Last Update: 2/02/2018

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

looking west through the remains of Fort Bowie

I bumped inta Fort Bowie yesterday, where Geronimo was captive. It was a center in the United States campaign to liberate the Chiricahua Apaches (from their own land). Now it's a ruin ya gotta get off your ass and hike to!

Here's the National Park Service's summary a the place:

For more than 30 years Fort Bowie and Apache Pass were the focal point of military operations eventually culminating in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the banishment of the Chiricahuas to Florida and Alabama. It was the site of the Bascom Affair, a wagon train massacre, and the battle of Apache Pass, where a large force of Chiricahua Apaches under Mangus Colorados and Cochise fought the California Volunteers.

Decent. But what that doesn't tell ya is that Apache Pass' history goes back as far as man in North America.

Apache Pass Used for Millennia

See at over 5,000 foot (1500 m), Apache Pass has reliable water at Apache Spring, plus wood for fires, grazin' for horses and other livestock, and bearable temps in Arizona's brutal summers. That made it a beacon for everyone crossin' the desert since … forever. Plus it's the pass between the Chiricahua and Dos Cabezos Mountains.

Photo of Apache Spring
Apache Spring: just a trickle, but reliable for 10,000 years

Archaeologists have found Mogollon pottery dated back 10,000 years. That don't surprise me none. Everywhere I been in the Southwest USA, where there's water, Native Americans have camped there since at least 10,000 years.

Apaches stopped over and lived at the pass and in the surrounding mountains. You might even say it was their sovereign country.

Apache camp
Reenactment of 19th century Apache camp with wikiup (grass hut),
ramada (shade awning), and horse hitch camp

Meantime, they let Spaniards and Mexicans usd the pass (sometimes without hassle and for a fee). Forty-Niners headin' for the California Gold Rush cut through the pass. Other American prospectors tried to find gold and silver there. (One had a cabin, and you can see its foundation.)

In 1858, the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach company ran through Apache Pass and had a permanent station. The Apache let them run the stage in peace in exchange for a trade deal.

Photos of Butterfield Trail and the station's foundations
Butterfield Overland Mail: Butterfield Trail (left) and station foundations (right)

U.S. Conquest of Apache Land

Then for the next 30 or so years, things got ugly between the United States and the Apache. Mainly it was because the United States decided it was now in charge of Apache Pass, Arizona and New Mexico, the Apaches, the gold, and pretty much the whole kit and kaboodle. After all, the USA and Mexico agreed to it 1848 to end the Mexican-American War.

In 1862, a couple a nasty battles between the US Army and the Chiricahua Apaches took place at the pass. So the Army set up the first Fort Bowie as a staging point ta beat the Apaches down. And to hold the spring. That first fort was more a camp.

Fort Bowie Post Cemetary
Post cemetery: originally, 95 people buried here

In 1868, the Army built the second, permanent Fort Bowie, which you can see in the old photo.

Old B&W photo of Fort Bowie at its prime
19th century photo of Fort Bowie

The Chiricahua Apache and the United States went back and forth between fightin' and not until 1886, when the last free Chiricahuas, then led by Geronimo, were captured and sent to Florida and Alabama (and I think later resettled in Oklahoma).

Old B&W photo of Geronimo
Apache Chief Naiche (left) and Chief Geronimo (right)
at Fort Bowie awaiting exile, 1886

The U.S. Army abandoned Fort Bowie in 1894. Today, it's mostly foundation ruins and some bits of adobe-stucco walls. Plus the Park Service's got a visitor center up there.

About the Fort Bowie Hiking Trail

Like I said, the other day me and Ms. Barkley took the hike up to the Fort Bowie ruins. The trailhead is close to Bowie, Arizona, USA. From Apache Pass Road (map link), it's about a 3 mile (5 km) round trip hike of moderate difficulty. The route goes south from the road, up the valley, past Apache Spring, and ends at the ruins of the second Fort Bowie (built 1868)

Fort Bowie Post Trader ruins
Looking back down the valley from the Post Trader's ruins.
Apache Spring is center among the trees.

Along the trail you see remains of the first Fort Bowie (built 1862), the old post cemetery, foundation of the U.S. Indian Agent's office, foundations of the Butterfield station, the Butterfield stagecoach road, and foundations of a miner's cabin. The Park Service also has lots of signs identifyin' native plant species and a reenactment of an Apache camp.

Oh, and if ya go, be sure to visit nearby Chiricahua National Monument.

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  1. Anonymous4.2.18

    Great post Vanholio. I enjoy yah style a writin' and outlook on life. You are a refreshing change from all the dang Youtube bloggers pontificating all over the damn place!

    1. Thanks! At least somebody gets me.