The Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood

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FORT LOWELL COMMUNITY HISTORY PROJECT
Final Report to
THE ARIZONA HUMANITIES COUNCIL
by Edward H. Spicer, Project Manager

PART I
MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

The Fort Lowell Community History Project accomplished primarily two things: (1) It developed a more humanistic framework than had existed for understanding Fort Lowell history and (2) It employed that expanded concept to awaken interest in the area's history on the part of historians and of residents. In somewhat different words, the project has brought about a new kind of integration of historical knowledge of the area and made this functional in the understanding of historians and in the lives of people who are continuing to make history in the area by living in it.

What is Meant by a "More Humanistic Framework"?

The approach to the history of the Fort Lowell area had been dominated by a concern with military matters and the history and preservation of buildings connected with the Fort. Research and publication, museum display and interpretation to the public, and the Arizona Heritage Center's program of development were very naturally focused on the military occupation because of the great prominence of the physical remains of and the relative abundance of documents dealing with the military installation. A vigorous public interest in things military also played an important part in this emphasis. Only very recently had this approach been supplemented with concern for the pre-historic remains which also occur in the area. The excavation of a Hohokam pithouse site in 1978 gave a more comprehensive glimpse of settlement in the area and opened the way to a view of the military post in perspective as one phase in a long development of human history before and after, as well as during, the Fort period.

As we gathered information from living people and other sources, it became apparent that the Fort was a brief episode in a fascinating story of human activities. For example, one community that had existed in and around the ruins of the Fort for more than half a century was entirely unknown to historians; this was the Mexican village to which the inhabitants had given the name El Fuerte. We had glimpses of this community through talks with living people before the project began, but the project enabled us to explore in some detail the story of this Settlement --- through the memories of present and former residents. As our explorations broadened and deepened, the existence of a succession of human communities became more and more clear. We began to gain an appreciation of the history of the area not only in terms of ruined and remodeled buildings, but also in terms of struggling, incoming immigrants from various places and their successes and failures in gaining --- and in losing --- footholds in the area. In other words, the people of Fort Lowell and its environs began to emerge from our notes and interviews and with that a deeper appreciation of the place as a human habitat through time.

It also became apparent that the military post had been placed where it was for the same reason that the Hohokam people a thousand years before, the ranchers a generation before the Fort was built, the Fuertenos who made homes out of abandoned Fort buildings, and others had all come to this place. The Fort was placed here because there was land on which hay could be raised for horses and vegetables and grain for soldiers to eat. The basis for settlement had always been through the centuries an exceptional water supply in the midst of the Arizona desert. We discovered what specialists in the subject of hydrology had known for years, but had buried in their specialized reports, namely, that a special geologic structure underlying the area, coupled with a convergence of two major desert waterways, had produced an unfailing water supply. In short, our information-gathering had led to the understanding of the area in terms of a long-continued process of human adaptation --- by people of widely varying cultural backgrounds making use of the same relatively constant set of natural resources.

It is this perspective that we refer to when we speak of a humanistic framework for appreciating the nature of the Fort Lowell area. It has involved the seeing of that visibly prominent old landmark --- the Army's military post of Fort Lowell --- as one part of a much larger whole. Historical, ecological, and anthropological viewpoints applied to the facts about the area had made it possible to relate Fort Lowell history to broader cultural and historical patterns and processes in Arizona and elsewhere.

How the Expanded Concept was Used to Make Others Aware of It.

In brief, we carried out a demonstration of the viewpoint that we had developed. This demonstration focused in a one-day celebration, a gathering of people. We chose a place for this which was separate from the Fort buildings. Many celebrations through the years had been set in Fort Lowell Park surrounding the ruins and reconstructions and had thus emphasized the military post as the historical focus. We believed that the broader appreciation of the area would be furthered by choosing another place which had historical significance, but was distinct from the military post. The place that seemed to fill this bill was the old abandoned Chapel of San Pedro, once the center of the El Fuerte community. It is a half mile west of the Fort and therefore in a quite distinct location from all the many previous historical celebrations around the Fort itself.

