Published on January 7, 2011 by John
The Apache Wars were a series of colonial conflicts fought during the nineteenth century between American settlers, the United States and or Confederate States Army against many Apache tribes in what is now the southwestern United States.
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The first conflicts between Apaches and Americans began in 1847 during the Taos Revolt of the Mexican-American War. The Apaches were fighting in defense of Mexico with their New Mexican allies.
The first campaigns specifically against the Apache came in 1851 and would end with the surrender of Geronimo in 1886. However, Apache attacks on white and Mexican settlers would continue as late as 1900. Apaches were not new to warfare, they had fought the Spanish and Mexicans for decades before conflict with Americans. The major campaigns of the period occurred around present day Tucson, Arizona. The Apache failed to drive the Spanish and Mexicans off areas conquered from other Native American tribes, and eventually from their homeland itself. This led to the later Apache conflicts. The various Apache groups ruled a vast area of land stretching from southern California to western Texas, northern Arizona to Mexico and a region in Oklahoma.
In the early years of the wars, roughly from 1851 to 1875, battles were often the result of stolen property and massacres of whites and Mexicans. From 1875 to 1886, the United States engaged Apaches in order to settle them on reservations or to keep them from escaping the reservations. From 1886 to 1900, minor battles occurred between United States Cavalry expeditionary forces, white settlers, and small groups of Apaches who evaded the U.S. Army’s reservations. Often individual Apache warriors were reported to have made attacks.
Sometimes the Native Americans were provoked by white and Mexican settlers, speculators of the federal Indian Reservation policy. Apache leaders like Mangas Coloradas of the Bedonkohe; Cochise of the Chokonen; Victorio of the Chihenne band; Juh of the Nednhi band; Delshay of the Tonto; and Geronimo of the Bedonkohe led war or raiding parties against non-Apaches and resisted the military’s attempts, by force and persuasion, to relocate their people to various reservations.
At the start of the Mexican-American War in 1846, many Apache bands promised U.S. soldiers safe passage through their land, though other tribes fought with New Mexican insurgents in defense of Mexico. When the U.S. claimed the frontier territories of Mexico in 1848, Mangas Coloradas signed a peace treaty, respecting them as conquerors of the Mexicans’ land. An uneasy peace between the Apache and the Americans which held until an influx of gold miners into the Santa Rita Mountains of present day Arizona, led to conflict. In 1851, near the Piños Altos mining camp Mangas was attacked by a group of miners who tied him to a tree and severely beat him. Similar incidents continued in violation of the treaty, leading to Apache reprisals. Another significant incident was the Battle of Cieneguilla in 1854. The battle of Cieneguilla resulted in the Battle of Ojo Caliente Canyon during the same Apache campaign. Later in 1854, a small U.S. Cavalry force defeated an overwhelming force of Lipan Apaches at the Battle of the Diablo Mountains in southern Texas.
In December 1860, thirty miners launched a surprise attack on an encampment of Bedonkohes Apaches on the west bank of the Mimbres River. According to historian Edwin R. Sweeney, the miners “…killed four Indians, wounded others, and captured thirteen women and children.” Retaliation by the Apache again followed, with raids against U.S. citizens and property.
In early February 1861 a band of unidentified natives stole cattle and kidnapped the stepson of rancher John Ward near Sonoita, Arizona and Ward immediately sought redress from the nearby U.S. Army. Lieutenant George N. Bascom was dispatched and John Ward accompanied the detail. Bascom set out for a meeting with Cochise near Apache Pass and the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach station to secure the cattle and Ward’s son. Cochise was unaware of the theft and kidnapping, but offered to seek those responsible. Bascom was unsatisfied and accused Cochise of personal involvement. Bascom then falsely imprisoned Cochise and a group of family members that accompanied him to the negotiations inside his tent. Cochise was angered by the accusations and his imprisonment and slashed his way from the tent and escaped. Cochise decided upon an equivocal response and took a member of the stage coach station hostage after an exchange of gunfire during further failed negotiations.
Bascom remained unwilling to conduct an exchange and Cochise and his party opted to kill the members of a passing Mexican wagon train. Nine Mexicans were murdered and mutilated, three whites were taken captive and murdered later. An unsuccessful ambush was then made on a Butterfield Overland stagecoach. Negotiations between Bascom and Cochise remained at an impasse, while Bascom sent for reinforcements. Cochise, realizing the situation was becoming untenable, decided to kill his remaining captives from the Butterfield Station and abandon negotiations, four more whites were killed and mutilated. Upon the advise of military surgeon Dr. Bernard Irwin, Bascom replied by hanging the Apache hostages in his custody. The short incident became known as the Bascom Affair and while a small affair, initiated another eleven years of open warfare between American settlers, the U.S. and C.S. Armies and Apaches.
