A Clash of Cultures…Carruthers in the Arizona Indian Wars

Occupied from 1862 to 1894 — this fort was the center of military operations during the Apache War

When the United States acquired the area from Mexico, they inherited a corridor that became nationally prominent as the Southern Overland Mail Road, connecting the eastern U.S. to California. Unfortunately, Apache Pass lay in the heart of Apacheria. Because there was a fairly reliable water source at Apache Springs (at the pass), this location was frequented by the Chiricahua Apache Indians.

Fort Bowie was a military fortification located in the Chiricahua Mountains near Apache Spring in southeastern Arizona. The fort was built following the Battle of Apache Pass. It was created to defend settlers against the increasingly hostile Apaches as well as establish a firm military presence in the area.

The story begins with the turbulent history between local Apache tribes and the United States Army Troops. In 1850, the United States took control of the area that would later be known as the Arizona Territory. Initially, Cochise and his band of Chiricahua-Apaches were not hostile to the encroaching soldiers and settlers. Quite the opposite rather as he would supply firewood and other supplies to those settled in the area.

The creation of Fort Bowie was spurred by two main events. The first was the Bascom Affair, which occurred in 1861 near Apache Pass where on February 5th, 1861, Cochise met with U.S. Army Lt. George N. Bascom near the stage station at Apache Pass in the Chiricahua Mountains. Bascom and an infantry group from Ft. Buchanan were dispatched to resolve the robbery of livestock from a Sonoita ranch and the kidnapping of a young boy that occurred a week earlier. This robbery & kidnapping had actually been committed by the Tonto Apaches.


Upon meeting, Cochise told Bascom that he did not know about the incident. However, doubting Cochise’s story, the leader and his brother and nephews (whom he had brought with him in case of trouble) were imprisoned in a tent onsite. Cochise quickly escaped. A few days later he and other Apaches attacked the encampment and took Americans hostage which he would use as leverage to free his family. Cochise retreated to Mexico killing the hostages along the way. Cochise’s family was subsequently hung a few days later near Apache Pass. This ignitined an all out war with Cochise who at this point, had joined forces with Mangas Colorado’s, his father-in-law, who was also the chief of another group of Apaches.

Cochise Stronghold

Cochise Stronghold is a natural area located within the Dragoon Mountains in southeastern Arizona. The rugged canyon located in the central portion of the range became the fortress and hideout for Chircahua-Apache Chief, Cochise and his band of warriors.

Now comes the sad part. About a decade after Cochise died, Felix Tellez–the boy whose kidnapping had started the war–resurfaced as an Apache-speaking scout for the U.S. Army. He reported that a group of Western Apache, not Cochise, had kidnapped him. 

Felix Telles

Mickey Free was the name given to Felix Telles, who was carried off at age thirteen by an Apache raiding party in 1861. Mickey Free was transformed into an Apache warrior and eventually served as Indian Scout for the U.S. Army. He moved with ease among three cultures and participated in the important events of the Indian Wars in the Southwest. This definitive biography is a major contribution to the Apache Indian War era in Arizona and the Southwest.

In 1862, the Battle of Apache Pass, which was an ambush by Chiricahua-Apache on Union Troops, was the final straw.

With the onset of the Civil War, the U.S. Army was now tasked with not only fending off the attacking Apaches, but also securing the Arizona & New Mexico Territories from spreading groups of Confederate soldiers. In early 1862, 2500 union troops from the California Column stationed in Yuma headed east towards Tucson. After engaging with confederates north of Tucson in the Battle of Picacho Peak (April 15), the troops continued east slowly. After securing the water source at Dragoon Springs, the group continued east towards the Chiricahuas. The next goal was to secure the spring at Apache Pass.

On July 15th 1862, a 100 man detachment pushed east and climbed through Apache Pass. At this point, they were ambushed by 160 Apache Warriors led by Cochise and Mangas. The guerilla style ambush caught the U.S. Army completely off-guard and unprepared, as they were tired from a long days march. Intense fighting ensued. The troops withdrew slightly and regrouped as they prepared their mountain howitzers, or large canons, for an attack. The Union Troops pushed forward, capturing hills around and eventually taking cover in the now abandoned stage station. The howitzer guns, once placed in the right position proved to be a huge advantage. The Apache held their position until nightfall before retreating. The Apaches launched a brief attack the next morning but were quickly turned around by artillery fire. Surprisingly, only 2 Army soldiers were killed. The Apache suffered heavier loses having 66 casualties.

These two pivotal moments pushed Cochise and the Chiricahua-Apaches to transform from a relatively peaceful group, to one hinged on retaliation and vengeance against the encroaching U.S. Army and settlers alike. Numerous hostages and deaths (on both sides) caused the U.S. to build Fort Bowie at this site to protect the spring, and surrounding area from increasing attacks.

