Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fort Bowie, Arizona: defending the West

Remains of Fort Bowie
Fort Bowie may be a little bit out of the way for some tourists, but for travelers interested in learning more about the Frontier West it is well worth the effort to get there.

Located in southeast Arizona, Fort Bowie is the first tourist attraction visitors driving Interstate 10 from New Mexico will come to. Conversely, it is the last attraction motorists headed from Tucson to Las Cruces, New Mexico, will find.

Getting to the fort
The remains of the first and second Fort Bowie are located about 14 miles from Bowie, a small community that appears to be turning into a ghost town, with many main street buildings boarded up. After exiting the freeway, follow the signs, turning on Apache Pass Road.
A few miles down this paved road, the road to the Fort Bowie National Historic Site spikes to the left, while Apache Pass Road leads to the trailhead. There visitors can walk 1.5 miles through the hills to the fort’s remains. The trailhead has ample parking and clean restrooms, but no potable water, so be sure to bring plenty, especially on hot days.
Remains of Fort Bowie
Where the road spikes, the sign to the visitor center specifies this entrance is for handicapped visitors only. There are only two disabled parking spaces at the small visitor center, and motorists need to call ahead for the gate to be opened. There is parking for a few more cars below the visitor center, but this involves walking up an uneven stone and dirt path. Since the site only gets about 8,000 visitors a year, chances are good, parking will be available.  

Before taking this route, however, motorists need to decide how comfortable they feel driving on a narrow, one-lane gravel road with no shoulders or pull-offs. If you meet a car coming the other way, one of you is going to have to do a lot of backing up. If we had left the visitor center a few minutes later, that’s what would have happened to us since we encountered a delivery truck coming up the hill just past where the road widened.

A remote hillside fort

Plaque of Fort Bowie in 1894

Fort Bowie has a nice informational visitor center that is operated by the National Park Service, which administers the site. There are photographs of what the fort looked like in its heyday. The Army abandoned the fort in 1894; local farmers tore down buildings and fences for wood to build at their sites. What remains are fragments of adobe buildings that have survived the elements since that time. Troops also defended the area when Confederate soldiers invaded during the Civil War, hoping to secure the Southwest for the Confederacy.

The fort is named from Col. George Washington Bowie, leader of the California Volunteers who staffed the fort. It’s probable that he shared common ancestors with Jim Bowie of the Bowie knife and Alamo fame. The fort later became a stop for the Butterfield Overland Mail route.
Apache wars

Fort Bowie was an important fort during the  years of war with the Chiricahua Apaches. These wars started in approximately 1861, with the first Fort Bowie being established the following year. The war started when Cochise and  Lt. George Bascom failed to agree on how to rescue the stepson of a local farmer who claimed Apaches had kidnapped him and killed 20 cattle. During the coming days, each side would execute hostages, with a full-fledged battle ensuing. Cochise would visit the fort three times after he signed  a peace treaty ending the wars in 1872.

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