FORT DAVIS, Texas, Oct. 13, 2011 -- Fort Davis National Historic Site in Fort Davis, Texas, celebrated 50 years with the National Park Service Saturday, and the 1st Armored Division Band from Fort Bliss, Texas, joined them to celebrate.

Fort Bliss and Fort Davis have a common history. When the mid-19th century discovery of gold in California prompted a stampede of people heading west, one of the main routes included a 60-day overland trail from San Antonio to El Paso. To protect the steady stream of settlers from small bands of Native Americans, the Army established a string of forts along the trail including Fort Inge in present-day Uvalde County, Fort Concho in San Angelo, Fort Stockton near present-day Fort Stockton and Fort Quitman near Sierra Blanca.

Fort Bliss and Fort Davis, though they had begun similarly as cavalry posts along the San Antonio-El Paso Road, underwent different trajectories. Fort Bliss bloomed into prominence in the 20th century as an anti-aircraft post. Fort Davis, bypassed by the railroad and abandoned in 1891, fell into disrepair but went relatively untouched. The National Park Service realized the value of the fort during a 1960 survey of historic locations and Congress passed a bill making the fort a national historic site in 1961, thus preserving and restoring it.

Fifty years have passed since then, and the NPS commemorated this enduring achievement with a celebration. John Morlock, superintendent of Fort Davis National Historic Site, was pleased with how the celebration went, including the 1st Armored Division Band's participation.

"It's gone very well: good attendance, beautiful weather, a lot of participation from community members, park staff and the Fort Bliss band," said Morlock. "I had heard of their participation in other area events … and knew that they would be the right fit for here."

"We wanted to help Fort Davis celebrate this historic moment in time with the 50th anniversary of their designation as a national park," said Master Sgt. Justin Ahrens. "It was our pleasure to come out and represent Fort Bliss. That's part of our job as a military band is to get out into the community and represent our command and connect people to our Army."

Without the encroachment of urban development and surrounded by hillsides of volcanic boulders, Fort Davis appears much as it would have following the Civil War. Ahrens compared the historical preservation of Fort Bliss in El Paso to that of Fort Davis.

"El Paso has transformed so much that there isn't anything left of the original post [Fort Bliss]," said Ahrens. "The post moved around to several different locations in El Paso, so we don't have that connection. Coming out here gives our troops in the band a chance to see what it was like. We can just imagine what it was like stationed out here in the 1800s, being secluded and isolated from the rest of the world."

The band's repertoire varied from modern hits like Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." to older standards.

"In this instance, it was kind of a standard concert for us in that we want to touch on the patriotic stuff," said Ahrens. "In this case we did pick out a few tunes that were representative of music that might be playing back in the 1800s. So we had 'Battle Hymn of the Republic,' we had 'My Old Kentucky Home' and 'Home on the Range.' All those tunes came out in the 1850s, 1860s timeframe. We thought that would add a touch of the historic."

Staff Sgt. Darren Pursel, a trombonist with the band, was glad to get a chance to see Fort Davis.

"I've seen signs for Fort Davis and the scenic loop, but I've never ventured off of [Interstate 10], so it was kind of nice to drop down and see this beautiful area sitting out here," said Pursel.

Other visitors were happy to see the band. Grace Ceniceros, a resident of nearby Alpine, Texas, attended the event to see her granddaughter perform in costume as one of the children that might have inhabited the fort.

"They usually play the music from the speakers," said Ceniceros of the PA system that generally plays bugle calls. "It's nice to have a real, live band. I have never seen a band come [here]."

Rick Keith, a seasonal ranger dressed in 19th century period costume, had also been a Soldier with the 1st Armored Division when he served in the Army.

"It's neat to see these guys out here taking part in the post, and they play an awesome national anthem," said Keith. "I hadn't seen any guys active in First Armored in many, many years. It kind of felt familiar to see the guys walking around with the patch."

To learn more about historic Fort Davis, visit www.nps.gov/foda.

Page last updated Thu October 13th, 2011 at 00:00