Gateway to the Classics: Indian History for Young Folks by Francis S. Drake
Indian History for Young Folks by  Francis S. Drake

Conquering the Warlike Apaches

We now come to a series of wars with the Apaches of the South-west. These Indians, belonging to the Athapascan family, are made up of several groups, among which are, the Yumas, Mojaves, White Mountains, Mescaleros, and Chiricahuas, the last named being the dominant and the most warlike. The region over which they roamed included portions of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, as well as several of the northern provinces of Mexico. For many years war had been their chief pursuit, and within their theatre of operations conflicts between the many Apache tribes and the troops had been innumerable. The settlers entertained a perfect dread of these marauding bands, who were accustomed to swoop down upon them without the least warning, attack their camps and villages, and run off the herds of cattle, shooting down in cold blood all those who came within their reach. So sudden were their onslaughts that they were never seen; when they struck, all that would be seen was the flash of the rifle, resting with secure aim over a pile of stones or a boulder, behind which was the red-handed murderer. They had an almost miraculous power of endurance; they could ride for days at a time without food or rest; whether through the inhospitable desert or climbing the steepest mountain, their strength appeared inexhaustible. It is said that their warriors could run a hundred miles a day and not feel fatigue, climb, without stopping, the summit of the highest mountain and not be out of breath. They could subsist on roots and herbs, and satisfy their thirst by chewing on a piece of bark or moss, by which was started the flow of saliva. Graceful, well formed, with legs of wonderful suppleness, light and nimble as a wild-cat, these Indians on the rocky, precipitous mountain-sides were unapproachable. When driven into the mountains, the horses which they had stolen served them as rations. To attack them successfully the greatest skill and caution had to be employed.

The Apache tribes were known to the early Spanish colonizers of Arizona and New Mexico, and they resisted all attempts by the Spaniards to civilize and Christianize them. They have always been known as wild. Indians. They constantly attacked the Spaniards and devastated the Spanish settlements. As early as 1762 it was estimated that the Apaches had desolated and depopulated one hundred and seventy-four mining-towns, stations, and missions in the province of Sonora alone. For fifty years a bold chief (Mangas-Coloradas) led powerful bands to war; and since the annexation of their territory to the United States, in 1850, they have given the Government more trouble than any of the Western Indians. Mangas-Coloradas was killed in 1863. He was succeeded by Cochise, who led them in their warfare against the whites till 1874. Upon his death his son Natchez became the hereditary chief of the tribe, and with Geronimo continued to keep the whole South-west in a state of terror until these hostile chiefs and their bands were finally subdued and captured by General Nelson A. Miles in 1886.


The Indian's story of the killing of Victoria's band.

During the period of the Civil War the military garrisons on the southern and western frontier had to be abandoned, the troops being needed to take part in the war between the States, but with the conclusion of that conflict the garrisons again resumed their posts on the frontier and immediately proceeded to wage a war of extermination against the Apaches, who, under Cochise, had grown confident in their strength and had committed innumerable depredations on the isolated towns and ranches of Arizona and New Mexico, determined to drive the whites out of their country.

Were we to analyze the causes of the numerous wars with the Apache tribes we would find that the whites were often in the wrong. After the completion, in 1879, of the transcontinental railroad, settlers, miners, and prospectors constantly encroached on the lands which had belonged to the Indians for ages. Then came the attempt to confine them on reservations, taking away their hunting-grounds, because the land was coveted by the white man; with the reservations came dishonest Indian agents and broken Government promises. Poor rations and near-by herds of cattle tempted the Indians to leave the reservations and to drive off the cattle, in the course of which depredations were committed, frequently resulting in the murder of the whites. Blocking the path of progress, the Indians were removed by force to distant and undesirable lands; and so there were constant outbreaks of the different Apache tribes for which the causes just enumerated were responsible.

Beginning in 1870, almost constant warfare was waged against the different Apache tribes in Arizona and New Mexico, these bands refusing to be confined on the reservations. In the innumerable outbreaks hundreds of settlers were murdered and thousands of heads of cattle run off by the marauding Indians, who held the whole country in a state of terror. The mines could not be operated; the ranchmen and settlers did not dare to travel, except by night or with a military escort, fearing attacks by the fierce, murderous Apache bands.

It would bore the reader were we to recount all of the harrowing outrages occurring in this period. Most of the wars were of short duration and always ended in the return of the Indians to the reservation, where they remained until, again dissatisfied with their treatment, they would break loose and commit depredations. There were minor outbreaks in 1870, 1871, 1872, and 1873. The outbreak of 1872 was put down by General George Crook, who, with a large body of cavalry, assisted by friendly Apache scouts, pursued the hostiles into their mountain retreats and nearly exterminated one of the bands in a pitched battle in the Tonto Basin, one of the principal strongholds of the Apaches in Arizona. After this defeat the different bands gradually came in to the Agency, and for a period, under the direction of General Crook, took up the pursuit of agriculture.

