The Path to Hembrillo

The Path to Hembrillo

Historian David Roberts writes:

The myopic obstinacy of the government almost defies credibility. After eleven months of feeble deliberation, the Department of Interior ordered the Chihenne (Warm Springs people) returned to San Carlos. On October 8, 1878, Victorio’s people were informed of the decision. According to an eyewitness, Victorio told the captain in charge of removal “that his home was here, that his people had been born here, that they loved their home, and, further, that not a buck of his band would go to San Carlos.” The captain insisted that he had to obey orders. Suddenly Victorio uttered a piercing yell and ran for the mountains. More than ninety of his people, mostly warriors, followed him at once. Troops mustered to pursue the fleeing Apaches were thwarted by autumn storms.

United States Boundary Commissioner John Russell Bartlett realized this almost immediately upon the Americans entrance to New Mexico, writing in 1854, “The policy of concentration is a pernicious one and can have but one result: it will stimulate their fondness for war.”

Throughout 1879 and into 1880, the Victorio was pursued by the 9th Cavalry. Victorio and his warriors had surrendered at Ojo Caliente in January/February 1879 (their families were at San Carlos, Arizona), only to flee again by April. They later fled the Mescalero Reservation and returned to the Black Range and the San Mateo Mountains. Major Morrow’s 1st Battalion and a mixed detachment of 6th Cavalry and Apache Scouts gave chase. This pursuit took Morrow and his troops into Mexico, where they were soon forced back north. Early 1880 saw the Apache back in New Mexico with Morrow in pursuit once again – two negotiation attempts for surrender were made to no effect. By March, with his people safely ensconced in the San Andres Mountains, Victorio launched numerous attacks on settlements along the Rio Grande.

“Desert rovers – Apache.” Photograph by Edward S. Curtis, circa 1903. Photograph from the Library of Congress.

In a 5 February letter to General Willcox in Prescott, Arizona, Hatch wrote:

In my opinion the families of the Warm Springs Apaches, now on the war path in New Mexico against whom Morrow is operating cannot be watched too closely. Most of them supposed to be at San Carlos. Captains Carroll and Rucker had a fight with Victorio four miles below Palomas on January 30th and drove him and punished him considerably. Our loss one killed and three wounded. Morrow was at Palomas on thirty first hot on the trail pushing the Indians…

A narrative of Rucker’s engagement was published in the Grant County Herald on 21 February 1880:

Captain Rucker’s fight occurred on the 30th. The Indians had fled before his command, up a long canon, and at daylight of the day named the troops and Mexican volunteers accompanying them, came in view of the Indian herd, near the head of the canon guarded apparently by three or four old squaws who seemed to be hobbling about in a frantic effort to get the animals away. All rushed forward, and when they were near the herd, the Indians opened fire from the rocks on both sides, wounding three of the soldiers. All fled precipitately except Capt. Rucker and another officer with some ten or twelve men, who fell back slowly covering the retreat as well as possible. The Indians pursued the command to the very banks of the Rio Grande. Morrow and Rucker effected a junction on the 31st, and taking up the trail, followed the Indians into the San Andres Mountains…

A fight took place on the 3rd, resulting in one Apache Scout killed and four troopers injured. In desperate need of rations, Morrow led his command east to Tularosa, a small settlement in the Tularosa Basin near the Mescalero reservation. The Grant County Herald described the condition of the men upon their arrival as “nearly destitute of clothing and rations, and it is a wonder that he has been able to keep up the fight and pursuit as long as he has, while laboring under so many disadvantages.” This is a common condition of the men in the narrative of the 9th in New Mexico.

On 23 February, Hatch published General Field Order 1, reorganizing the 9th Cavalry Regiment in anticipation of upcoming operations. First Battalion, commanded by Major Morrow, had five companies of 9th Cavalry, one of 6th Cavalry, and Apache Scouts. Second Battalion, commanded by Captain Carroll, had four companies of 9th Cavalry, with Third Battalion, commanded by Captain Hooker, having three companies of 9th Cavalry, one of the 15th Infantry, and Navajo Scouts.

The disposition of the 9th Cavalry and attached units according to General Field Order 1, 23 February 1880.

Two days after publishing his order, Hatch wrote a letter to the Assistant Adjutant General, Department of the Missouri, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In his letter he describes the terrain his men are fighting on and the effect this has on the troops. He also makes a comment regarding a tactic used by Victorio, resulting in the cavalrymen never being able to get around the Apache:

Major Morrow has over-exerted himself to such an extent as to produce a dangerous [hemorrhage]. Long night marches have been made on foot by the troops in their efforts to surprise the Indian camps. Morrow deserves great credit for the persistency with which he has kept up the pursuit, and without the foot Indians and constant vigilance, must have fallen into ambuscades, resulting in the destruction of his command. The Indians are certainly as strong as any command Major Morrow has had in action. We always fight in extended skirmish line, the Indian line is always found to be of the same length, and often longer, extending in some actions more than two miles; hence the effort to extend flanks with the object of surrounding them fails.

By this time, Hatch had taken the field, commanding all units of the 9th Cavalry, as well as detachments of the 6th Cavalry from Fort Bowie, Arizona, with Apache and Navajo Scouts. This may have been partly in response to criticisms throughout the state that the 9th was ineffective in controlling Apache predation in southern New Mexico, as shown in a resolution published in the Las Cruces newspaper Thirty Four on 31 March 1880. (The Thirty Four regularly published virulently racist articles and editorials about not only the Apache, but of the troopers of the 9th Cavalry as well). A meeting of civic leaders of the town of Mesilla, including A. J. Fountain, Jacinto Armijo, Rafael Ruelas, Euginio Moreno, Carlos Armijo, and S.H. Newman, passed a resolution on 29 March criticizing Hatch’s conduct of the campaign against Victorio, including the statement:

AND WHEREAS. To some reason to us unknown, the military in these counties have failed to successfully compete with these small bands of hostile Indians and are at this moment safely ensconced within their supply camps and garrisons. Permitting the Indians to roam unchecked and unmolested over the country.

