Published on February 27, 2013 by Carol
Located in the southeast corner of Arizona, Fort Bowie National Historic Site commemorates the story of the bitter conflict between the Chiricahua Apache and the United States military, as well as standing as a lasting monument to the bravery and endurance of U.S. soldiers in paving the way for westward settlement and the taming of the western frontier.
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The fort was established in 1862 at the former station of the Overland Mail Route at Apache Springs. It was here, that peaceful relations between the U.S. Government and the Apache ended in 1861 when a young Lieutenant George Bascom falsely imprisoned Chiricahua Apache Chief Cochise on charges of kidnapping a white child.
Followed by a series of bungled decisions by Bascam, Cochise escaped and retaliated in all out war against the white settlers. The region was then too dangerous for stagecoach travel and was discontinued. As the Apache attacks increased, Fort Bowie was established on the station site to help fight against the Apaches. The fighting would continue for the next eleven years before peace was once again to be found with the Apaches.
The Battle of Apache Pass was fought near here on July 15 and 16, 1862, when Union regiment under the command of General James Henry Carleton was ambushed by a band of Apaches while en route from California to New Mexico, where they were to confront Confederate troops.
Though construction began on Fort Bowie in 1862, it resembled more of a temporary military camp than a fort. However, in 1868, more permanent buildings were built and the fort became the focal point of military operations for more than 30 years.
The Apache were finally subdued with the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and the Chiricahuas were banished to Florida and Alabama. The fort then returned to use as a travelers’ stop until it was totally abandoned in 1894. In 1911 the land was sold for $1.25 to $2.50 an acre and many of the buildings dismantled.
In 1964, the site was authorized as a National Historic site. Today, the remains of Fort Bowie are carefully preserved, as are the adobe walls of various post buildings and the ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station. The site is located on the unpaved Apache Pass Road which can be accessed from Interstate 10 near Bowie, Arizona or from Arizona Highway 186 just north of the entrance to Chiricahua National Monument. Access to the ruins of Fort Bowie and the visitor center is via a 1.5 mile foot trail which begins at a parking area along Apache Pass Road.
The hike in to the fort is part of the Fort Bowie experience, where visitors can get a sense of the lonely isolation that the soldiers experienced while stationed there. The trail also winds past remains of a Butterfield Stage Coach Station, the post cemetery, an Apache Wickiup, the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency, Apache Springs, the original fort and finally, the more elaborate Fort Bowie and the visitor center.
A minimum of two hours is recommended for the round trip visit. While at the fort, visitors can tour the ruins of Fort Bowie, view the exhibits inside the visitor center, bird watch, and hike the trails. Picnic facilities are located at the trailhead and the visitor center.
The Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., every day but Christmas. The trail can be visited from sunrise to sunset. There are no fees for visitors.