The Mason Square Museum celebrates the birthday of General Robert E. Lee on Saturday, January 19th. According to Don Daniel, local Lee history buff and Mason Square Museum Board President, two important events that have Mason connections, occurred in January of 1861 for Lee, a Colonel in rank, at the time.
General Lee spent his birthday at Ft. Mason in January of 1861. The famous general’s birthday also brings to mind a historic decision Lee made while stationed at Ft. Mason during the winter of 1860-1861. Daniel says, “Things appeared pretty quiet on the surface, at Ft. Mason and the surrounding ranching communities. The Mason Square was not defined yet, just a few buildings dotted the area.” The center of Mason County activities in the mid-1800’s revolved around the fort. According to Daniel, over half of the United States Army was stationed in Texas as a response to the Comanche threat to settlers of the region. However, historical accounts described by Carl Coke Rister in his Book Robert E. Lee in Texas, this as a slack season at Ft. Mason. Seasoned Army officers knew that with the wintery winds and freezing temperatures, Indian raiders were snuggled in their lodges and there was little danger of immediate attack. It was a time to celebrate in grand style and with the holidays, entertain often.
Underneath it all, is a tension of the greatest magnitude the young United States had ever experienced. Daniel points out, “People are talking secession. A few states had already seceded and Texas was on the threshold. Soldiers are deserting. Officers are resigning”. Mutterings of dissension raised and national events moved at a quick and dramatic pace. Lee held out to the last minute that the Union would somehow hold together but it was during his days in Mason he concluded what this Virginian born soldier would have to do if the country divided.
The Mason Square Museum and Ft. Mason are great places for finding details and reliving General Lee’s brief time in Mason County. An exhibit in the Square Museum not only chronicles the days of General Lee at Ft. Mason but the stories of many other great U-S generals that have toiled with agonizing issues while serving in Mason. Stories of Lee and his encounters with Mason County ancestors can be read in The History of Mason County Texas through 1964 by Margaret Bierschwale. The book can be found in the Museum Gift Shop. The Mason Square Museum is located on the North side of the Square and is open 10a.m. to 4p.m. Thursday through Saturday.