Rim Country Places

Chapter 10: Crook Military Road


Crook’s Road enabled cavalry units from several posts to converge and chase renegade Apaches a mile north to Clear Creek, where ensued the Battle of Big Dry Wash. This monument on the spot lists the soldiers and scouts who participated in the battle. Each mile was marked on the trail from Camp Verde to Camp Apache by the soldiers under General George Crook.

Crook’s Road enabled cavalry units from several posts to converge and chase renegade Apaches a mile north to Clear Creek, where ensued the Battle of Big Dry Wash. This monument on the spot lists the soldiers and scouts who participated in the battle. Each mile was marked on the trail from Camp Verde to Camp Apache by the soldiers under General George Crook.

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A bold move had to be taken by the United States Army in 1871 to curb Apache raids on white settlements and ranches. A plan was devised to literally eliminate the Native Americans from Tonto Basin and the Rim Country.

To achieve this, a seasoned infantry lieutenant, George Crook, was given command of the Military Department of Arizona. [1] He gave his attention first of all to getting the Army into Tonto Basin, where the Apaches had held a stronghold for generations. He looked north from Fort McDowell on the lower Verde River and realized that for success he would have to cut the Apaches off on the uplands of the Mogollon Rim. This would enable the Army to encircle Apacheland, with Fort McDowell on the south, Forts Whipple and Verde on the west, and Fort Apache on the east.

He quickly speculated that to do this he needed a road across the Rim connecting Forts Whipple and Verde with Fort Apache, for the quicker movement of men and supplies. The old wagon road for this purpose went north from Fort Apache to Corydon Cooley’s Rim-top ranch (later to become the town of Show Low). From there it continued north to Horsehead Crossing on the Little Colorado River (later called Holbrook), and then followed the old road pioneered by Francisco Chavez in 1864 into the Verde Valley. [2] A road directly across the Rim would save more than 100 miles and many days travel time.

photo

Stan Brown photo

Crook’s Road enabled cavalry units from several posts to converge and chase renegade Apaches a mile north to Clear Creek, where ensued the Battle of Big Dry Wash. This monument on the spot lists the soldiers and scouts who participated in the battle. Each mile was marked on the trail from Camp Verde to Camp Apache by the soldiers under General George Crook.

photo

Stan Brown photo

Crook almost immediately led a survey expedition from Fort Apache. He wrote in his autobiography, “We left Ft. Verde about the end of August, without a guide, being assured that there was a plain trail all the way; which I soon found out to be pretty much a delusion. Our route lay along the summit of the Mogollon Mountains.” [2]

Anyone who has traveled north from the edge of the Rim knows that the only reasonable route from east to west is to stay close to the edge. This is the southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau and its sedimentary layers have been eroded to form impassable limestone and sandstone canyons. Another plus for this route on the edge: it had numerous sinkholes and springs, providing the most vital element for a traveling army — water. 

A frightening episode occurred for Crook and his party, right at the point where the East Verde River Canyon begins.  This spot also has a relatively easy ascent from the south, and this is where Pueblo Indians from the north would come and meet Apaches to trade blankets and later guns. Crook’s righthand man, John G. Bourke, records how suddenly arrows were whizzing all around them, so powerful they were buried up to their feathers in nearby pine trees. [3] The soldiers leaped from their horses and took refuge behind the trees, firing their guns at the attackers. The Apaches melted into the forest, though several were trapped between the soldiers and the edge of the Rim. To the amazement of the surveyors, the Indians leaped over the edge, but upon looking over to see their demise the soldiers saw them scrambling down the steep canyon walls, making their escape.

When Crook led his men inland a short distance to seek out other attackers, they discovered a swampy area and a spring, later to be recognized as the headwater of the East Verde River. This spot with several springs and a meadow obviously would make an excellent campsite for traveling armies, and it later became known as General’s Springs.

By the time they reached Fort Whipple it had become clear that the route for this road across the Rim was feasible and Crook ordered the construction to begin. One party began forging the wagon road eastward from Fort Whipple at Prescott to Fort Verde in the Verde River valley. The work on the Rim had to wait for the winter snow to come and go, but then began in April of 1872. One construction crew worked west from Fort Apache, while another worked east from Fort Verde. The plan was to meet half way at Deadshot Canyon. Today this is the border between the Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

Friendly White Mountain Apaches who acted as guides and two local mountain men, Corydon E. Cooley and Henry Wood Dodd, who surveyed and supervised the road building, aided the workmen from Fort Apache. Seasoned Army scouts, Al Sieber and Wales Arnold, as well as Indian scouts and Army troops, helped the crew from the west.

The men working on the road were young soldiers, mostly European immigrants who had taken the opportunity to become American citizens by way of Army service. The work continued during the summers of 1873 and 1874, widening the road with hand tools so it could accommodate wagons drawn by horses or mules. It must have been a fearful experience for these workers, knowing they were in the heart of Apache territory, even though guarded by the infantry. The soldiers marked each mile from Camp Verde by blazing a “V” standing for “Verde,” and a number, representing the number of miles from that fort. Placing something, like a rag, on the spoke of a wagon wheel and counting its rotations counted the miles. Obviously, this was not the most accurate way to count. The blaze was put on both sides of a large tree, or chiseled into an adjacent rock. [4]

By the summer of 1873 supplies from Fort Whipple were being carried on the unfinished road to Fort Apache. In late September 1874, the first wagon train crossed the road, and in that train was Captain John W. Summerhayes and his New England bride, Martha. It was along this road that she lost her good china when one wagon, mules and all, went over the side of the Rim. She writes of this journey in her well-written book, “Vanished Arizona.” [5] 

It was during the building of the road that Crook was promoted to Brigadier General in October 1873. The war became fiercer, but the Crook Military Road played a significant role in placing a pincers on Apaches in the Rim Country and Tonto Basin. This military advantage was supremely tested in July 1882, with the famous Battle of Big Dry Wash. Troops from south, east and north converged just north of the Crook Trail to defeat the band of 100 Apaches who had bolted from the White Mountain and San Carlos Reservations and left a trail of blood across the territory.

In 1928 the outmoded Crook Trail became Forest Road 300, with various deviations from the original along the way. Today it serves as one of Arizona’s premier sightseeing roads. Well maintained and a joy for all who drive its Mogollon Rim section between state highways 87, on the west, and 260, on the east. Stories from the Crook Trail of people, murders and broken dreams are numerous and written deep in Arizona lore. [6]

[1] Crook turned 43 years old soon after arriving in Arizona. He graduated from the military academy in 1852, had fought Indian wars in Oregon and commanded the Military Department of the Columbia in Idaho.

[2] Chavez was a member of the New Mexico Volunteers who escorted the newly appointed Arizona officials from Santa Fe to what later became Prescott.

[3] “On The Border With Crook” by John G. Bourke, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Bison Book printing, September 1971 page 141

[4] The only existing tree blaze can be seen at the Rim Country Museum in Payson – V32. It was rescued from a downed tree by Eldon Bowman, who was the first in recent times to retrace the Crook Trail and place metal chevrons as trail markers high on the newer trees.

[5] University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Bison Book 1979

[6] See author Stan Brown’s Rim Review series on murders, as well as his book “The Tale of Two Rivers” obtainable at the Rim Country Museum.  

NEXT: Diamond Point

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