From the time Texas gained independence from Mexico in 1836, there was a dispute as the location of the border between the two countries. Mexico considered the boundary to be along the Nueces River, while Texas claimed the border was along the Rio Grande. Annexation of Texas into the US in 1845 did not resolve the dispute, it only turned the heat up. Eventually, the US and Mexico went to war over the disputed territory of the Rio Grande Valley. The US victory in the Mexican War settled that boundary dispute forever, even as the border has never been truly “quiet.” Frequent violent border raids originating from Mexico continued well into the 20th century.
The US Army established Fort Ringgold in 1848 to consolidate the US hold of land along the Rio Grande and combat border raiders who preyed on settlements and farms and quell sporadic Indian attacks originating in Texas. Fort Ringgold kept the peace around Rio Grande City until the Army declared it surplus and decommissioned it in 1944.
The Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District (RGCCISD) bought the Fort from the US Government in 1949. The fort served as the K-12 campus for all students for several decades, until the school district outgrew the fort building’s capacities. Today (2015), the RGCCISD operates a total of 18 schools throughout the city and Starr County, with only two schools, Ringgold Elementary and the RGCCISD Academy for Academic Advancement, still teaching students on board Fort Ringgold.
All RGCCISD support facilities and offices are located at Fort Ringgold.
Since 1988, the school district has maintained the Fort’s historic buildings, as well as its budget allowed. The renovation of the Robert E. Lee House, where Lee lived in 1860 when he was assigned to the Fort, is an ongoing project.
From the Handbook of Texas Online: (
“FORT RINGGOLD. Fort Ringgold, the southernmost installation of the western tier of forts constructed at the end of the Mexican War, stood guard for nearly a century over the Rio Grande and Rio Grande City. On October 26, 1848, Bvt. Maj. Joseph H. LaMotte led two companies of the First United States Infantry to Davis Landing, near the newly established Rio Grande City in Starr County. The army leased thirty-three acres from Henry Clay Davis, the town founder, whose heirs sold 350 acres to the government for $20,000 in 1878. Known initially as the Post at Davis Landing, the fort bore the names Camp Ringgold and Ringgold Barracks before being named Fort Ringgold in the year of the purchase. The name was in honor of Bvt. Maj. Samuel Ringgold, the first United States Army officer to die from wounds received in the battle of Palo Alto (May 8, 1846); he died on May 11. The military chose the site to protect the area from Indian and Mexican attacks.
The ninety-six-year occupancy of the post was marked by several interruptions, at times when the government considered it redundant, followed by regarrisoning when the region was threatened. Major periods of occupation were from 1848 until the Civil War intervened in 1861; from 1865 until military exigencies in the Philippines closed it in 1906; and from 1917 to 1944. The army declared the fort surplus and disposed of the property in 1944. The installation was of flimsy construction until after the Civil War.
Construction began on a new post in 1869 at the same location, and by the mid-1870s it took on a permanent look with the erection of frame and brick structures along a palm-lined parade ground. Ringgold was one of the most attractive posts along the border. Congress appropriated additional funds for improvements in 1917. In the nineteenth century Ringgold hosted a number of prominent military figures, including Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing, and possibly Jefferson Davis. In 1875 Capt. Leander H. McNelly and a contingent of Texas Rangers garrisoned the post.
Fort Ringgold assured permanence for the isolated Rio Grande City and socially and economically affected the life of the community while it safeguarded the citizenry from border violence. The post housed the area’s first telegraph office, fueled the local economy through federal appropriations, and waged protracted warfare on smugglers, rustlers, and insurrectionists who ravaged the region. The Cortina War and the unrest along the border during the Mexican Revolution particularly emphasized the importance of the garrison.
Ringgold troops under the command of Maj. Samuel P. Heintzelman ended the threat of the former by joining forces with John Salmon Ford and the Texas Rangers to rid the area of Juan N. Cortina in 1860.
The most serious rift between Fort Ringgold and Rio Grande City occurred in 1899 when Troop D of the Ninth United States Cavalry briefly garrisoned the installation. The black troops, returning triumphantly from the Cuban campaign, quickly grew impatient at racial restrictions and harassment. Tensions heightened amid conflicting reports of impending attacks on the fort and town. On the night of November 20 post commander 2d Lt. E. H. Rubottom responded to a presumed assault on the garrison by ordering Gatling gunfire on the area between the post and town. Only one minor injury resulted, but Rubottom’s action succeeded in quelling the disturbance.
Ensuing federal, state, and grand jury investigations failed to specify culpability or motivation, although many townspeople and other Texans insisted that soldiers feigned an attack on the fort in order to wreak havoc on the community. Lt. Col. Cyrus S. Roberts of the United States Army and Thomas Scurry, adjutant general of Texas, concluded that Rubottom had acted unwisely but recommended no charges against him or others. Governor Joseph Sayers favored the locals’ demand that the Ninth Cavalry be moved, and the residents requested that a white garrison be retained.
In 1947 remains from the abandoned Fort Ringgold post cemetery were reinterred at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. The Rio Grande Consolidated Independent School District purchased the fort property in 1949. In 1988 the district maintained the standing buildings, the most renowned of which is the Lee House, where Lee resided in 1860 while he was investigating Cortina’s intrusions.