Occupied from 1862 to 1894 — this fort was the center of military operations during the Apache War
Fort Bowie was a military fortification located in the Chiricahua Mountains near Apache Spring in southeastern Arizona. The fort was built following the Battle of Apache Pass. It was created to defend settlers against the increasingly hostile Apaches as well as establish a firm military presence in the area. The Fort was occupied during the Apache Wars and the decade that followed, eventually closing down in 1894.
The creation of Fort Bowie was spurred by two main events. The first was the Bascom Affair, which occurred in 1861 near Apache Pass. In 1862, the Battle of Apache Pass, which was an ambush by Chiricahua-Apache on Union Troops, was the final straw. You can read more about those events on our Cochise Stronghold / Apache War page. These two pivotal moments pushed Cochise and the Chiricahua-Apaches to transform from a relatively peaceful group, to one hinged on retaliation and vengeance against the encroaching U.S. Army and settlers alike. Numerous hostages and deaths (on both sides) caused the U.S. to build Fort Bowie at this site to protect the spring, and surrounding area from increasing attacks.
Construction began on July 28th, 1862. Soldiers from the 5th California Volunteer Infantry were tasked with building the fort. The first camp was built on a small hill that overlooked the spring. The fort was more of a temporary camp and was made up of nothing more than 13 tents and stone defensive positions. The fort was named for the regimental commander, Colonel George W. Bowie.
In 1868, the U.S. Army decided to build a larger, better established fort. This was located about 1000 feet to the southeast, located on an elevated plateau. Adobe buildings, barracks, corrals, a store, and a hospital made up the grounds. A parade ground and flag pole sat at the center of the fort. Additional buildings were constructed over time. In total 38 structures would sit on the property of this truly modern fort.
The fort became the center for military campaigns in the area. In 1872, Cochise reached a peace agreement with U.S. forces. He and his people moved to the Chiricahua Reservation where he would die two years later. While Cochise led most of the attacks throughout the Apache War to this point, tensions were far from over. While the Indian Affairs office, led by Tom Jeffords would work to promote peace, young Apaches did not like conditions on the reservation. Due to growing contempt, the government would abolish the Chiricahua Reservation and force the tribe to move to the much harsher San Carlos Reservation. While most complied, a renegade group formed. Geronimo and over a hundred of his followers evaded capture and would continue to fight troops for the next ten years.
Geronimo and the Apaches would continue raiding and pillaging settlements both in this area and throughout northern Mexico. Diligent efforts by troops from Fort Bowie and recruited Apache Scouts would chase down and slowly capture the renegade group. Of those sent back to San Carlos, many would escape and continue fighting. In May of 1885, Gernimo and 134 Chiricahuas fled to Mexico. This time however, they were pursued by Brigadier Generals George Crook and Nelson Miles. Eventually, the Army caught up with Gernimo in September of 1886. Geronimo finally surrendered and he and his followers were brought to Fort Bowie. There, they were assembled on the parade ground before being sent by wagon to Florida.
Following a decade long pursuit of Geronimo and another decade of fighting Cochise, the Apache War finally drew to a close. The Fort remained open to safeguard the area, however life at Fort Bowie became much more leisurely. The property contained a tennis court and flushing toilets while the men played baseball, hunted, and held occasional training exercises. In 1894, Fort Bowie was finally decommissioned as the last of the troops were withdrawn.
Today, the fort is managed by the National Park Service and has since become the Fort Bowie National Historic Site. While most of the buildings have since collapsed in the over 100 years since its service, numerous adobe walls, foundations, and flagpole remain. The site is accessed via a 1.5 mile hike that leaves Apache Pass Road. The hike takes you past numerous historic sites -- which include the site of the Bascom Affair, the old Butterfield Stage Station, and the Post Cemetery where many of the casualties of the Apache War are buried. The original fort (1862) and main fort (1868) ruins remain at the end of the hike, along with a small interpretive center and gift shop. It is very much worth a visit to see the fort ruins and learn about this brutal conflict that raged for nearly 30 years here in the Chiricahua Mountains and surrounding area. For more information, visit: https://www.nps.gov/fobo/index.htm
Informational brochure from Fort Bowie, published by the National Park Service.
Informational signs on site at Fort Bowie National Historic Site, published by the National Park Service.