After the American Civil War began in April, 1861, Mangas Coloradas and Cochise, his son-in-law, struck an alliance, agreeing to drive all Americans out of Apache territory. The battles of Tubac, Cooke’s Canyon, Florida Mountains, Pinos Altos and Dragoon Springs were some results of the Apache campaigns against the Confederates. Other apache bands fought Confederates as well, Mescaleros attacked and captured a herd of livestock at Fort Davis on August 9, 1861, the Apaches killed two guards in the process. A patrol was sent out to bring the livestock back and they were massacred a few days later. Magnas Coloradas and Cochise were joined in their effort by the chief Juh and the famous warrior Geronimo. Their goal was never realized, however many tribal members fell under the impression that they had forced the Americans from the area due to the closure of the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach and departure of U.S. troops due to the outset of the American Civil War.
U.S. military leadership decided to form a military response against the Arizona Confederates in New Mexico Territory by dispatching a column of Californian volunteers under Colonel James Henry Carleton. The California Column as it became known, proceeded to follow the old Butterfield Overland Trail east and made contact with Mangas Coloradas and Cochise’s followers near the site of the spring in Apache Pass in 1862. In the Battle of Apache Pass, Mangas Coloradas was shot in the chest and wounded. While recuperating, Mangas Coloradas met with an intermediary to call for peace with the Americans. In January 1863, he decided to personally meet with U.S. military leaders at Fort McLane, near present-day Hurley in southwestern New Mexico. Mangas arrived under a white flag of truce to meet with Brigadier General Joseph Rodman West, an officer of the California militia and a future senator from Louisiana. Armed soldiers took him into custody, and West is reported to have given an execution order to the sentries. That night Mangas was tortured, shot and killed, as he was “trying to escape.” The following day, U.S. soldiers cut off his head, boiled it and sent the skull to the Smithsonian Institution. The mutilation of Mangas’ body only increased the hostility between the Apaches and the United States.
General James Henry Carleton decided to remove the Navajos and Apaches to reservations. Initially the purpose was to make the Rio Grande valley safer for settlement and to stop raids on whites traveling through the area. Carleton began by forcing the various bands of Mescalero Apaches onto the reservation at Fort Sumner. Carleton enlisted the one-time friend of the Navajos, Kit Carson, to round them up by destroying crops and livestock and sending them on The Long Walk to Fort Sumner. Carleton would later become involved in the First Battle of Adobe Walls, the largest Indian War battle of the Great Plains.
Sometime in 1862 Yavapai County, Arizona, the famed Theodore Boggs fought a small engagement with Apaches at Big Bug, Arizona. Boggs was the son of Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs and a descendant of pioneer Daniel Boone on his mothers’ side.
On November 25, 1864 the Plains Apache fought in one of the largest battles of the American Indian Wars at the First Battle of Adobe Walls. Thousands of Cheyenne, Kiowa and Plains Apache were attacked by a United States army, in the resulting battle the natives forced the Americans up to an abandoned adobe building on top of a nearby hill. After being forced up the hill, the Americans repulsed several attacks and the natives retreated back to their villages. The Americans followed which led to the death of Iron Shirt, a Plains Apache chief. The natives lost over fifty men while killing six United States soldiers.
In 1871, a group of six whites, forty-eight Mexicans and almost 100 Papago men attacked Camp Grant. This resulted in the massacre of about 150 Apache men women and children. The incident came to be known as the Camp Grant Massacre.
Campaigning against the Apache continued in the mid 1870s, the battles of Salt River Canyon and Turret Peak are prime examples of the said violence in the Arizona region. Soldiers and civilians, especially from Tucson, constantly pursued various Apache bands for a variety of reasons. These campaigns would continue into the 1890s.
In 1880, an Apache army under their commander, Victorio, launched a campaign against the white American settlers in and around Alma, New Mexico. Beginning with the Alma Massacre, the campaign was concluded with the Apache siege of Fort Tularosa and subsequent U.S. victory.
A year later in August 1881 George Jordan fought at the Battle of Carrizo Canyon in New Mexico territory. The engagement ended in a United States victory and ultimately led to a Medal of Honor for Sergeant Jordan. Just days later, at the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona Territory. A U.S. army was sent to investigate recent reports of Apache unrest and to detain the ring leader medicine man, Nochaydelklinne. The arrest of Nochaydelklinne by three native scouts was peaceful until they made their way back to camp, upon arrival the camp had already been surrounded by Nochaydelklinne’s followers. The Battle of Cibecue Creek began. The following day, the native army attacked Fort Apache in reprisal for the death of Nochaydelklinne who was killed during the fighting at Cibecue Creek.
In the spring of 1882, a party of about 60 White Mountain Apache warriors, coalesced under the leadership of a warrior called Na-tio-tish. In early July some of the warriors ambushed and killed four San Carlos policemen, including the police chief. After the ambush, Na-tio-tish led his band of warriors northwest through the Tonto Basin. Local Arizona settlers were greatly alarmed and demanded protection from the army which immediately sent out fourteen companies of cavalry from forts in the region.
