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Published: March 26th 2018
COOKE'S SPRING WELL-RESIZEDCOOKE’S SPRING
This is the well house that the railroad built to restore the spring, but they had already depleted the aquifer to a point that artesian flow has not returned.
Southwestern Indians passing through the area have been using the water at Cooke’s Spring for thousands of years. It was then, and still is a reliable source of water year around. The spring was not on the El Camino Real when the Spanish came to New Mexico, but Governor de Anza knew of it in 1780 and his soldiers used it to chase around after Indians who had been marauding Spanish settlements. Finally in 1846 Colonel Phillip St George Cooke, in command of the Mormon Battalion, came upon the spring by accident and the Mormons planted their flag on it. It has been known to White America as Cooke’s Spring ever since. The Mormon Battalion was tasked with building a road between Santa Fe and California that did not follow the difficult Gila River route taken by General Stephen Watts Kearny on his way to San Diego. When the Mormons found that spring they were lost, of course, and really had no idea how to proceed on to California from there. The route they chose took them down through Northern Mexico through San Bernadino Springs and then up the San Pedro River. They were still hopelessly lost, but
FORT CUMMINGS SUTLER-RESIZED
A few adobe and rock walls are all that remain of Fort Cummings. These walls housed the sutler stores.
they followed the San Pedro up to the Gila and found Kearny’s trail below the most difficult part of its terrain. They then followed Kearney’s route clear to San Diego, but they have always been fond of claiming the route as their own because they did sort of lay out a road along the way. It was such a miserable attempt at road building that the Mormons really ought to be ashamed of it, but instead they are filled with pride by it because the Southern Pacific mainline and the Interstate Highway System ran roughly parallel to parts of that route for short distances. The Butterfield Overland Mail route went through Cooke’s Spring when it was built in 1857. The Butterfield Trail as it came to be known was the main thoroughfare for commerce and immigration until the railroad was completed. White settlement in the area began to surge in 1860 because of mining activity at Pinos Altos. The Apache saw white settlement as an encroachment because that is exactly what it was. Hostilities broke out in earnest between the whites and the Apache in 1861. Some historians fondly point to the unfortunate Bascom Affair in February of 1861 as
FREEMAN THOMAS FIGHT-RESIZED
The head of Cooke's Canyon is visible just to the west of the fort. Freeman Thomas led the last westbound mail run to leave Mesilla in the summer of 1861. His party was massacred in the canyon, but they put up a valiant fight.
the cause of it, but that is more of an excuse than a cause. The real cause for the hostilities is that the two cultures were bound to clash anyway. The Apache had been raiding in Mexico for a hundred years or so. The Governor of Sonora had granted the Apache concessions to stop raiding and that made the whites in Arizona more of a target. White settlers were targets before 1861 but the raids usually left the settler with enough of his livestock and garden produce to keep going until it was time for another raid. After the army left Arizona to go fight the Civil War hostilities naturally increased. Mangas Coloradas was pissed off at the miners, and Cochise was pissed off at the army, but the army had disappeared, so the white settlers bore the brunt of hostilities. The Apache were adept raiders because Spanish missionaries never reached them with farming or animal husbandry skills. Fighting and stealing provided the Apache with sustenance that could not be attained through hunting and gathering. In any event after the Bascom Affair dander was up among the Apache and white settlers paid a gruesome toll. After the army left the
One of the first things the soldiers did was go police up all of the human remains in Cooke's Canyon. They were buried in a single mass grave.
unprotected local farmers had no market for their produce so they packed up their kids and household goods, abandoned their crops and fled like scalded dogs first to Tubac, where they came under attack from both Apaches and Mexican bandits, and then to Tucson where they could find nothing much to eat. From Tucson they made way to the east because of Apache raids to the west.
A narrow rocky canyon, oddly enough called Cooke’s Canyon, just west of Cooke’s Spring provided a wonderful site for ambush. A great many white travelers were murdered and robbed there. In 1862 the Confederates were driven out of New Mexico and in 1863 Arizona became a separate territory under the protection of soldiers from California. To protect the mail route and travelers the army built a little place called Fort Cummings at Cooke’s Spring in 1863. It remained in service intermittently for about 25 years before being abandoned permanently to the dust and coyotes. When the railroad busted through a few miles to the south in 1883 water from Cooke’s Spring was used to supply the steam locomotives. Those locomotives used so much water that the spring was seriously depleted. There was
The Mormon Battalion planted their flag here in 1846
barely enough water left for use by the army. The railroad attempted to restore flow by building a covered well house over the spring, but they continued to drain the aquifer. The spring now supports a few wandering cattle that survive on creosote.
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