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Top Ten: Forts

“Fort Yuma is probably the hottest place on earth. The thermometer stays at one hundred and twenty in the shade there all the time – except when it varies and goes higher. It is a U.S. military post, and its occupants get so used to the terrific heat that they suffer without it. There is a tradition… that a very, very wicked soldier died there, once, and of course, went straight to the hottest corner of perdition, – and the next day he telegraphed back for his blankets.” ~Mark Twain, Roughing It

In Arizona you can visit old presidios (fortifications) established by the Spanish during the 1700’s, as well as several U.S. military forts from among more than 70 military posts that were constructed in Arizona during the 1800’s.

1. Tubac Presidio – San Ignacio de Tubac was established in 1752 in response to the Pima Indian Rebellion, an uprising to protest forced labor in local mines and ranches. The presidio (fort) was intended to protect the various missions in the area and to quell further uprisings, while serving as a base for further exploration of the Southwest. Tubac is the oldest of the three Spanish presidios founded in Arizona and was once considered the official capitol of the region. Today the park and museum highlight the contributions of American Indians, Spaniards, Mexicans and Anglo-Americans to Arizona’s history and development.

2. Tucson Presidio – The Spanish-built Presidio de San Augustín del Tucson is one of the nation’s oldest inhabited sites, a fort once manned by Spanish battalions safeguarding the northernmost frontier of New Spain. The Spanish established the Presidio in Tucson around 1775 and remained there until 1829. Thick adobe walls enclosed the area to protect people inside the fort from Apache attacks. The remains have long since been buried under the city, but the walls of the Presidio were reported to have run along Washington Street on the north, Church Street on the east, Pennington Street on the south, and Main Avenue on the west. Each side of the Presidio was about 750 feet long. A pair of gates pierced the west and east walls, roughly where Alameda Street meets Main Avenue, and one on Church Street at Alameda. Inside the fortress were homes, barracks, and stables built against the interior walls, a cemetery and church on the east side, a commander’s house in the center, and several plazas. By the 1850’s, the Apache attacks had subsided and the presidio wall was demolished, with many of the bricks serving as building materials for Territorial period homes. “The Presidio Trail: A Historical Walking Tour of Downtown Tucson” is available free of charge at the Visitor’s Center in La Placita in downtown Tucson, or you can download it at A tower and a corner of the 18th-century presidio will soon be reconstructed at the corner of Washington Street and Church Avenue.

3. Fort Apache – Fort Apache was a major outpost during the Apache wars (1861-1886) and remained a military post until 1922. In 1923 the fort became the site of the Theodore Roosevelt Indian School. The Fort Apache Historic District contains over 30 structures, ranging from a reconstruction of an early log building to original two-story dormitories. Also included are the headquarters building, sleeping quarters, corrals, storehouses, guardhouse, magazine, stables, old military cemetery, and prehistoric ruins. The Fort Apache Historic District is located four miles south of Whiteriver, off Arizona 73 on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

4. Fort Bowie – This fort commemorates the bitter conflict between Chiricahua Apaches and the U.S. military, providing insight into the clash of cultures between a young nation in pursuit of “manifest destiny,” and the hunter/gatherer society fighting to preserve its way of life. Established in 1862, Fort Bowie was the site of such incidents as the Bascom Affair and the battle of Apache Pass. The Apache Wars eventually culminated in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886. The remains of Fort Bowie are carefully preserved, as are the adobe walls of various post buildings and the ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station. The site is located on unpaved Apache Pass Road which can be accessed from Interstate 10 near Bowie, Arizona or from Arizona Highway 186 just north of the entrance to Chiricahua National Monument. Access to the ruins of Fort Bowie and the visitor center is via a 1.5 mile foot trail (3 miles round trip) which passes related historic sites such as the remains of the Butterfield Stage Station, the Post Cemetery, a replica of a Chiricahua Apache Camp, and Apache Spring.

5. Yuma Quartermaster Depot – The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was erected in 1864 near the site of Fort Yuma and used by the U.S. Army to store and distribute supplies for all the military posts in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas. A six month supply of clothing, food, ammunition, and other goods was kept at the depot at all times. The supplies were brought from California by ocean vessels traveling around the Baja Peninsula to Port Isabel near the mouth of the Colorado River. There, cargo was transferred to river steamers and brought upstream to Yuma. Five of the original depot buildings remain on the park grounds, and four of these buildings contain exhibits which cover the military history of the site.

6. Fort Whipple – This U.S. Army post served as Arizona Territory’s capital prior to the founding of Prescott. The fort was originally founded in 1864 to protect miners and settlers from Indian raids. In those times, the fort was also the information center for the community. Newspaper reporters relied on telegraph dispatches received at the fort, and the first experimental telephones were installed there in the late 1870’s. In addition, the army band provided entertainment. Not much of the original fort remains because the old post was condemned in 1869. All of the buildings were torn down and rebuilt, later to be used as a Veterans Administration Hospital during World War I. The structure that houses the Fort Whipple Museum was constructed around 1907. It stands out from among the other buildings at the Veterans Medical Center because it’s green and yellow while the rest are white, but its color is historically accurate. The Fort Whipple Museum is operated as a joint venture between the Sharlot Hall Museum and the VA Medical Center. Exhibits tracing the history of the post include Army weaponry, medical instruments, maps, photographs, and memoirs written by those stationed there. Once a month, local re-enactors dressed as soldiers, traders and miners stage living history presentations in and around the museum. The museum is in Building 11 on the Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus, 500 N. Arizona 89, Prescott.

7. Fort Verde – Fort Verde is the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona. This fort was a base for General Crook’s U.S. Army scouts and soldiers in the 1870s and 1880s. From 1865-1891 it was home to officers, doctors, families, enlisted men, and scouts. Several of the original buildings still stand and living history programs are scheduled periodically, giving visitors a glimpse into Arizona’s history.

8. Fort Lowell – Established in 1873, the role of Fort Lowell encompassed escorting wagon trains, protection of settlers, guarding supplies, patrolling the border, and conducting offensive operations against the Western and Chiricahua Apache Indians. The buildings at Fort Lowell display a Mexican Sonoran style of architecture with thick adobe walls, pine logs, and saguaro ribs supporting hard packed dirt roofs and wide hallways for ventilation. By the mid-1880’s Eastern Anglo features such as porches, shutters and tin roofing were added. With the end of the Apache wars, the post was abandoned. Since 1963 the Arizona Historical Society has operated a branch Museum in a rebuilt officer’s quarters at the Fort Lowell Historic Site.

9. Fort Grant – This fort was erected at the foot of the southwestern slope of Mount Graham in 1873, along a route that was often used by Apache Indians fleeing from the San Carlos Reservation. Troops from the fort patrolled southeast Arizona and western New Mexico, chasing marauding bands of Apache Indians and keeping the peace. Fort Grant was also the focal point of the military campaign against Geronimo which ended with Geronimo’s surrender in August 1886. William H. Bonney (a.k.a. Billy the Kid) allegedly killed a man at this frontier outpost in a fight. In 1888, the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry were used in civil duties and chasing train robbers. Starting in 1900, Fort Grant was a collection point for troops going to the Philippines during the Spanish American War. When Arizona became a state in 1912, the government turned over the site to the State of Arizona, which modernized many of the original buildings for use an Industrial School for wayward boys and girls. In 1968, the school became part of the Arizona State Department of Corrections and in 1973, became an adult male prison. Since 1997 the prison has been a unit of an Arizona State Prison complex headquartered in Safford. “The Commander’s House,” one of two historically-preserved buildings on the grounds, was destroyed by arson on January 1, 1989.

10. Fort Huachuca – Constructed in 1877, Fort Huachuca has a rich history that continues to this day as the major military installation in Arizona and one of prominence throughout the Southwest. Originally it was part of a chain of forts established to guard southern Arizona against the Chiricahua Apaches. It was here that the Army organized a strike force that chased Geronimo and his followers through Mexico’s Sierra Madre during the summer of 1886. Fort Huachuca was a station in a heliograph network which used mirrors and sunlight to transmit signals across the entire southwest. Fort Huachuca was also the headquarters of the famed 10th Cavalry, the “Buffalo Soldiers,” one of the Army’s elite black cavalry corps. Today the fort is still an active Army post serving as the home for the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and headquarters for the Army’s Strategic Communication Command. The “Old Post Area” historic district contains many notable buildings including: the Pershing House, an adobe structure traditionally used as the Post Commander’s quarters; the “Old Post” Barracks; Leonard Wood Hall, a large two-storied building used as the hospital; and the Fort Huachuca Historical Museum, an adobe and stone building originally used as the post chapel. Fort Huachuca, a National Historic Landmark, is four miles west of Sierra Vista on AZ 90. The Fort Huachuca Museum is located three miles northwest of the fort’s main gate at Boyd and Grierson Aves.

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