Fort McDowell, Arizona – In the Midst of the Apache Wars

 

Fort McDowell, Arizona

Fort McDowell, Arizona

Fort McDowell, Arizona was established by the California Volunteers on the west bank of the Verde River in September 1865. Situated in the midst of  Indian country and surrounded by mountains, the area around the isolated location still contained several often used travel routes. Created to protect the area from the fierce Apache who roamed the Salt and Gila River Valleys, it was built to be one of the most solid posts in the territory. The camp was first called Camp Verde, but was later renamed to Camp McDowell after Major General Irwin McDowell, made famous for his loss of the first large-scale battle of the American Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run. The fort became an embarkation point for many of the expeditions against the Apache, including becoming the base of  General George Crook’s Tonto Basin campaign in the early 1870s.

General George Crook, about 1870

General George Crook, about 1870

During the winter of 1872-73, nine detachments, using Apache scouts recruited from the reservations, crisscrossed the Tonto Basin, in constant pursuit of the Apache. Wearing down their opponents, the soldiers forced as many as 20 different skirmishes, resulting in the deaths of about 200 Indians The fort’s most decisive victory was the Salt River Canyon Battle in December 1872, when two companies of the 5th Cavalry, along with 30 Apache scouts surprised a band of more than a hundred Yavapai as they tried to emerge from a cave deep in the recesses of Salt River Canyon. the victory was instrumental in bringing the campaign to a close.

On April 10, 1890, the fort became the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation, serving the Mohave, Apache, and some Pima Indians. In 1903, additional land was set aside for the reservation.

The site of the old fort is just west of the Fort McDowell Indian Agency in Maricopa County. Overgrown with vegetation, the only original building left is the ruins of the officers’ quarters. However, low earth mounds and adobe remnants mark the location of other structures.

Apache Before the Storm, Edwards S. Curtis, 1906

Apache Before the Storm, Edwards S. Curtis, 1906

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December 2019.

Also See:  

Arizona Forts

Forts & Presidios Across America

Forts Photo Gallery

The Yavapai – Fierce Warriors of the Colorado River

 

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