ARIZONA APACHE WARS

The following treatise is quite long (30 K). You may wish to use your browser to save it and review or print it out later. It is mostly about the Apache Wars as they affected Arizona.


When citizens of the United States first entered the Southwest, the Apaches were at first inclined to consider them as allies against their bitter enemies: the Mexicans. Even though in the 1830s there had already been clashes with American "scalp hunters" (e.g., James Johnson and James "Don Santiago" Kirker), those Americans were basically operating under authority of the Mexican flag, and so the Apaches considered such individuals as non-representative of the United States. Then, of course, came the Mexican War (1846-1848). Again, it appeared that the "Americans" could be Apache allies in their struggle against Mexico.

It wasn't until the 1850s that the United States finally realized that the Apaches were going to cause serious problems. Apaches continued to raid Mexico, and Mexico consequently put pressure on the U.S. to cease the raids. Settlers in New Mexico and Arizona, Mexican and American alike, became particularly insistent that Apache raiding stop. In Arizona by 1857 the United States finally decided to garrison a post just north of the Sonoran border (near modern-day Patagonia, Arizona)--Fort Buchanan. Because the outpost was isolated and difficult to maintain, it was basically ineffective in stopping raids and was abandoned at the outset of the Civil War. In fact, most U.S. Army regular troops left Arizona at the outset of the Civil War. It wasn't until the spring of 1862, when Major James H. Carleton and his California Volunteers entered Arizona, that troops were again employed against the Apaches. In that year a new fort was built at the junction of Aravaipa Creek and the San Pedro. By early 1865 this installation was known as Camp Grant. Fort Goodwin (near modern-day Bylas--renamed Fort Thomas in 1876) was established in 1864. Fort Verde (near modern-day Cottonwood) was also established in 1864. Fort McDowell (near modern-day Mesa) was established in 1865. These four posts (Grant, Goodwin, Verde, and McDowell) became the bases for operations against the hostile Indians of central Arizona. Grant and Goodwin were meant to control the Pinal Apaches. Camps Verde and McDowell were to control the Tonto Apaches and their Yavapai allies. Fort Bowie (near modern-day Willcox) was established in 1862 to control the Chiricahuas (who ranged along the southern Arizona and New Mexico borders); and Fort Apache was established in 1870 to control the White Mountain/Cibecue Apaches. The following treatise is mostly about the Apache Wars in central Arizona, and therefore does not contain much material about two of the most famous Apaches of all-time, Cochise and Victorio. However, some information about the Chiricahuas after the death of Cochise (1874) can be found here, as the Chiricahuas' reservation was terminated and many of the Chiricahua bands were sent to San Carlos in May 1876.

One of the earliest large engagements of U.S. troops against Apaches occurred in May 1863. In that month Lieutenant Thomas T. Tidball from Fort Lowell in Tucson, and a prominent Mexican citizen of Tucson, Jesús María Elías, led a force that killed fifty Apache warriors on Aravaipa Creek. Still another important battle took place in January 1864 between Yavapais and Apaches under a leader known as Paramucka. This was the infamous engagement at "Bloody Tanks." Some historians think it happened near what is now the town of Miami (near Globe), Arizona, while others feel it took place in Fish Creek Canyon in the Superstitions.

The leader, King Woolsey, of an American expedition of civilians out of Prescott, requested a meeting with Indian leaders. Six responded and came out the mountains to talk. After all were seated, Woolsey signalled his men to kill every Indian possible. So many Indians were killed that the stream where the engagement took place ran red with the blood of those who died--thus the name "Bloody Tanks." It was a horrifying precursor of what was to come.

In June 1864 Woolsey again left Prescott with volunteers to scout Apache Indian territory. Near the end of June he discovered a creek whose headwaters were in the Pinal Mountains. He therefore named the creek, "Pinal Creek."

Pinal Creek at Site of Woolsey's Camp

He made his main camp there and called it "Wheatfields," as Apache Indians raised crops there along the banks of Pinal Creek. (The area is still called Wheatfields today.)

Meanwhile, Colonel Edwin Rigg at Fort Goodwin, about 60 miles to the east, detailed Major Thomas Blakeney to meet Woolsey at Wheatfields. When Blakeney arrived at what is now Six Shooter Canyon [a few hundred yards from this author's home], he found a 14-year-old Apache boy who said he wished to give up his life as an Indian, as it was too hard. Blakeney took the boy, and, of course, his relatives came looking for him two days later. Major Blakeney refused to give the boy up. The next day (1 August 1864) this same boy went out into the fields at Wheatfields to look for food. He was taken back by his people, and this "kidnapping" outraged Blakeney. On that same day (August 1) Woolsey arrived back again at Wheatfields (he had been on an expedition to Salt River Canyon, further north). Blakeney's and Woolsey's men were ordered to search out any male Apaches they could and to kill them. They then destroyed the Apache fields. Great bitterness arose among the Apaches as a result of this fiasco, and even Colonel Edwin Rigg was disgusted by the affair. He knew that there could no longer be any prospect of peace.

