In 1885, when Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apaches were raiding in southern Arizona, the 10th Cavalry was transferred from Texas to Forts Grant, Thomas, Apache and Verde in the Arizona Territory. (The 10th was one of the cavalry regiments organized with black troops after the Civil War. Indians called the men Buffalo Soldiers after their short curly hair.) The men of the 10th sent to Fort Grant had been given one of the most desirable postings in the Arizona Territory.
The fort was at the north end of the Sulphur Springs Valley at an elevation of 4,000 feet, about 40 miles from Safford. Weather was mild, there was Mount Graham as a backdrop, and there were fine adobe and stone homes for officers’ quarters, a tennis court and even a small pond for boating.
The one drawback was the water supply. In 1887, when Major Anson Mills took command of the post, there was talk of abandoning it for lack of dependable water. General Miles, his commanding officer, was anxious to keep the fort operating and believed Mills could obtain the water he needed from the mountains.
He helped Mills acquire the materials to build a water system, spending $16,000 to pipe water from Grant Creek and store it in cisterns and ponds on the post grounds.
One of the ponds was the cement-lined 60 foot by 200 foot Lake Constance (named for Mills’ daughter) just visible in the center of the parade ground photograph.
With the new system, there was enough water pressure to run fountains on the post, one of which is jetting out of Lake Constance, and to green up the parade ground.
Among the other amenities at the fort was the First Infantry Band, which in addition to parade ground duty, performed minstrel shows at the fort chapel.
There was an ex-army musician working as a civilian at the fort named Anton Mazzanovich, who organized shows and who probably is the source of the band photograph. He collected photos of the frontier army of the 1880s in the Arizona and New Mexico Territory.
Mazzanovich was a musician from his earliest youth. He immigrated to San Francisco from Austria with his family in 1868, when he was 8 years old.
The next year he and his father enlisted as musicians in the 21st Infantry. In those days, musicians were expected to fight as well as perform. Although Anton was too young to carry a weapon, he served as an orderly during the Modoc wars along the California-Oregon border. By the age of 14, he was mustered out and on his own.
He came to Arizona in 1881, reenlisted and was assigned to the Regimental Band and Troop F of the 6th Cavalry. He was at Fort Apache after the Apache uprising at Cibicue and at the San Carlos Reservation when Geronimo and the Chiricahuas broke out in October 1881.
The next year he was discharged because of an eye ailment and went to work as a civilian at the Officers Club at Fort Grant. There he pursued his love of theater and music and organized and performed in the above-mentioned minstrel show. By all accounts it was a great success.
— Arizona Capitol Times archives. Photos courtesy Arizona Historical Society, Tucson and Phoenix.