Fort Bowie National Historic Site And the Butterfield Stage Line

Fort Bowie was established by the California Volunteers in 1862, after a series of engagements between the California Column  and the Chiricahua. The most violent of these conflicts was the Battle of Apache Pass  in July 1862.

The fort was named in honor of Colonel  George Washington Bowie, commander of the 5th Regiment California Volunteer Infantry  who first established the fort.

The first Fort Bowie resembled a temporary camp rather than a permanent army post.

In 1868, a second, more substantial Fort Bowie was built which included adobe barracks, houses, corrals, a trading post, and a hospital. The second Fort Bowie was built on a plateau about 500 yards (460 m) to the east of the first site.

For more than 30 years Fort Bowie and Apache Pass were the focal point of military operations eventually culminating in the surrender of Geronimo  in 1886 and the banishment of the Chiricahuas to Florida and Alabama. The fort was abandoned in 1894.

Today Fort Bowie is protected by the National Park Service, you can visit the fort and see what remains of the fort.

You can also visit the Cemetery there and pay respect to those who are buried there, including Geronimo’s son, Little Robe.


In September, 1857, going East to West, the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage route started in St. Louis, went south to Ft. Smith, Arkansas; then west through Texas to El Paso; through New Mexico to Apache Pass in Southeastern Arizona.

They had to go through Apache Pass because that’s were they could find the easiest way through the Dos Cabezas Mountains and a year ’round source of water at Apache Springs.

Although the Butterfield Stage discontinued service in Arizona in March 1861, Fort Bowie was built there in July 1862 to protect the springs for the U.S. Army and the growing number of Anglo and Mexican travelers on their journey between El Paso, Texas and Tucson, Arizona.

From Apache Pass, westbound stages made their way to Benson, then Cienega Station (Vail), then Tucson. Generally, the Butterfield Stage route through Arizona followed what is today Interstate 10. In all, there were 26 stations in Arizona.

The route from St. Louis to San Francisco was a little more than 2800 miles and typically required 23-24 days. That’s averaging about 5 miles per hour. An amazing feat with 1860’s technology.

The passengers, crammed together as they were, carried their luggage on their laps with mail pouches beneath their feet. Travel on the stage was a brutal 24/7 ordeal, only a few brief moments at way stations to stretch and get some terrible food. They suffered sleep deprivation; dust and heat in the summer; biting cold rain in the winter. The price for this misery was $200; about $3,000 in today’s money. But amazingly they all got to their destination alive.

A Butterfield Stage was attacked by Indians on February 4, 1861, however no one on the stage was killed. To its credit, no one on a Butterfield Stage was every killed. Nor was a stage ever held up by outlaws, because it was well-known that these stages never carried gold or other valuables.

With the advent of the Civil War in April 1861, the Butterfield stages were diverted to a more northerly route.

Today you can hike the Butterfield trail at Fort Bowie National Historic Site and its history is preserved through The National Park Service.

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