During the next five years there were many skirmishes between U.S. troopers and Apache warriors.

Cushing Massacre Site in Pinals (5 June 1870)

Many Apaches and Yavapais died. Then, in November 1870, the army general who commanded in Arizona, General George Stoneman (he later became a governor of California), established a camp at the western end of the Pinals. The road his men built to reach the camp can still be seen outside of what is now Superior, in Queen Creek Canyon (across the gorge from Highway 60). However, this outpost was quickly terminated and re-established at the foot of Picket Post Mountain (also near Superior). It was soon only marginal in the control of Apaches and was finally abandoned altogether.

As the Apaches had a difficult time holding out against troops, in the spring of 1871 about 500 came in to Camp Grant to ask for peace. Their most important leader was Eskiminzin.

Another View of Cushing Massacre Site in Pinals (5 June 1870)

As it just so happened, there was a young commander at the fort who was sympathetic to the Apaches' difficult position. His name was Royal E. Whitman, and Eskiminzin began to consider him his friend.

On 30 April 1871, however, a horrible event occurred that was forever to stain relations between the Apaches and the white man. On that date, a group of men out of Tucson (many of whom were Papagos and Mexicans, but their leaders were Americans) treacherously attacked the peaceful, sleeping Apache camp. About 144 were killed, almost all of them women and children. The event became a cause for national debate. Many citizens in the East were horrified, and even President Ulysses S. Grant denounced it. However, in Arizona few people were sympathetic. A trial was held later that year and all perpetrators were acquitted. One of the principal leaders, Sidney De Long, was later even elected mayor of Tucson. Lieutenant Whitman himself was heartsick. He buried the bodies and did what he could to console the Apaches (most of them returned to Camp Grant a few days later). For Whitman's compassion he was courtmartialed several times and finally forced out of the army. General George Stoneman, himself, was relieved of his command, and a new officer, General George Crook, took his place.

Crook conducted an extensive scout throughout Arizona after he arrived. He held many talks with the Apaches, and several Apaches (mostly White Mountain) even decided to enlist under General Crook's command. Crook was convinced that the only way he would be successful against the Apaches was if he was able to convince other Apaches to side with him. In this strategy Crook proved to be correct. It was only because of the Apache Scouts that Crook was eventually successful.

In May 1872, however, President Grant decided to try another peace tactic with the Apaches. He sent General Oliver Otis Howard to Arizona to confer with Crook. Eventually, a conference was set up with the Apaches at Camp Grant on May 21 and 22, 1872. Most of the important leaders in Arizona were there--Indian, Mexican, and American. But, the success of the conference really depended entirely upon Eskiminzin, who was again willing to talk. On the first day of the conference he presented his concerns. He wanted the conference to ensure: (1) that his people be given a reservation, (2) that peace be maintained with the white man, (3) that Whitman be assigned as agent for the Apaches, and (4) that the Apache children who had been taken captive by the Tucsonians at the massacre be returned to their families. Howard agreed to the first three conditions, but said he was only able to find six of the 28 captive children. He didn't know if they could be returned, as those who now had them wanted to keep them. Eskiminzin broke off talks until the next day.

On the next day Howard finally agreed to return the six children, but he insisted that they remain awhile under the care of a willing white woman at Camp Grant. Eskiminzin finally relented, as he was assured the families could visit their children. Placing a stone near the site of the conference, Eskiminzin then stated, "As long as that stone lasts, no more campaigns shall be made by my people. We have placed it there in the presence of General Howard and before all these people, as a symbol that a new world has opened for us all."

Shortly afterward, General Howard accompanied Eskiminzin in a search for a location for the new reservation. It was finally decided that the junction of the San Carlos and Gila Rivers was the best site. In December 1872 the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation was formally established. It replaced the Camp Grant Reservation which was set aside for the San Carlos Apaches in 1871. Camp Grant was also moved that month to a new location south of Mt. Graham. In February 1873 all of the Aravaipa and Pinal Apaches moved to their new home, but Lieutenant Whitman was not allowed to be their agent.

[A PERSONAL NOTE: I myself (author) have heard accounts from Apaches whose ancestors were involved in the terrible Camp Grant Massacre. One lady who told me a truly graphic account of the massacre is a descendant of two of the Apache children who were returned to their families. One 95-year-old man is the son of a woman who was a very young child at the time of the massacre. Such an event should have never happened in the United States. May NOTHING like it ever occur again.]

