March 06, 2016

Photo Essay: Fort Tejon and the Ghost of Peter Lebec

I'm not much for Civil War reenactments, or really any other "living history"-style reenactments. I'm even surprised I went to the recreation of The Great Air Raid of 1942, but at least that was a party.

That being said, it took me a while to make my way up to Fort Tejon near Tejon Ranch at a time when it would be empty.

Clearly, I picked the right time, because this mini ghost town of barracks and mess halls and other military facilities seemed particularly ghostly.

This California state park features a looped trail around the old fort parade grounds, past the former headquarters of the 1st Dragoons and regimental band...

...and the barracks...

...where you can view the "before and after" restoration work... well as some interpretive displays of historic uniforms...

...and other costumes of the time period.

Along the parade route...

...there are kitchens, messhalls, outhouses, and the Quartermaster's Office...

...before you get to Captain Gardiner's Quarters...

...whose basement once housed preserved lizard, frog, snake, and toad specimens collected for the Smithsonian.

This is actually only half of the original U.S. Army outpost of 1856, the other half having been obliterated by the 5 Freeway and Tejon Ranch.

Although the fort was only active for 10 years—mostly to "control" the various Native American tribes who were as likely to be embattled as the North and South were during the Civil War—it's been considered historically significant enough to be preserved and restored.

And, for whatever reason, to keep live chickens and roosters there...

...who were the only living souls I encountered during my visit.

Some of the structures, like the Officer's Quarters and the bakery, have been reduced down to only their foundations...

...but other adobes, like the Orderly's Quarters, have been fully restored to reflect a historically accurate portrait of the period.

Although it may seem like it was all music and merriment during Fort Tejon's heyday, apparently they treated their prisoners harshly—locking them up in poorly ventilated, dark, freezing cold jail cells. Not surprisingly, many prisoners figured out how to escape in the middle of the night.

Also well-preserved are the 400 year-old valley oak trees...

...underneath one of which lies the body of dead Peter Lebeck—who, according to lore (and his headstone), was killed by a grizzly bear. His epitaph had been carved into a tree, but now a more permanent grave marker memorializes this mysterious figure.

In addition to Peter Lebec's grave, Fort Tejon also houses the graves of six enlisted men in a small military cemetery—all of whom died sometime between 1855 and 1864.

Fort Tejon was notable not only as one of the headquarters of the First U.S. Dragoons (after it was first organized at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri) , but also as the western terminus of the first and only Camel Brigade, an unsuccessful messenger service to haul supplies from San Antonio, Texas to California via dozens of camels used as pack animals.

The experiment only lasted a few years and was abandoned when the camels just couldn't acclimate to Southern California hard labor.

Eh, who could blame them?

Besides, the fort was abandoned entirely—and for good—in 1864, which meant they weren't needed for much longer anyway.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Remembering the Civil War at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery
Photo Essay: Over the Ridges and Through the Creeks of Tejon Ranch
Photo Essay: Tejon Ranch, Through the Valley, into the Desert, and up a Mountain
Photo Essay: The Wildflower Blanket at Tejon Ranch


  1. why does it say and the ghost of peter lebec does he like still watch us while we are there? are you saying he haunts the place

    1. Good question! The Fort Tejon Historical Association used to produce an annual "The Death of Peter LeBeck Ghost Walk and Candlelight Tour." I think it's all in good fun. For more on Peter Lebec(k), visit