In 1879 the Apaches under Chief Victoria left the reservations, and this outbreak was the beginning of a most disastrous Apache war which was not finally quelled until September, 1886. This war was caused by not keeping faith with the Indians. In 1878 Victoria and his band, who had been in Mexico, surrendered at Ojo Caliente, with the understanding that he and his people would be allowed to occupy their old reservation, but the authorities decided, owing to the proximity of the reservation to the Mexican boundary, that it would be safer to confine the Indians on the San Carlos Reservation. The Indians, however, hated San Carlos. As a result an outbreak occurred, and when the band was corralled and again back at the reservation indictments for murder and robbery were brought against Victoria and many of his followers, to escape which Victoria and his band fled from the reservation and immediately began raiding the settlements of south-western New Mexico and south-eastern Arizona. During these raids more than seventy settlers were murdered, and the depredations continued for several weeks, until the Indians were driven into Mexico by the soldiers. By April, 1880, Victoria was joined by three hundred and fifty Mescaleros and other refugees from Mexico, and raid upon raid occurred, striking terror into the inhabitants of New Mexico, Arizona, and the northern provinces of Mexico. Victoria and his band, who were well armed and had an abundance of ammunition, held out against the troops, on whom for a time they inflicted severe punishment. Several hundred citizens were killed in the course of these raids. Colonel Hatch, fresh from his experience with the Colorado Utes, now took up the chase and finally caused the savages to separate into small bands, but only to unite again in Mexico. Victoria continued his depredations in Mexico, where he fought the Mexican troops for several months, until finally a force of Mexicans encountered the marauders at Tres Castillos, and, in a battle lasting through the afternoon and night, the Indians were defeated and Victoria himself was killed. His death, however, did not subdue the Indians, who again, uniting their forces under Nana, made bloody raids across the border into southern New Mexico, attacking the unsuspecting herders and prospectors, whom they murdered without mercy, until they were driven back into Mexico in April, 1882.

Meanwhile the Apaches of the San Carlos Reservation were also on the war-path, busily engaged, under Chiefs Juh and Geronimo, in raiding the settlements of Arizona. They were captured, however, in 1880, and one hundred and eight of the hostiles were returned to San Carlos. In 1881 there was also an outbreak of the White Mountain Apaches in south-eastern Arizona. This trouble was caused by the arrest of a medicine-man named Nokaidoklini, who claimed that he could bring dead warriors to life, thus re-people the country with Indians and drive out the whites. The resurrection failed to materialize because—the prophet said—his incantations would not work in the presence of the whites. The authorities ordered the arrest of the prophet. To the Indians this was an admission that the whites feared the power of the medicine-man. The prophet, however, surrendered peaceably enough, but while he was being taken to the fort some Indian scouts, who were with the soldiers, attempted to rescue him. In the fight that ensued the prophet and several soldiers were killed. The White Mountain band then attacked Camp Apache, killing ten soldiers and eight citizens. Reinforcements arriving, the Indians fled, but were soon cornered and returned to the reservation. The Indian scouts who took part in the rescue of the prophet were tried by court martial, and three of them were hung. Some of the White Mountains who had been paroled became alarmed when an attempt was made to bring them back to the Agency, and under their chiefs, George and Bonito, left the reservation, fleeing into Mexico, where they joined the Indians under Nana, who had assumed the leadership of the late Victoria's band. In April, 1882, a number of Chiricahuas, under Geronimo and Natchez, broke away from the San Carlos Reservation, and with Loco's band of Ojo Caliente Indians also joined the hostiles who had taken refuge in Mexico. A campaign was waged against these fugitives by detachments of both American and Mexican troops, who pursued them in New Mexico and old Mexico, inflicting severe punishment upon them.

It now became absolutely necessary to put an end to the murdering and plundering of these savage Apache bands. With this end in view a treaty was made with Mexico on July 29, 1882, by the provisions of which troops of either country were permitted to cross the international boundary-line in pursuit of fleeing hostile bands; previous to this time our troops were not allowed to campaign beyond the Mexican line. Also in this same year General Crook was re-assigned to the command of the Department of Arizona, where he had so successfully put down the Apache outbreak of 1872.

In that year General Crook had waged an unceasing war against the hostiles who would not live on the reservation. He conquered these tribes by employing friendly Apaches as scouts. These friendly Indians, knowing thoroughly every bit of the country, and being able to follow the trail of the hunted bands into their almost impregnable strongholds in the mountains, served the troops as guides and trailers, and it was not long until most of the hostiles were tamed and back on the reservation. Then, too, the Indians trusted General Crook, who did not believe in the old policy of extermination. He meted out justice to the Apache tribes, placing them on reservations that satisfied them. The result of this policy was that the Indians, many of whom had been among the worst in Arizona, were engaged in peaceful pursuits on the reservation, farming extensively and becoming self-supporting. They were contented because they were under the control of a man whom they could trust. And to emphasize this point let us quote General Crook himself, who said, in 1879:

"During the twenty-seven years of my experience with the Indian question I have never known a band of Indians to make peace with our Government and then break it, or leave their reservation, without some ground of complaint; but until their complaints are examined and adjusted they will give annoyance and trouble."

In 1874, however, when the reservations of Arizona came under the control of the Indian Bureau, there was inaugurated the policy of concentration, resulting in the undoing of all of General Crook's good work. The removal of the Indians was ordered, and many tribes were forced to leave the lands on which they were living in peace and which General Crook had promised them were to be theirs forever—so long as they kept the peace and remained self-supporting. Upon the adoption of this new policy General Crook, March 22, 1875, was relieved of the command of the department. The resulting forced removal of the various tribes from reservations that suited them to reservations that did not suit them soon reaped its harvest of several years of savage retaliation, causing the loss of the lives of many innocent whites and Indians, the destruction of much property, and the expenditure of vast sums by the Treasury.

Soon after General Crook's re-assumption of the command of the Department of Arizona, in 1882, conditions among the Indians on the reservation improved. The Indians co-operating, General Crook adopted the policy he had pursued in 1872, and soon peace prevailed on and about the reservation.

In the mean time, however, there were the hostiles who still remained in Mexico and by whom many atrocities were being committed, under the leadership of Geronimo, Natchez, Chato, and Bonito. The civil authorities at the Agency had refused to aid the Indians in irrigating their lands, and, becoming dissatisfied, a number of Chiricahuas, under Geronimo and Natchez, left the reservation and fled into Mexico, where they took refuge with the other hostiles in the Sierra Madre Mountains. From this stronghold frequent raids were made in Mexico and Arizona, which continued till June, 1883, when they once more surrendered to General Crook. Over fifteen hundred of the hostiles, persuaded by General Crook, returned to the reservation and resumed their peaceful pursuits. There were, however, a number of malcontents among them who could not be persuaded to remain on the reservation; this portion of the tribe made peace only for the purpose of returning to the agency for supplies and to gather recruits. They soon broke their promises, left the reservation, and again began depredations on the settlements. In accordance with the arrangements that had been made with the Mexican Government, allowing our troops to pursue the raiding bands when necessary into Mexican territory, General Crook now took up an active campaign to subdue the hostiles still at large. In May, 1883, a detachment of our troops, accompanied by a body of Apache scouts, crossed the boundary-line as far as the head-waters of the Rio Yaqui, and soon discovered Chato's and Bonito's bands. Their camp was attacked, resulting in the capture of several hundred Indians, who were immediately returned to the reservation.

In September, 1883, it seemed again wise to entrust the management of the Indians to the War Department, and General Crook was given full control of the tribes on the San Carlos Reservation. The Indians knew that Crook had often in the past defended them in their just demands against the encroachment of the white settlers, and so it was not difficult for him to direct the Indians in peaceful pursuits. Within a year—in 1884—these Indians under his guidance had harvested over four thousand tons of grain, vegetables, and fruits of various varieties; but affairs were not to move smoothly for very long. There were always some white men to whom the sacred promises made to red men were as mere "scraps of paper," and soon—in February, 1885—the civil authorities interfered with General Crook, preventing him from carrying out his policy. The Indians, released from his guiding hand, immediately broke loose, and before the civil and military authorities could adjust their differences, over half of the Indians left the reservation in May, 1885, taking refuge in their old strongholds in the mountains.

Again the troops under General Crook, reinforced by a body of Apache scouts, took up the pursuit, but the Indians under Geronimo and Natchez held out and made many raids across the American border, destroying much property and murdering a number of whites and friendly Apaches. This bloody warfare continued nearly a year, at the expense of hundreds of lives and the death of Captain Crawford, of the Tenth Cavalry, who was killed by Mexican irregular troops in January, 1886, the Apache scouts with the Americans having been mistaken by the Mexicans for the hostile Indians whom they had been pursuing. The campaign against the Indians continued until March, 1886, when Geronimo sent word that he was ready to discuss terms of peace with General Crook.

A parley, accordingly, was arranged for, and Geronimo and General Crook met on March 25, 1886, at El Canon, Mexico. At this time the Indians were encamped in a strong and almost inaccessible position in the mountains. They were well armed and well supplied with ammunition and stores; they were fierce and independent, and sought to surrender on their own terms—to return to the reservation under the old conditions, taking with them such of their families as they desired; otherwise to continue to fight until exterminated.