We invited all the former residents with whom we had become acquainted for a reunion with relatives and friends still living in the district. The present residents decorated the chapel, acted as hosts, and attended Mass together in the chapel for the first time in 35 years. San Pedro Chapel thus became functional again for the old congregation. For a day relationships were renewed, while Mariachis provided music, and food and drink were served. Talk among the old and current residents took the form of reminiscence and tracking of lost connections; it became in a sense a vigorous living of history as the old links were renewed.

The morning of renewal at the chapel was one part of the celebration of history; the other part embraced the whole area and consisted of a "tour," a self-guided walk to selected places of historical interest. Terry Turner prepared a booklet --- what was essentially an annotated picture album, composed of paintings, old snapshots that resident families had supplied, and photos gleaned from Fort and other archives. We called this The People of Fort Lowell and keyed it into the tour, so that those who wished to could look at old pictures simultaneously as they renewed acquaintance with places that once or currently figured in their lives. The album was prepared primarily with the former and present residents in mind as a means of additional renewal, along with the ceremony at the chapel. But hundreds of people came from elsewhere in Tucson, from the downtown Historic Districts and elsewhere --- people interested in Arizona history generally or with special interests in this neighborhood. The pictures and text apparently were as interesting to most of them as to the locally-connected persons. Thus the booklet was an important artifact, along with the San Pedro Chapel, for demonstrating the expanded conception of Fort Lowell history.

The tour was arranged like a stratigraphic sequence, but one that people walked through rather than studied as a diagram on a museum wall. It began with the reconstructed riparian woodland along the Rillito in Fort Lowell Park, moved through the Hohokam pithouses, past the ranches preceding the Fort, toured the Fort and its associated buildings, entered the El Callejon remnant of El Fuerte, took people to the banks of the 100-year-old still-flowing Corbett irrigation ditch with its surviving segment of the mesquite bosque which once covered the whole area, to the old El Fuerte school and chapel, and finally to a house being reconstructed (typically) by a university professor fascinated with building with adobes --- the whole gamut, in short, of Fort Lowell area history in a mile-and-a-half walk on a Saturday afternoon.

At each site there were individuals full of information and enthusiasm for the places which they explained to the walkers, if the walkers cared to listen. The fundamental idea was to provide a chance to experience, not merely to hear about, and when listening to be in, the actual place. The explainers of sites were persons long familiar with them but who also had been briefed by us as the project proceeded during the previous six months and who had at hand the booklet, The People of Fort Lowell, as did each o the visitors.

The "demonstration" was thus a full day of experiencing the history of Fort Lowell as a succession of human communities attracted to the unique water supply at the confluence of the Tanque Verde and Pantano washes where the Rillito takes its origin. Many of the people who had built there were in the crowd of walkers, others were to be seen in snapshots extending back to the 1870s and in paintings interpreting the earlier human settlers. All along the route were also the remains and the remodeled buildings in which the people had lived or were continuing to live. The demonstration was many-sided --- in spoken words, in pictures, in maps, in direct experience of the persisting human remains, in written words, and in contacts with some of the people who had made the history.

PART II
HOW WE WORKED AND WHAT WAS PRODUCED

Gathering the Historical Information.

The whole project depended on the examination of, and a fresh look at, the historical information on the Fort Lowell area. We knew of documents and photographs concerning the Fort in the files of the Arizona Historical Society and of theses in the University of Arizona Library, as well as of the few publications on the Fort. We had learned of two or three collections of photographs and newspaper clippings made by residents of the area, and shortly before the project began Peggy Sackheim and the Spicers had carried out some exploratory interviews with residents and neighbors of the area. A cursory look at the information available had revealed the heavy bias regarding the military history and also emphasized that there was much to learn that had not been recorded at all concerning the other communities in the area.

