Today, there’s nothing there. Nothing to suggest what happened in the early morning of April 30, 1871. Nothing to commemorate this blood-soaked ground where 144 people, almost all women and children, lay murdered and mutilated.
Camp Grant Parade Grounds
Camp Grant, named for the famous Civil War general, was an Army post built at the confluence of the Gila and San Pedro Rivers so that U.S. soldiers could protect local settlers and miners who had begun to flood into this area near present-day Winkelman in the late 1860′s. From this vantage point, 70 miles north of Tucson, the Army hoped it would also be in good position to protect the San Pedro River overland freight route that ran from New Mexico to California.
The Apaches: Hated and Feared
This area had long been home to various bands of Apaches. The Apaches had few friends among other nearby tribes. Long before the coming of the Spanish, Anglos, and Mexicans, the Apaches had raided other Indian groups and were hated by their neighbors, including the Papago Indians we now call Tohon O’odham or Desert People.
When the Spanish, and later the Anglos and Mexicans began to settle here, the Apaches were happy to raid their ranches, mining camps, settlements, stagecoaches, and wagon trains. Raiding was their way of life. To be a respected Apache male, you had to be a successful raider, which meant you had to be a skilled thief and murderer.
Generally, the Apaches were after anything they believed would benefit themselves, particularly horses, mules, and ammunition, but also items they could trade, such as slaves, for whiskey and better weapons. They were utterly unconcerned about others. As such, they were “good” raiders in the sense that they were usually successful, at least in the early years before the Civil War and the arrival of the U.S. Army. The Apaches excelled at lightening fast ambushes and seldom left their victims alive. It took the Army a quarter of a century to solve the “Apache Problem”, which they accomplished by both force and treachery.
Anyone living in Southern Arizona and Southern New Mexico or Northern Sonora and Chihuahua Mexico who wasn’t Apache was rightly terrified of them. When confronted with a superior force, such as the U.S. Cavalry, the Apaches were adept at guerilla warfare. From the establishment of Camp Grant in 1871, it would be another 15 years before the legendary Apache shaman, Geronimo, would surrender for the 4th and final time. Even then, it took a brilliant General named Crook, 5,000 soldiers, and several hundred Indian scouts to run him to ground.
Apache “Feeding Stations”
During this time, one Apache band after another surrendered as the number of warriors declined from old age, but more often death in battle. Following surrender, most were sent to reservations where sickness – particularly malaria, malnutrition, exposure, and hopelessness further reduced their numbers.
In 1870 the commander of the Army in the Arizona Territory established “feeding stations” to provide rations for those Apaches who surrendered. By doing so, the Army hoped to convince all “renegade” Apaches to cease raiding and accept reservation life.
Lt. Royal Whitman
Soon, some Apache bands indicated a willingness to give up raiding and adopt a sedentary lifestyle in return for adequate rations.
In February 1871, five old, hungry Apache women in ragged clothes came to Camp Grant looking for a son of one of the women who had been taken prisoner. The senior commander, Lt. Royal Whitman, had just arrived from the east and had not yet learned to hate all Apaches.
He fed these women, treated them kindly, and sent them off with a promise of similar treatment for others of their band if they would come to Camp Grant in peace. Word spread and other Apaches from Aravaipa and Pinal bands soon came to the post seeking rations of beef and flour. Among them was a young Apache war chief named Eskiminzin who told Lt. Whitman that he and his small band were tired of war and wanted to settle on nearby Aravaipa Creek.
In return for rations of beef and flour, Chief Eskiminzin and his Apaches turned over their weapons to Lt. Whitman and promised to stop raiding. Whitman accepted their promise and, in addition to rations, offered them pay for field work.
As more Apache arrived, Whitman created a refuge or “rancheria” along Aravaipa Creek about a half mile east of Camp Grant, and wrote to his superior for instructions. Due to a bureaucratic mix-up, no reply was forthcoming.
By early March there were 300 Aravaipa and Pinal Apaches camped near Camp Grant, and by the end of March there were 500. During March the flow of Aravaipa Creek declined and Lt. Whitman authorized the Arivaipa and Penal Apaches to move five miles upstream from Camp Grant, to the mouth of Aravaipa canyon, which today is a beautiful Nature Preserve.
Fear And Anger In Tucson
Seventy miles south in the small, dusty, predominantly Mexican town of Tucson, there was considerable animosity toward the soldiers stationed at Camp Grant. The citizens of Tucson felt surrounded by a vast desert controlled by Apaches who continued to raid and murder despite the growing presence of the Army.
On the one hand, Tucsonans had negative feelings toward the Camp Grant soldiers. They blamed the Army for not keeping American citizens safe. Truth-be-told, most Anglo and Mexican residents of Southern Arizona, and their influential newspapers, were at this time demanding that the Army simply exterminate all Apaches, rather than feed and clothe them.