Geronimo and Natchez, with their people—men, women, and children —with an escort of Apache scouts and a detachment of troops under Lieutenant Maus, now proceeded towards Fort Bowie, but before the actual surrender of the entire force could take place Geronimo and Natchez changed their minds and escaped during the night of March 29 from Lieutenant Maus's camp, fleeing again to the Sierra Madre Mountains, their route marked by the usual atrocities. Once more they were beyond reach. General Crook was censured for allowing them to escape, and at his own request he was relieved of the command, and General Nelson A. Miles was appointed in his place April 1, 1886, by President Cleveland.

General Miles at once undertook a vigorous campaign, determined to capture Geronimo and his band. He immediately divided the country up into districts of observation; placed signal detachments on the high mountain peaks by means of which all movements of the Indians would be discovered and reported to the different camps. A body of reliable friendly Apache scouts, to serve as trailers, were employed for the purpose of tracking down the Indians. The best riders among the troops were chosen for this campaign, and a relay of horses was to be provided so that the Indians would lose the advantage they had enjoyed in previous campaigns, of shaking off the pursuing troops. They were now to be pursued relentlessly until exhausted. Captain H. W. Lawton, of the Fourth Cavalry, who later won fame in Cuba and the Philippines, where he was killed in battle, was placed in command of the expedition that was to exterminate this band of hostile Apaches. His force consisted of one hundred picked soldiers and a number of scouts, guides, and friendly Indian trailers. Assistant-surgeon Leonard Wood, now a lieutenant-general and considered one of the greatest soldiers of the world's armies, was to care for the injured.

Captain Lawton soon located the Indians south of the Mexican border, the bands making their presence quite evident by raiding from Mexico into the south-western part of Arizona. A relentless pursuit was taken up by this fearless trooper, in whom at last the doggedness and amazing vitality of the Apache had met its match. The wily Geronimo again crossed the Rio Grande, with Captain Lawton close upon his heels. Pursuing the Indians for over four months through a most mountainous country, Captain Lawton followed the chase for over two hundred miles, never allowing the Indians to throw the troops off the trail, which, when lost, was always picked up by the sharp-eyed Indian scouts. There were many skirmishes, but each time the Indians were defeated and escaped with fewer warriors.

The trail of the fleeing Indians led far into Mexico. The indomitable troops led by Captain Lawton had followed the Indians over eight hundred miles through canons and mountain ravines, along trails that repeatedly crossed one another. The camps of the Indians were broken up; their horses, equipments, and supplies taken, the relentless pursuit by the troops allowing the Indians but little rest. On July 20 Geronimo's camp was surprised, and, realizing that in Captain Lawton he had met his match, he sent word that he was willing to surrender to the highest authority—to General Miles. As an earnest of good faith Geronimo sent his brother to Fort Bowie to hold a parley with General Miles. In the mean time Geronimo himself moved his camp north, somewhat nearer that of Captain Lawton's. Shortly after the parley General Miles came to Skeleton Canon and met Geronimo, who agreed to surrender, provided he and his people would not be killed. Natchez also soon came in from the mountains. The Indians, worn down and greatly depleted in numbers as a result of the five months of constant pursuit, realized the folly of further resistance, and made an unconditional surrender. Geronimo and Natchez were taken to Fort Bowie by General Miles with a cavalry escort, and three days later Captain Lawton followed with the balance of the hostiles.

The final surrender took place September 4, 1886. Geronimo and his band, with many friendly Apaches, were sent to Florida as prisoners; later they were transferred to Mount Vernon, Alabama, thence to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Some of the hostile Apaches were never captured, remaining in the mountains. As recently as 1900 these Indians showed their hostile disposition by making an attack on Mormon settlers in northern Mexico. Apache raids, however, in Arizona and New Mexico have entirely ceased as a result of General Miles's campaign of 1886.

Geronimo, the medicine-man of the Chiricahua Apaches, died at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, February 17, 1909, hating the whites to the very last. General Miles described him as the most ruthless of Indian marauders, with the most determined face and sharp, piercing eyes of any Indian that he had ever seen. As medicine-man he was the adviser of Natchez, who was the hereditary chief of the Apaches. Natchez was the second son of former Chief Cochise, who had been a terror to the whites for over fifty years. The mother of Natchez was a daughter of the notorious Mangas-Coloradas. Natchez was, to quote General Miles again, "a tall, slender young warrior, whose dignity and grace of movement would become any prince." He was the actual leader in the numerous raids that desolated the settlements of Arizona, New Mexico, and the northern part of old Mexico during the years 1881 to 1886. For many of these raids credit was given to Geronimo. Natchez now resides at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he has remained a peaceful prisoner, still holding his leadership over the Chiricahua Apaches.

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