The Path to Hembrillo

The Apache During and After the Civil War

The Civil War period brought the almost complete breakdown of Apache – American relations for a number of reasons. After the flogging of Mangas, many Apache began systemically attacking white settlements in New Mexico and Arizona. Though chronologically outside of the territorial Civil War period, the Bascom Affair, in January 1861, set the stage for the next few years. A Tonto Basin Apache raiding party attacked a ranch on Sonoita Creek, in southern Arizona, making off with stock and a young boy named Felix Ward. The US responded quickly, with Lieutenant John Bascom being sent to meet with Cochise (whom he held responsible). Cochise and his people were wrongly accused of the attack. Cochise managed to escape but several of his band – including family members – were hanged, touching off years of open warfare between the Chiricahua and the Americans.

Images published in the April 24, 1886 edition of the Harper’s Weekly newspaper, titled “The Hostile Apaches.” Top left: “A captive white boy in an Apache camp.” Top right: “Geronimo, Natchez, in order of battle.” Bottom right: “Geronimo, his son, and two picked braves.” Bottom left: “Geronimo and Natchez.” Original photographs by C. S. Fly. Photo from the Library of Congress.

In July 1861, Colonel John Baylor’s Texas Confederates occupied Mesilla and proclaimed the Confederate State of Arizona, an area encompassing the southern portions of New Mexico and Arizona. The Texan occupiers had nothing but contempt for the Apache and, in March 1862, Baylor issued a letter of instruction to Captain Thomas Helm, commanding the Arizona Guards:

The Congress of the Confederate States has passed a law declaring extermination of all hostile Indians. You will therefore use all means to persuade the Apaches or any tribe to come in for the purpose of making peace, and when you get them together kill all the grown Indians and take their children prisoners and sell them [into slavery] to defray the cost of killing the Indians. Buy whiskey and such other goods as may be necessary for the Indians…Leave nothing undone to ensure success, and have a sufficient number of men around to allow no Indian to escape.

The letter failed to achieve the desired goal and the Apache controlled the Confederate State of Arizona; Baylor was soon removed from office by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. New Mexico was quickly reoccupied by the Union after the Confederate defeat at Glorieta Pass while General James Carleton led the California Column into the territory from the west, engaging a group of approximately 500 Apache led by Mangas and Cochise at Apache Pass, Arizona. Carleton arrived in New Mexico too late to contribute to the Confederate defeat and was tasked with protecting the settlers while destroying Indian resistance – replacing General Edward Canby as commander of the Department of New Mexico. General Canby pursued campaigns against the Mescalero and Navajo, with their forces being concentrated at the Bosque Redondo reservation near the newly-established Fort Sumner.

January 1863 saw the murder of Mangas Coloradas at Fort McLane, after being deceptively lured to the post with the possible discussion of peace – his head was cut off, boiled, and the skull sent to a phrenologist in New York. From that point on there could be little peace between the Apache and the Americans, though the Warm Springs people desperately tried. With no provisioning as long as Carleton was commander of the Territory, the Apache launched numerous raids for stock on both sides of the border. Steck understood why and made numerous attempts to convince the government to reign in Carleton and turn responsibility for the Apache back to the Indian Bureau and its appointed agents. Many citizens and newspaper editors in the territory, agreed that Carleton’s policies were doing nothing but cause outrage and, subsequently, hostilities. October 1866 saw Carleton ordered to leave for San Antonio; he was relieved of his New Mexico command in 1867. In 1868, the Treaty of Bosque Redondo was signed. The Navajo were allowed to return home; the Mescalero escaped before the treaty was signed.

By August 1869, New Mexico’s Territorial Governor Robert Mitchell declared that all Navajo and Warm Springs people were to be considered outlaws if found away from their reservations and encouraged local citizenry to take up arms against them. His proclamation was passed to Washington, D.C., which ordered it revoked. That year also saw the appointment of First Lieutenant Charles Drew as agent to the Warm Springs Apache. Historian Dan Thrapp calls Drew a “splendid agent, one of the best the Apaches ever had,” noting that after Drew’s unfortunate death in 1870, Victorio specifically requested a new agent on par with Drew.

