Who was the McDowell in Fort McDowell?
Excerpt from Valley 101: A Slightly Skewed Guide to Living in Arizona, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published June 10, 2001.)
Q: Who was the McDowell in Fort McDowell?
A: This is an excellent question because it has nothing to do, at least not directly, with Jack Swilling or Darrell Duppa, two worthies of whom we are thoroughly sick and tired.
Fort McDowell was founded in 1865 at the juncture of Sycamore Creek and the Verde River by five companies of the army’s California Volunteers. It was near several Indian trails and convenient for expeditions against the Yavapai and Tonto Apache, who were tearing up the pea patch at the time.
It was named for Gen. Irvin McDowell, the commanding officer of the Department of California and New Mexico. He held this post because it was about as far away from the Civil War as his superiors could put him.
Born in Ohio in 1818, McDowell was a West Point graduate and a veteran of the Mexican War. He was a skilled administrator but a remarkable failure in the field. It was McDowell who commanded the Union army at the first battle of Bull Run, where he proved to be one very sorry pooch indeed. Demoted to a division command, he returned for the second battle of Bull Run. In the debacle that followed, he was especially singled out for remarkable ineptitude. Although an official inquiry later cleared him, it was the end of his career as a field commander, and he was shipped West. He died in San Francisco in 1882.
Fort McDowell was abandoned in 1881 and became the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation in 1890.
As a military post, it was not a choice assignment. Historian Marshall Trimble [and Arizona Oddities contributor!] quotes this lament from one officer posted there:
“Four years I have sat here and looked at the Four Peaks, and I’m getting almighty tired of it.”
In Don Dedera’s book, “Arizona Place Names” (University of Arizona Press, 1960), he says of Camp McDowell: “The camp was named for Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell, who had been decorated for his services at the battle of Buena Vista, Mexico, and had been appointed major general on March 18, 1865, for his services at Cedar Mountain, Virginia.”
The camp became Fort McDowell in 1867.
My intent is not to quibble about McDowell’s rank, only to point out that perhaps he was not a complete incompetent. I suppose I’d rather think that we have a major (no pun intended) landmark that memorializes someone who was at least a little bit respectable rather than otherwise. 😉
It’s very likely that McDowell’s success in the Mexican war was based on strategy that was out dated by the time of the Civil war. Some officers never learn to adapt, like the French in WWI who were using strategy from the 1840s and lost 70,000 men in a single battle because they couldn’t adapt to the new machinegun era.
Just curious, not to sound rude, but do you have any sources for this information that could possibly be verified? Thanks 🙂
General McDowell was a cousin of my maternal grandfather’s mother’s father. Great-grandmother was Mary McDowell of Ames, Iowa born in Ohio, sister to Ed McDowell who was a founding father of Crawford, Nebraska. He arrived to that area as young man seeking his fortune by gathering buffalo bones at the grand price of $7.50 after a long day’s work and turning that beginning into a grand ranch where Robert Taylor was a guest many times to hunt pheasants when gramps cousin “Harold” ran it, which now raises long horns. Grazing rights to Fort Robinson were forever in the family.
General McDowell is buried at the Presidio in San Francisco in a beautifully marked grave which my great Aunt’s husband Major Wm. Pounds, army retired, always drove by and tipped his beret when we went to the commissary there. He and Aunt Buena lived in San Carlos with Commodore Handsome Harold Gillisipe and his wife Edith across the street providing me many good times aboard the flag ship Lurline of the Manson fleet.
I agree with that darn cat’s comment that McDowell was trained up in another time. His strength was in management not in leadership under fire. We had Grant to accomplish that in Aces. My gramps had five boys in the army, all excelled and came home, Cliff was an army engineer from Africa to Berlin. Bob was a nose gunner on 32 missions, Earl was QM Pacific from A to Z, Ed was SM training gunners, and Chuck was in Germany at end of the war. The first three boys were national guard and off they went at the first call.
I meant to add that the McDowell clan came to upper state New York as scottish soldiers during the Indian Wars, had a revolutionary general, family moved to Pa. where the brothers split, some to Ohio and some to SW North Carolina, with Shooting John McDowell helping establish McDowell county. McDowells still there. The Ohioans moved on to Illinois, then to Ames, Iowa. That is when Ed went to Nebraska and Mary married Wm. Finch from Boone, Iowa and his job as a conductor/engineer for the Chicago Northwestern RR brought them to Clinton, Iowa near the turn of the century. RW