Fort Lowell remembers 150 years from multiple perspectives

click to enlarge Fort Lowell remembers 150 years from multiple perspectives
(Amy Hartmann-Gordon/Submitted)
Fort Lowell Old Brass Band is expected to perform at Fort Lowell at 150 on Saturday, March 18.

Whether for military, farming or settlement, Tucson has been a central stomping ground with places like Fort Lowell for years.

Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum executive director Amy Hartmann-Gordon points to the Rillito and Tanque Verde rivers. History shows water brings people together.

“This is a cultural resource right in the middle of Tucson,” Hartmann-Gordon noted. “It’s a valley where there have been people for thousands of years. We have this incredible confluence of cultures all in one place.”

The museum will host Fort Lowell’s 150th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, March 18. The family-friendly event will feature activities, reenactments and lectures on fort grounds, educating the public on the rich, diverse history of the Tucson area.

“Fort Lowell at 150: Looking at Our Regional History” is a mission to teach multiple perspectives of Southern Arizona history. While focusing on the military history of the fort, the Presidio Museum will address Indigenous and migrant interactions.

“This organization is not here to celebrate conquest or colonialism,” Hartmann-Gordon said. “It’s important we talk about history from the point of view of different cultures and different backgrounds.”

The event will examine early peoples like the Hohokam and their cultural traditions, engaging families in games and crafts of the period. They will safely experiment with handmade drills and tools like the atlatl, a spear slingshot used for hunting.

Fort Lowell will also feature educated reenactors who are passionate about its history. Rarely open to the public, the hospital ruins will open for guided tours, and actual doctors will discuss medical practices from that time period. Additionally, bands are scheduled to perform throughout the day.

“We want to provide quality programming that’s educational and also respectful,” Hartmann-Gordon said. “That’s essentially why we were asked by the city to come run Fort Lowell. It’s because of our approach.”

The Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum opened in 2007 on the bones of the original Spanish Presidio of 1775. Located in the heart of Tucson, the museum took over Fort Lowell operations last year, allowing the Arizona Historical Society to back out and refocus its resources.

The fort was built in 1873 as a response to the Apache Wars. The city of Tucson acquired the land in the 2000s, and a master plan was initiated to restore the area. However, like many historic buildings, Fort Lowell needed drastic repair.

“The city and the county are working hard to take care of what’s there and repair it, activating the whole area into something that will be recognized for its history,” Hartmann-Gordon said.

The director noted Tucson Councilman Paul Cunningham was a major advocate for its reconstruction. In 2018, the city enacted Proposition 407, which increased funding for park improvements. Fort Lowell Park was included in that jurisdiction, and Cunningham is scheduled to speak during the celebration.

It’s the museum’s task to tell the whole story of Fort Lowell. This includes the military, but also the Apache and regional tribes, Mexican ranchers, Mormon settlers, Anglo colonizers and Buffalo Soldiers that inhabited the area.

It’s a goal to provide the bigger picture, and it can be messy.

“The big challenge is to speak frankly about the conflict between the Apache and the Anglo settlers,” Hartmann-Gordon said. “For the Apache, this is a difficult story. We’re working hard to have their voices involved in the demonstrations and the exhibits.”

Prior to the Fort Lowell event, the museum enlisted the help of tribes like the Tohono O’odham Nation to provide authentic historical preservation in other projects. While many members of the Apache community no longer inhabit the area, the museum will reach out to the nations of northern Arizona.

The Apache Wars were brutal conflicts over land and sacred territory. Hundreds of Apache were murdered or displaced by the American government as a result. The director spoke about the conflict and explained Presidio Museum’s communal approach to that history.

“Teaching people about the things that happened in the past, which are sometimes ugly is important so that we can move forward in a way that’s more community-based,” Hartmann-Gordon said.

The Presidio Museum engages the public to not only examine multiple perspectives but use the past to move forward. According to the director, they try to represent history in a way that gives people a sense of time and place. It helps participants see how they fit into the bigger picture.

The Fort Lowell anniversary will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 18. With a suggested donation, the event will teach participants the communal history of the fort and Tucson.

“Allowing a community space for people to come together is really important,” Hartmann-Gordon noted. “In this day and age, we have a lot of challenges with how to communicate with each other. I think these events are really helpful with that.”

Fort Lowell at 150: A Look at Our Regional History

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 18

WHERE: Fort Lowell Museum 2900 N. Craycroft Road, Tucson

COST: $5 suggested donation


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