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The fearless Apaches were incensed when their own families were massacred

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, War on Friday, 29 November 2013

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This edited article about the Apache first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

Mexicans attack Apaches, picture, image, illustration

In 1858, two troops of Mexican cavalry attacked the Apaches' camp, butchering scores of women and children by Severino Baraldi

Early in the 16th century Spanish explorers began to probe the interior of the North American continent. They had destroyed the great Inca and Aztec civilizations and a vast stream of gold was pouring into the treasury of Spain. Great galleons travelled back and forth between Europe and South America, stripping the New World of its wealth. Explorers brought back tales of great cities on the North American Continent – cities so rich in gold and precious stones that the Aztec Empire would be insignificant by comparison.

In 1540 Francisco Vasquez Coronado set out to find these legendary cities – the Seven Cities of Cibola, but the expedition was a failure. He found only the mud dwellings of the settled tribes built into high cliffs in terraces for protection against the wilder, nomadic tribes. They looked like great cities from a distance, but the inhabitants were poorer than the poorest of Spanish workers.

In the wake of Coronado’s ill-fated venture other Spanish expeditions probed into California and Florida, establishing missions and enslaving the Indians. They were ruthless conquerors. Armed resistance meant the loss of the right hand or foot. Disobedience could mean 20 years of slavery or the lash. The Indios Bravos – the wild Indians of the Southwest who remained outside Spanish jurisdiction – became even wilder. They burned and looted the Missions and retaliated by handing out barbarous justice to any unfortunate Spaniard who fell into their hands. Coronado called them Querecho, others Coyotero. The Zuni Indians called them Apache – enemy. It was a name that was to become the terror of the Southwest.

Throughout the Spanish occupation the Apache remained wild and untamed, constantly raiding along the borders. When Mexico won its independence and took over the Spanish territories it inherited the savage enemy, and when the United States occupied the Southwest in the 19th century it, too, found itself enmeshed in a series of bitter wars with the Apache, unchanged and as warlike as ever.

In the 200 years since their first contact with the European the Apache had adapted himself well to his harsh environment. Water and vegetation were scarce and few white men could survive in the nightmare landscape of volcanic rocks and blistering deserts. He had become pitiless and crafty. He was cunning and distrustful, and war was his business. He raided for loot and for slaves. The young men of the tribe underwent a rigid initiation into the ranks of the warriors. They learned to stand and face the older men who fired arrows at them. They learned to dodge them – or died. When the sun was at its height their mouths were filled with water and they were forced to run a course of several miles through difficult country. At the end of the run they spat out the water to show that they had not weakened and swallowed any. They learned to vanish like a will o’ the wisp in country that seemed to offer no cover, and to strike where the enemy least expected them.

In the 1840’s American settlers were pushing their way deeper into Arizona and New Mexico. Gold strikes brought eager prospectors. At first the Apache were not openly hostile. They hated the Spaniards and despised the Mexicans, but they approached the newcomers with curiosity. One group of miners, annoyed and suspicious of the Indians that persistently hung around their camp, seized one of them and, tying him to the back of a wagon, lashed him and drove him from the camp. It was a warning to other Apaches to keep away.

It was a stupid act and it had terrifying repercussions. Their victim was Mangus Colorado, a Chief of the Mimbrenos Apaches, and related by marriage to Chiefs of the Chiricahua and White Mountain Bands. For the rest of his life Mangus Colorado made war. Mexicans, Spaniards, Americans – it mattered little. All white men were his enemies. Soldiers were moved into the Southwest and relations with the Apache grew worse. Americans hanged Apaches in retaliation for their raids and Apaches tortured Americans in retaliation for the hangings.

In 1861 the United States was torn apart by Civil War. The garrisons of the Southwest were recalled and the Apaches rampaged through the settlements, driving out the settlers and destroying the homesteads.

Mangus Colorado and Cochise of the Chiricahuas swept the territory clean and sent refugees flocking into Tucson. Soon even Tucson was reduced to a mere 200 inhabitants. In 1862 General James H. Carleton marched up from California with 3,000 volunteers to restore order in the Southwest. He launched a campaign of Apache extermination.

Miners and settlers were encouraged to return to Arizona and were offered rewards for Apache-killing expeditions. Bounty money was offered for Apache scalps.

Invitations to “talk treaty” were sent out and, when accepted, the Apaches were shot down on arrival. Mangus Colorado was one of the first victims to be taken in by the treaty offers and was shot in 1863 allegedly “trying to escape.” In spite of this ferocious campaign General Carleton failed to conquer the Apache. They were merely pushed further and further into their inaccessible mountain hideouts and driven to still greater acts of savagery.

The war dragged on and by 1871 had cost the United States Government over 40 million dollars and 1,000 lives. It had accomplished nothing.

In February, 1871, the Arivaipa Apaches, 150 strong, came into Camp Grant. Their leader, Eskiminzin said that his people were tired. Weary of war, they wanted to live in peace. They were given a strip of land not far from Tucson. On April 28th, a mob of settlers, marched out of Tucson and launched a surprise attack on the unwary Indians. 108 men and women were killed and 29 children taken and sold into slavery.

The massacre caused a national outcry. 100 men who took part in the attack were arrested and tried. They were declared not guilty by the jury. An anxious Government sent General George Crook to Arizona. Crook was a skilled Indian fighter but also a humane man. He sympathised with the red man and his policy was one of conciliation. By 1874 all important bands had been won over or rounded up. The Apache gave up the war path and settled on the reservations. The Southwest breathed a sigh of relief. The Indians tried to settle down to Agency life. They planted crops only to see them fail in the barren soil. Their cattle scrabbled for what little vegetation could be found.

Most white Indian Agents swindled the Indians out of supplies and made money by selling reservation lands. The women and children grew hungry while the warriors drifted into apathy and drunkenness.

The outcome was inevitable. One by one various bands left the reservations and ran wild along the border country. Tales of horror filled the newspapers and terrified the settlers. The notorious Geronimo hung victims head-downwards over a slow fire.

Weary troops pursued their elusive enemy. Cavalry found themselves turned into infantry as the Apaches melted into the rocky crags and maze of canyons.

Without Apache scouts to guide them, the U.S. Army would have never got within miles of their enemies.

It was not until 1886 that the last Apache warriors finally surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles. They were packed off with their families to an unhealthy Florida prison camp.

In 1894 they were sent west to what is now Oklahoma. There, and in New Mexico, where some were allowed to go in 1907, their descendants live.

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