The famous conference with Eskiminzin in May 1872 was not the only conference that General Howard had with Apaches during his peace mission. He also established peace with the White Mountain Apaches at Fort Apache, and with the Chiricahuas (under Cochise) at Fort Bowie. Both of these groups were also given reservations. Nevertheless, the Tonto Apaches and their allies the Yavapais, were still hostile. Consequently, General Crook finally implemented his military campaign in November 1872. From that month until 6 April 1873 a vicious, arduous struggle took place in Arizona, primarily in and around Tonto Basin (where Roosevelt Lake is now located). It was all-out war, and it soon became clear that General Crook could not be defeated.

One of the most horrifying battles took place at "Skull Cave" (located near what is now Canyon Lake). On 28 December 1872 seventy-six Indians (mostly Yavapai) were killed in a cave. Many of the dead were women and children. Captain John G. Bourke was at the battle and stated, "Never have I seen such a hellish spot as was the narrow little space in which the hostile Indians were now crowded." Later, in March 1873, another horrific battle took place at Turret Peak (near modern-day Cordes Junction). Approximately 50 Yavapai Indians were killed there. By April 1853 resistance was ended. On 6 April 1873, the Yavapai Chalipun surrendered with 2300 of his people at Fort Verde. Captian Bourke wrote the following about this surrender: "Crook took Chalipun by the hand, and told him . . . it was no use to talk about who began this war; there were bad men among all peoples; there were bad Mexicans, as there were bad Americans and bad Apaches; our duty was to end wars and establish peace, and not to talk about what was past and gone. The Apaches must make this peace not for a day or a week, but for all time . . ." A reservation was set apart for Chalipun's people near Fort Verde.

By the spring of 1873 most Apaches and Yavapais terminated their resistance and began settling down on their reservations. However, although most Apaches and Yavapais were peaceful, occasional disturbances still occurred. These had complex causes: bad rations, military and civil disagreements over administration, etc. A severe crisis finally developed in the winter of 1873- 1874.

Four renegades were still causing troubles on the reservation: Delshay, Chuntz, Cochinay, and Chan-deisi. Crook finally decided to go after them. In the spring of 1874 he began his campaign, and by July 1874 the renegades had all given up or were killed. The heads of seven outlaws were cut off and displayed on the parade ground at San Carlos. It was at this time that a young man arrived at San Carlos to become agent: John Clum. General Crook was then transferred to the Dakota Territory to deal with the Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne (March 1875).

Clum was quite sympathetic toward the Apaches. He was able to organize an Apache police force, headed by four important leaders: Eskinospas, Goodah-Goodah, "Sneezer," and Talkalai. (NOTE: Many of their descendants remain at San Carlos today.) The police force soon developed into an organization that was important in the subsequent Victorio and Geronimo campaigns. Because of Clum's great success, the federal government decided to concentrate ALL Apaches in Arizona at San Carlos. The ultimate result of this policy was utter catastrophe.

In February 1875 the Fort Verde Reservation was terminated. All 1500 Tontos and Yavapais there were marched in the dead of winter over the Mogollon Rim to the site of what was later to be called Globe. Clum met them there and helped them in their journey to San Carlos. One old man had carried his invalid wife in a basket on his back the entire distance. At least 25 children had been born on the trail. (At the turn of the century many of the Yavapais who were at San Carlos migrated back to their ancestral lands, where they are still located today: Camp Verde Reservation, Ft. McDowell Reservation, and the Yavapai Reservation near Prescott.)

Then, in the summer of 1875 eight hundred Apaches were forced from Fort Apache to the San Carlos Reservation (to what is now Bylas). Over the next few years 800 more were transferred there. However, 600 refused to move, and the government finally let them stay at Fort Apache. Eventually, most of these Apaches returned to Fort Apache (to become the current White Mountain Apaches), but some remained at Bylas. They live there to this day.

In May 1876 Clum then was ordered to transfer the wild Chiricahuas to San Carlos. Their reservation was also terminated. However, Clum was able to transfer only 325. They settled at what is now Geronimo (near Fort Thomas). However, 140 Chiricahuas fled to their friends the Mimbreño Apaches on their reservation at Warm Springs, New Mexico. Another 400 escaped from all control whatsoever. Among these 400 was the famous Bedonkohe medicine man Geronimo (born near what is now Clifton, Arizona).

But even the peaceful Chiricahuas and Mimbreños were not to be left alone. In the spring of 1877 the Warm Springs Reservation was also terminated, and the people were removed to San Carlos. The famous Mimbreño leader Victorio was outraged, as were his friends the Chiricahuas. Geronimo was put in chains by Clum and sent in a wagon to San Carlos. They were all settled at what is now Geronimo, at that time a malaria-infested area along the Gila River. The Chiricahuas and Mimbreños hated the confinement. They were used to ranging even down into the Sierra Madre of Mexico. Conditions quickly became volatile.