Drew spent much time in discussions and negotiations with Warm Springs Chiefs Loco and Victorio and in his correspondence mentioned Loco as being the leader who was desirous of peace, with Victorio being more aloof and having much less trust in the Americans. Regardless, Drew was able to juggle the three biggest issues causing trouble among relations between the Apache and the New Mexicans – white settlers in the region who had absolutely no desire to see improved relations and peace with the Apache, Mexican elements who strove only to kill all Apache wherever found, and unscrupulous traders (often in places like Cañada Alamosa) who bartered guns, ammunition, liquor and other goods for stolen stock. These three elements were the primary cause of the strained condition of Apache-American relations in southern New Mexico. As more settlers arrived in the territory after the Civil War, the situation only grew worse, with increasingly loud calls for the Warm Springs Apache to be moved. Thrapp writes,

Major William Clinton, superintendent of Indian affairs for the Territory, in August [1869] notified Commissioner Ely. S. Parker that Loco and Victorio desired to go to a reservation and wondered about shunting them to the new Navajo reserve to the northwest. Agent Lorenzo Labadi, who had had experience at Bosque Redondo, was appalled at that idea and urged that the Mimbres [Warm Springs] be moved instead to the Mescalero country around Fort Stanton. So it was to go. Down the years suggestions would be made from time to time that the Mimbres be moved to the east, to the west, to the north, and from Arizona to the Navajo reservation, to the Mescalero reservation, and even, so help us, to Oklahoma. Few ever seriously considered acceding to their simple request to remain where they had been raised, and whose mountains, valleys, deserts, and canyons they knew and loved. They must be moved. Why? Search the records from end to end, the thousands upon thousands of documents, and you discover no valid reason. There was no reason. It was simply that, since they desired to remain, they must be moved.

The next half dozen years would see an attempt at granting the Warm Springs people their own reservation, beginning at Cañada Alamosa – a wide, shallow canyon running from near the Black Range east toward the Rio Grande. To its north lies the San Mateo Mountains, west is the Black Range, and south is open country to the river and south into Mexico. The area at the time had a number of settlers, including many Mexican and white settlers who did a brisk business in selling to the Apache – this unfortunately included a few selling whiskey.

By early 1871, Vincent Colyer, Secretary of the Board of Indian Commissioners, visited the area to see for himself where it was located and in what condition his “charges” were being kept; he also hoped to entice Cochise in from Arizona and possibly arrange for him to visit Washington — of the Warm Springs chiefs, only Victorio was amenable to traveling to the capital. Cochise initially stayed away, but dozens of his people made the trip from Arizona.

“Apaches at Home,” circa 1890-1909. Photograph by Pho Gentry. Photo from the Library of Congress.

By March 1871, over 1,000 Apache from throughout New Mexican and Arizona had gathered there, with the potential of the site becoming a reservation for all of their people. Violence continued during this period, though, as bands of white settlers and Mexicans roved the countryside looking for isolated Apache camps to destroy, resulting in retaliation by some Apache, especially those from Arizona. Still, almost 2,000 were in the area by September when Cochise finally arrived at the temporary Apache agency. Cochise stayed in the area, his people in an encampment about 15 miles away, while Chiricahua attacks continued in southern Arizona. The decision was made to move the Apache north, to a new reservation on the Tularosa River, due to the large numbers of mainly Mexicans living in the Cañada Alamosa area. On 20 November 1871, Lieutenant General Phillip Sheridan, commanding the Military Division of the Missouri, issued General Orders #8, establishing the Tularosa Reservation and Fort Tularosa.

Unhappy with that decision, Cochise and his people went back to Arizona and would never return. Victorio and the Warm Springs people were displeased with the decision to move to Tularosa as it moved them further away from the traders at Cañada Alamosa (as well as further from the Mexican border) into a more isolated area. Peter Aleshire writes, regarding Cochise, that “…he did not want to settle so far from the traders at Cañada Alamosa and therefore become completely dependent on the thin rations of the Army.” A valid concern, the Apache had learned in their past dealings with the Army, as well as Indian Agents, that provisioning was often entirely inadequate, regardless of how much pleading with Washington was done by the Army or agents; being near other sources of supply figured greatly in the hesitancy to move. Historian Edwin Sweeney writes:

The Indians did not want to move; the area around beautiful and picturesque Cañada Alamosa was their home. They had countless reasons, some valid and others seemingly trivial: the Tularosa location was too close to the Navajos; swamplike conditions prevailed in summer and it was too cold in the winter; the water was bad; the grass was unhealthy; and on and on. Although these arguments appeared frivolous to whites, they were real to Indians.

Not all Warm Springs people were encamped at Tularosa – there were some, such as Sancho, who remained away and were blamed for much depredation of livestock in southern New Mexico. Other Apache, white settlers, and Mexican raiders from the south contributed to the tension in the region. A particular example, in November 1872, occurred in which the 8th Cavalry followed a trail of Coyotero Apache who had attacked a ranch to near the Tularosa reservation. Upon questioning:

The chiefs said that they wished peace…and they thought it was hard, that they should be held accountable for what other bad Indians did. That this was not their country, and they were not able to stop other Indians being bad and it was not right to blame them for others.

