A fine 1876 watercolor view of Camp Apache (later Fort Apache), Arizona Territory. Though somewhat naïve in execution, the view has a wonderfully evocative quality while providing one of the most detailed contemporary images of this storied U.S. Army outpost, set at a flashpoint of the decades-long Apache Wars.
The view depicts Camp Apache against a striking backdrop of mesas and canyons, as seen by one approaching along the road from the west. The East Fork of the White River is visible just to the left (north) and in the foreground the approach road passes through gently rolling terrain. The outpost itself is shown in great detail, with dozens of buildings from lowly outhouses to stables, enlisted barracks, the commander’s residence and the headquarters. Flying in the center is the stars and stripes, picked out in red, white and blue in a lovely contrast with the otherwise gray wash used by the artist. At far lower right a native American warrior stands beside the road, wearing only loincloth, leggings and a feathered headdress and leaning on his rifle. It would be nice to conclude that he was drawn from life by the artist, but his identity will—for now at least—have to remain a mystery.
The watercolor is signed at lower left “G. Anderson. Aug. 5th 1876.” Though other possibilities come to mind, Anderson was most likely a soldier serving at Camp Apache, but so far we have been unable to determine his identity.
Camp Apache and the Apache Wars
The future Camp Apache was established in 1870 as Camp Ord on the south bank of the east fork of the White River, Arizona, some 150 miles east of Phoenix as the crow flies. Its construction was overseen by Brevet Colonel John Green of the U.S. 1st Cavalry, who explained the location as follows:
“I have selected a site for a military post on the White Mountain River which is the finest I ever saw. The climate is delicious, and said by the Indians to be perfectly healthy, free from all malaria. Excellently well wooded and watered. It seems as though this one corner of Arizona were almost its garden spot, the beauty of its scenery, the fertility of its soil and facilities for irrigation are not surpassed by any place that ever came under my observation. Building material of fine pine timber is available within eight miles of this site. There is also plenty of limestone within a reasonable distance.
“This post would be of the greatest advantage for the following reasons: It would compel the White Mountain Indians to live on their reservation or be driven from their beautiful country which they almost worship. It would stop their traffic in corn with the hostile tribes, they could not plant an acre of ground without our permission as we know every spot of it.
“It would make a good scouting post, being adjacent to hostile bands on either side. Also a good supply depot for Scouting expeditions from other posts, and in fact, I believe, would do more to end the Apache War than anything else.” (from the web site of the Fort Apache Heritage Foundation)
Camp Apache, upgraded to Fort Apache in 1879, was an important base in the long “Apache Wars” fought during the second half of the 19th century and well into the 20th. With the invaluable assistance of volunteer scouts from the largely friendly White Mountain and Cibecue bands of Apache, highly-mobile cavalry units operating out of the outpost played an important role in subduing the hostile Chiricahua band, led most famously by Geronimo. Fort Apache was finally closed and transferred to the Interior Department in 1922, and some of its buildings still stand and are in use today.
There exist other images of Camp Apache (see for example this ca. 1873 gem by Timothy O’Sullivan, as well as here and here), but for its visual appeal and comprehensive overview of the outpost this watercolor is certainly a standout.
A few minor spots, and some neatly-mended edge tears, of which two extend into image.