Fort Tejon in the 19th century was a United States Army outpost at the center of the Los Angeles Basin, where the Second Military District headquartered. It is most often remembered today for its role as the last military post guarding the MexicanAmerican War prisoner of war camp known as Camp Reynolds.
During World War II it became the site of the internment of Japanese Americans, and later served as an active radar station during the Cold War. The fort’s foundations are on the National Register of Historic Places, designated as part of the larger Fort Tejon State Historic Park.
Most of the original buildings have been rebuilt, though not exactly in their former locations. For example, the barracks building has been remodeled into a residence hall, and the officer’s club house has been converted into a conference room. Other changes include adding second story balconies to some of the existing structures, and constructing a parking lot. The reconstructed barracks building houses the main offices of the University of California, Davis, which conducts classes at night using computer simulations of classroom lectures, interactive whiteboards, and live webcams.
Visitors can see examples of UC Davis’ teaching methods in action each day during daytime hours in the year-round open lab. The park includes a picnic area, interpretive exhibits, and a museum featuring displays on the history of the fort, and armaments and ammunition development. There is also a visitor center/gift shop.
The park grounds contain remnants of the old fort, including parts of the moat, walls, and gates. Portions of the fort’s huge double stockade fence still stand along portions of its perimeter.
As well as the following:
- Two cannons remain in position along one portion of the north outer wall.
- A third cannon remains along another section of the north outer wall. Four additional cannons are mounted within the south fort.
- Sixteen mortars and howitzers are mounted outside the east barrack gate, providing coverage along both its long sides.
- Three batteries of six 16-inch guns each are located west of Highway 5, mostly inside the park boundary, but with one, Battery Construction Number (BCN) 213, right on the edge of the road.
- Seven 2-inch guns are mounted along the top of the low bluffs to the west of Highway 5, forming a semi-circle facing inward.
- Twelve 3-inch guns are mounted along the high ground to the northwest of Highway 5, forming another semi-circle facing inward.
- Five 4-inch guns are similarly situated, except one is missing (presumed lost).
- Two 6-inch guns are mounted near the middle of the parade ground, one on either side of the flagpole.
- Two 9-inch guns are mounted near the western tip of the parade ground, one on each flank of BCN 112.
- Two 12-inch guns are mounted near the eastern tip of the parade ground, one on each flank of BCN 222.
- Two 8-inch guns are mounted adjacent to each other on small hills overlooking the Vallejo River. Their exact positions are uncertain, but they appear to form part of Fort Tejon’s outer defenses.
- Only two 16-inch shells are visible, indicating minimal use since the fort’s abandonment. Remnants of the fort’s moat are present, but filled in.
The park has seven trails leading to varying degrees of difficulty, ranging from easy to moderate, with difficult sections scattered throughout.
Fort Tejon was established in 1854 to support the defense of Los Angeles County against possible attacks by discontented Californios (pre-statehood residents), or by foreign enemies such as Russia or Mexico. In particular, the army wanted to keep watch over the area’s new towns, which were growing rapidly due to the discovery of gold around nearby Sutter’s Mill.
At first, Fort Tejon consisted of only four companies of infantrymen and two gunships. However, with the rapid growth of Southern California following the Gold Rush, more troops were stationed there than at any other U.S. Army installation.
- Companies E and I were assigned to garrison duty at Fort Tejon from July 15, 1854, through September 11, 1855
- Company E was stationed there again from June 20, 1861, through October 27, 1862;
- Company K was stationed there from April 17, 1863, until August 12, 1865, when they were replaced by Company B, First Infantry.
With the end of the fighting in California, Fort Tejon’s mission changed from one of national security to that of keeping the peace between miners and soldiers. To this end, it hosted many training exercises intended to prepare local volunteers for service in the field. One famous incident occurred in 1857, when Captain Josiah Strong’s “Boy Scouts” encountered some real Indians while out on patrol near the Presidio. A skirmish ensued, in which several scouts were killed. As a result of this tragedy, the Boy Scout movement soon ended at Fort Tejon, although informal scouting continued throughout the rest of the decade.
Another exercise involving simulated warfare took place in 1860, when units from across the West participated in what came to be called the Battle of Fort Tejon. More realistic training began in earnest in 1863, after the conclusion of the American Civil War, and continued through the 1870s. These exercises included full-scale battles with thousands of participants, lasting for days or even weeks. Exercises designed to simulate conflicts with Native Americans also took place, including raids by Comanche and Mojave warriors upon white-run farms and ranches. Training programs conducted at Fort Tejon included those led by Generals William T. Sherman and Philip H. Sheridan, who used the post to hone their trademarked “scorched earth” policies. Under these programs, entire communities were uprooted and relocated, and civilian property was frequently destroyed, all in the name of preparing the young men of the volunteer armies to fight for the nation.
After the Spanish-American War, Fort Tejon became obsolete, and was decommissioned in 1920. Twenty years later, however, it was re-activated as a coast artillery school during the early 1940s. Following the December 7, 1941 Attack of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the Army decided to create a large inland coastal defensive perimeter centered on Fort Tejon. On May 8, 1942, nearly 1,000 officers and men of the 10th Coast Artillery Regiment moved into Fort Tejon. They were joined by members of the 604th Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat Battery, who had just arrived from San Diego, and by personnel from the disbanded 1361st Coast Artillery unit, who were temporarily attached to the 10th CA Regiment before being sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, to join the newly formed 325th AA Battalion. The post gymnasium, theatre, and other buildings were put up for sale, but no takers appeared interested in them, so they were preserved instead.
The fort closed on June 3, 1944, when the school was transferred to Fort Ord, California, leaving behind only the concrete piers and fire control tower. Demolition of the old buildings commenced in November, and they were gone by February 1945. All that remained of Fort Tejon was the concrete observation bunker housing the battery’s big gun, the three surviving towers, and a few traces of the earthen fort that once surrounded it. In 1955, the City of Los Angeles acquired the land under lease, paying half the cost of demolition.
When the city failed to renew the lease in 1960, ownership of the land reverted to the federal government, who then listed it as surplus property. Although much of the land was sold off, about 290 acres were retained as a park, named Fort Tejon State Historic Park.