Arizona Forts: Preservation of Military History (2023)

Arizona Forts: Preservation of Military History (1)
  • The rude behavior of the troops forced the relocation of a military post near downtown Tucson
  • Fort Verde State Historic Park is Arizona's best-preserved fort since the Indian Wars

Just a few generations ago, Arizona was the jagged edge of the border. That changed as mining camps multiplied with each new ore discovery, ranchers drove herds of cattle into the verdant plains, and settlers staked out large agricultural areas near rivers and streams.

Relentless migration drove Native Americans off their lands and led to a wave of violence. The only thing holding the fragile territory together was a handful of army posts scattered from the desert to the mountains.

Contrary to Hollywood depictions, Old West military outposts were seldom imposing or elaborate. There were no walls enclosing a secure compound. Most forts in Arizona consisted of a few clustered buildings constructed from available materials. The army would set up a post if necessary; Many were quickly abandoned or re-established elsewhere to deal with evolving threats.

Despite their temporary nature, several forts (or remnants) remain. Here are their stories.

Fort Apache

During the turbulent years of the Indian Wars in the mid to late 19th century, Fort Apache in eastern Arizona was a key post in the Army's campaign to round up and resettle Indians. Founded in 1870 as Camp Ord, the following year it was rebranded as Camp Apache, as a sign of friendship with the people the military was fighting. In 1879 it became Fort Apache. Located at the confluence of the North and East Forks of the White River, the fort protected the White Mountain Agency.

Overcrowded conditions on the reservation, corrupt agents, and continued invasion by settlers fueled ongoing hostilities. Troops from the fortress fought against bands led by warriors like Geronimo and Chato. On September 1, 1881, White Mountain tribesmen attacked Fort Apache in revenge for the Battle of Cibecue Creek in which a healer, Nochaydelklinne, was killed. The two incidents helped reignite the violence that lasted until Geronimo's surrender in 1886.

The military presence at Fort Apache lasted until 1922. In 1923 the facility was converted into the Theodore Roosevelt Indian Boarding School. Today the site is a public high school.

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Visitors can experience the heritage of the Apache White Mountain Tribe at Fort Apache Historic Park. More than 20 buildings from the 1870s to the 1930s form a 288 hectare historic park. Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour. An adjacent modern museum features artifacts, artwork, and a film about Apache culture.

A few miles away, the Kinishba Ruins National Historic Landmark - a satellite portion of Fort Apache Park - protects the remains of a large village inhabited by the ancestors of the Hopi and Zuni peoples from about 1200-1400. The park provides access to the ruins.

Details:From Globe, take US 60 Northeast for 66 miles. Turn east on State Route 73 and drive approximately 27 miles to Fort Apache. 3-5 $928-338-4625,

Camp Rücker

This small outpost served as a base for some of the final battles with the Apaches. Originally known as Camp Supply, the name was changed in 1878 to honor Lieutenant John Anthony Rucker, who died trying to rescue a colleague from a rain-filled creek.

On July 21, 1880, six mules were stolen from the Camp Rucker stables. They were found after a search by Lt. JH found on Frank and Tom McLaury's ranch. Hurst and Deputy US Marshal Virgil Earp. (A little over a year later, Earp and the McLaurys would trade lead on a property near OK Corral in Tombstone.)

After the Army left Camp Rucker, it was used as a cattle ranch for over 80 years. It is now part of the Coronado National Forest. Several buildings still stand, including the bakery, the officers' quarters, the barn, the remains of the commissary and some adobe ruins.

Details:From Tucson, take Interstate 10 East for 72 miles to US 191 (Exit 331). Turn south and drive 29 miles to Rucker Canyon Road. Turn left (east) and drive 27 km to the edge of the forest. Here the road becomes Forest Road 74. Continue approximately 6 miles to the campground and ranch. 520-364-3468,

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Strong grant

Built in 1872 on the flank of towering Mount Graham, Fort Grant replaced Old Camp Grant, 45 miles to the west, which was ravaged by flooding and disease. Troops were employed during campaigns against the Apaches. Billy the Kid was accused of shooting a man at the train station in 1877.

From the 1900s, Fort Grant served as a staging point for troops going to the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. All personnel were transferred to Fort Huachuca near Sierra Vista five years later. When Arizona became a state in 1912, the institution became the State Industrial School for Rebel Boys and Girls. In 1973 it became a prison for men.

A small museum is located in the lobby of the Fort Grant Administration Building, which is outside the prison and is open to the public. It displays items from the time when the fort was a military facility until it became a prison. The collection includes items found on site dating back to the late 18th century, as well as historical military photographs.

Details:15500 S. Fort Grant Road. From Globe, take US 70 southeast for 75 miles to Safford. Turn south on USA 191 and go 17 miles. Turn east on Arizona 266 and drive 22 miles to the museum. Free. 928-828-3393,

Fort Verde State Historical Park

To protect young settlements along the Verde River in central Arizona, the first of several posts was established in 1865. The last post, Camp Verde, was built in 1871-73 and later renamed Fort Verde to give it an air of permanence.

Fort Verde served as the main base for General George Crook's US Army soldiers and scouts who were tasked with capturing the Apache and Yavapai and taking them to reservations.

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Fort Verde State Historic Park is Arizona's best-preserved example of an Indian War fort. Three buildings remain: the commander's quarters, the doctors' quarters and the quarters of the individual officers.

Each has been converted into a museum-quality exhibition space, decorated in period style and stocked with original artifacts. Visitors studying the facility will appreciate the life of these soldiers on the frontier, the hardships they faced and the comforts they sought.

Details:125 Hollamon Street, Camp Verde. 2-5 $928-567-3275,

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strong Mormons

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built forts to provide size and protection for the settlers. Here are two to visit in northern Arizona.

Lee's ferry

Church leaders established a ferry at the only crossing point along the 500-mile Colorado River. The remote outpost provided transportation for pioneers traveling into the Arizona Territory from southern Utah. John D. Lee was the first boatswain to settle here with some of his wives in 1872.

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In 1874, increasing tensions between the Navajo and white settlers prompted Church President Brigham Young to order the construction of a fort at Lees Ferry. A team traveled from St. George, Utah and built several stone structures in a matter of weeks. The fort was never attacked and instead became a trading post.

Today, visitors can walk the 400-meter River Trail, which has plaques describing the scattered structures and implements.

Details:Lee's Ferry is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. From Flagstaff, take US 89 north to Bitter Springs and then west on US 89A. Immediately after crossing the Navajo Bridge, look for the turnoff to Lees Ferry on the right. $15 per vehicle. 928-608-6200,

Mola tube

In 1870 construction of a fort began on Pipe Spring, a rare gush of water in the middle of the wide prairies of the Arizona Strip. The plans called for two sandstone buildings facing a courtyard and surrounded by stout gates. The fort soon became known as Winsor Castle, after Anson Winsor, the ranch manager. The site has never been attacked. Instead it was a welcome stop for weary travellers.

In 1871 a telegraph was installed to serve as the Deseret telegraph station. This branch line—hundreds of miles of thin juniper poles covered with glass insulators—connected the Utah outposts to the transcontinental line that ran through Salt Lake City. It was the first telegraph in Arizona.

Visitors to Pipe Spring National Monument can explore the grounds, visitor center, and museum; Take a guided tour of Winsor Castle; and hike the scenic Ridge Trail, which is half a mile long.

Details:15 miles west of Fredonia on State Route 389. $5 per person. 928-643-7105,

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Roger Naylor is a freelance writer covering Arizona travel and outdoor, Twitter: @AZRogerNaylor


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