Southeast Arizona has been home to the Chiricahua Apaches for centuries. As the United States expanded with the Gadsden Purchase and white settlers began moving to the region, tensions increased between Native Americans, early pioneers, and the military. A few specific events set the eventual stage for Buffalo Soldiers to be stationed in Bonita Canyon.
As part of the Geronimo Campaign, a concerted effort by the US government to recapture Chiricahua Chief Naiche, Geronimo, and their families, soldiers were stationed at “every waterhole along the border.” Bonita Canyon (now within Chiricahua National Monument) has springs and creeks, so Buffalo Soldiers made a temporary camp where Faraway Ranch is now.
Unfortunately no known photographs exist of Camp Bonita, but historians can make an educated guess about what camp life was like. Soldiers did chores like cooking, caring for the horses, carrying mail, scouting for Apaches, and guarding various waterholes. The men also practiced dismounted and mounted drills, as well as provided escorts to civilians, as needed. Some members of Troops E and H had enough spare time to carve their names into stones that they then formed into a square, three-tiered monument to President James A. Garfield.
Unlike many temporary field camps, soldiers stationed at Bonita Canyon had access to fruit, vegetables, and eggs from Ja Hu Stafford, an early white pioneer in the region. A local rancher, Louis Prue, had a contract with the Army to provide beef, so the soldiers did not need to supplement their rations with wild game meat as much as soldiers in other locations did. When Troops E and H were at Bonita Canyon together, almost 100 men filled the little valley. Troop I, with 50 men, replaced Troops E and H on May 1, 1886.
Life in Bonita Canyon was not without risk, despite good nutrition. Some soldiers suffered from the wet, cold winter spent keeping watch, and later attributed health problems to their time in southeast Arizona. Solomon Boller was one such soldier. In 1900 he wrote a letter to the Pension Bureau: