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White Mountain Apaches Share Their Rich Heritage

By John Rose
5/16/2018 • Wild West Magazine

Nohwike´ Bágowa houses tribal artifacts.

“I have selected a site for a military post on the White Mountain River, which is the finest I ever saw,” said Major John Green. “The climate is delicious, and said by the Indians to be perfectly healthy, free from all malaria.” Construction began in May 1870 on the post, first called Camp Ord, then Camp Mogollon, Camp Thomas and Camp Apache before being designated Fort Apache in 1879. The Army abandoned Fort Apache in 1922, and nearly a half-century later, in 1969, the White Mountain Apaches established a cultural center and museum (called Nohwike´ Bágowa, or “House of Our Footprints”) in the fort’s oldest building, a log cabin.

The museum moved in 1976 to the enlisted men’s barracks, but that building burned down in 1985. Some of the collection was salvaged, and the staff solicited more donations. The shell of a modern museum structure was built in 1986, and the interior was finished in 1997. The Apache Cultural Center and Museum, in Fort Apache Historic Park, now houses the tribe’s growing archival collection, including photography, manuscripts, publications and artifacts. The museum shop offers a wide selection of Apache artwork (basketry, beadwork, etc.), books and mementos. The stated mission for Nohwike´ Bágowa is “to foster an appreciation for the history and cultural traditions of the White Mountain Apache, within the reservation community and beyond, through exhibits and educational programs.” The reservation consists of 1.67 million acres (more than 2,600 square miles) in east-central Arizona, with more than 400 miles of streams. Elevations range from a high of 11,400 feet at Mount Baldy, a sacred Apache peak, to 2,600 feet in the Salt River Canyon.

“It [Nohwike´ Bágowa] creates an opportunity for the White Mountain Apache, really for the first time, to tell their own story,” said Karl Hoerig, director of the facility. “It’s an opportunity to do this from the tribal perspective. We really strive to do that, and I think we are creating a place where White Mountain Apache people can come to engage with an important part of their heritage that they might otherwise not have.”

After the Army left in the early 1920s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) took over Fort Apache and established the Theodore Roosevelt Indian Boarding School. In early 2007, after the White Mountain Apaches achieved a Supreme Court victory, the Apache Heritage Foundation took over management of most of the 27 buildings from the BIA (except for three buildings still being used by Roosevelt School students). The tribe has since worked at stabilizing and renovating the buildings, and the White Mountain Apaches welcome visitors to share the story of their past and their hopes for the future.

Visitors can take self-guided tours of the 288-acre National Register Historic District (which includes the 27 surviving Fort Apache buildings). The Fort Apache Historic Park is open daily from 7 a.m. to sunset. The museum is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday during the winter (October-April) and summer (May-September). During the summer, the museum is also open on Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission to the museum and park is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors (64-plus) and students, free for children under 7. Admission to the park after-hours and on holidays is $5 per vehicle per day. For more information, call the 24-hour information line (928-338-4525), the museum (928-338-4625) or the White Mountain Apache Office of Tourism (928-338- 1230). Also, take a look at the Nohwike´ Bágowa Web site at www.wmat.us/wmaculture. shtml.

 

Originally published in the February 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here

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