In the 19th century, the U.S. government established forts along Texas' frontier to protect pioneers. By the early 1850s, Col. Jesse Stem farmed along the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, and Thomas Lambshead established his Clear Fork farm. As others moved to the area, troops at Camp Cooper in present-day Throckmorton County, including then-Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, provided military defense. Camp Cooper closed at the start of the Civil War in 1861. After the war, the U.S. Army established Camp Wilson, later renamed Fort Griffin, near this site in 1867.
Fort Griffin sat on the high ground above the river. A settlement developed between it and the water's edge. The town, known also as "the Flat," included merchants, cattlemen and their families. Its permanent populace supported a newspaper, the Fort Griffin Echo, as well as an academy, Masonic lodge and several stores and saloons. A rough element of cowboys, gamblers and renegades mixed with black and white troops to form a lawless scene. Among those attracted to the town were Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Lottie Deno, Big Nose Kate, Hurricane Bill and Hurricane Minnie.
Fort Griffin was a stop for buffalo hide trade, and hides awaiting shipment crowded town lots. Located along the Western Cattle Trail, it included immigrant residents from several countries. Due to the distance from governmental authority, area residents formed Shackelford County in 1874. The town's population steadily declined after Albany became the county seat and the terminus of the Texas Central Railroad. Notable local businesses included the Beehive saloon, the Conrad and Rath store, the Glesk boot shop and the Occidental hotel. The fort closed in 1881, but elements of the town remained in operation into the mid-20th century. The school consolidated with the Albany District in 1942.