I first saw Fort Cummings while perusing Google Maps on my iPhone and thought I am going to find this old place.
On our first attempt to find Fort Cummings we drove 10 miles of dirt road and found nothing but a middle of the desert picnic spot and a place for Sue to rockhound. The second, successful, attempt involved 10 miles of dirt road driving and a lucky left turn, on a not so good dirt road, at a Y that seemed to go in the right direction. Bingo!
Fort Cummings was built in 1863 to protect a water source called Cookes Spring and to protect Cookes Wagon Road (aka Butterfield Trail ) that runs through Cookes Canyon. Cookes Wagon Road ran from Council Bluff Iowa to San Diego, California. It was built in 1846 by a volunteer Mormon Battalion led by Colonel Philip St. George Cooke. Cookes Peak, Cookes Spring, Cookes Town, Cookes Canyon, and Camp Cookes in Montana and California were all named for Colonel Cooke.
Part of the Cookes Wagon Road was used by John Butterfield and his Overland Mail Company and in fact they built a station here at Cookes Spring and named it Butterfield Station. The Company was a stagecoach service that hauled US Mail, hence this part of Cookes Wagon Road is also known as the Butterfield Trail.
Just before we reached the ruins of Fort Cummings we came to the cemetery. According to the plaque at the cemetery the remains (76 bodies) were exhumed and transferred to the National Cemetery in Leavenworth, Kansas for reburial.
Today, there is not much left of the fort to see. This is what it looked like in 1867. I took this picture from a plaque at the ruins. It’s not very detailed but it gives you an idea. Cookes Peak is in the background.
This part of the road, through Cookes Canyon, was particularly vulnerable to Apache attacks. The fort was abandoned in 1873 when the Indian threat was thought to be over. It was reoccupied and rebuilt in 1880 when Indian attacks renewed. It was abandoned for good in 1886. Again the picture below was taken from a plaque at the ruins, and again Cookes Peak is in the background.
Sue and I spent some time in Cookes Canyon when we were exploring the Fryingpan Canyon Petroglyths. To this day it is a mighty remote area. The Butterfield Trail is still in existence, albeit mostly a 4-wheel drive only dirt road.
It is estimated that over 400 people were killed along the Butterfield Road in Cookes Canyon during these turbulent years. You can still see rock graves along the Butterfield Road going through Cookes Canyon. The picture below was gleaned from DesertUSA.com.
At the bottom of Massacre Peak in Cookes Canyon are the graves of five people killed by Indians on a stagecoach/mail run. The fight is described in a DesertUSA story.
Here are some pictures of the Fort Cummings ruins.
While I was standing there I imagined what it must of been like to live in this cruel environment back in the mid to late 1800’s. Even the rugged soldiers who manned this fort did not dare stray far from its walls. I was standing where they once stood.
Cookes Spring, one of the two main reasons for the fort in the first place, is still there and being used by a local rancher.
They were tough people back then.