CAMP VERDE - Post returns from Camp Lincoln tell the story of a detachment of soldiers left to fend for themselves.
The items mentioned differed with each dispatch, but the plight remained the same. No food, no tobacco, no ammunition, no shoes. Scarcity was the only thing in ready supply.
Remoteness was part of the reason. Fifty miles from Fort Whipple, square in the middle of Indian Country, the small post near the confluence of the Verde River and Beaver Creek was about as far off the beaten track as one could get.
But it was not the challenge of moving supplies from Whipple to Lincoln, so much as it was getting supplies from the Colorado River to Whipple that was the source of want.
The military supply chain throughout Arizona’s Indian wars ran from San Francisco, by ship, south around the tip of the Baja, then back north into the Sea of Cortez and on to the mouth of the Colorado River.
From the Colorado River delta, supplies were taken upstream via flat bottom steamboats to the mining towns of La Paz and Ehrenberg.
No sooner were the supplies loaded into wagons and headed east than the supply chain broke down. Freighters were forced to run a gauntlet of marauding Yavapai, bent on hijacking whatever the wagons had to offer.
According to historian Sidney Brinkerhoff, the Yavapai held such sway over the road that by 1866 they attempted to establish a toll on livestock and goods moving between Prescott and the Colorado.
By summer 1867, the military decided enough was enough. Gen. John Irvin Gregg, commander at Fort Whipple, issued orders to build a new military post on the road from Ehrenberg. He named it Camp McPherson.
Located at the confluence of Date Creek and Cottonwood Creek, equidistant southwest of Whipple as Camp Lincoln was east, it was also at the crossroads of the Prescott-La Paz-Ehrenberg Road and a road that ran southeast to the mining camps at Wickenburg.
They are said to have been the two busiest roads in Northern Arizona in the late 1860s and early 1870s.
Like Camp Lincoln (later Fort Verde), Camp Date Creek, as Camp McPherson’s name was changed to in November 1868, was square in the middle of Indian Country.
Like Fort Verde it moved a few times, eventually settling on a small plateau about 700 yards from the creek, after repeated outbreaks of malaria debilitated troop strength.
Much like Fort Verde, it was in constant want in the early days. But along with the constant battle to procure adequate rations, Camp Date Creek also suffered a shortage of adequate building materials.
Far from the nearest pine tree and saw mill, the soldiers who built the post were forced to use adobe as the primary building material.
The results were nowhere near what Fort Verde enjoyed. The walls weren’t plastered. The roofs were dirt (to begin with). And the few officers’ quarters that had wooden floors had gaping holes. Insects, snakes and rain all had open access.
Gen. George Crook’s aide, Capt. John Bourke, who had seen some sorry installations, described Camp Date Creek as a “sickly and dismal post.”
In spite of the challenges it played not only a key role in the supply chain, but also in the government’s campaign to bring the Indians of Central Arizona to heal.
It is a popularly held notion that the men at Camp Date Creek spent more time prospecting for gold, along with building and rebuilding buildings, than they did putting pressure on the Yavapai.
But post returns and the work of historians Bill Smith and Brinkerhoof, show otherwise. Although chronically understaffed to meet demands and trying to enforce an Indian policy that was often in disarray, the soldiers assigned to Camp Date Creek did their duty with a make-do attitude.
In 1870 it became the site of one of Arizona’s first Indian reservations. And the post also played a role in one of the major events that turned the tide of Arizona’s Indian wars in the military’s favor.
It began on Nov. 5, 1871, when five Anglos were killed after Indians attacked their westbound stage from Wickenburg. Known as the Wickenburg Massacre, the incident galvanized the territory’s white population in calling for a final solution to the Indian problem.
It was into this maelstrom that Gen. Crook assumed command of the Army’s Department of Arizona.
An old Indian fighter, Crook soon hatched a plan to force all Indians onto reservations so as to eliminate the question of who was a cooperative reservation Indian and who wasn’t.
By early 1872 Crook also had enough evidence to pin the Wickenburg murders on 15 or so Indians from the Camp Date Creek reservation.
His first attempt to arrest the murderers, as well as an attempt to force Arizona’s Indians onto reservations, was thwarted when the government attempted a peaceful solution.
By September 1872, the peace process had been declared a failure, and Crook set out once again to arrest the Wickenburg murderers. Even though he was aware there might be an attempt on his life, Crook went to Camp Date Creek and confronted nearly 50 Yavapai warriors.
Mohave scouts working for Crook began handing out tobacco to identify the ones believed guilty of the massacre. Realizing they were being duped, the Yavapai opened fire.
If not for the reactions of Lt. William Ross, Crook would have been shot. Instead the shooter’s gun was pushed aside and the bullet, supposedly, killed another Yavapai.
Within one month, Crook also put his larger plan in motion. Using Indian scouts and Army troops he kept the Yavapai and Apache on the move -- always cold, always hungry, always unsure who their friends were.
By the end of the winter 1872-1873, few bands still roamed free.
On May 1, 1873, 800 Yavapai were lined up at the Camp Date Creek reservation and marched to the Verde Valley, where they were interred at the Rio Verde Reservation.
At its peak Camp Date Creek was nearly as big, if not as fancy, as Fort Verde. It sported 23 buildings, which, like Fort Verde, included officer’s quarters, a hospital, adjutant’s office, bakery, blacksmith shop, storehouses and a suttler’s store.
On Sept. 1, 1873 the last detail abandoned Camp Date Creek.
After decades of vandalism, what remains of the old post was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.Camp Date Creek, A. T. 1867-1873, Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, submitted by Patrick Boles, Prescott District Office, Arizona State Land Department, Aug. 1995
Camp Date Creek, Arizona Territory: Infantry outpost in the Yavapai wars 1867-1873, by Sidney Brinkerhoff, published in Smoke Signals, Fall 1964, The Tucson Corral of the Westerners.
“Lonely, forgotten grave belies captain’s heroism,” by Bill Smith, Prescott Courier, June 11, 1990
Post Returns-Camp Date Creek, A.T., in files at Fort Verde State Historical Park, transcript of microfilm FV-78-25-28
“Establishing frontier post was a lumbering process,” by James Cook, Arizona Republic, Jan. 19, 1992
Letter dated Sept. 15, 1992 from Brian Kenny, Environmental and cultural resources manger Arizona Land Department to Charles Hastings, Yavapai County Attorney, Re: Camp Date Creek vandalism case of Sept. 13, 1992
Letter dated Oct. 1, 1991 from Bill W. Smith to Brian Kenny, Environmental and cultural resources manger Arizona Land Department
Letter dated Oct. 10, 1991 from Brian Kenny, Environmental and cultural resources manger Arizona Land Department to Bill W. Smith
“A clarion call to action at Camp Date Creek, Arizona: State Land Department prepares nomination for state and national registers of historic places” by Brian Kenny, Environmental and cultural resources manger, Arizona State land Department, not dated.