When the Butterfield Stagecoach line began to carry mail and passengers from Missouri to California in 1858, the company built a station near a spring at Apache Pass. Although it was in the middle of Indian country, Cochise and his Chiricahua Apache allowed the station and stage to operate unhindered. All this changed two and a half years later when Cochise was falsely accused of kidnapping and theft. Troops used treachery to seize Cochise, but the chief knifed through the tent he was held in and escaped. Both sides executed hostages, and the war was on. Cochise and his band tried to kill or drive all white people from the region. Unfortunately for white settlers, many army troops left Arizona at this time to fight in the Civil War in the east.
On July 15, 1862, Brig. Gen. James Carleton and his California Column were on their way to meet the threat posed by the Confederate invasion of New Mexico when Indians attacked an advanced detachment under the command of Captain Thomas Roberts at Apache Pass. Roberts fended them off but suggested to Carleton the need for a fort. The first Fort Bowie (BOO-ee) went up within a month. Raids continued until 1872, when Cochise made peace with the army in exchange for reservation land.
Troubles for the Chiricahua Apache began two years later when Cochise died. Bad management by the Indian Bureau, the government's taking back much of the reservation, and a fractured tribal leadership left many Apache angry. In 1881, Apache warriors such as the wily Geronimo began leading a new series of raids in the United States and Mexico. Army cavalry and scouts from Fort Bowie and other posts then rode forth to fight the elusive Indians. Geronimo's small band was the last to surrender, five years later, ending Arizona's Indian wars. The army finally abandoned the fort on October 17, 1894.
Visiting the Fort
Only evocative ruins remain of what had once been a major trade route and military post (520/847-2500, www.nps.gov/fobo, trails are open sunrise to sunset daily, visitor center is open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, free). To preserve the historic setting, a hiking trail brings visitors to the fort. The three-mile roundtrip is easy with an elevation gain of only 180 feet, but one should consider the 5,000-foot elevation and the summer heat. Good walking shoes, a hat, and water will add to the enjoyment of the trip. You could also bring a picnic and use tables near the visitor center. Shaded benches along the trail allow for a rest or some reflection. Signs tell of historic events in the area and identify sites such as the stage-station ruin, the post cemetery, a ruin believed to have been the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency, the Battle of Apache Pass site, a reconstructed Apache camp, and Apache Spring. You'll learn a lot of the area's history on the way, and you'll enjoy the mountain views and a variety of wildflowers and other plants. Just before the main fort, you can head up to ruins of the first Fort Bowie on a quarter-mile-roundtrip side trail; this site proved too small and was replaced in 1868-69 by new buildings on a more spacious site to the east. Signs identify the many ruins of the second Fort Bowie, which operated for 26 years. An optional return trail from the visitor center takes you to a ridgetop with a panorama of the fort and surrounding countryside without adding extra distance. No camping is permitted. Dogs may come along if leashed.
The visitor center has many old photos that show how the fort appeared in its heyday. Exhibits also display uniforms, a mountain howitzer, guns, Apache crafts, and excavated artifacts. You can purchase books on the Apache, U.S. Army, and natural history. The visitor center has a water fountain and restrooms. Call for handicapped access.
Modern highways bypass the area. From the town of Bowie (I-10 Exits 362 or 366), drive 12.5 miles south on Apache Pass Road, of which the last 0.8 mile is gravel; parking is on the right, trailhead on the left.
You can also drive over Apache Pass on an unpaved section of Apache Pass Road from AZ 186. Head southeast 22 miles from Willcox or northwest 14 miles from Chiricahua National Monument to the turnoff between Mileposts 350 and 351 on AZ 186, then turn east 8 miles on Apache Pass Road. In bad weather, Apache Pass Road can become slippery and is not recommended.
On to Willcox and Vicinity