Apache Pass

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Apache Pass
Apache Pass viewed from Fort Bowie facing north.
Elevation 5,110 ft (1,558 m)./1558 m.
Traversed by Apache Pass Road
Location Cochise County, Arizona, United States
Coordinates 32°09′06″N 109°28′54″W / 32.15167°N 109.48167°W / 32.15167; -109.48167

Apache Pass (named for the Apache people), its earlier Spanish name was "Puerto del Dado", ("Pass of the Die"). Apache Pass is a historic passage in the U.S. state of Arizona between the Dos Cabezas Mountains and Chiricahua Mountains at an elevation of 5110 ft., approximately 32 km (20 mi) E-SE of Willcox, Arizona.

Apache Spring[edit]

A nearby freshwater spring, Apache Spring, was once an important water source for travelers in the desert landscape. The history of Apache Pass began with the spring—it was a watering place in the harsh desert of what became southern Arizona and therefore a crossroads.[1] Indigenous peoples were dependent for their survival on regular access to water holes, so the spring at Apache Pass was a natural stopping place for them. The Apache used the springs at Apache Pass, with many trails from different directions converging on the site. The great Apache leader Cochise, who, along with many of his followers, favored the area around the spring as a camping spot in winter and spring. There were often hundreds of Chiricahuas living in the area.[2] A little higher than the surrounding desert terrain, it was cooler on hot days, the water was there and there was abundant game and firewood in the area.

Puerto del Dado[edit]

After the Spanish and Mexicans began traveling in the area, the spring and Apache Pass became a flash point for conflicts between these rival cultures, leading to its original Spanish name "Puerto del Dado", the "Door (or Pass) of the Die" meaning "Pass of chance", referring to the risky nature of crossing this pass was like a game of chance like one played by soldiers with dice.

Later in the 1830s some American fur trappers are believed to have passed through it. In 1846, Philip St. George Cooke leading the Mormon Battalion that was finding and constructing what became Cooke's Wagon Road bypassed it, despite Cooke's awareness of its existence from his guides, because details of the route and extent and location of other water sources on the route were unknown compared to the longer route to the south that was chosen. It fell to a party of Forty-Niners led by John Coffee Hays to pioneer a shorter route between Mesilla and Tucson, called the Tucson Cutoff, over the pass, in 1849, following the guidance of Mexican soldiers he encountered at Ojo Ynez on the Burro Cienega in New Mexico. This became the major southern east west route of travel for wagons and stagecoaches until the coming of the railroads, known as the Southern Emigrant Trail[3]

Apache Pass Station[edit]

In 1858, the Butterfield Overland Mail (stage) Company began service between Saint Louis, Missouri and San Francisco, California using a bow-shaped route down through Texas and the New Mexico Territory and on into southern California. They built a stone station on the eastern side of Apache Pass where they could utilize the water from the spring (perhaps the only station on the entire route that was made from such durable material, a possible acknowledgement of the danger they felt from the local Apache). Apache Pass Station, 32°8′56″N 109°26′58″W / 32.14889°N 109.44944°W / 32.14889; -109.44944, was originally 35 miles west of Stein's Peak Station in Doubtful Canyon, in what is now New Mexico. It was originally 49 miles east of Dragoon Springs Station, with no water on the route except at these three stations.[4] In late 1858 two new stations were built between these older stations, so that the Apache Pass Station was located 19 miles west San Simon Station on the San Simon River and 15 miles from Ewell Station at Ewell Spring, which shortened the route by nine miles between Apache Pass and Dragoon Springs and provided water midway on both sections.[5] It is likely that the band of Cochise provided them with firewood when he was in the area.[6]

Bascom Affair[edit]

Main article: Bascom Affair

This set the stage for an incident that was the predominant factor in starting Cochise’s eleven-year war against the United States, and was a formative element in the long and hard-fought struggle between the Chiricahuas and the United States even after Cochise made his own peace. A detachment of troops under Lt. George N. Bascom attempted to arrest the Indian leader at their camp near the spring and the resulting stand-off lasting several days ended with the deaths of hostages on both sides. The affront angered Cochise so much that he entered into his fight with the Americans, that ended only with a treaty facilitated by his only white friend, a former teamster named Tom Jeffords, and Gen. Oliver O. Howard. But the residual anger of other Apaches for many years resulted in the Apache Wars, a direct result of Bascom's rash actions.[7]

Fort Bowie[edit]

Fort Bowie site near Apache Pass.

The treaty between Cochise and General Howard provided for a reservation to be set aside at Apache Pass, adjacent to Fort Bowie.[8] The Army post was constructed there after the Battle of Apache Pass in 1862 to protect the spring; at first, a rudimentary post was constructed near the spring, then later, a more permanent post was constructed a little higher on nearby table-land. Ultimately, Fort Bowie became the headquarters for the fight against the Chiricahua Apaches.[9] The Chiricahua reservation lasted about 4 years, but after Cochise’s death in 1874 and the dearth of leadership that followed, tensions (and possibly depredations) increased and the Chiricahuas were moved to San Carlos and consolidated there under Agent John Clum, so they could be better managed.[10]

Apache Pass continued to play a major role in frontier American history until after the final surrender of Geronimo and his band of renegades in September, 1886. Then, in the early 1890s with the close of the Apache wars, the fort there was decommissioned and abandoned. Travelers now bypassed the area on the railroad, built a few miles to the north. The only thing left behind at Apache Pass after the local ranchers scavenged the ruins for building materials were a few adobe walls, bleaching white in the sun and slowly washing away in the infrequent rains, and the memories of those who had lived through their experiences there.

Apache Pass is now located within the Fort Bowie National Historic Site and along with the surrounding peaks, stands like a mute guard over its unique history. The few remaining building walls in the area have been “stabilized” for preservation purposes, but will not be restored. The area is managed and interpreted by National Park Service rangers. Visitors who hike along the trails and drive along Apache Pass Road can see the remains of the Butterfield station (consisting of the stone foundation), the ruins of the Chiricahua Reservation’s agency building, a cemetery and the remnants of the two forts that were constructed there. The route of the stage trail can still be seen, as well as the sites near the top of the pass where Lt. Bascom executed his Apache hostages, and Cochise's followers burned his. The spring still flows, although it has become a mere trickle. Today's calm and quiet there belies the bustle and excitement that was characteristic of the spot more than 125 years ago.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trimble, Marshall. (2004) Roadside History of Arizona, Second Edition. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87842-471-7. p.64.
  2. ^ Trimble p.65
  3. ^ Leland J. Hanchett, Editor, Crossing Arizona, Pine Rim Publishing LLC, Jan 1, 2002 , p.193-203, Chapter 14, The Tucson Cutoff
  4. ^ List of Stations from New York Times, October 14 1858, Itinerary of the Route
  5. ^ The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. L, United States. War Dept, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1897, p.121-122
  6. ^ Roberts, David. (1993). Once They Moved Like the Wind New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-70221-1 p.22.
  7. ^ Thrapp, Dan L. (1988). The Conquest of Apacheria. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-1286-7 p.17-8.
  8. ^ Thrapp p.168.
  9. ^ Roberts p.39.
  10. ^ Roberts p.155-7.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°09′06″N 109°28′54″W / 32.15167°N 109.48167°W / 32.15167; -109.48167