For a quarter century, 1861 to 1886, Ft. Bowie was prime real estate known as Apache Pass. The Americans wanted it for their stagecoaches & supply wagons. The Chiricahua Apaches wanted it because their people had lived here for at least two centuries. Both sides were willing to pay for it in blood.
Why was Apache Pass so valuable? Because of the perennial source of water at Apache Spring just down the old road from here. The Butterfield Stage drivers who transported passengers & the U.S. Mail could water their draft animals here on their way between St. Louis & San Francisco.
The Chiricahua Apaches needed that same water for themselves & their horses. Moreover, it was their homeland, and the Americans were invaders. In 1861, the clouds of war were gathering.
In early 1861, young, poorly-prepared Lt. George Bascom arrived at Apache Pass with 54 soldiers & accused Cochise, the great Chiricahua chief, of stealing horses and abducting the 12-year-old son of a nearby rancher. In truth, Cochise knew nothing of this incident, but told Bascom that he would make inquiries and try to return the child.
Cochise had arrived with only a few family members. Clearly, he had not anticipated trouble. But Bascom lured the small band into a large tent where soldiers quickly surrounded them. Bascom informed Cochise that he & his band would be held hostage until the horses & the boy were returned. Amazingly, Cochise escaped. The other Indians were not so lucky.
A few days later Cochise returned, this time with a war party & hostages of his own. Bascom refused to trade. The storm clouds had gathered, and thus began the Apache Wars.
To protect Americans using Apache Spring from the Chiricahuas, the U.S. Army built Fort Bowie in Apache Pass. At first it was little more than an Army camp, but as the Apache Wars dragged on, it became much more substantial. The above image is of the Dress Parade Grounds. Note the position of the flagpole, then compare this old photograph with the present-day image below. Read More