We formulated a tentative chronological scheme outlining human settlement from the earliest Hohokam period to the latest phase of history-conscious settlers in the Historic Districts. Terry Turner undertook the task of filling out and checking this scheme. She combed documents and map collections prepared by hydrologists, biologists, historians, and others and established a documentary chronology, as she copied materials and took many pages of notes. This resulted in a file drawer of basic, chronologically arranged information. Terry supplemented this with oral history, seeking information on the undocumented historical phases, making "family interviews" for this purpose. These interviews, with a few exceptions, were not tape-recorded. They were handled as open-ended discussions frequently with several members of a family present, on which subsequently notes were made on what was said. This was the traditional anthropological field technique which sought to gain maximum direction from the people interviewed, rather than the interviewer. The focus was on gathering information in detail about houses and land use, accounts of community celebrations and other activities, and spontaneously expressed value orientations.

The family interviews in most cases led to another kind of documentation, namely, snapshots taken over many years and other treasured family pictures. This became a major feature of the information gathering and resulted in the building of a file of some 300 photographs arid copies of photographs of the neighborhood at different times, including people, buildings, and artifacts. The families became much interested in going over the photos, identifying individuals and repeating anecdotes about family and community life. The snapshots stimulated information that would not have been thought of without them, and constituted a very solid sort of documentation. This kind of material in our files was heavily weighted on the side of life in the El Fuerte community immediately following the abandonment of the Fort --- 1891-1946.

The field worker was strongly oriented toward stimulating the maximum participation of the people concerned, so that in most cases the gathering of information became something of a family enterprise. Several families became very active in this manner, and an interest in history was stimulated in them that extended beyond the duration of the project. This interest was in part stimulated by the expectation of the celebration of El Fuerte history in which the information was to be used. There was also some visiting of sites known to family members where events of interest in the past had taken place and where new pictures were taken which became part of the project files.

Besides the several family collections of materials, we discovered an extensive set of field notes made in the 1940s by Shirley Deshon, a former graduate student in the University of Arizona Anthropology Department and now First Lady of the Channel Island of Guernsey. These notes deal chiefly with former residents of El Fuerte; they have become part of the general file of notes established as a result of the work of the project.

The gathering of information thus served several purposes: (1) it stimulated an interest on the part of residents, former and present, leading them to participate in the gathering and preserving of historical data, (2) It resulted in establishing a permanent collection of historical information on the Fort Lowell area centralized in one location, and (3) It led to a new, broader, and more people-oriented understanding of the history of Fort Lowell, as described above.

Preparing the Booklet.

We began the project with the idea that the results of pulling together the historical information should be embodied in a substantial summary --- much text, few if any pictures, the sort of thing often done in local history and abundant on library shelves. We worked during the early months with several different detailed outlines, as information accumulated and Terry became master of it. We were thinking in orthodox academic terms which, we began to feel, were not really consistent with the project as it was developing.

In the first place, the standard academic-type text would have no really functional role in the sort of celebration of history which we had written into the proposal and for which we were slowly getting a better and better feel. Furthermore, the kind of full, well-documented account of all the five phases of Fort Lowell history would require more time than was included in our approved proposal. The accumulation of information proceeded rapidly during the first five months and soon had reached the point at which putting it into the sort of form we first conceived would have required perhaps another year of writing, if it were to be properly handled according to the academic historian's model. We steadily realized that our original proposal had implied a different kind of use of the information, namely, as an aid to the community's appreciation of its own history, the community in this case being understood to be the people of the local area (past and present) and the larger community of general public, historians, and other scholars of southern Arizona.

Even if a well-documented, conventional sort of history could have been written in the time available, it would not serve the purpose, we decided, of inducting this community into a new and deeper appreciation of their history. What was needed, it more and more appeared to us, was some kind of an easily looked-at and referred-to brief account of highlights of Fort Lowell history. We were slow in abandoning the original idea, and Terry made several summaries of each of the historical phases as a basis for that sort of document. These now are part of the general collection of information in the file. They were too cumbersome, however, to be used as what Terry finally produced for historical demonstration purposes.

The People of Fort Lowell was thus the product of a slow evolution of ideas about what was needed. Its basic feature is that it is keyed into a self-guided "tour" of historic sites within the Fort Lowell area which became the second part of the history celebration. A careful selection of sites was made which could be encompassed by walkers in the course of an afternoon of leisurely exploration. These were chosen so that the visitor could move from one to another in the same order as their original chronological importance. Thus the first site --- the Riparian Woodland habitat reconstructed in Fort Lowell Park --- represented the banks of the Rillito stream in the days before it had been transformed by human invasion of the area. The second site was the Hohokam pithouse also in Fort Lowell Park, representing the very first known human habitation of the area. And so on through the 19 separate places of historic interest and ready accessibility. The last site emphasized the latest--- and current --- phase of the area's history in which the Historic Districts have been established and history itself has been added to the ancient water sources as an attraction for human settlement. The People of Fort, Lowell was conceived as an immediately usable aid to the appreciation of these sites, not as something to be laid away on a library shelf for future reference.

Terry Turner assumed the responsibility for developing this conception, selecting the pictures and other materials, and writing the booklet. The emphasis was to be on ready, visual accessibility, and therefore it became an assemblage primarily of pictures and maps. However, it was actually a great deal more than an album of miscellaneous pictures. The two fundamental ideas that had emerged as we considered the accumulated information were embodied in the organization and determined the emphases in the booklet. On the one hand the foundation of human life in the area rooted in the unique natural resources and the history of the utilization and steady depletion of this natural base were built as one theme into the presentation. On the other hand the shifting ethnic backgrounds of the succession of settlers and the cultural determinants of how they made use of the resources, built their houses, and organized their communities formed the other theme running through the booklet. Yet the text was brief and pointed, and its main flow was as a narrative, the story of people forming their communities in accordance with their distinctive cultural values and succeeding one another in the same place through the long span of years.

Finally, as in the gathering of the information, participation of the people was emphasized. The residents participated in selecting the pictures which they felt expressed what was important to them, and they participated again as they themselves made the tour with the booklet in their hands.

Making the Celebration.

Just as our ideas about the nature of the booklet became clear only months after we began work on the project, so our conception of the "history celebration" evolved rather slowly. At first we were full of ideas for a complex combination of formal lectures, elaborate panel displays of each historical phase, guided tours of the Historic Districts with numerous open houses by residents, and discussion groups devoted to eliciting more oral history. The celebration as we first conceived it was strongly academic in flavor, an affair during which people would be confronted with fountains of knowledge presented by competent scholars who would have digested all the ecological and human information we should have acquired by the time of the celebration.

As we realized that such a presentation would reach only the very few seriously interested persons thirsting for new knowledge of Arizona history, we began to think of the celebration in terms of two rather distinct parts: (1) on the one hand, a series of workshops in the course of which each historical phase would be discussed for an evening or half a day over the period of perhaps three days and (2) on the other hand, a quite separate celebration with a children's parade, a luncheon for former residents hosted by present residents, and informal get-togethers of people for the purpose of having conversations about old times, as they had refreshments together and listened to Mariachi music. For weeks we agonized over the details of putting together some kind of combination of these disparate parts.

After suffering much frustration over the serious difficulties of such an elaborate plan, we called a meeting of thirteen scholars and other specialists who had agreed to consult with us originally when we framed the proposal. This meeting was held in early July, after Terry had already began to see clearly the outlines of the community succession in the area. During an evening we presented the view of local history which we had developed up to that point. The scholars listened carefully, asked questions, and moved into a highly creative discussion of what might be done to celebrate the new understanding of history. The feeling gradually crystallized, thanks especially to the insights of Father Charles Polzer, that what was most interesting was probably the discovery of the existence of El Fuerte village, of which Father Polzer and other historians of the region had simply not realized the existence. The idea took hold that we should build around people in the Fort Lowell area and in Tucson who had known El Fuerte and that we should focus on a major institution of the village, namely, the Chapel of San Pedro, owned by one of the scholar-consultants Nik Krevitsky.

The evening of sharing information and ideas with the scholars resulted in our producing a six page prospectus for a single day's gathering at the chapel combined with a tour of the area once occupied by the Fort and El Fuerte residents. This was a detailed document calling for panel displays, formal lectures at various sites, and gatherings for informal discussion of history at the San Pedro Chapel. It still, in other words, included much of the paraphernalia as first conceived in our academically-oriented plans, but the new emphasis on El Fuerte village had emerged. Sent to the scholars for comment, there was enthusiastic response, and we proceeded to move to the planning of details, ultimately setting the date as January 23, 1982.

