A visit to Fort Bowie National Historic Site, a National Park Service site in southeastern Arizona, begins at the northernmost edge of the Chiricahua Mountain Range in an area known as Apache Pass. During the nineteenth century this rugged, isolated mountain pass was known as “El Puerto del Dado,” the pass of chance, because travel through this area was a gamble, fraught with the danger of ambush by the Chiricahua Apache Indians who called this area home.
What drew people to this desert pass was the reliable supply of water at Apache Spring. At a time when water dictated travel across the arid desert, Apache Spring was a welcome respite from the harsh Arizona sun, and a refreshing place to quench one’s thirst. Ultimately, it was conflict over the invaluable water at Apache Spring that served as a catalyst for the establishment of Fort Bowie.
In July of 1862, a detachment of California Volunteers was marching through Apache Pass, en route to aid Union forces fighting Confederate troops in New Mexico territory, when they were ambushed near Apache Springs by Chiricahua Apache warriors led by Mangas Coloradas and Cochise. The California Volunteers eventually won the battle and reached the spring, but only after the bursting shells from their howitzer canyons drove the Chiricahua Apache Indians away. This event became known as the Battle of Apache Pass. Just days after this battle, Fort Bowie was established with a dual purpose: to guard the water and to protect emigrants, mail couriers, troops, and military supply wagons traveling through the pass. Fort Bowie would go on to serve as guardian of Apache Pass until 1894. The fort itself sat abandoned for 70 years until the National Park Service acquired it as a National Historic Site in 1964.
While the Battle of Apache Pass was a defining moment in the history of the Apache Pass area, there were other dramatic events that shaped this region and influenced Indian/Anglo American relations, including the Bascom Affair and the Butterfield Overland Mail, but these are stories best discovered during a visit to Fort Bowie National Historic Site.
For nearly 50 years, the NPS has been entrusted with the preservation and protection of the both the natural resources, such as Apache Spring, as well as the enumerable cultural resources found across this desert landscape.
Fort Bowie NHS is open daily, from sunrise to sunset. The visitor center is open 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. daily. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/fobo or call 1.520.847.2500, ext. 1