The rush of westbound settlers after the Civil War led to the founding of Fort Concho in 1867. With military protection, a settlement sprouted around a trading post across the North Concho River.
The area got a boost in 1888 when the Santa Fe railroad came through. The fort closed the following year, but cattle and sheep ranching had already established a solid economic base.
Today, the town of San Angelo, the so-called pearl of West Texas, is a vibrant community of 100,000, and Fort Concho is a National Historic Landmark featuring 23 original and restored buildings.
Tour the site to see museum exhibits and artifacts, including uniforms worn by the Buffalo Soldiers, and hear stories of some of the heroic and tragic figures who were stationed there, like Ranald Mackenzie.
Called “the most promising young officer in the Army” by Gen. Ulysses Grant, Mackenzie led his 4th Cavalry to victory at Palo Duro Canyon in 1874, effectively ending the Red River War. But he spent his last years in insane asylums and died at 49.
San Angelo Today
The San Angelo Stock Show & Rodeo, held since 1932, is dedicated to preserving the Western way of life and promoting agricultural education to kids. Today, it draws more than 150,000 to the county fairgrounds. In 2020, the rodeo runs January 30 to February 16.
The association that puts on the show also hosts the Cinch Roping Fiesta in October, a livestock show in November and a quarter horse show in January.
To get a feel for San Angelo, head downtown and see more than 80 fiberglass sheep standing on the sidewalk and outside businesses. They’re the town’s calling card, an homage to its agricultural prowess, specifically its status as a major wool producer.
Another distinction is the abundance of water from the river, a reservoir and two lakes, which gives San Angelo a prettier, greener look than other places in West Texas. And the cowboys in town from the surrounding farms and ranches are the real deal.
“Concrete has swallowed other cities, but we still feel like Texas,” says Diann Bayes, vice president of the San Angelo Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The other day at a burger place the guy in front of me wore spurs and his hat had a sweat ring because he’d spent the day throwing hay bales.”
Stop at Miss Hattie’s Restaurant & Cathouse Lounge for a Brothel Burger, named among the best in Texas. At Legend Jewelers, see items made with Concho pearls, taken from Tampico mussels in the Concho River. The mesmerizing colors of this highly prized jewel range from light pink to rich purple.
On the second floor of the Legend Building, visit Miss Hattie’s Bordello Museum. Tour five bedrooms to see pressed-tin ceilings, some original furnishings and hear stories about the girls.
The museum’s website states that Miss Hattie’s operated at that location from 1902 to 1952, when Texas Rangers closed it.
Use your cell phone to tour San Angelo’s historic murals. The Stagecoach Mural shows a six-horse team bringing mail and settlers to the Concho Valley and another pays tribute to pioneer ranchers.
Don’t miss the Concho River Walk, a four-mile stretch of beautiful greenery along the gently flowing water. With three million colorful lights during the Tour of Lights celebration, Christmas is a perfect time to go.
San Angelo State Park features 50 miles of trails and part of the official state longhorn herd. Some of the longhorns roam free.
“Hikers and bikers have a good chance of seeing them,” says Assistant Superintendent Tony Wheeler. Tony Wheeler. “Sometimes you’ll go down a trail and a longhorn will be staring right at you.”
Fun Fact: The Cactus Hotel was built by hotel magnate Conrad Hilton in the late 1920s. See blue and gold Spanish tiles and the skylight ceiling in the ornate lobby. The 15th floor has 21 windows overlooking the city.