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Fort Bowie, The Post Cemetery

The US Army established Fort Bowie in 1862. In 1870, census data recorded it as “Apache Pass” with 400 white residents. At that time, it was located in Pima County. In 1880, census data shows it as “Camp Bowie”. The army declared 184 residents. However, no demographic information was provided. A year later, Camp Bowie resided in the newly created Cochise County. That county is where my husband and I recently bought a home. No inhabitants were recorded in 1890, although the post did not formally close for another 4 years.

The post cemetery is one of the most interesting aspects of this history lesson, although the entire experience is pretty cool! This cemetery preceded the establishment of Fort Bowie and outlasted the fort as well. According to the Park Service website about Fort Bowie, the cemetery began with the burial of three privates. These men were killed by Apaches a month before the fort was operational. Two years after the fort closed, the last man was buried there. A miner who was living in the abandoned officer’s quarters was apparently murdered…

A series of fences

Sometime in the early to mid-1870s, the army erected a fence around the cemetery. Understandably, grazing cattle and horses had little respect for the dignity of those buried there. Headstones were toppled and graves were trampled. Initially, the fence consisted of 4-foot adobe walls on a rock foundation. For a brief period, the fence protected the gravesites, but by 1881 the adobe walls were in disrepair. In true government fashion, the army did nothing initially! Three years passed, during which time the cemetery continued to disintegrate. Eventually, the army requisitioned wood to create a picket fence.

The army completed the fence in 1885 and nearly doubled the size of the cemetery. Marble head and footstones replaced the original grave markers. When the fort closed in 1894, the original portion of the cemetery was nearly full. At its peak, it may have held as many as 112 gravesites.

The National Park Service acquired the fort, including the cemetery, 70 years later. At that time, only two original headboards remained. These markers were in pitiful condition. Nevertheless, these remaining historic markers served as templates for the creation of new head and footboards. In 2011, restorationists painstakingly reconstructed the fence, cutting the wood by hand to match the size used in the previous century. The plot was expanded to the size it was when the fort was operational.

Shortly after the fort closed, the army removed all military personnel, their dependents, and any “unknowns” from the cemetery and reinterred them at the National Cemetery in San Francisco. At this time, historians believe between 23 and 33 bodies remain.

Killed by Apaches and illness…

Sadly, the cemetery contains the remains of several children. Little Robe, Geronimo’s son, presumably died of dysentery. He was part of a group of 7 Apache women and 8 children captured in Mexico in 1875. That group included 2 of Geronimo’s wives and 2 of his children. The soldiers had become very fond of Little Robe. When the child died, they buried him in the cemetery.

Two weeks later, the unknown Apache child died. Soldiers captured another group of women and children a month before Little Robe’s group. There were 3 women and 8 children in Marcia’s group. Historians speculate that she was ill when she arrived at the fort, as she died a day later.

These 3 men were ranchers, mail carriers, or stage drivers. Two of the three likely served with the California Volunteers in the Civil War. All were killed by Apaches, most likely Cochise. Soldiers buried them in a single grave.

John Slater also served with the California Volunteers during the Civil War. After he was discharged from service in 1864, he became a mail carrier between Tucson and Fort Bowie. In November of 1867, he saw a band of Apaches attempting to steal the fort’s herd of horses. Slater enlisted the help of another man who hopped on the only remaining horse in camp, and they pursued the Apaches. Unfortunately, they got too far ahead of military reinforcements and they were killed by the Apaches.

Wagon train perils as well…

James Walker was a 6-year-old boy heading east to Texas out of California with his family. They were on one of many wagon trains that frequently camped near Fort Bowie. He died nearly 20 years before the other children. James was the first child to be buried in the fort cemetery. Sadly, one of the wagons accidentally ran over him. Can you imagine the anguish of his parents? However, life during those years included a multitude of perils on a daily basis.

As I mentioned in last week’s post about Fort Bowie, this adventure is far more about history than horseback riding. Be sure and allow plenty of time when you trailer to this historic landmark. One could spend hours just examining the graves and reading the information available at the cemetery. You can read about the other remaining graves here.

Next week I will tell you more about the fort itself.

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