Correspondence from Hatch during this period contains numerous descriptions of the poor conditions of the troop’s equipment and the lack of adequate mounts, sometimes resulting in delays in pursuit of Victorio and his fighters. Quite often, mounts and pack animals acquired were too small or not acclimated to the conditions required for arduous pursuit through southern New Mexico’s rough terrain. Other factors are discussed by historian Robert Watt in his comprehensive history of the Victorio Campaign:

First, the main purpose of Victorio’s confrontation with the US Army, in January and early February 1880, was to run the Ninth Cavalry’s pursuit into the ground while keeping the whereabouts of his dependents and plunder (taken in Mexico) secret. Second, for the very same reason, it made no sense for the Apaches to raid any settlements in New Mexico at this time. Many of the Apache warriors were concentrating on keeping the US Army’s attention securely focused on their activities, while the remaining Apaches made sure that their plunder was transported to points where it could be traded for guns and ammunition.

On 20 March, Hatch ordered Captain Henry Carroll to prepare the 2nd Battalion and move toward the Tularosa Basin and San Andres Mountains; “As soon as your Battalion is ready to march proceed to Tularosa to await orders. Take 30 days rations, fully prepared for field service with wagons & Pack mules as much as possible with wagon transportation.”

Further communication to Captain Carroll, through two letters on 31 March, indicate that Hatch would leave Aleman on 3 April with Morrow’s 1st Battalion, elements of the 6th Cavalry, and Apache Scouts. Hatch wrote:

…hope to strike them about the fourth or fifth [April] I have telegraphed you to come up on the east side of the mountains about the place of your last fight [Possibly referring to Hospital Canyon, south of Hembrillo]. On the 4th Hooker will move through the pass above probably known as Aleman. I shall take Morrow’s command, the Indians and Arizona troops directly to the camp. After that proceed to the [Mescalero] Agency, You will not want to leave Tularosa with more than five days forage.

Hatch’s plan had been a push through the San Andres mountains to drive out Victorio’s people, then a drive east to the Mescalero reservation across the Tularosa Basin, meeting Colonel Benjamin Grierson’s 10th Cavalry in order to disarm and dismount the Apache there. On 3 April, Lieutenant Walter Finley wrote to his mother:

I came in here from camp to write you a letter as it is so terribly dusty out in camp that writing is next to impossible. Every morning about 9 o’clock a wind springs up and blows hard until sun-down, bringing clouds of dust with it covering everything with a brown coating. Our campo is the dustiest spot a brilliant [commanding] officer could pick out but if he is satisfied the rest of us must be. We have four companies here, A, D, F, and G. Cap’t Carroll the Cap’t of “F” Co. is the senior officer and commander of the battalion which is designated the “2d Battalion of New Mexico troops in the field,” the 1st bat. Being under command of Major Morrow and the 3d of Cap’t Hooker. There are one or two companies of the 6th Cav. From Arizona with Morrow and 3 companies of Indian scouts. 250 men of the 10th Cav. Are coming up from Texas and will be here on the 12th inst., at which time all the troops will probably concentrate here and our future movements will be determined. Victorio’s squaws and children are being brought over from Arizona to Ojo Caliente (his old reservation which has been given back to him) and many think he will come in and give himself when they arrive. Personally I hope he will as we will get a rest then, officially I hope he will not as he should be crushed by force from all the murders he has committed.

Special Field Orders Number 18, in preparation for the move on the San Andres Mountains and subsequent movement to disarm the Mescalero, was published on 5 April 1880. Note that the date the orders were published – while Hatch was in Aleman – is the date by which he initially expected to be engaged, as shown in the communications with Carroll at Fort Stanton. This had implications for Lieutenant John Conline, as will be seen.

Special Field Orders No. 18



1. The First Battalion New Mexico Troops will march in the following orders – Captain McClellan with his own company (“L”), with detachments of the Sixth Cavalry and all Indian Scouts, will move to San Andreas on the evening of the Sixth instant as soon as it is dark enough to conceal the movement. He will report to the Battalion Commander for instructions.

2. All Companies of the Ninth Cavalry present with the Battalion will move on the morning of the 7th instantly directly to the San Andreas, under direction of the Battalion Commander.

3. The Battalion will be rationed for ten days from the 5th instant. Owing to the condition of the pack animals, the command will move as light as possible, sending on train the supplies not required for the following ten days. The train will meet the command at Tularosa on the 11th instant.

4. The Headquarters of the District Commander will be for the present with the First Battalion New Mexico Troops.

5. Under letters of instructions on April 4, 1880, from this office, the Third Battalion New Mexico Troops, under command of A.E. Hooker, Ninth Cavalry, will move on the 6th instant from Annaya Springs to Malpais Spring and cover west side of San Andreas Mountains.

6. Under letter of instructions on March 31, 1880, from this office, the Second Battalion New Mexico Troops, under command of Captain Henry Carroll, Ninth Cavalry, will move on the 4th instant, up the east side of the San Andreas Mountains.

By command of Colonel HATCH
First Lieutenant Ninth Cavalry,
A.A.A. General in the field.

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