Thursday, September 6, 2018

FORT HUACHUCA by ARLETTA DAWDY


          Many old forts and military camps have been covered here at Sweethearts of the West, in books, films and campfire stories. My fascination with Fort Huachuca began nearly forty years ago. The Huachuca Mountains are Sky Islands stretching from just short of the Mexican border, fifteen miles north in westernmost Cochise County, Arizona. Over the years we dry camped atop the mountains, RV’d close by, stayed in cabins, motels and the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee to the east  I  had become obsessed 

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with the area, its scenery, people, museums and fascinating history.
On July 8, 2015 Celia Yeary posted an article here entitled "BUFFALO SOLDIERS."

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Fort Huachuca Museum

          I returned again and again even after my husband’s death in 2008 at least yearly for extended stays. I poured my energies into research and absorbing the sense of the terrain and atmosphere. A brother-in-law’s stories of his grandmother led to the book’s heroine, Josephine. Though she carried the same name as the original, she was very different and, so, HUACHUCA WOMAN evolved as the first book in THE HUACHUCA TRILOGY. BY GRACE and ROSE OF SHARON came later

          In 1952, Josephine’s young adult grandchildren have returned to the four generational family homestead in the Huachucas to record their 75 year old grandmother’s stories of her life. In Josephine’s words, here is her tale of the origins of the famed fort:

EXCERPT:
“Fort Huachuca and her soldiers have been a part of my life since memory began. After all, we shared our birth year of 1877. That’s when the camp was to deal with raiding Apaches. Before the fort, the government had set up special units of black soldiers and white officers for the Indian campaign in the north. Those first soldiers were something of a ragtag bunch with tattered uniforms, mostly left over from the Civil War, and whatever they cobbled together. Many wore the blue wool in stifling hot weather and cold winter. But none wore the ‘uniform’ more proudly.
          Negro soldiers fought in the Revolutionary War and Civil War, always with white officers in command. Later, Plains Indians gave ‘em the name ‘Buffalo Soldiers,’ for the dark of their skin, the nappy pelt of their hair that felt of buffalo hide, and for their fierce fighting ways, despite their raggedy appearance and their dependence on the worst of army nags. The soldiers took to the name with pride, not insult.         


      Most Buffalo Soldiers fought for the Union and made their way west after the War Between the States. Others were wandering freedmen, looking to make their way. Some made a life of the army, some moved on. They came in all ages and stages. Some still wet behind the ears and some with the bowed legs and grizzled look of a long life on back of a horse. Some with useful skills left from plantation days and some seeking the security of a regimented way of life.
          With a goodly amount of water and these old mountains jutting up sharply out of the desert in all their greenery, the fort was pure oasis for the weary or desert bound.
          White officers tended to come for a spell and move on. Some saw the assignment to Fort Huachuca as punishment and some took p0ride in it.  Others bided their time. By 1886, the officers had their storied houses lined up along one side of the parade grounds, just as in eastern forts. Wives and Families followed and social life of balls, picnics and good deeds came, too. For the whites.
          For the enlisted men, barracks lined the opposite side of the parade grounds. Parlors and barracks alike filled with the dust from hooves of parading horses and the boots of marching men. By this time, regulation uniforms and decent horses were the order of the day for they had been earned in the Indian Wars. At first, few recruits married or took up with squaws. They evolved their own social life in hunting, horse racing and rodeo stunts, gaming and music making. Off grounds, a few cantinas offered drinks and lady companions for a buck or two.

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When not fighting Apaches, usually relying on Apache scouts to locate the rascals, or searching for first Cochise and then Geronimo, the soldiers were kept busy: laying telegraph wires, surveying the fort and mountains, building roads and the various buildings needed at the fort. They looked to the safety of settlers in patrolling the surrounding area regularly and stopping at ranches. Their officers might take a cup of coffee or a meal with a rancher or his family but the regulars kept to themselves.
Nearing the turn of the century, things got hot busy along the Mexican border and much of the soldiers’ time was spent patrolling against renegade Mexicans, as well as Sierra Madre or other Apaches from across the way. Others tended the orchards and fields in Garden Canyon or doing whatever work was needed to keep the fort running.”
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Fort Huachuca has continued in service to the country ever since. Two excellent museums, designation as a National Historic landmark, many changes in the operation of surveillance and communications systems have flourished. Yearly re-enactments of the 10th Calvary’s Buffalo Soldiers continue to bring attention to its traditions. Historical events include: Ancient petroglyphs in Garden Canyon;Image result for Fort Huachuca, AZ

Geronimo’s surrender to post Commander General Nelson A. Miles in 1886; Pershing’s doomed “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico (1916-1917) to search out Pancho Villa; the 1917 appointment to post commander of Col Charles Young, West Point graduate and first Black army colonel; Singer Dorothy Dandridge and WACs arrived around WWII; and visitors and trainees now come from the world over. 


References:
Over the years I have found a multitude of books, magazines and periodicals about Fort Huachuca helpful. Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with ready references for my library is in disarray due to downsizing. Two books of some merit are:
          The Buffalo Soldiers by William H. Leckie, U of Oklahoma Press, 1967
Fort Huachuca: The Story of a Frontier Post, by Cornelius C. Smith Jr, sold by Huachuca Museum Society, 1976  
 
Photos: Google Images, Armyand Wikipedia


 Arletta Dawdy lives and writes in Northern California but her literary heart lives in the Southeast Arizona.
         



3 comments:

  1. Arletta, my husband and I visited the fort years ago. The spot ignites story ideas, doesn't it? I have one in mind if I ever get around to it about cousins--one white, one the daughter of a slave. I love the photos and paintings you used for this post.

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  2. Caroline, I so glad you enjoyed the piece and appreciate that you shared your thoughts for a story set at the fort...I hope you do it but wonder what kind of slave you have in mind???

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  3. There are just some places that call to us, and we can't resist that call. We have to go there, 'be' there, absorb its history and the stories it has to tell.

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