhappy enough to throw it in the Pecos River. The Fort Stockton museum includes the Butz Room and the Archeology Room, where the tusks of a Columbian mammoth are on display. Don’t miss the desert garden and the restored Pecos County buggy that is parked in the museum courtyard.
Several spots around town feature impressive sculptures that give the city of Fort Stockton its own unique character. One of the most beloved is at the corner of Main and Dickenson, where the huge roadrunner sculpture known as Paisano Pete is frozen in mid-sprint. Though it’s no longer the largest roadrunner in the world, the 11-foot tall, 22-foot long bird is no less iconic today than it was when it was erected in 1980. In fact, Texas Highways magazine declared Pete a True Texas Icon in 2011.
Two more fantastic sculptures – crafted by New Mexico artist Brian Norwood – can be found on the east and west sides of Fort Stockton. Heading into town from the east along Interstate 10, you’ll be welcomed by the silhouettes of riders of the Ninth U.S. Cavalry - forerunners of the famed Buffalo Soldiers - on the “March to Fort Stockton” and their old post near Comanche Springs. On the west side, “Look to the East” represents a band of Comanche hunting for buffalo while staying vigilant for soldiers. All of these sculptures in Fort Stockton reflect a part of the town’s history, making them all worth a look while you’re here.
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