General George Crook agreed with this sentiment, especially as it pertained to the territorial newspapers of the time. He wrote:

It is too often the case that border newspapers disseminate all sorts of exaggerations and falsehoods about the Indians, which are copied in papers of high character and wide circulation, in other parts of the country, while the Indians side of the case is rarely heard. In this way the people at large get false ideas with reference to the matter. Then when the outbreak does come public attention is turned to the Indians, their crimes and atrocities are alone condemned, while the persons whose injustice has driven them to their course escape scot-free and are the loudest in their denunciations. No one knows this better than the Indian, therefore he is inexcusable in seeing no justice in a government which only punishes him, and allows the white man to plunder him as he pleases.

During their stay at Tularosa many of the “renegade” Apache from Arizona used the area as a resting place and attempted to “stir up” young Warm Springs warriors and entice them to follow a path of war. A July 1873 attack on Shedd’s Ranch, at the foot of the Organ Mountains, by a group of Warm Springs warriors led by Sancho led to a direct confrontation with Victorio. Previously, Victorio had stated his intention to punish anyone who had fled the reservation with the purpose of raiding in the area. Captain George Chilson, 8th Cavalry Commander of nearby Fort Seldon, tracked them to Cañada Alamosa where an engagement occurred, killing Trooper Frank Battling and resulting in Medals of Honor for First Sergeant James Morris, Sergeant Leonidas Lytle, and Private Henry Wills. The surviving Apache – including Victorio’s nephew – fled to Tularosa. This event signaled the beginning of the end for Fort Tularosa and after three years the Apache were moved back down to Ojo Caliente.

The creation of a Chiricahua reservation in southern Arizona, hard against the Mexican border, also contributed greatly to the decision to close Tularosa after such a short time. One of the primary reasons for setting up the New Mexico location was to entice Cochise and his Chokonen people to move to the area – the new reservation in Arizona negated that reasoning. The Arizona reservation also gave the Apache a clear path into Mexico and their traditional raiding areas in northern Sonora and Chihuahua – an attractive alternative to dependence on the largess of the Army or Indian Bureau.

John Shaw was named agent at the new Ojo Caliente reservation, and by summer 1874 there were some 400 Apache under his charge. Shaw faced two mounting problems during his tenure: again, adequate rationing of the Apache and the closeness of the reservation to American communities:

“’The close proximity of this reservation to the frontier settlements presents a difficulty and a serious one.” He learned, as others had before him, that “it is almost impossible to prevent traffic with the Citizens and Indians are fond of whiskey and will trade when they can get it, or corn of which they make a sort of beverage that intoxicates and many of them get beastly drunk…”

The proximity to settlements remained a recurring problem, not only because of the availability of whiskey but because it was all too easy to blame the Warm Springs people for any depredations which occurred anywhere in the area. The combination of the close availability of stock and the lack of provisioning – all noted by Colonel Edward Hatch when the 9th Cavalry arrived in New Mexico, led to increased raiding for stock, arms, and ammunition. In late 1875, discussion of a new reservation in Arizona to corral all of the Apache in the southwest increased and the first Apache, 1,500 from Camp Verde, were moved to San Carlos, with the White Mountain Apache soon after – plans were also made to move the Chiricahua and Warm Springs people, as well. Into this fray rode the 9th Cavalry, replacing the 8th Cavalry and immediately taking the field and engaging small bands of Apache.

Throughout the conflict with the US Army, the Apache fought in a particular way. The small numbers of Apache fighters – and lack of replacements – meant that they typically fought quick skirmishes, often ambushing the troops following them before disappearing into the mountains or desert; they preferred to remain mobile rather than engage in set-piece battles. Even so, Victorio became quite well-known for his use of breastworks for even the shortest stops while on the move, and posted guards in advantageous positions to be able to observe any entrance to his location. Another interesting tactic was the use of boulders:

A detachment of the 9th Cavalry, under Second Lieutenant George W. Smith, found a true trail and chased Victorio to the Rio Grande River but failed to catch him. Victorio posted braves as a rear guard to push large stones down on the pursuing soldiers, thus discouraging pursuit.

Victorio’s fighters also formed very long skirmish lines – up to 2 miles in one instance – to ensure that troops in pursuit had no way of flanking him. As the Army often sent out smaller troop–sized elements, it made sense and provided the protection which became critical in late 1879 through 1880, after Victorio and his people – including many women and children – fled Mescalero. As noted by many troops who fought them, they always had at least one escape route and often would retreat from one position to one equally as protected while putting the pursuer at greater risk. The 9th was entering a situation and landscape far different than what they had encountered during their tenure in Texas.

Photo of Apache scouts posed and ready to fire, circa 1885. Photo by J. C. Burges. Photo from the Navajo-Hopi Observer.

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