The fort's mission was to suppress stock rustling and protect settlers from attacks by discontent Californios (pre-statehood residents), and Native American tribes, including the Paiute and Mojave, and to monitor the less aggressive Emigdiano living nearby. The Emigdiano, who were closely related to the Chumash of the coastal and interior lands to the west, had several villages near Fort Tejon. After the earlier Spanish and Mexican colonial Indian Reductions, they were generally cooperative with the European-American settlers and the U.S. Army.
Parade ground at Fort Tejon, California, June 2006. The restored barracks are at left and the commanding officer's quarters are at the center, to the right of and behind which are the stabilized but unrestored officers' quarters. Split rail fences outline the foundations of buildings that have not been reconstructed.
At the urging of Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in California, the U.S. Army established Fort Tejon in 1854. Fort Tejon was the headquarters of the First U.S. Dragoons until those Regular Army troops were transferred to the East in July 1861 soon after the outbreak of the American Civil War. The fort was re-occupied by California volunteer troops in 1863. Those units included Companies D, E and G of the 2nd California Volunteer Cavalry from July 6 to August 17, 1863; and Company B of the 2nd California Volunteer Infantry, which remained there until Fort Tejon was abandoned for good on September 11, 1864.
The great earthquake of 1857, which became known as the Fort Tejon earthquake, was centered nearly 100 miles away. The earthquake became associated with the fort by name because the area near the epicenter was sparsely populated. The most reliable report of the event was issued from the fort, nearly 93 miles (149.7 km) distant.
Fort Tejon State Historic Park
The state historic park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its original historic buildings have been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey. Several buildings have been restored, and two are partially open to visitors. The restored barracks contain display cases of uniforms and a recreated troopers' quarters. The commanding officer's quarters have several restored and furnished rooms. Officers' quarters nearby are only stabilized in a state of arrested decay, with walls buttressed by masonry and lumber and tied together with reinforcing rods.
A quartermaster building has recently been reconstructed houses materials used in Dragoon life and Civil War reenactments. The sites of former buildings, planned for reconstruction, are marked by split rail fences along the outlines of their foundations. A park office, containing exhibits of dragoon life and restrooms, is at the east end of the parade ground near the parking lot by Interstate 5.
The park grounds include the grave site of Peter Lebeck, which is indicated with a historical marker. The nearby town of Lebec is named after him.
Fort Tejon is the site of frequent Civil War reenactments presented by the Fort Tejon Historical Association.
The Fort Tejon earthquake occurred at about 8:20 AM (Pacific time) on January 9, 1857. It ruptured the San Andreas Fault for a length of about 350 kilometers (220 mi), between Parkfield and San Bernardino. Displacement along the fault was as much as 9 meters (30 feet) in the Carrizo Plain but less along the Palmdale section of the fault, closest to Los Angeles. The amount of fault slip gives this earthquake a moment magnitude of 7.9, comparable to that of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Based on the (uncertain) distribution of foreshocks for this earthquake, it is assumed that the beginning of the fault rupture (the epicenter) was in the area between Parkfield and Cholame, about 60 miles northwest. Nevertheless, it is usually called the "Fort Tejon" earthquake because this was the location of the greatest damage, most of the area being unpopulated at the time.
^Fort Tejon State Historic Park pamphlet, State of California, Department of Parks & Recreation, Sacramento, California, 1991.
East end of the restored barracks building. The unreconstructed kitchen/mess hall is outlined by split rail fence to the left.
Barracks interior showing soldiers' quarters.
The day room in the barracks.
Uniform items on display in the day room.
One of the several uniform displays in the barracks.
Model of Dragoon in the barracks.
View of the barracks from the front porch of the commanding officer's quarters. The split rail fence at the near end of the barracks denotes the foundation outline of another barracks yet to be reconstructed.
The quartermaster building.
The interior of the quartermaster building showing materials used during Dragoon and Civil War reenactments staged at Fort Tejon.
The restored commanding officer's quarters.
A furnished room inside the commanding officer's quarters.
The dining room inside the commanding officer's quarters.
Bedroom for the children and servant on the second floor of the commanding officer's quarters.
Wolf rug in the adults' bedroom on the second floor of the commanding officer's quarters.
The roof of the commanding officer's quarters receiving new shingles, showing the detail of roof construction.
Officers' quarters. This building has been stabilized but not restored, and is not open to the public. The interiors may be viewed through the wire fencing.
Detail showing the interior wall bracing needed to stabilize the structure of the officers' quarters.