Last week I posted here about how the U.S. Government hosted 8 0r 10 Apache men for an all expenses paid sightseeing tour of Washington D.C. and New York City. Many people seemed to have enjoyed that tidbit of local history, so here’s a brief follow-up.
This account comes from the same book, Britton Davis’s The Truth About Geronimo, published in 1929. The book was written almost 5 decades after Lt. Davis was assigned by General Crook as Commandant of the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Davis also led U.S. troops and Indian scouts into the Sierra Madre Mountains of Chihuahua and Sonora Mexico to locate the “hostiles” and either bring them back to San Carlos to live in peace or kill them in battle.
Apache Mother & Infant
To any Anglo or Mexican, whether merchant, rancher, or laborer and their families, Apaches were the alpha predators, far more dangerous than mountain lions and wolves. No Anglo or Mexican man, women, or child living in Southern Arizona between 1861 and 1886 was safe from Apache depredations if the Indians found them in the open away from a large settlement like Tucson. Virtually every Anglo and Mexican living here wanted the Apaches exterminated. And these civilians clamored for the Army to carry out the eradication.
Living among the Apaches in general and the Chiricahuas in particular, Davis got to know them as well as any White Eyes. Here are three telling excerpts.
“The difficulties of subduing the Apaches were so unique that they were not understood even by many of our
Apache Man w/Wife: Edward Curtis Photograph
superior officers in Washington. No one who had not been through the mill could understand them. General Sheridan, at that time in command of the army, was hopelessly at sea in his knowledge of these people, their mode of warfare, of the problem of catching them. His (Sheridan’s) ignorance of these matters led him to give orders that were impossible to carry out. The impossibility of complying with one in particular, which I will quote later, resulted in Crook’s replacement by Miles – and Miles could not comply with it. (“It” being offering the Apaches nothing but unconditional surrender or annihilation. jg)
The Apache was unlike any other Indian tribe the whites have ever fought since civilization began to creep over the North American continent. His mode of warfare was peculiarly his own. He saw no reason for fighting unless there was something tangible and immediate to be gained. To satisfy his pressing needs for arms, ammunition, food, or clothing (and horses) he would raid isolated ranches, suburbs of small Mexican towns, or ambush travelers. But he had no such sense of bravado as animated other Indian tribes who, resisting encroachment by the whites on the Indian’s domain, fought us man to man in the open. His (Apache) creed was “fight and run away, live to fight another day.” Corner him, however, and you would find him as desperate and dangerous as a wounded wolf.
Only when cornered, or to delay pursuit of his women and children, would he engage a force anywhere near the strength of his own. To fight soldiers merely in defense of his country, he considered the height of folly; and he never committed that folly if he could avoid it.”
“Living among these people with practically no companionship except that of the Indians themselves, my feelings toward them began to change. That ill-defined impression that they were something a little better than animals but not quite human; something to be on your guard against, something to be eternally watched with suspicion and killed with no more compunction than one would kill a coyote; the feeling that there could be no possible ground upon which we could meet man to man, passed away.”
In my talks with the Indians, they showed no resentment of the way they had been treated in the past; only wonderment at the way of it. Why had they been shifted from reservation to reservation; told to farm and (then) had their crops destroyed; assured that the Government would ration them, then left to half starve; herded into the hot, milarial river bottom of the Gila and San Carlos, when they were mountain people? These and other questions I could not answer. And above all they wondered if they would now be allowed to live in peace. Poor devils! Their fears were realized. In two years they were in prison in Florida; four hundred innocent people, men, women, and children, who had kept the faith with us, punished for the guilt of barely one-fourth who had been lied to and frightened into leaving the Reservation by Geronimo, Chihuahua, and two or three other malcontents.
We have heard much talk of the treachery of the Indian. In treachery, broken pledges on the part of high officials, lies, thievery, slaughter of defenseless women and children, and every crime in the catalogue of man’s inhumanity to man the Indian was a mere amateur compared to the “noble white man.”
(As always, you can read more about the Apache Wars in Southeastern Arizona and other local history, such as the Bisbee Massacre, at my website. Main Menu > Search By Interest > Local History.