A visit to the Fort Bowie National Historic Site takes you back to the period when the U.S. Military fought a decades long war against the Chiriicahua Apaches.
Fort Bowie was the center of actions by the U.S. Army against the Chiricahua Apaches for twenty years. The fort was first established in 1862 by the California Column of Volunteers on its way to New Mexico during the American Civil War.
After Geronimo's surrender the fort was no longer necessary and was abandoned in 1894. You'll find that many of the old west frontier forts were closed beginning in the late 1880's.
Hiking to the Fort Bowie Ruins
Today, hikers can take a trail that leads to the site of the fort ruins. Your hike will also take you to the ruins of the old Butterfield stagecoach station. These are two key sites to visit regarding the historic Butterfield cross country route and the Apache War. The westbound Butterfield stages in this region went to San Simon, Apache Pass, Ewell Springs and Dragoon Springs. From there it was to Benson Arizona, Tucson and to Yuma on the Colorado River. Apache Pass was considered the most vulnerable spot along the 2,900 plus miles of the Butterfield route.
|Confederate flag raising at Tucson|
To arrive at the hiking trail head take Highway 186 south from Willcox Arizona for about twenty-two miles to Apache Pass Road. Follow Apache Pass Road for about eight miles until you get to the parking lot. The hiking trail is three miles long round trip.
See our Western Trips articles on the links below...
The Battle of Picacho Pass
Fort Apache National Historic Site
A Visit to Willcox Arizona
|Ruins of Fort Bowie|
The California Column of Volunteers started out from southern California in 1861 for two purposes. They were to take back what was then called Confederate Arizona and then head eastward to reinforce Union troops in present day New Mexico.
At that time the Territory of New Mexico was what today are the present states of New Mexico and Arizona. The Confederate forces, most of which were from Texas, took control of the southern sections of both present day states. Tucson was it's western capital and this was another target of the California Column of Volunteers led by General James Henry Carleton.
The California Column of Volunteers traveled through southern Arizona like everyone did. They traveled from spring to spring. Water availability was essential and there just happened to be a well known spring near Apache Pass.
|Gen. James Henry Carleton|
The battle of Apache Pass took place July 15-16, 1862. This battle led directly to the erecting pf Fort Bowie which began near the end of July.
Cochise kept small bands of warriors on horseback all throughout Apacheland. Indian smoke signals or lights seen mountain to mountain would often send forth two or three Apache groups against a moving column of soldiers. Typically, the Apaches avoided a head to head battle but rather would leave their horses behind and place the,selves behind rocks along the trail ready to spring an ambush.
Interestingly enough, the Apaches did not fully understand the Civil War and they thought that the absence of soldiers, most of which were transferred east, was a sign that they were effectively chasing them out of Apacheland. As a result, most of their depredations were targeted at white settlers.
|Arizona's Dragoon Mountains and Cochise Stronghold|
Without the howitzers the detachment could have been wiped out. The last shot of the battle struck Apache leader Mangas Coloradas in the chest and this event caused the Apaches to break away from the attack. Mangas Coloradas did survive his serious wound.
An Excellent Western Trip Stop
The Battle of Apache Pass was a significant event during the Civil War. With General carleton able to push through to the east he was able to hook up with Union forces in New Mexico. Visiting this site takes you to both a historic site and one which saw more than it's share of violence both during the Butterfield Overland Mail days and during the Civil War.
Visiting the Fort Bowie Visitors Center and taking the relatively short hike to the fort and stage station ruins is a fun and inexpensive way to learn more about the Apache Indians, old Arizona and the Civil War in the West. If your travels take you to southern Arizona along Interstate 10 the Fort Bowie National Historic Site is a fine addition to your western trip planner. Apache Pass is located about 106 miles east of Tucson Arizona and about 25 miles west of the New Mexico border.
(Article copyright 2014 Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)