The Mason County Historical Society is pleased to invite everyone to the dedication of the Wilburn “Wibby” Shearer Artifacts Room at Fort Mason on Friday, May 17, at 11:00 A.M. President Charles Eckert will act as master of ceremonies.
This newly refurbished room contains a secured exhibit of artifacts from Fort Mason’s heyday that Wibby started collecting about 75 years ago. Over the decades, he found countless buttons, pipes, door locks, tools, horseshoes, nails, part of a powderhorn, and pieces of a bugle. The room will also house a model of the fort and historical displays on the people who served there.
Wilburn “Wibby” Shearer (1928-2012) started hunting for Fort Mason artifacts when he was a child in the 1930s. His dad, Hugh Shearer, took the family arrowhead hunting on Sunday afternoons and also brought them to the site of the fort site to search for relics. Around age ten, Wibby discovered a military medallion, which is now displayed at the Mason Square Museum. “That got me hooked,” he said.
At that time, the Shearers lived in the white frame house on the southeast corner of Avenue F and Ischar Street. When Wibby learned that the family home was located on the site of the old military cemetery, he became even more interested in Fort Mason lore. The remains of the soldiers had been moved to the National Cemetery in San Antonio in 1874. (Nonetheless, Wibby recalled that when the city used a ditching machine to install water lines near the house, the work crew discovered bones and coffin handles.)
Wibby found most of his collection at the bottom of Post Hill in the Wheeler field, where the First Baptist Church now stands. At that time, the only streets in that neighborhood were Wheeler and College, and most of the houses had not been built. He speculated that this flat area may have once served as a military parade ground. Wibby also found many buttons along Comanche Creek near Amy Hole (behind the Boy Scout Hut), where Chief Osceola’s cousin Amy Perryman, also known as “Amy the Seminole,” did laundry for the army.
Wibby’s most significant discovery in the 1950s was a rare Texas Marine Corps button, dating back to the days when the Republic of Texas had its own navy. Although the corpsmen had worn discontinued U.S. Marine uniforms, the buttons and cap insignia were replaced with Texas-specific versions.
“I found a button that had ‘TMC’ on it,” Wibby recalled. “I thought it meant ‘Tennessee Military College,’ and for a long time, that’s what I had in my head that it was. About fifteen years later, I was talking with Dean Sproul of the Boerne museum, who told me that it stood for ‘Texas Marine Corps.’ That’s the first time I realized what it really was.”
Wibby learned that this was only the fourth Texas Marine Corps button that had been discovered at that time. In fact, very few have surfaced in the six decades since then. The Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry in Austin confirms that “only a handful of Texas Marine Corps buttons have been located.”
Most of Wibby’s other artifacts date from the fort’s active period in 1850s and 1860s. Fort Mason had been the headquarters for the elite Second Cavalry and was also Robert E. Lee’s last command for the federal army. After it closed in 1869, the townspeople razed the buildings and salvaged the materials for many of the sandstone structures that are still standing today.
Around 1966, Wibby was looking for artifacts on a brushy lot on Post Hill when he came upon some exposed rocks and mortar. That low wall turned out to be the foundation of the northeastern corner of the officers’ quarters that was eventually rebuilt. Until then, no one knew that those foundations still existed. Wibby and Bill Donop started clearing the brush and excavating the entire foundation.
They also located the bases of two double fireplaces and even discovered some ashes there. “Once we could see where the fireplaces were, that intrigued me more than anything,” said Wibby. “You could still see where the rocks were burned.”
The property had been purchased in 1964 by Richard and Beven Eckert, who were planning to build a house on the hillside that would have covered the eastern three-quarters of the rediscovered foundation. Once the Eckerts learned about Wibby’s discovery, they decided to donate the site for historic preservation in 1967, naming the Mason County Historical Society as custodian. As Richard Eckert later wrote, “I did not feel like I had the right to deny the Mason community a heritage they could justly be proud of and had the possibility of generating much community pride and satisfaction.”
Wibby served on the committee that oversaw the reconstruction of the officers’ quarters on the original foundations. He remembered, “It was amazing how many people came from out of town to work on it.” Most of the work took place in 1975, and the building was dedicated as an American Bicentennial project in 1976.
Wibby’s 75-year effort on behalf of the fort has paid off bountifully. Fort Mason draws an estimated 4,300 people annually, making it Mason’s most popular tourist attraction. Visitors have come from every state in the union and many foreign countries.
The Shearer Artifacts Room is intended to honor Wibby’s generous spirit and his dedication to preserving Mason’s heritage. This new exhibit is the result of many months of volunteer effort. Gene and Patsy Zesch set up the displays, with the assistance of Peggy Laverty and Billy Mohr. Bob Dyal drew the architectural plans for the glass wall. Rollie Morgan and Debbie Armstrong painted the room. Delvin Bauer provided the electrical work for the lighting and security system. David Scarth helped construct the model of the fort, and Dan and Judith Barton built the table on which it sits. Charles Eckert will monitor and oversee the room.
Gene and Patsy Zesch contributed the majority of the funds for the new display as a tribute to their friend
Wibby. Other generous financial donations came from Peggy and Bill Laverty and the many relatives and friends who gave memorials to the fort following Wibby’s death last year.
The Mason County Historical Society is proud to dedicate this refurbished room to Wilburn “Wibby” Shearer in appreciation of his longtime efforts to preserve Fort Mason. Please join us for the celebration of his life’s work on May 17.
The fort committee of (left to right) Allen Bloodworth, Bill Donop, Kurt Zesch, Wibby Shearer, and Grover McDougall on Post Hill in 1975, shortly before reconstruction of the officers’ quarters began. They are standing near the original foundations that Wibby had discovered nearly a decade earlier.