Originally Published: May 16, 2014 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT, Arizona - The Sharlot Hall Museum is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Fort Whipple here with cake and historical re-enactors Saturday.
The fort was officially established at its present location on May 18, 1864. Two weeks later, residents of the area named their new community Prescott.
The fort moved here from Del Rio Springs, where it was first established on Dec. 23, 1863. The territory's first governor, John Goodwin, then arrived at Del Rio with his cabinet on Jan. 22, 1864.
With gold miners clamoring for closer protection in the gold fields of the Bradshaw Mountains, Gov. Goodwin decided to move the fort south 20 miles and establish the territorial capital here.
The fort was named for Major Gen. Amiel Weeks Whipple, who led an 1853 expedition to survey the first transcontinental railroad route to the Pacific Ocean that generally followed Interstate 40 in Arizona. He was killed in the Civil War in 1862.
Approximately 200-300 soldiers were stationed at Fort Whipple during its first few years, Sharlot Hall Museum Chief Curator Mick Woodcock said.
It helped drive the local economy by paying cash for food and supplies.
And it quickly became prominent in the town's social scene, especially when the post commander's wife Fannie Kautz formed the Fort Whipple Theater in 1877, local historian Al Bates wrote in the Sharlot Hall Museum's Days Past articles for The Daily Courier.
Fort Whipple was the headquarters of the Military Department of Arizona from 1870 to 1886, Woodcock said, and a launching pad for attacks against native tribes during the Indian Wars.
Today it's one of only two territorial Arizona fort sites still operated by the federal government, but these days it offers health care to veterans through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Numerous structures from the early 1900s remain on the extensive grounds of the health care center.
Some of the more famous people who were stationed at Fort Whipple include General George Crook, the Buffalo Soldiers, Tom Horn and Achille LaGuardia, father of the late New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
Crook was considered the Army's greatest Indian fighter, using Indian scouts to force the Apache people onto reservations. He commanded the Arizona military efforts in 1871-75 and 1882-86 out of Fort Whipple.
The Buffalo Soldiers were African-American regiments formed in 1866 that got their nickname from the Indians they fought.
Horn was a military scout while at Fort Whipple who later earned fame as a detective, outlaw and assassin throughout the West.
LaGuardia was the bandmaster for the 11th Infantry's band and lived at Fort Whipple from 1892 to 1898. His young son Fiorello lived there too, and when he was the NYC mayor he returned to visit Prescott. LaGuardia's band regularly performed at events on the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza.
The U.S. government was literally closing Fort Whipple when the country declared war on Spain. The fort was quickly reactivated to enlist volunteers for the Spanish-American War, Bates wrote.
Recruits including Prescott's Mayor Buckey O'Neill marched from Fort Whipple to the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza on May 4, 1898 for ceremonies before boarding a train for Texas. Buckey's wife Pauline was the daughter of a fort captain and first met Buckey at a Whipple band concert, Bates said.
Old buildings came down and new ones went up in the early 1900s, Bates wrote. The Army moved out in 1912 when Arizona became a state, but reactivated Whipple as a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1918.
It was transferred to the Public Health Service in 1920 to serve disabled veterans, then in the 1930s it was transferred to the newly created Veterans Administration, wrote Kathy Krause in another Days Past article.
The Sharlot Hall Museum opened its Fort Whipple museum in cooperation with the VA in 2005. It's free and open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder
More like this story
- Fort Whipple reopens to the public
- Fort Whipple: Territorial fort to VA medical complex - Part II
- 'Ordnance: Bullets, Bayonets and Firearms': See territorial guns, historians' presentation at free VA event Saturday
- New museum to preserve vestiges of Whipple's past
- Bullets, bayonets and beyond: Fort Whipple takes a trip back in time for Armed Forces Day