We focused now, as in other aspects of the project, on securing the most possible participation of people. The scholars as individuals, and in some cases the institutions with which they were affiliated, were now pledged to help, but the leadership had to come from us, as it had thus far. In addition to all else that she was doing, Terry Turner undertook to bring this participation about. She enlisted the interest and promise of cooperation of the newly formed Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood Association, two of the schools of the area, one of the churches, and others. What we regarded as most important, however, for the success of the sort of celebration we were beginning to visualize, was the active participation of those residents of the neighborhood who were descendants of El Fuerte families and also the former El Fuerte residents who lived elsewhere in Tucson. Terry combined the effort to rouse their interest with her continuing information-gathering activities, and slowly here and there real interest developed and activities began which led to eventual participation from these quarters.

The conception of the celebration was steadily simplified from its original complexity and in the direction of audience participation rather than academic presentation. The emphasis which we now sought changed from deluging people with information to what might be called the direct enjoyment of history. As we began to see it, the opportunity was to be provided for former and present residents, in the atmosphere of a temporarily reinvigorated place of worship, to reminisce and visit with one another as of old. As it turned out, this is actually what people did around the chapel on the day of the celebration. Another small, but vital instance of the kind of thing we wished to take place consists in the priest's wearing old vestments from San Xavier Mission during his giving of the Mass. Those who could were able to enjoy and appreciate those remarkable, and historically significant, adornments as they watched the priest during the ceremony. Furthermore the priest who officiated was Father Charles Polzer, whose imagination had made us realize the possibility of an El Fuerte-centered celebration, and his sermon was an unusual blend of his sense of what was taking place, as an historian, with the human feeling of opportunity for renewal of the community of the past which the congregation in the chapel was feeling. We arranged for a Mass with Mariachis and this, too, resulted in what we now hoped for --- participation of the congregation, as the Mariachis gathered after the Mass and played again until people began to dance --- not far from where the old El Fuerte dance ground had existed to the West.

In accordance with the developing conception of what the celebration should be, we abandoned the idea of formal, prepared lectures at the tour sites. What took place at these sites rested as much in the hands of the visitors as in those of the scholar-interpreters who were posted at each site. As the people arrived with their booklets in hand, they were not greeted with scheduled lectures. Rather they found the scholar interpreters ready to chat, to expound, or to discuss as the visitors chose to stimulate them. The keynote of the tour as of the gathering at the chapel in the morning was conceived to be informality of atmosphere and the participation of people not as audience but rather as activators of the spirit of the old communities.

Informing a Public.

An important objective set forth in our proposal was to bring as widely as possible the results of our interpretation of Fort Lowell history to an appropriate audience. We conceived of that audience as consisting of residents of the City and County Fort Lowell Historic Districts, members and residents of the Old Fort Lowell neighborhood Association, former residents of the area especially of the village of El Fuerte, historians connected with the Arizona Heritage Center, historians and anthropologists of the University of Arizona, members of the Tucson Festival Society, and the general public in Arizona interested in history. Our focus was strongly on residents of the Fort Lowell area because we believed that it was important to add to their appreciation of the milieu in which they live and thus enrich their way of life. However, we were also much concerned with the professional historians of southern Arizona at the University of Arizona and the Arizona Heritage Center, because they would be the ones to carry further the historical approach to which our project was contributing.

We employed a variety of means for reaching this considerable variety of people. In the first place, apart from the personal contacts mentioned above, we sought to inform the local residents about what we were finding. We did this in part through the two Historic District Boards. To each of these from the beginning of the project we reported plans and progress at their monthly or bimonthly meetings. The Boards consisted of both residents and historians and historical architects connected with the University, the Arizona Heritage Center, or architectural firms in Tucson. We also immediately made use of the organization of the Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood Association. This group of 200 members published a monthly newsletter for each issue of which from July on we wrote a brief article reporting on our plans and activities and calling for volunteer help when the time should come for organizing the celebration. Also we reported at the monthly meetings of the governing Council of the Association. Ultimately the participation of Association officers and members was considerable in the making of the celebration, so that it was clear that this means of communication worked very well. Other important means of dissemination were the newsletters of the Historic District neighborhoods in the inner city and of the Arizona Historical Society.

