Camp Verde, AZ
Park Manager, Sheila Stubler and Assistant Park Manager, Robert Jennings
April, 2016 – When I first got settled in Camp Verde, I passed by Fort Verde State Historic Park, but was a bit tired at the time and wasn’t sure if I was interested enough to tour it. So I thought I’d just quickly go inside to see what it had to offer and if I wanted to come back or not. The greeting I got from Bob was very friendly as he explained that the park is the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona. This shows the Administration Building that was built in the 1870s, then used as an Indian Boarding School from 1905-1915, later used as apartments, and became the museum in 1970.
This painting depicts a scene from the fort’s early days and the sign out front promised to show “The West as it Really Was” where you can learn about the daily life, duties and routines of the soldiers stationed here instead of the myths presented by Hollywood movies.
When Sheila came out and introduced herself and told me a little more about the park, their enthusiasm was contagious. She has been the Park Manager here for 15 years and says she loves being part of this community and preserving its history. Bob said he enjoys watching people’s faces light up when they get a glimpse into what the past here was really like, both the exterior architecture and inside the buildings with their true 1800s period furnishings.
I can never resist getting a peek into our history, so I signed up and started my self-guided tour. Still within the Administration Building, Sheila showed me how adults and kids alike can put on some period clothing and get their picture taken.
We both laughed at my depiction of shooting this scrawny looking chicken dinner. Just goes to show history can be fun!
After looking at the exhibits which outlined some of the differences between the original inhabitants and later settlers, I began by viewing the 20 minute video that goes more into the history of the fort.
The fort was begun by demand of settlers in 1865 due to their farms being raided by Indians, which of course resulted in hostilities between the two factions. Due to a malaria plague, the original site was moved and construction of this post was complete in 1873. Between that time and 1875, about 1,500 Indians were moved to this 800 square mile reservation.
Besides housing the cavalry troops, their families and related service personnel, forts were really concentration camps for the Indians who were no longer free to live their preferred way of life in their mountain lands. They were forced to become dependent since they couldn’t hunt for their own food anymore.
The movie also explains why the Army began using Indian Scouts, how necessary they were and how the Army took advantage of the rivalry between tribes to get them recruited. The Army needed the Indians’ familiarity with the country and other tribes considered enemies.
It always made sense to me why the Indians were useful to the Army, but I never was quite clear on why the Indians would sign up to help the Army since they and their tribes were basically captives of the people they would be helping.
Stories are told by descendants about their ancestors during this time, with conflicting perspectives on this alliance. Were they traitors to their own people? Some warriors believed that becoming a scout was a way they could retain close to the old way of warfare and hunting life instead of being held helpless in reservations as farmers.
At least at first, tribes felt the Army was an ally against their own traditional enemies. The Army took advantage of the division between tribes and would give horses that were captured during raids on other tribes to their scouts, and horses were always considered status symbols. There was also prestige in owning weapons, earning money and freedom to move about outside the reservation. And there is no doubt of their value to the military. Eleven Arizona Indian Scouts were awarded Medals of Honor for their service between 1870 and 1892.
But by serving in the military, scouts were sometimes shunned and banned by the tribe. In some cases scouts showed where tribe members were hiding trying to escape containment and sometimes resulted in being killed by the cavalry, so naturally there is resentment about that.
Whatever their reasons, despite their service to the Army, promises were broken and these Indians were betrayed when the entire population was uprooted and moved again in mid winter, resulting in the death or disappearance of about 100 Indians in order to open the former reservation to miners and settlers in 1877.
With the end of raids by Indians, the fort was no longer necessary and was abandoned in 1891. I’m glad it ended up being so well preserved and open to us who want to learn more about this period in our country’s history.
During the Civil War, both the North & South enlisted Indian help. Here are Scouts with a member of the 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldier), 1890s.
The Scout program continued even after the Indian Wars were officially over. The insert shows the last three Scouts retired in 1948.
As I was getting ready to walk outside, Sheila and Bob came out on the porch and said, “Look at that view – this is our “office” and one reason we love it here so much.” I told them their kind of appreciation for their work makes the visitor experience even more special and enjoyable.
I walked across to the parade grounds and began the tour of Officers’ Row. There were originally 22 buildings in the entire complex, and three of the original five Officers’ Quarters are preserved here. The first site is empty and is where the Married Officers’ quarters were until they burned down in 1881. Each building was divided into four smaller apartments occupied by several families, definitely an example of cramped quarters.
Commanding Officer’s Quarters
This building has 10 rooms and this architectural style is typical of nearly every 1870s post. White picket fences and lattice work was certainly not how I pictured life on this frontier.
It also seems inconceivable that the monthly Commanding Officer pay of $166 was enough for the wives to furnish their homes so elegantly, but status was important even here as they were the center of military society.
The sign by the bedroom on the right talks about “The Striker” – something I had never heard of before. Enlisted men were employed by the Commanding Officer’s wife to help with cooking and household chores. His quarters were behind the children’s room, and although not nursemaids, some became fond of the children, giving them a home life not available in the barracks. He also earned an extra $5, bringing his monthly pay to a whopping $18.
Looks like they ate in style, too, and had after dinner entertainment options.
Bachelor Officers’ Quarters
Definitely more basic quarters, these were designed to have three bedrooms, but doubling up was common with a communal kitchen in the rear.
It was a requirement of a permanent military command to have a physician.
This was their living quarters as well as where patients were treated and surgery performed. There were no vaccines or antibiotics. A severe injury to a limb often ended in amputation. Since the going pay for a surgeon was $123 per month, the job did not attract top-of-the-class doctors; it was a fact they were frequently incompetent.
The fort’s flagpole was 60′ tall and designed like a ship’s mast, which allows for use of shorter logs since often a single tree was not tall enough or available on the frontier. Even though this is a reproduction, I could easily picture the soldiers out here in the early morning light and could almost hear the Reveille call.
So many things I learned here that I had never even thought of before, so I really enjoyed my taste of fort life and appreciate the effort that has been put into this for our education and enjoyment.
Miscellaneous Info: There are picnic tables, restrooms, RV and tour bus parking, and is ADA Accessible.
Location/Contact: 125 E. Hollamon — Camp Verde, AZ 86322 — (928) 567-3275