How did Camp Mabry come to be?

During World War I, Camp Mabry was a training site for auto mechanics. The building that is now the Texas Military Forces Museum was constructed as a mess hall in this era to feed those troops. Courtesy Texas Military Forces Museum
During World War I, Camp Mabry was a training site for auto mechanics. The building that is now the Texas Military Forces Museum was constructed as a mess hall in this era to feed those troops. Courtesy Texas Military Forces Museum

During World War I, Camp Mabry was a training site for auto mechanics. The building that is now the Texas Military Forces Museum was constructed as a mess hall in this era to feed those troops. Courtesy Texas Military Forces Museum

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The Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry tells the story of the Texas Military Forces beginning in 1823. It is free to the public and open six days a week. Courtesy Texas Military Forces Museum
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Camp Mabry•is named for Brigadier General Woodford H. Mabry, who secured the land that would become the site in 1892. Courtesy Texas Military Forces Museum
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In the latter half of the 19th century, after the Civil War, the military forces for the state of Texas were not particularly well trained nor well organized, according to Jeffrey Hunt, the director of the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry.

According to Hunt, the U.S. Congress was focused on paying down its debt from the bloody and years-long war, meaning it had little interest in funding state militias. That left volunteer companies to fundraise for themselves, holding galas and balls—whatever they could sell a ticket to—and leaving little time to train.

When Woodford H. Mabry became adjutant general of Texas in 1891, he wanted the Texas Volunteer Guard to be equipped and trained in the same manner as the national military forces, Hunt said. The first order of business was finding a piece of land for that training to happen.

“They had nothing. There was a fireproof building on the grounds of the Capitol where they stored weapons and munitions. That was about it,” Hunt said.

The land that eventually became Camp Mabry was ideally situated, Hunt said. It was close to the Colorado River and the Capitol, alongside the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and it provided plenty of space for troops to train.


The state bought some of the land that became Camp Mabry from private citizens, and some was donated, according to Kristen Mt. Joy, the cultural resources manager for Texas Military Forces. The original site, about 90 acres, is the area where the parade grounds are today. The land expanded in 1913, Mt. Joy said, to about the current size of approximately 400 acres. When the first Texas Volunteer Forces arrived to train in 1892, they chose to name the site for Mabry, Hunt said.

Today, Camp Mabry is what Hunt calls the “nerve center” of the Texas Military Forces, which include the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard and Texas State Guard. Each of those three departments reports to Adjutant General Tracy R. Norris, the military leader appointed by the governor, according to the Texas Military Department website.

When a natural disaster occurs, military leaders and civilian partners at Camp Mabry coordinate a response and communicate with the governor, or, in a national emergency, the president and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Mabry never lived to see his vision of a professional, organized state military come true. When the Spanish-American War began, Mabry, who had never been involved in an active military campaign, resigned his position as adjutant general and took command as a colonel of an infantry regiment, Hunt said. Mabry’s unit never saw combat—the war ended after 113 days—but it did occupy Cuba for a few months, where Mabry contracted malaria and died in 1899 at age 42.

Although Mabry died well before his vision could be realized, the Texas Military Forces Museum, open to the public and located at Camp Mabry in a former mess hall, recognizes his contributions. The museum has Mabry’s sword and uniform on exhibit.

Camp Mabry

2200 W 35th St., Austin

512-782-5001

www.tmd.texas.gov

Museum hours: Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect that Mabry commanded a regiment in Cuba, and the U.S. Congress was paying down debt after the end of the Civil War.