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Fort Davis National Park Archives - Dedication Ceremony (1966)

Fort Davis National Historical Site

Silent | 1966

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  •  Driving through the desert towards Fort Davis National Historical Park 
  •  Arriving at Fort Davis 
  •  The drill field, outlined by the commanding officer’s barracks 
  •  A crowd watches as a historical reenactor saddles and mounts a horse 
  •  Sign for Fort Davis 
  •  62nd US Army Band from Fort Bliss 
  •  Hoisting the flag 
  •  The band begins! 
  •  Almost 7,000 guests attend the dedication ceremony to see First Lady Lady Bird Johnson 
  •  Superintendent of Fort Davis Frank Smith walks by Texas state representative Gene Hendryx. Also in attendance were Carlysle Graham Raht, famous Texas author and publisher; Barry Scobee, author and historian; Representative from El Paso Richard Crawford White; and Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie Connally. 
  •  Johnson makes her speech 
  •  Third to the right of Johnson is Interior Secretary Stewart Lee Udall 
  •  NPS Director George B. Hartzog Jr. 
  •  Johnson at the plaque with Udall 
  •  Fort Davis Visitor Center 
  •  Lady Bird Johnson 
 
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This footage captures the dedication ceremony at the Fort Davis National Historic Site on April 4, 1966. The film captures the large crowd, anxious to participate in such a memorable event for Texas and for the entire country. The 62nd Army Band of Fort Bliss performs, though the highlight of the day is the appearance of First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. Johnson dedicates Fort Davis as a national historic site and unveils the commemorating plaque. The event enabled the site to preserve its history and become a lasting tourist destination.
Brevet Major General Persifor Frazer Smith established Fort Davis in October 1854. Named after Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, the fort is one of the last remaining frontier military posts in the Southwest. The primary goal of the post was to guide travelers through the San Antonio-El Paso Road and to fight the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache Tribes along the way. However, the federal government ordered the evacuation of the fort at the start of the Civil War. 
 
For the next six years, Fort Davis underwent periods of Confederate occupation, Union occupation, and total desertion. In 1867, Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Merritt and the 9th Cavalry took over the fort and built new accommodations and structures. At its height, it held over 100 structures and housed over 400 troops. However, in 1880, Colonel Bemjamin Grierson of the 10th Cavalry led the last raid against the Apaches and their leader Victorio into Mexico, signaling the end of the Indian Wars in Texas. By 1891, Fort Davis outlived its purpose and was left abandoned. Today is it on the National Registry of Historic Places and remains a frequently visited tourist attraction.
On April 4, 1966, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson arrived at Fort Davis National Historic Site to host the park’s dedication ceremony. Three years following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, the occasion endured an increased level of stress, and members of the Secret Service, the National Park Service, and the local police department kept security tight. Nonetheless, the public anticipation of seeing  Johnson was enormous, leading organizers to spend months planning the celebration. 
 
National Park Service director George Hartzog welcomed Johnson as she took the podium, where she described the importance of historic preservation to reveal the motives and experiences of Texans in the past. Other important characters in attendance included Secretary of the Interior Steward Lee Udall, Fort Davis Superintendent Frank Smith, author and publisher Carlysle Graham Raht, Congressman Richard Crawford White, historian Barry Scobee, and Texas Governor John Connally. 
 
One thing that stood out to Johnson was the visitor’s center museum, called the “instant museum” because it had been completed the night before her arrival. She specifically congratulated Scobee for his research and his work in creating the museum. After Johnson’s speech, Superintendent Smith guided her and then Governor and Mrs. Connally on a private tour throughout the museum. 
Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor was born in Karnack, Texas, on December 22, 1912. Lady Bird, the nickname given by nursemaid Alice Tittle, attended high school in Marshall and junior college at Dallas’ St. Mary’s Episcopal College for Women. From 1933 through 1934, she received a Bachelor of Arts in history and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. 
 
Mutual friends introduced Lady Bird to congressional aide and rising political star, Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ proposed on the couple’s first date and the two were married a month later on November 17, 1934. Lady Bird financed her husband’s first congressional campaign for Austin’s 10th District using a portion of her maternal inheritance. During World War II, Lady Bird ran the congressional office while LBJ served in the US Navy. In 1943, Lady Bird purchased Austin Radio station KTBC. The station proved an integral part of the LBJ Holding Company and became the main source of the Johnson family’s fortune. 
 
LBJ’s political career gained momentum in the post-war years, and in 1960, he became Vice President to John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as Commander and Chief aboard Air Force One following President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. As First Lady, Lady Bird initiated the Society for a More Beautiful National Capitol and worked with the American Association of Nurserymen to promote the planting of wildflowers along highways. In 1964, the First Lady traveled through eight southern states aboard her train, “The Lady Bird Special,” to foster support for LBJ’s presidential reelection and the Civil Rights Act. She was influential in promoting the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, referred to as “Lady Bird’s Bill,” and the Head Start program.
 
Following the death of LBJ in 1973, Lady Bird turned her attention to Austin. The Town Lake Beautification Project transformed Austin’s downtown lake, renamed Lady Bird Lake in 2007, into a useable recreation area. On December 22, 1982, Lady Bird and Helen Hays founded the National Wildflower Research Center outside of Austin. The Wildflower Center was established to increase awareness and research for North American flora. In 1977, the former First Lady received the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1988. Lady Bird died of natural causes on July 11, 2007, survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.