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Restoring history at Fort Lowell celebration

TUCSON, Ariz. — When the cavalry marches and the mariachi bands serenade, historic Fort Lowell rises from the ruins.

Cowboy songs, adobe-brick making and vintage baseball games might bring history to life for a moment, but this year visitors at the 33rd Fort Lowell Day Celebration on Saturday can also see restoration in action.

At the southwest corner of Craycroft and Fort Lowell roads, visitors can catch a glimpse of officers’ quarters from 1873 just for the day. Of the structures on the five-plus acres, only one is still mostly intact and in the process of being restored by Pima County. The other two ruins will have protective roofs built over them, said Homer Thiel, the project director and historical archaeologist with Desert Archaeology Inc.

Visitors will also have a chance to see artifacts, both physical and photographed, from some of the property’s various stages — as a military fort, a tuberculosis sanitarium and a Hohokam village, among others.

So far, at least 10 Hohokam pit houses have been found on the site, Thiel said, as well as pottery shards.

“As an archaeologist, you go to work and are never sure what you’ll find,” Thiel said. “It’s amazing to pull off dirt and see the outline of a pit house. We found a flag tip from a cavalry staff that soldiers would carry when they were out running with their horses. It tells a story. We’re always finding new things we didn’t know about.”

The area by the Rillito River hosted the Hohokam centuries before the military built Fort Lowell in 1873. The Army moved from downtown Tucson when the soldiers’ fondness for saloons made a ruckus, said Janet Marcus, a coordinator for the event and a former city councilwoman.

“It’s the history that you’ve got a lot of people,” Marcus said. “It’s interesting all the different people who settled in this area.”

After conflict with the Apaches ended and the fort was decommissioned in 1891, new residents settled in. Mexican immigrants built the village El Fuerte, and Mormon settlers and even tuberculosis-ridden convalescents followed.

In 1981, the original celebration of this heritage, La Reunión de El Fuerte, invited all to remember and honor this diversity. The Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood Association hosts each year, bringing out the pomp and circumstance to revive history for a day.

The B Troop, 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment (Memorial) from Fort Huachuca represents what once was, running through drills in period costumes and teaching onlookers about the cavalry.

“I realize I’m doing something people have been doing for 125 years out here and that connection,” said Christopher Zimmerman, the cavalry’s stable sergeant and program coordinator. “The way we ride horses now is no different than back then, and when we’re out there, we’re trying to make it seem that we’re right from the past.”
 

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