In the middle of July, Na-tio-tish led his band up Cherry Creek to the Mogollon Rim, intending to reach General Springs, a well-known water hole on the Crook Trail. The Apaches noticed that they were trailed by a single troop of cavalry and decided to lay an ambush seven miles north of General Springs where a fork of East Clear Creek cuts a gorge into the Mogollon Rim. The Apaches hid on the far side and waited.
The cavalry company was led by Captain Adna R. Chaffee. However, Chaffee’s chief scout, Al Sieber, discovered the Apaches’ trap and warned the troops. During the night, Chaffee’s lone company was reinforced by four more from Fort Apache under the command of Major A. W. Evans. The Battle of Big Dry Wash would soon begin.
Geronimo is probably the best known Apache warrior of that time period, but he certainly was not the only one. He belonged to a Chiricahua Apache band, and his story is typical of other bands and their leaders.
After two decades of guerrilla warfare, Cochise, one of the leaders of the Chiricahua band, chose to make peace and agreed to relocate to a reservation in the Chiricahua Mountains. Not long afterward, Cochise died in 1874. In a change of policy, the U.S. government decided to move the Chiricahuas to the San Carlos reservation in 1876. Half of them complied and the other half, led by Geronimo, escaped to Mexico.
In the spring of 1877, the U.S. captured Geronimo and brought him to the San Carlos reservation. He stayed there until September 1881, when a gathering of soldiers around the reservation caused him to fear that he would be imprisoned for his past deeds. He fled to Mexico again, taking 700 Apaches with him.
On April 19, 1882, another Chiricahua chief named Juh attacked the San Carlos reservation and forced Chief Loco to break out. During the hostilities Juh’s braves killed Chief of Police Albert D. Sterling along with Sagotal, an Apache policeman. Then Loco and up to 700 Apaches were led back to Mexico.
In the spring of 1883 General George Crook was put in charge of the Arizona and New Mexico reservations. With 200 Apaches, he journeyed to Mexico, found Geronimo’s camp, and with Tom Horn as his interpreter persuaded Geronimo and his people to return to the San Carlos reservation. Chiefs Bonito, Loco, and Nana came with Crook immediately but Juh remained behind and died accidentally in November. Geronimo himself didn’t come until February 1884.
Crook instituted several reforms on the reservation, but local newspapers criticized him for being too lenient and demonized Geronimo. On May 17, 1885, Geronimo, drunk and intimidated by demands for his death printed in the papers, escaped once again to Mexico.
Crook went after Geronimo in the spring of 1886 and caught up with him just over the Mexico border in March. Some reports say that while setting up a meeting for negotiations, many of the Apaches were given strong drinks and fed rumors by a local rancher. Geronimo and his group fled and Crook could not catch up with them. The War Department reprimanded Crook for the failure, and he resigned. He was replaced by Brigadier General Nelson Miles in April 1886. Miles deployed over 2 dozen heliograph points, coordinating 5,000 soldiers, 500 Apache scouts, 100 Navajo Scouts, and thousands of civilian militia against Geronimo and his twenty-four warriors. Geronimo was found in September 1886 by Lt. Gatewood and persuaded to surrender to General Miles after killing dozens of whites and Mexicans during the Bear Valley Raid and several other similar attacks. Geronimo and many other Apaches, mostly men and including some of the Apache Scouts were imprisoned in Fort Pickens in Florida while their families were taken to Fort Marion. The Apaches became a center of interest to northerners vacationing in St. Augustine, who included teachers and missionaries. Volunteers participated in teaching the native American prisoners English, Christian religion and elements of American culture. Many citizens raised funds to send nearly twenty of the prisoners to college after they were released from detainment. Many died there. Later, Apache children were taken to the Carlisle school in Pennsylvania, where fifty of them died. Eventually, after 26 years, the Apaches in Florida were allowed to return to the Southwest, but Geronimo was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Despite the surrender of Geronimo in 1886, Apache warriors continued their war against whites and Mexicans. United States Cavalry regiments launched various expeditions against Apaches after 1886. During one expedition, 10th Cavalry and 4th Cavalry forces under First Lieutenant James W. Watson pursued mounted Apache warriors north of Globe, Arizona, along the Salt River. Sergeant James T. Daniels, Company L., 4th Cavalry and Sergeant William McBryar, Troop K., 10th Cavalry, are the last known recipients of the Medal of Honor for actions during the Apache Wars. Both exemplified “extreme courage and heroism” while under attack by hostile Apaches, on March 7, 1890. A Private Rowdy, Troop A, of the Indian Scouts was also decorated for “faithfulness, zeal, and great tenacity, making it possible to encounter the Apache renegades”.