The scholars whom we had selected for consultants to the project not only served us well as consultants with creative ideas, but also as channels into the wider community of historians, anthropologists, and other professional humanists. These contacts were, except for the one important meeting of the whole group as described above, carried out individually. During the course of the project, both Terry Turner and E. and R. Spicer were in frequent touch and consultation with most of the scholars at various times and enlisted their aid in various ways that turned out to be highly fruitful at the time of the celebration when the project reached its culmination.

An important means of communication, especially in connection with former residents of the area, was the sending of specially prepared invitations to attend the Reunion at the Chapel. We sent 150 invitations to such persons and to city, county, and state officials whose interest we thought would be considerable in the Fort Lowell activities. We also arranged with Nik Krevitsky to prepare an appropriate poster and put up some 200 copies of this in various places around Tucson which announced the time and place of the celebration.

In addition we enlisted the aid of both Tucson newspapers and the TV news channels. We prepared a short series of slides and commentary which were used by three channels in their regular newscasts beginning two weeks before the celebration. Also a special program as part of Arizona Illustrated on Channel 6 appeared a week before the celebration and another presenting more details of the historic sites included in the tour was given following the celebration. Both newspapers carried stories, an illustrated one in the Tucson Citizen, a few days in advance of the celebration.

Thus we opened and made use of a half dozen different kinds of channels for informing the public which we assumed would be interested enough to pay attention.

Specific Products.

  1. The booklet --- The People of Fort Lowell --- by Terry Turner is a 67-page printed publication abundantly illustrated. The 500 copies printed for the project with Arizona Humanities Council funds were exhausted during the celebration. We saved copies for local libraries and organizations. However, the demand continues and therefore we have arranged to reprint a revised and corrected version, with the aid of the Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission. Apparently the booklet is regarded as of sufficient substance to be of value as a contribution to Arizona history, the demand for which will continue into the future.
  2. The first Historic Landmark in the City of Tucson. On the day of the celebration, the San Pedro Chapel was proclaimed the first Historic Landmark under the provisions of the new, revised Historic District Ordinance of the City of Tucson. While of course our project did not create this historical monument, the choice of the San Pedro Chapel as the site for our celebration gave a special sanction to the new Landmark, since the Mass and other activities which we had arranged constituted a special sort of recognition of the historical importance of the chapel.
  3. We made no formal count of the numbers of people who attended the celebration. Various estimates of the numbers at the San Pedro Chapel in the morning range from 200 to 300. A much greater participation was estimated for the tour of historic sites in the afternoon, the estimates ranging from 800 to 1500. It appears that we might take as a conservative estimate for the total attendance during the day the figure of about 1000. These include persons from each of the several segments listed above in all the categories of audience we sought to reach.
  4. A new archive was established for the Fort Lowell Historic Districts. There are now assembled two file drawers full of materials relating to the history of the area --- copies of maps and historical reports of various kinds, notes on interviews with residents, a file of photographs, genealogies, individual life histories, summaries of each of the historical phases written in rough form by Terry Turner, official documents, newspaper clippings, and other materials. We are still in process of deciding the best disposal of this file in such a way that it can be most useful to the residents of the area in the future and so that it can be added to by them and others.
  5. Presumably one of the important results of the project lies in its enrichment of the knowledge of specialist scholars who were in one way or another participant in the project. Wildlife experts, historians, and cultural anthropologists, as well as a scattering of other kinds of specialists --- perhaps a total of 10 --- have reported in one way or another that their knowledge of the history of the area was added to in important ways and that they have been stimulated by their contacts with the project. It has been proposed that a series of workshops be carried out dealing with the various phases of Fort Lowell history to which our work helped give new dimensions.
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