Photo above: John Brown. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Engraving of U.S. Army raid against John Brown's fort led by Robert E. Lee. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Timeline - The 1850s
The Mexican War
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Detail - 1856
November 17, 1856 - Fort Buchanan is established by the U.S. Army on the Sonoita River in current southern Arizona to administrate the new land bought in the Gadsden Purchase.
The area of Arizona and New Mexico had been rife with trouble since the Spanish tried to colonize in the early 1600's. From the days of the Pueblo uprising in 1680 through the next one hundred and fifty years, the Spanish had been warring with the various tribes of the region, including the Apache. Now, after the victory in the Mexican American War in 1848 and the subsequent Gadsden Purchase, this territory was now the problem of the United States and the U.S. Army. Settlement was bound to increase and the Apache had been, and would not be, pleased with that, as they had been at war with the Spanish, and now the United States for decades. It was decided, as early as 1854, that a series of forts would be built in the territory of the Gadsden Purchase and throughout the new lands won; one of those would be Fort Buchanan, the first, located three miles southwest of Sonoita in Hog Canyon.
Fort Buchanan would be completed by June of 1857, at first known as Fort Moore. It was commanded by Major George A.H. Blake, of the 1st U.S. Dragoons and established to protect the settlers and stages from the Chiricahua Apache and other tribes. It was also thought as a fort that would eventually protect a southern transcontinental railroad route that never was built. Other forts were completed over the Arizona landscape at various times to combat the Apache raids and assist settlers. They included Fort Defiance, built in 1851 outside Gadsden Purchase land, and Fort Mojave, built in 1859 on the eastern bluff of the Colorado River, near today's Bullhead City.
The Chiricahua Apache had controlled fifteen million acres of land in today's Arizona, New Mexico, and the Mexican states of northern Sonora and Chihuahua when Europeans arrived. They were often at war with the Spanish and Mexicans, and initially viewed American settlers in a more peaceful manner, even signing a Treaty with them in 1853 at Fort Webster. That did not last.
Apache Raids Involving Fort Buchanan
February 5, 1861 - A full scale war with the Chiricahua Apache occurred during the Bascom Affair. Apache chief Cochise had generally avoided direct confrontation with the U.S. Army and settlers, but had raided livestock from the Overland Mail and Fort Buchanan. On January 27, 1861, an Apache group from another tribe (Coyotero Apache) stole livestock from a Sonoita ranch and kidnapped a twelve year old boy. Lt. George Nicholas Bascom was sent from Fort Buchanan with fifty-four soldiers to address the theft. He could use any force necessary.
Bascom and his force met with Cochise at Apache Pass. Cochise said that the Chiricahua Apache had nothing to do with the raid. Bascom did not believe him, imprisoned Chochise and his family, though Cochise alone would escape. On February 5, Cochise demanded the release of his family, but was refused. The U.S. Army wanted the kidnapped boy in return. Over the next two days, Cochise attacked, killed nine Mexicans, and kidnapped three Americans, then offered them in exchange. He was refused again. On February 7, a Chiricahua raiding party attacked the full force of Bascom's soldiers. Cochise fled to Mexican territory with his hostages, eventually killing them. On February 19, a relief party of the U.S. Army killed Cochise's brother and nephews. That act is thought to be the catalyst for the Chiricahua Apache Indian Wars that raged for the next twenty-five years. The kidnapped boy was later found living with the Coyotero Apache.
On February 17, 1865, with the Civil War winding down, the Union Army was sparsely defending the territory around Fort Buchanan. Only nine soldiers from the 1st California Cavalry defended the fort itself, essentially a vedette station and a few other military buildings. The fort had no walls. Three men had been traveling to the fort and were attacked and killed by Apache warriors. The Chiricahua Apache, seventy-five in number, continued to the fort, and launched a surprise attack. Outnumbered, the men of the 1st California Cavalry eventually escaped to the Santa Rita Mountains. One man was killed and the fort abandoned for good. It was the only military installation conquered by the Apache during the Chiricahua War. Two years later another fort, Fort Crittenden, was built one half mile east of the original Fort Buchanan.
Photo above: Sign for site of Fort Buchanan, 1926. Courtesy arizonalibrary.gov. Photo below: John H. Cady at Fort Buchanan ruins, 1914, John H. Cady, U.S. Army. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Info source: "Origins of Fort Buchanan, Myth and Facts," 1936, B. Sacks, Arizona and the West, Journal of the Southwest; Legendsofamerica.com; "U.S. Establishes Fort Buchanan," History.com; Wikipedia Commons.