Colonel George Washington Bowie

The first Fort Bowie—named for Colonel George Washington Bowie, commander of the regiment that established the fort—was built at Apache Pass in 1862, consisting of a 4-foot high stone wall that was 412 feet long. The wall surrounded tents and a stone guard house. During the next six years, patrols attempted to subdue the Apache, who raided and killed travelers not escorted by the military. Living conditions at the fort were undesirable: isolation, bad food, sickness, crude quarters, and the constant threat of Apaches led to low morale and frequent troop rotation.

Occupied from 1862 to 1894 — this fort was the center of military operations during the Apache War

Construction began on July 28th, 1862. Soldiers from the 5th California Volunteer Infantry were tasked with building the fort. The first camp was built on a small hill that overlooked the spring. The fort was more of a temporary camp and was made up of nothing more than 13 tents and stone defensive positions. The fort was named for the regimental commander, Colonel George W. Bowie.

In 1868, the U.S. Army decided to build a larger, better established fort. This was located about 1000 feet to the southeast, located on an elevated plateau. Adobe buildings, barracks, corrals, a store, and a hospital made up the grounds. A parade ground and flag pole sat at the center of the fort. Additional buildings were constructed over time. In total 38 structures would sit on the property of this truly modern fort.

This brings us to a young man by the name of James Carruthers. James was born c1844 in Annan, Dumfries-shire, Scotland,. His father was Walter Carlyle Carruthers and his mother was Jane Wright Carruthers. James had one brother John who died at the age of 20 and two sisters Helen and Elizabeth.

His family member, who is a Clan Carruthers Armiger Gary Carruthers , asked if I could help him find this young man stateside and gave me what information he had.

Researching this man, who died at such a young age, was a challenging but I was able to locate him and put the pieces together.

According to the 1851 Scotland census he was still living in Scotland with his parents and siblings but shortly after 1861 he has disappeared off of the Scotland census.

James Carruthers in the 1851 Scotland Census

1851 Scotland Census

Name: James Carruthers
Age: 7
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1844
Relationship: Son
Father: Walter Carruthers
Mother: Jane Carruthers
Gender: Male
Where Born: Annan, Dumfries
Parish Number: 841
Civil Parish: Middlebie
Phillimore Ecclesiastical Parish Maps:
View related Ecclesiastical Parish
County: Dumfriesshire
Address: Wallacetown
Occupation: Scholar
ED: 5
Page: 3
Household Schedule Number: 8
Line: 4
Roll: CSSCT1851_209
Household Members:
Name Age
Walter Carruthers 30
Jane Carruthers 33
John Carruthers 9
James Carruthers 7
Helen Carruthers 5
Elizabeth Carruthers 3

Then James shows up on a passenger list aboard the Norwegian:

THE SS Norwegian was commissioned by the William Denny & Co. and was owned by the Allan Line, Liverpool, England. The ship was built in 1861 being the size 280ft x 37.7ft. Unfortunately on June 14, wrecked on St Paul’s Island, no lives lost.

From there his trail goes cold until I locate a document of titled “Actions with Indians 1870”

On this documents it states the following…..

2 June 1870 Copper Canyon, Arizona Detachment 24th Infantry

1 killed

1 Indian killed

Copper Canyon Arizona

The distance between Copper Canyon and Fort Bowie was only a day or two distance apart.

Distance between Copper Canyon and Fort Bowie…

Below is the headstone placed in the cemetery over in Scotland in honor of James Carruthers a long with his family. (Located on Find a Grave (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/196828630/walter-carruthers)


In memory of John son of Walter and Jane Carruthers, Burnfoot, who died 16th August 1863 aged 21 years. Also James their son who was shot by a party of Indians in the state of Arizona, America, while serving in the U S Army on 2nd June 1870 aged 26 years. Also above Walter Carruthers b 20 Jan 1816, d 18 Nov 1898. Also Jane Wright his wife b 17 Mar 1818, d 26 Jul 1889. Elizabeth Carruthers died at Hightae 17th February 1926. Also James Carruthers died there 16th January 1947. Also Thomas Carruthers died there 13th July 1947

As I continue researching Fort Bowie I can’t help but think he was laid to rest in the cemetery like so may others before him. According to the website:

In March 1895, the army moved all the officers, enlisted men, military dependents and unknowns to the National Cemetery in San Francisco. Today, civilian graves are all that remain and include. From the article, it appears that possibly 102 graves were located in this cemetery, including soldiers, Native Americans, children.

Fort Bowie Cemetery







Published by Clan Carruthers Society - USA

We are all passionate about where we came from and where we're going. We set this website/blog up so we can all share our family stories along with the history for future generations.

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