Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Fort Apache: from 19th century fort to school

First Officer's Quarters
If you’re a fan of John Ford’s 1948 Western, Fort Apache or the 1950s kids; TV series, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, you’re in for a shock when you visit the real thing in the White Mountains of central Arizona.

Nothing remains of the original fort, established in 1870 as Camp Ord. Indeed, the oldest building in the complex is the First Officer’s Quarters, constructed in 1893. The ranch-style log cabin is now a museum devoted to the fort’s history. It was abandoned by the U.S. Army in 1922 and was turned into a boarding school for Indian children. A school still operates on the site today, though children are now bused in.

Plaques in front of the buildings explain what the buildings were used for in the days when the complex was a fort and boarding school.  The fort complex is now an historic site administered by the White Mountain Apaches.

The camp was renamed Camp Apache in 1871 to honor the Apache tribe. It was established to protect the White Mountain Reservation and the Indian agency. But soldiers soon found themselves embroiled in war for many years with these very same Indians. The unrest worsened in the next few years, heating up in 1876 when the government moved the Chiricahua Indians from Fort Bowie in southeastern Arizona to the San Carlos Reservation that adjoined the White Mountain Reservation.

War with the Indians went on for 15 years, finally ending with the capture of Geronimo in 1886. A monument to the soldiers killed at the August 30, 1881, battle of Cibicu Creek stands in the yard surrounding the First Officer’s Quarters.

Admission to the historic site  is charged; the fee also includes admission to the tribe’s nearby cultural center and the Kinibisha ruins.  

The cultural center is known as Nohwike' Bagowa or House of Our Footprints. It’s small but does a good job of explaining the history of the White Mountain Apaches. A video plays inside a wickiup, but the narrative is only in the tribe’s native language with English subtitles.

Fort Apache is located on Highway 73, a 24-mile detour off Highway 60/77 that connects Globe and Showlow.  Casual travelers may not think the detour is worth it. Fort Apache will appeal most to visitors with a strong interest in Native Americans and the Indian wars of the Old West.

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