Moreover, the San Pedro River overland freight route guarded by the soldiers at Camp Grant was taking business from the valuable overland route that went through Tucson.
On the other hand, many Tucson businessmen were profiting handsomely from the experimental Apache “feeding stations” operated by the Camp Grant soldiers. They were also profiting by providing substantial supplies, including a lot of beef, for the maintenance of the soldiers there and other garrisons around Southern Arizona. Yet, if the Army was successful in teaching the Apaches to be self-sufficient farmers, the military posts all around Arizona would be disbanded and this lucrative trade would dry up.
In early 1871, as the population of peaceful Penal and Araviapa Apaches continued to grow near Camp Grant, other Apaches, most notably the Chiricahuas, continued to raid and slaughter Anglo and Mexican settlers throughout Southern Arizona. The good citizens of Tucson considered these raids and atrocities related to the Camp Grant experiment. Everyone in town was either angry, afraid, or both. Bellicose meetings were held to determine a course of action. Later, no one would accuse the good citizens of Tucson of being indecisive.
On the morning of April 28, 1871, an excited mob of 6 Anglos and 48 Mexicans left Tucson for Camp Grant, along with 94 Papago Indians. The Papago had easily been recruited from their reservation just south of town. They were traditional enemies of the Pinal and Aravaipa Apache with whom they had a long history of war. Like all the settled residents of Southern Arizona, the Papago hated and feared the Apaches.
William Oury: a prominent Tucsonan and a mob leader.
Tucson’s most prominent citizens were involved: Sam Hughes, William Oury, Juan Elias, Hiram Stevens, William Zeckendorf, and Tucson’s first elected mayor, Sidney DeLong.
When Lt. Whitman learned about the mob headed for Camp Grant, he immediately sent a warning to the Pinal and Aravaipa Apaches. It arrived too late.
At dawn on April 30, 1871, the Tucson mob mounted a surprise attack on the Penal and Aravaipa camps. A day or two earlier, the Apache men had left their women and children in camp and were up in the mountains hunting.
The Papago were in the forefront of the attack, clubbing, stabbing, and slashing their nearly helpless victims to death. Most of the Anglos and Mexicans stayed back and shot any of the Apache women and children trying to escape from the slaughter.
Chief Eskiminzin was present, but was one of the few to escape. The Papago captured about 27 of the youngest Apache children and took them to sell as slaves in Mexico. Once the fighting was over, the Papago mutilated and scalped their victims.
Whitman sent a medical team to render assistance, but they found no survivors. He had his soldiers bury the dead.
Following the Camp Grant Massacre, the Apaches learned once again that the Americans could not be trusted.
Camp Grant defendants pose in front of courthouse where they were acquitted.
In the East, where American citizens were no longer threatened by Indians, the reaction was outrage. Eastern newspapers demanded justice. President Grant threatened to place Arizona Territory under martial law if the the participants were not brought to trail.
In October, 1871, a grand jury indicted about 100 individuals thought to have participated in the massacre. The very public trial lasted 5 days. The attorneys for the defense focused their arguments exclusively on the history of Apache raids, murders, and depredations. No Apaches were invited to testify. The jury deliberated for 19 minutes and declared all defendants not guilty. What was a massacre in the East was justifiable homicide in Tucson.
That year, the new commanding officer in the Arizona Territory, Lt. Col. George Crook, undertook a survey of military posts and potential reservations sites. Crook had Camp Grant closed and ordered that a new Fort Grant built at the western base of Mount Graham.
Lt. Col. George Crook about 1871.
The new location in present-day Graham County was better located to subdue the remaining hostiles. In March 1873, Camp Grant at the junction of the San Pedro and Aravaipa Rivers was abandoned. Today, it’s the site of Central Arizona College. The new Fort Grant is no longer a military fort, but a location for state prisons.
Immediately following the massacre, a reservation was set aside for the Apaches at Camp Grant. But the following year all Apache reservations were consolidated and moved north to the intersection of the San Carlos and the Gila Rivers.
In the years following the massacre, relatives of the enslaved Apache children repeatedly petitioned the U.S. government to help repatriate their kidnapped children. Only 7 or 8 ever returned to their people.
Chief Eskiminzin later wrote,”When I made peace with Lt. Whitman, my heart was very big and happy. The people of Tucson and San Xavier must be crazy. They acted as though they had neither heads nor hearts … they must have a thirst for our blood. These Tucson people write for the papers and tell their own story. The Apache have no one to tell their story.”
Today, the massacre site, about five miles upstream from the abandoned site of Camp Grant on Aravaipa Creek, is unmarked.