To make matters worse, John Clum began to feel that he was treated unfairly by the government. He finally resigned his San Carlos position in a huff in July 1877. He went to the new town of Tombstone and became editor of the Tombstone Epitaph. Later he became mayor of the town and fast friend of the Earp brothers.

After Clum resigned from his position, no one could control the Mimbreños and Chiricahuas. Victorio finally broke out in September 1877. His people were hounded by United States and Mexican armies for hundreds of miles. They were finally driven deep into the desolate Chihuahua desert south of Texas. Finally, in October 1880, at Tres Castillos, Victorio and most of his people were massacred by Mexican troops under Joaquín Terrazas. Only the remarkable 70-year-old Nana and a few of his followers escaped. For two months in the summer of 1881 Nana eluded 1400 troops in a thousand-mile campaign with only 40 warriors. He later joined with Geronimo.

Cibecue Massacre Site

By the summer of 1881 conditions were truly unbearable on the San Carlos Reservation. Soon, an austere medicine-man at Fort Apache, Noch-ay-del-klinne, began preaching that two dead beloved Indian leaders would be resurrected and the white man would leave Apache country. The military began to fear his influence. In August 1881 the troops killed the medicine man at Cibecue, and Geronimo decided that he could no longer live in peace. In the spring of 1882 he returned to San Carlos and made all the remaining Chiricahuas go with him to Mexico.

Close-up View of Main Cibecue Massacre Site

Because of all the unrest, General Crook was reassigned to Arizona in September 1882. He carefully listened to all the complaints, wrested control from corrupt civilian agents, and put trusted military officers in control. Captain Charles Gatewood and Lieutenant Britton Davis were placed in command at Fort Apache, and Lieutenants Emmett Crawford and Hamilton Roach were at San Carlos. (It wasn't until 1905 that the army finally relinquished control.) By early 1883 Crook had managed to pacify most of the Apaches and therefore began to recruit Indian scouts to go after Geronimo.

Crook conducted a remarkable campaign in the Sierra Madres in the spring of 1883. There were many Indian scouts with him. Chief of scouts, however, was the fascinating German-born Al Sieber. Sieber had already proven himself in the Tonto campaign. By May 1883 Geronimo was finally found in the Sierra Madre. Crook finally convinced Geronimo that he should return to San Carlos. By June most of Geronimo's people had returned, but Geronimo himself didn't come in until February 1884. This time Geronimo and his people were settle at Turkey Creek, twenty miles south of Fort Apache. They started farming, but were unhappy. In May 1885 Geronimo broke out again. However, most of his people remained peacefully farming at Turkey Creek.

In the spring of 1886 Crook conducted another campaign in the Sierra Madre looking for Geronimo. He was finally able to make a treaty with him at Cañón de los Embudos, just south of the Arizona-Sonora border. However, on the return trip Geronimo broke out again.

This time Crook was furious. Crook also began to receive messages from his commander, General Phillip Sheridan, that he considered insulting. Sheridan seemed to imply that Crook was too soft on Geronimo. Therefore, Crook asked to be relieved from his position, and General Sheridan complied. General Nelson Miles became Crook's replacement.

Over the next five months Miles employed 5000 troops in his hunt for Geronimo's tiny band of 35 warriors and about 80 women and children. Incredible exploits took place in the Sierra Madre, and finally on 4 September 1886, Geronimo finally surrendered at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona. It was not Miles, however, who did the actual capture. It was actually Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood and the Chiricahua Apache scouts Martine and Kayitah.

Geronimo and his band were taken to Fort Bowie and shipped out on a train to Florida. The rest of the Chiricahuas who had remained peaceful at Turkey Creek were also shamefully shipped to Florida. They had done nothing to deserve this fate, but General Miles meant to "teach them all a lesson." Even the Chiricahua scouts who had helped find Geronimo were sent to Florida! Eventually, the Chiricahuas (who managed to survive the disease and neglect in the East) were sent to Oklahoma, where Geronimo died in February 1909. In the spring of 1913 most of the Chiricahua requested that they be allowed to live with their friends the Mescalero Apaches in New Mexico. They are there to this day. However, some of the Chiricahua remained in Oklahoma, and some of their descendants also live there.


Good books to consult about the Apache Wars are:

Ogle, Ralph Hedrick. Federal Control of the Western Apache 1848-1886 Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1940, 1970.

Reedstrom, E. Lisle. Apache Wars: An Illustrated Battle History New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 1990.

Thrapp, Daniel. The Conquest of Apachería. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1967, 1988.

Wagoner, Jay J. Early Arizona: Prehistory to Civil War. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1975.

Worcester, Donald E. The Apaches: Eagles of the Southwest. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1979.

Cibecue Massacre Site--View of Apache Sniper Positions


External Sites to Explore

http://www.pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/fortverde.html
Web site about the Fort Verde Park.
http://www.nps.gov/fobo
Web site on the Fort Bowie park.

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