Current Exhibits

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A twelve minute introduction to Frontier Texas

Our Trail Guide through the facility is Buck Taylor. Buck (the audio-visual narrator) is a former star of the Gunsmoke television series as well as numerous western movies. He will explain what is being shown in various segments of the historical experience. In the Welcome Theater, Buck introduces visitors to the Spirit Guides found throughout the facility. The Spirit Guides are eleven actors portraying the real lives of people who lived on the frontier. Each of them represents different segments of the frontier population and relay their stories to help visitors today understand what life was like on the frontier.

A Wild Land

13,000 years of culture smashed by the forces of this region

For almost 15,000 years before the Texas Frontier was settled, humans traveled through this region on foot. But this was no place to make a permanent home. It was a harsh land, and each day was a life or death struggle. Climate alternated between ice ages, and torrid heat and drought cycles. One culture after another disappeared from the ravages of weather, wild animals or human enemies. But around 1700, the Comanche, riding horses introduced to the New World by Spanish explorers, claimed this region as home. This wild and perilous land was about to get a lot wilder, and a lot more dangerous.

Comanche Empire

From the 1700s – 1800s, the Comanches dominated the Southern Plains

Riding on recently acquired horses, the Comanche hunted, traded, and made war across a huge expanse of the Southwest. Mobility, as well as economic and militaristic supremacy, made them the first culture to sustain dominance of the frontier Texas region. The Comanche were formidable enough to block European expansion into their homeland for over 150 years, a feat no other Native American tribe achieved. The tribe called themselves Numunah, simply “Our People.” The Spanish, however, called this region Comancheria––the Comanche Empire.

Buffalo Hide Trade

Winners and losers involved in the frontier’s first economic boom

The discovery that buffalo hides were suitable for industrial leather created an industry that transformed frontier Texas. Soon after the Civil War, eastern capitalists ordered as many buffalo hides as could be supplied. Hunters responded, first decimating the herds on the Northern Plains, and then coming after the millions of Texas buffalo. A government treaty protected the Texas buffalo for Indians, but hunters ignored it. The military “looked the other way” as the loss of buffalo would force the Indians onto reservations. Texas buffalo were killed out in less than a decade.


How the military moved from peacekeeping to warfare

The first U.S. military forts were established after the Mexican-American War to prevent the Comanche, now wards of the U.S., from raiding into Mexico. As more Anglos pushed westward, conflict between Indians and settlers grew. Additional forts were built along ever-westward lines to help control the Indians. In 1871, an Indian attack on the Warren Wagon Train near Graham, Texas, led to a government change in Indian policy––from peacekeeping to one of containment or eradication.


From the prairies to railheads in Kansas

Texans began to drive the longhorns across open range and the Indian Territory to railheads in Kansas for shipment to eastern markets. Hundreds of herds of cattle were driven up trails to the existing railheads, as a Texas steer worth $3 could be sold at a railhead for $30. Cowboys were paid well for the hard, dangerous trip and herd owners often amassed fortunes. In less than 25 years, cowboys drove millions of cattle out of Texas over the cattle trails.


Meet people, good and bad, who formed the frontier towns

As more soldiers, trail drivers, buffalo hunters and other pioneers came into the area, ramshackle settlements grew up on the frontier. Some settlements grew up around the frontier forts, while others developed as trading posts where buffalo hunters could sell hides and resupply their crews. These frontier outposts attracted everyone looking to make a buck––including legitimate businesspeople, gamblers, camp followers, prostitutes and other rough characters. Initially the towns were unorganized and dangerous – wild and wooly places where life was cheap. Living on the lawless frontier often gave people a calloused view of legality, equality and fairness. When their relevant economics faded, many of these towns settled back into the dust from which they had risen. 

Experience Theater

From a thunderstorm on the prairie, to a shoot-out in a saloon

The history of this place was shaped by a special breed of people. Their stories live on because that spirit lives on, so it don’t take much magic to bring those folks back to life. When you see ‘em along the trail, think of ‘em as your Spirit Guides. And you’ll see most of ‘em again in the Experience Theater at the end of the trail, so make sure that you don’t miss it. You’ll find yourself in the middle of an Indian attack, a stampede, a thunderstorm out on the prairie, a shoot out in the Beehive Saloon, and a whole lot more.

Guns of the West

Guns that shaped the wild frontier

For centuries gunpowder weapons had been changing the course of battles around the globe. Each culture that gained the knowledge of gunpowder experimented with ways to improve its efficiency as a tool of hunting and war. The demand for firearms from settlers moving westward across the plains helped lay the foundation for an American arms industry that would eventually fuel a bloody Civil War. The Fort Phantom Hill Firearms Collection on display at Frontier Texas show the progression from early muzzle loading weaponry, all the way through the rapid-fire Winchesters and Colts. The Fort Phantom Foundation Firearms Collection was gathered over several decades from private collectors and public gun shows to show the varieties of firearms used on the Texas frontier. The foundation owns and maintains the Fort Phantom Hill historic site located north of Abilene.