Louise Speaks: Our first outing was to the Fort Verde State Historic Park. It was just down the road from our camp ground so we packed a sack lunch and away we went. I had arranged to have a tour for our group telling us the history of this military base. The idea of the tour was to experience life through the eyes of a frontier soldier. The fort was a base for General Crook’s U.S. Army scouts and soldiers in the 1870s and 1880s. From 1865 – 1891, Camp Lincoln, Camp Verde and Fort Verde were home to officers, doctors, families, enlisted men, and scouts. This park is the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona. Several of the original buildings still stand and living history tours like what we have scheduled gives visitors a glimpse into Arizona’s history. Today we experienced three historic house museums, all furnished in the 1880s period, that are listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places. The former Administration building houses the Visitor Center with interpretive exhibits, period artifacts from military life, and history on the Indian Scouts and Indian Wars era. There is even a room with authentic clothing that we could even play dress up. Several members of our RV group did just that.
This is a park that attempts to preserve parts of the Apache Wars era and it’s fort as it appeared in the 1880s. The park was established in 1970 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places a year later. Settlers in the mid-19th century near the Verde River grew corn and other crops with the prospect of getting good prices from nearby Prescott, which was at that time, the territorial capital. Nearby miners were also interested in buying the crops that were available. The rapid increase in population for the mining economy disrupted the hunting and gathering environments of the local Indian tribes. In turn, they raided the farmers’ crops for food.
The farmers requested military protection from the United States Army and, in 1865, although Arizona was still only a territory, the infantry arrived. They set up several posts over the next few years. After approximately 1,500 local natives were placed on a reservation by 1872, the army’s role changed from protecting the settlers to ensuring that the Indians stayed on the reservation. The last major military engagement with uprising natives took place in 1882 at the Battle of Big Dry Wash.
The fort was never enclosed by walls or stockades, and it never saw fighting on site. At its height, it consisted of twenty-two buildings, only four of which survived until 1956, when local citizens created a small museum in the administration building. They later donated the buildings and ten acres as a State Park.
Some of the buildings were built with pice, which is large adobe slabs cast within wooden frames, rather than assembled from the more familiar individual adobe bricks. The buildings remain and you are able to go inside and see just how the military lived. Some quarters for the officers are very formal and elegant looking, while the quarters to the enlisted men were very simple. At one time there were buildings for the married men and their families but those burnt and were never rebuilt.
The tour was very authentic as the guides dressed up in the attire of the times. The first building, which was the administration building, houses several rooms of a museum showing uniforms and fire arms. Volunteers share their knowledge of the weapons and describe in detail all the uniforms that are on display. There are chronological charts to show the history of the fort and it shows how the Indians helped the military and were part of the US Army.
The fort is right in town, and the residents show how proud they are to be a part of this piece of history. There are huge Ramada’s where we stopped to have our sack lunch. This really was a great stop and the group seemed to enjoy finding out yet another piece of Arizona history. I highly recommend stopping by this state park if you are ever going north or south on the I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff.