Fort Bowie served as the center for military campaigns against the hostile Apaches led first by Cochise and then by Geronimo. When Cochise made peace in 1872, he and his people were given a 3,000 square mile reservation in southeastern Arizona. After Cochise died in 1874, Indian agents tried to maintain order, but young Apaches were unsatisfied with conditions of the reservation. In 1876 the Government abolished the Chiricahua Reservation and moved everyone to the San Carlos Reservation in the hot and barren Gila River Valley. Several bands led by Geronimo fled to the Sierra Madre of northern Mexico and began to terrorize the border region once again. After several outbreaks through the years, Geronimo and his follower’s were brought to Fort Bowie for a final surrender in 1886. Geronimo’s defeat ended the Apache Wars. Fort Bowie’s purpose as a military installation had ended as well. It remained an active post until October 1894 when the last troops were withdrawn.
Diane, Steven, Lisa, Kenton and I decided to make the trek to Fort Bowie recently. The original route to the fort was a wagon road. Today, access to the fort is a 1.5 foot trail (3 miles round trip). The moderate incline trail passes several historical sites, including the ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station, the post cemetery, Apache Spring, and the location of the first Fort Bowie. A visitor center at the site of second Fort Bowie provides restrooms and picnic grounds. An alternate route back to the Trailhead takes you over Overlook ridge with spectacular views of the Fort and valley below.
I sat down on the steps of the visitor center with Ranger Karen and asked if she had any ghost stories or paranormal experiences to share. She smiled and shook her head “yes”. Before long she had everyone sitting on the porch mesmerized by her tales.
Each Thursday a group of horse back riders saddle up and make the 1.5 mile journey up the old trail. The group stops for lunch at the visitor center about noon taking time to explore the ruins or visit the gift shop. One particular Thursday, Ranger Karen had been down to the post cemetery to pick up the money for the information flyers in the donation box. On her walk back to the center, she was sure she heard horses coming up the trail directly behind her. Thinking the regular riding group was a tad early, she hurried up the hill to prepare for their arrival.
She looked at the clock and noted it was only about 8:30—way too early for the horse back riders—but she unlocked the restrooms and kept an eye on the trail. She stood in the doorway and could still hear the horses near the bottom of the hill just below the fort. This continued throughout the morning with no trail riders arriving until the regular noon time visit. She asked the wrangler if he had been up the trail earlier or if the group had gathered at the trailhead for a spell, but he insisted they arrived at their usual departure time. Karen told us that several other rangers have heard phantom horses galloping up towards the old fort.
One day a hiker asked Ranger Karen about differences between the great warrior chiefs Cochise and Geronimo. She thought for a moment and said both men were very powerful figures with their tribes—and often came to Fort Bowie. She felt that in his later days, Cochise was a little more passive and a bit favorable to the peace treaties. On the other hand, Geronimo continued to be a bit more aggressive.
The next day Karen began her morning duties and began opening up the visitor center. Suddenly she heard a book fall from the bookcase to the floor. On inspection, she was surprised to see it was a book on the life and times of Geronimo! “I hope Geronimo is not angry with me,” she commented. A few minutes later a walking stick that had been leaning and propped in a corner for a very long time fell to the floor. Her fellow ranger partner was startled and left the building. Later that day, a hiker was in the visitor center surveying the book selection trying to decide what to buy. Once again the book about Geronimo fell off the shelf. As the guest reached to pick up the book, the same walking stick slammed to the floor.
There are several bat caves along the rocky portion of the trail as it parallels Apache Spring. A couple of scientists were spending the evening tagging the bats—recording size, age, sex etc. They had large net securely tied over the opening of the bat cave to aid in their examination of the species. Suddenly, the net collapsed. When they inspected the ropes they observed they had been cut as if with a knife. Trying to debunk the accident, they thought maybe a rodent had chewed through the rope. They retied the netting with new rope, but a few minutes later it collapsed again. The ropes again appeared to be cut with an unseen knife. The two scientists decided it was wise to call it a night.
Many of the caretakers, rangers and guests have witnessed an audio residual energy down near the steam engine house. The valley is filled with the hissing and spitting sound of a steam engine at rest. When the employees try to approach the building house to check it out, the sound suddenly stops.
Ranger Karen told us of locking up the visitor center late one afternoon at the end of her work day. She looked down the trails to verify no hikers were approaching the center and began locking up the office and the restrooms. Suddenly she clearly heard a woman’s voice as if she was standing next to her in the room who greeted her with an old fashion “Yoo hoo!” She did an immediate search of the building and surrounding area, but not a soul was to be found. Other rangers have been greeted with a man’s voice stating “Hello.”
Hikers report hearing footsteps walking up behind them on the trail and when they look over their shoulder, nobody is there. They have heard the Apache children playing along the Overlook Ridge trail. While exploring the ruins, hikers have heard disembodied voices and the sound of women weeping.
With all the history of glory and tragedy surrounding Fort Bowie, it is more than likely some of the spirit energy has remained behind for us to encounter as we walk in the paths of the soldiers, civilians and Indians along the Apache Pass Road.
Access: The trailhead on Apache Pass Road can be reached from two directions: From WiIlcox, located on 1-10, drive 22 miles south on AZ 186 to the graded dirt road leading east into Apache Pass; From the town of Bowie, also on 1-10, drive south 12 miles on the partly paved road that leads directly into Apache Pass.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Visitor Center is open daily 8am to 5pm
Except December 25
For other stories about ghosts at Arizona’s forts read:
Spirited Soldiers of Fort Verde in Arizona
For more info: www.mvdghostchasers.com
Debe Branning firstname.lastname@example.org