Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fort Bowie - Legend of the Old West

     If you are looking for a great adventure to southern Arizona this fall, let us suggest a visit to Fort Bowie.  We would probably stay in Willcox and then drive to Fort Bowie National Historic Park for as a day trip.  There is so much history here of the time when the Apache people were in direct conflict with the United States government and the thousands of American settlers making their way through and into the Apache land.  It is a special historic site and a great roadtrip.  We hope you make plans to go - here is our story.

      Each of the historic military posts of Arizona are a remaining treasure of a time long past.  The men who once bravely and honorably served their nation at these remote, frontier outposts are the best selling stories of modern novelists and historians.  Eighteen United States Army forts once dotted the wilderness of Arizona from 1850 – 1900.  Fortunately, for Arizonans of today, one of the most remote and important of these frontier outposts is still available to visit and enjoy - historic Fort Bowie.
   Fort Bowie National Historic Site is located some 240 miles from Anthem in southeastern Arizona. Visitors today walk on the same ground and beside the ruins of the same buildings that men named Cochise, Tom Jeffords, Geronimo, and George Crook once walked.  For those who love the Wild West, Fort Bowie is a must see.
      Two battles, known as the Bascom Affair and the Battle of Apache Pass, between the Chiricahua Apaches and the United States Army led to the construction of the first Fort Bowie in 1862 at the site of a former station of the Butterfield Overland Mail route.
     In 1868 a more permanent Fort Bowie was built on the high plateau of Apache Pass giving the fort a commanding strategic view of the surrounding high desert valleys.   For the next 30 years Fort Bowie was the focal point for the conflict known in Arizona history as the Apache Wars.  It became the center of everyday life for enlisted men, officers, their wives, children and civilian employees of the United States Army.   
     None of the Arizona forts of this era ever were surrounded or enclosed by large log stockades including Fort Apache and Fort Bowie.   Those scenes are the invention of Hollywood.  But what is found at Fort Bowie today are the ruins of 38 stone and adobe buildings that once served as barracks, a hospital, an ice machine house, a bakery and even a school.  To walk among the ruins of Fort Bowie is truly a stroll through history.
     With the surrender of Geronimo on September 4, 1886 the need for Fort Bowie began to wane.  The American flag was lowered for the last time over the historic parade grounds in a closing ceremony in November 1894. 
Fort Bowie lay in ruins for the next 56 years.  Locals often visited the abandoned site to take wooden door frames and other building materials.  Finally on December 19, 1960 Fort Bowie was declared a National Historic Landmark.  The remaining ruins were carefully preserved and are now available for modern visitors.
     Because Fort Bowie was built on a high plateau, visiting the historic site requires some hiking.  From the parking lot, follow the signs on a moderately strenuous 1.5 mile hiking trail (3-miles round trip) as it leads past the old Butterfield Mail station, a historic cemetery where a son of Geronimo lies buried and finally on to the site of historic Fort Bowie itself.  A hat, water and good hiking /tennis shoes are recommended. Handicapped access is available by calling 520-847-2500.

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