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Date of visit:
November 28, 2000

For location of this site in AZ, click on the map:
 Location of Fort Bowie Historic Site ...

We rate this site a:

Site Highlights:
 Off the beaten track
 1.5 mile hike to site
 Few visitors
 Splendid isolation
 Panoramic views
 Many adobe ruins
 Butterfield Trail
 Visitor Center


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Go to second part of trip - Chiricahua National Monument
Guardian of Apache Pass

Fort Bowie
Fort Bowie

At the trailhead

At the trailhead

Approaching Fort Bowie

Approaching Fort Bowie

The ranger station

The ranger station

At the ranger station

At the ranger station
For more than 20 years Fort Bowie and Apache Pass were focal points of military operations by the U.S. Army against the Chiricahua Apaches for control of the region.

This bitter struggle, which ended only with the surrender of Geronimo in 1886, helped to determine the pattern of development on America's southwestern frontier during the last half of the 19th century.

The Spaniards called it Puerto del Dado, the Pass of Chance. They might better have named it Puerto de la Muerte, the Pass of Death, due to the violence that swirled around it.

Because the springs there were an unfailing source of water, Apache Pass - separating the Chiricahua and Dos Cabezas mountains - drew a long procession of emigrants, prospectors, and soldiers into this homeland of the Apache.

It was also the scene of two engagements with Cochise’s Apache warriors - the Bascom Affair of 1861 and the Battle of Apache Pass, fought July 15-16, 1862, during which a Union army under Brig. Gen. James Carleton was ambushed while an route to confront Confederate troops in Arizona and New Mexico.

The Battle of Apache Pass led to the establishment of Fort Bowie to protect both the pass and Apache Spring.

Soldiers from the 5th California Volunteer Infantry began its construction on July 28,1862, on a hill overlooking the spring. It was named for the regiment's commanding officer, Col. George Washington Bowie. Completed in less than three weeks, the fort was more of a temporary camp than a permanent military post - 13 tent surrounded by irregular stone breastworks thrown up at key positions on top of the hill.

As winter approached, the tents were replaced by a collection of crude stone and adobe huts, which one officer called "mere hovels ... through which the rain passes very much as it would through a sieve." In 1868 a less primitive Fort Bowie was established on a plateau about 300 yards to the southeast.

Second Fort Bowie circa 1884Substantial adobe barracks, a row of houses for officers, corrals, storehouses, a post trader's store, and a hospital soon occupied the four sides of the sloping parade ground. More buildings were added over the years, and at the time of its abandonment in 1894 Fort Bowie was a modern post of about 38 structures. These are the ruins seen today.

GeronimoBetween 1862 and 1886, Fort Bowie served as the nerve center for military campaigns against hostile Chiricahua Apaches led first by Cochise and then by Geronimo. Cochise finally made peace in 1872, and he and his people were given a 3,000-square-mile reservation in southeastern Arizona that included their traditional homeland.

After Cochise died of natural causes in 1874, Indian agent Tom Jeffords tried to maintain order, but young Apaches grew discontented with conditions on the reservation and escaped, adding to the growing distrust between Indians and settlers.

Fort Bowie Soldiers on PatrolIn 1876, in an effort to impose more rigid control, the Government abolished the Chiricahua Reservation and ordered everyone to be moved to the San Carlos Reservation in the hot, barren, and disease-ridden Gila River Valley. But several bands led by Geronimo and others fled to the Sierra Madre of northern Mexico and began to terrorize the border region.

During the next ten years, most of these "renegades" would be captured and returned to San Carlos. Faced with the reservation's restraints and deplorable conditions, however, many would escape again, some more than once. The last outbreak occurred in May 1885 when Geronimo led 134 Chiricahuas back into Mexico. They were pursued by soldiers and Apache scouts commanded first by Brig. Gen. George Crook and then by Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles.

After their final surrender in September 1886, Geronimo and his remaining followers were brought to Fort Bowie. There they were assembled on the parade ground and taken by wagons to the rail-road for the long journey to exile in Florida.

Geronimo's defeat ended both the Apache Wars and Fort Bowie's usefulness as a military installation. The fort, however, remained an active post for another eight years. It was finally closed on October 17,1894, when the last troops were withdrawn.

The Bascom Affair

In January 1861 a band of Apaches raided the ranch of John Ward, stole some stock, and kidnapped the son of a Mexican woman who lived with Ward. Ward wrongly believed that Cochise and his Chiricahuas were responsible and demanded that the military authorities confront the Apache leader, recover his stock, and secure the return of the boy.

In February, the Army responded by sending Lt. George Bascom and 54 men into Apache Pass. After setting up camp about a mile from the Butterfield stage station, Bascom lured Cochise into his tent and threatened to hold him hostage until Ward's property and the boy were returned. Furious and insulted, Cochise slashed through the wall of the tent and eluded the cordon of soldiers stationed outside.

Sporadic fighting between Cochise's warriors and Army troops bloodied Apache Pass for the next two weeks and marked the beginning of open warfare that raged intermittently between whites and Apaches for the next ten years.

Butterfield Overland Mail

"Remember, boys, nothing on God's earth must stop the United States mail!"

That's what John Butterfield told his Overland Mail stage drivers when he inaugurated his semi-weekly, 24-day mail service to California on September 15, 1858. Butterfield's Overland Mail Company began operation with about 2,000 employees, more than 250 coaches and several hundred wagons, 1,800 horses and mules, and 240 stage stations spaced along its 2,800-mile route.

The U.S. Government paid the company $600,000 per year for carrying the mail. The Overland Mail route (map) began at Memphis, Tenn., and St. Louis, Mo., joined at Fort Smith, Ark., then went to El Paso, Tex., across southern New Mexico and Arizona to Fort Yuma, and up California's central valley to San Francisco.

In its three-year history, the Overland Mail was attacked only once by Apaches and was late reaching the end of the line only three times.

Fort Bowie Signage
       Valley without a Name
     Post Cemetery
     Apache Spring
     Battle of Apache Pass
     Butterfield Overland Mail
     Indian Agency
     Plant Harvest
     Sutlers Post
     Cavalry Barracks
     Commanding Officers Quarters
     Infantry Barracks
     New Hospital
Back to top
Site Gallery - The Abandoned Fort
At the trailhead View from the trail Indian agency ruins
Apache spring Dee at apache spring At the cemetery
At the cemetery At the cemetery At the cemetery
Cavalry barracks Cavalry barracks Cavalry barracks
Cavalry barracks Cavalry barracks Corrals
Officers quarters Sutlers post Sutlers post
Sutlers post Sutlers post Sutlers post
From the overlook On the way back The barracks from the overlook
Sutlers Post from the overlook Fort Bowie from the overlook "When I was young I walked all over this country and saw no other people than the Apaches." ... Cochise
For More Information
Fort Bowie National Historic Site (National Park Service)
City of Willcox, Arizona
The Complete Guide to Willcox Arizona

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