Fort Bowie National Historic Site

1/30/13 Wednesday at Benson, AZ (Valley Vista RV-PPA)

Another very cold night, but at least it wasn’t windy. Lots to do before we drive to Fort Bowie (BOO-ee): make a batch of pancakes to enjoy now and freeze for later, get the tortilla soup ingredients in the crock pot, lunches made and packed and breakfast plus other project dishes washed. Whew!! Made it on the road by 10:30.




IMG_6327 Cows with Snowy Mountains

IMG_6409Driving 33 miles on I-10 to Willcox, then 22 miles on Hwy 186 then 8 miles on a dirt/gravel road to the trail head. That’s right – we get to walk 1.5 miles to the Visitor Center. The ranger there only knew of 1 other National Site where people walked to the Visitor Center, it is in Alaska. We were eager for the walk, though.

Since we arrived at noon, we figured it was best to have lunch before taking off on our walk.

View of trail from our lunch table.


At the trail head, also, we saw a car that had been there since 1/26/13, plastered with notes from the Park Ranger re breaking certain laws. Hmm. Did this person go off trail (it’s been so cold), or get a ride from another visitor?

IMG_6336Just as we were setting up for lunch, we noticed a lady setting her camera on books to take a photo of her husband and herself, so I offered to take their picture, if they took ours.

IMG_6338On the trail. This is where the Chiricahua (Cheer-a-COW-a) Apaches lived. We had fun imagining them riding their horses all over these hills. They were nomadic and superb warriors.

Everyone wanted access to Apache Pass because, besides being a route through the Chiricahua and Dos Cabezas mountains, it also had Apache Spring.

IMG_6370This reliable source of water was especially desired by all living in this desert area. Because of these factors, John Butterfield ‘s Overland Mail company traveled through here.

IMG_6348Remains from the Apache Pass (Butterfield) Stage Station.

IMG_6354John standing on the Butterfield Overland Trail (yes, we needed our jackets).


IMG_6358Approach to Fort Bowie Cemetery, where Indians, soldiers and civilians were buried, including Geronimo’s 2 year old son, Little Robe)

IMG_6363Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency ruins.

IMG_6383Indian Chief Cochise (6 feet tall) was friendly with the local people when the 5th California Volunteer Infantry built the (first Fort Bowie), but then a settler claimed that his tribe was responsible for kidnapping his Mexican woman’s child from his property, among other things. When Lt. Bascom lured Cochise into his tent and threatened to hold him hostage until all was returned, Cochise, furious and insulted at the false accusations, slashed through the tent and escaped. That began 10 years of war with Cochise and his band. When he surrendered, he and 900 other Apaches stayed at this reservation (3,000 sq. miles which included their homeland) until he died of natural causes in 1874. At that point, without clear leadership, young Apaches grew restless and disenchanted, plundering the settlements nearby. The government moved the reservation to a desolate, dry area near the Gila River. At this point, Geronimo began leading the rebellion, even though he was not a chief, but a medicine man. He saw in a vision that he wouldn’t die in battle and it bore true. He alternately was peaceful and waged war with the settlers until he surrendered, thus ending the Apache Wars.

IMG_6375Ruins from first Fort Bowie, named after regiment commander Col. George Washington Bowie.

IMG_6378View of Apache Pass from first Fort Bowie

IMG_6379View of second Fort Bowie from first one


Between the yucca at the far left and to the far right lie the second Fort Bowie ruins. Even though enlarging the photo by clicking on it helps you to spot some of the ruins, I realize they are hard to find. Know that the fort encompassed all this area in its heyday.

IMG_6373View of some of second Fort Bowie ruins

IMG_6384Heliographs were often used for communication in this far flung area, reflecting the sun’s light in Morse Code.

IMG_6394After enlarging this picture you’ll see the post’s cemetery fence line located between the prickly pear in the center and the mountain above it. We are looking down at the trail we took coming to the forts. We then traveled along a steep, switch backed trail back down.

IMG_6396A forest of trees we encountered along the same path that Gold Rush emigrants traveled. Some emigrants returned from California to live here. The bright green growth (close up) is lichens, I think.


This was an amazing experience, to think that we are walking the paths of history. Cochise and Geronimo are more than just names for us now, part of a strong, vibrant people wanting to keep their homelands and lives as they had for centuries.

We were pretty tired puppies when we got back to our car, happy to get off our feet and heading home. There was a small surprise waiting for us: we’d both made sure that the crock pot had been set at low. Unfortunately nobody plugged it into power. Thus, it just sat and waited for our return. Sigh. So John gathered up the energy to make gravy and mashed potatoes to enjoy with leftover pork roast while I worked on yesterday’s blog. We plugged in the crock pot and finished cooking our tortilla soup by 9:30 pm. There are 4 containers of soup ready for us now. I kept working at the blog while we watched TV until bedtime.


About Patricia Elser

I've always loved the loose, flowing, transparent look of watercolors, of Chinese paintings and their calligraphy, but alas, no watercolor classes were available when I was in school, so that interest remained buried until my children were grown. Even then, I was afraid that I couldn't really paint, so upon my sister's advice, I actually started to take classes. I signed up for every class available, determined to learn no matter how afraid I was. I came upon a teacher, Stan Miller, who inspired me, who opened the door to success in watercolor. I love to look at beautiful images. I want to capture them forever. All my life, photography was how I gathered images of the beauty I saw. Thanks to all that photography, I enjoy composing pictures, especially up close. Watercolors allow me to add more of me in their translation of that beauty. My paintings reflect my love for music and dance, with their rhythm and flow. I am fascinated by the play of light, so it appears in my pictures as drama for they are filled with darks and lights. Maybe it's the challenge, maybe it's the beauty, but now, when a work comes together, it fills my soul.
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One Response to Fort Bowie National Historic Site

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