Fort Verde


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A look at the history and significance of Fort Verde, including at what life was like at this territorial-era military post. The feature also includes a profile of the Fort today, which is known as Fort Verde State Historic Park.


Narrator: When the Civil War ended in 1865, the United States Government was able at last to turn its attention to other matters, and taming the West became a priority. Two years earlier, the Arizona Territory had been created, offering a new promise of opportunity and possibility. But with that promise came hardship as well as peril. Like other Anglo settlers who had spread out across the new territory, those who established themselves in the Verde Valley faced numerous challenges. These included conflicts with the indigenous people, who also were pursuing a better life.

Peter Iverson: Well, in many ways, of course, the Yavapais and the Apaches and other groups are the pioneers in Arizona, but it's also important to recognize that Indian groups entered the 1860s with hopes and expectations and ideals, and the pace of change, the quickness with which America sought to gain administrative control over these people was something they were not ready for. So here we have these people, and we have these other people coming in, and conflict seems almost inevitable given the fact that they both want to use and occupy and define the land.

Narrator: As hostilities in the area escalated, the Anglo settlers demanded government intervention, but for the war-weary military, it would be some time before an effective presence could be established.

Dennis Lockhart: The first military came in here to protect the early settlers from the raiding Indians. That took place in May of 1865. There's a small group of troops came in from Fort Whipple under Second Lieutenant Antonio Abeytia of Company M of the First New Mexico volunteers. They were Mexican irregulars. Most of them did not have uniforms or proper shoes or carrying muskets, they were just mounted cavalry. They marched in from Fort Whipple on foot. Took them two days to get here.

Narrator: Several early camps were established in close proximity to the Verde River, where a soldier's life, already difficult, was made even more so by the beavers that also were in camp nearby. With their dams came mosquitoes and malaria. The disease became such a problem that the army again relocated, this time to higher ground, establishing what would become the post's final and much improved location.

Dennis Lockhart: So this was Camp Verde until 1878, when it was renamed Fort Verde simply to denote permanence. By the way, this was a relatively comfortable place to be stationed: this post had running water to every building, we had bathhouses, we had gardens, and we had telegraph. And of course, with the river directly below us, the fishing and the hunting was quite good around here. So although isolated, this was a very comfortable place for the troops to be assigned. The soldiers enjoyed being stationed here. They didn't like being in the army particularly or being out west, but this was a better site to be at than many were.

Narrator: The fort consisted of 22 buildings constructed of adobe and wood, as well as a parade grounds on 55 acres. Like the other forts in the territory at that time, Fort Verde bore little resemblance to its modern-day stereotype.

John Langellier: When we think popularly of a fort in the concept of Hollywood, it's a stockaded place with a front gate and guards in towers watching for the attack on the fort. Well, the attack on the fort only happened in a handful of cases in the entire history of the trans-Mississippi West, and the forts themselves were simply almost a civilian-style community with no protection around them, and so they were totally different than what one might perceive of from the standpoint of television and motion pictures.

Narrator: Although the forts were very much military posts, they also were bastions of everything that was cultural, economic, and civilized in the minds of the Anglo settlers.

John Langellier: They were miniature communities in the sense that everything happened there. This is often overlooked. One side would be the officers' quarters -- the upscale neighborhood, if you will -- and the enlisted men would live across the way, and on either end of the fort would be the functional areas such as the hospital and the supply areas and everything, so they were like communities with a central parade ground, a central park in them. The officers themselves usually would have families. A soldier only made $13 a month, and so there was more or less a saying in the old army, "If the army wanted you to have a wife, they would've issued you one." And so it was pretty much a bachelor army for the enlisted men.

Narrator: By 1873, the role of the territorial soldier had evolved from protecting Anglo settlers to enforcing federal Indian policy, which centered on the creation of reservations as a way of controlling the indigenous population.

John Langellier: By the time of the Civil War through early Post-Civil War, especially under U.S. Grant's administration, the thought was that there would be a peace policy. But in order to make the peace policy work, which was an acculturation policy, you would have to bring people in forcibly to the reservations, because people were used to roaming around an area thousands and thousands of acres -- and miles, for that matter -- into one concentrated area. Given the fact that people were in essence being forcibly uprooted, you had to have the military muscle to do this, and they needed bases of operation just as we do today for logistical support and for all the things that were necessary to do so.

Narrator: Between 1873 and 1875, some 1,500 Indians from various bands were placed on the Rio Verde Reservation, where, under the army's direction, they built an irrigation ditch and learned to farm. They were relocated a second time to the San Carlos Agency near Globe, but there were those who defied the army and left the reservation. They were deemed renegades, and Fort Verde served as a base of operations for efforts to hunt them down with patrols that relied heavily on Indian scouts. By 1882, the hostilities were coming to an end, along with the fort's importance, and in 1891, the facility was abandoned and transferred to the Department of the Interior. The military reservation around the post was opened up to settlement, and in the decades that followed, most of the buildings were sold and dismantled.

Dennis Lockhart: In 1956, the local Camp Verde Preservation Society acquired this particular facility, the administrative building, and the commanding officer's quarters, and they turned them into small museums and a storage space, an office space for the local Historical Society. And towards the latter part of the 1960s, the determination was made that they couldn't really afford to maintain the structures, so they went to State Parks, and State Parks negotiated with the Historical Society, who literally turned all of the artifacts and facilities over to the fort that they had acquired. After 1970, the parks system started acquiring the areas of the parade field and the other two structures, and that continued through 1974, when they finally acquired the 11 and a half acres we have today.

Narrator: Fort Verde continues to be an important part of the local community for the residents, many of whom are descended from the original settlers, and for visitors, who are offered a unique look back in time. At annual events like the History of the Soldier, the past is vividly brought to life.

Sheila Stubler: It's our military timeline celebration. We pay tribute to the soldiers past and present. Personally, it's my favorite event of the year, because we get all kinds of reenactors that represent all periods paying tribute to all the soldiers. So all of these reenactors come out, and they have a passion and desire to promote history for the public, and so we have weapons demonstrations, we have cannons being fired, and they get a chance to become one with the history that's actually a living history. Fort Verde's 137 years old, and with it we have a chance to see what life was like for the frontier folks that lived out here, for the military that lived out here, for the commanding officers' wives, the Buffalo Soldiers, for everybody. When you walk through, you get a glimpse into the past. Without it, we don't have that history.