Apache Resist the Advance of the Whites

No more serious phase of the Indian problem has presented itself to the American people than that offered by the Apache tribes. Aided by the desert nature of their country, they have resisted the advance of the whites longer than any other Indian nation. They have fought with bravery and inconceivable cunning. They have committed atrocities that devils alone would seem capable of, and have been subjected to atrocities that devils might blush to commit. They have made their name a terror and a thing of execration to a section of country five times larger than all New England. They have kept miners for years from treasure deposits that have been regarded as of fabulous richness. They have gained the reputation of being the most treacherous, cruel, and inhuman savages that have been known in the United States. People who have been willing to extend sympathy and assistance to other Indians, have stood aghast at the murderous work of the Apaches, and given their opinions that nothing but the extermination of the tribe could ever rid Arizona and New Mexico of a constant liability to outrage and devastation. In noteworthy connection with this reputation is the fact that the Apaches are among the least known of the Indian tribes. Not only has their hostile attitude prevented white men from associating with them, but even when brought in contact with the whites they maintain a jealous reserve as to their habits, particularly those of a religious character. By way of example, it is commonly believed that they do not bury their dead, and never touch a dead body except in case of necessity; yet Colonel Cremony, who had excellent opportunity for knowing, insists that they bury their more prominent men, at least, with great ceremony, though he was unable to learn exactly what the formalities were.

The Apaches, as has been previously mentioned, speak the same language as the Navahos and Lipans; and all Southern Indians using this common tongue are often called Apaches. The Apaches proper call themselves “Shis Inday,” or People of the Woods, a rather strange name for a tribe living in a country where three trees constitute a bosque or forest, but taken by them probably because the principal timber growth of the region is on the mountains which have long afforded them safe retreats. They were in nine tolerably distinct tribes through the earlier part of the present century, though by confederations and factional separations, in the course of their long warfare, some of this identity has been lost. At the beginning of our intercourse with them they were best divided as follows: Chiricahuas (Chiricagüis), Gileños, Mimbreños, Mescaleros, Jicarillas (Xicarillas, Hickorias), Pinaleños, Mogollons, Coyotéros, and Tontos. These names refer chiefly to their geographical positions. The Chiricahuas lived in Southeastern Arizona, about the Chiricahua Mountains. They are sometimes called Cochees, from their noted chief Cochise or Cheis, who was gathered to his fathers several years since, much to the relief of neighboring settlers. East of these, in the mountains about the headwaters of the Gila, was a small band of about two hundred warriors, known as the Gileños or Gila Apaches. The name Gileños is also sometimes used generically, including two or three additional tribes. Northeast of these, in Southwestern New Mexico, lived the Mimbreños or Mimbres (Miembres Willows) Apaches, otherwise known as the Copper Mine Apaches, from the fact that they infested the celebrated copper mines of Santa Rita del Cobré. To the east, beyond the Rio Grande, and west of the Pecos, dwelt the Mescaleros, who derived their appellation from their extensive use of the mescal (maguey, American aloe, or century plant) for food, t and in the manufacture of the intoxicating drink known by the same name. The Jicarillas lived in the mountains of Northern New Mexico, above Taos, and were closely associated with the Southern Utes. Northwest of the Chiricahuas was a tribe sometimes called the Pinaleños or Pinal (Penole) Apaches, and sometimes the Arivapas (Aribaipais), from the Rio Arivapa which flows on the southwest of the Pinal range to the Gila. The Mogollons (Mogayones) lived directly north of these in the Mogollon Mountains and the deserts about them. Westward along the Gila River, and through the country north of it, roamed the Coyotéros, the most considerable of the tribes, who are said to have their name from their habit of eating the coyote or prairie wolf. It is possible, however, that the name is a corruption of Garrotéros (club men) which was formerly applied to some of the western tribes. The Tontos, who lived chiefly in the rough country south and west of Bill Williams Mountain, say that they broke off from the Coyotéros many years ago, and that their Indian name, which means “unruly,” has been corrupted into the Spanish word tonto, which means “stupid.”

No little confusion has arisen from the numerous names, of different languages, given to these and kindred tribes. The Indians east of the Pecos, called Llaneros or Apaches, are properly Lipans. They have always been confederated with the Comanches and Kiowas in our dealings with them, and are now located in Indian Territory with those tribes. The Faraones or Taracones, mentioned in old Spanish books, were probably Navahos; the word Yutajenne is given as the Apache synonym of the name, and Yutajenne or Yutakah is the Apache name for the Navahos. The Yampais or Yavipais are now known as Apache Mohaves. The Cajuenches were probably the same as the Cuchanos or Yumas. The Hualapais (Hualpies, Wallapais) have been called Apache Yumas since 1868, when that name was given them by General Gregg, who was then commanding in Arizona.

The Apaches were always known as wild Indians. It is doubtful if the Spaniards ever obtained any control over them, and certain that the Mexicans never retained any. Between these two peoples there was almost continuous war. The condition of the people of the Northern Mexican settlements was such that there was little chance of successful opposition to the Apaches. They were poor, and hardly more advanced in knowledge than their Indian enemies.

The central government exacted heavy taxes from them, but did nothing for their protection. The supreme power in their settlements was in the hands of the ricoa or wealthy men, who often resisted the government and often contended among themselves. Some of the ricos were of quite pure Spanish blood, but the great mass of the people were the mongrel Mexicans, and these were nearly all in the state of peonage or bondage for debt. As a general rule it was found cheaper and more consonant with the warlike spirit of the Mexicans to buy peace of the Apaches than to fight them. Instead of uniting and making an effort for common defense, it was usually the case that when the State of Chihuahua was at war with the Indians, the State of Sonora would be at peace, and vice versa. The property and even the captives taken in the one State would be purchased in the other. General Carasco, military governor of Sonora after the Mexican war, on one occasion broke into this system. Sonora was at war with the Apaches, and Chihuahua was not only at peace but also was issuing rations to them quarterly at the village of Janos, near our border. Carasco advanced on this place by night marches, and succeeded in surprising them during the feasting that ensued upon the issue of rations. He killed a number and took ninety prisoners. Medina, the governor of Chihuahua, made complaint to the general government of this breach of interstate customs, but the authorities sustained Carasco. This was a fortunate decision for the Northern Mexicans; for Carasco did more to protect their frontier than any ruler they had for years. He impressed the poor as soldiers, and forced the rich to supply the means for keeping them in the field. His methods were unpopular, however, and he was poisoned.

Many anecdotes are related by travellers of the poltroonery of the Mexicans in their contests with the Apaches. It is not strange that they appeared cowardly. They were poor, without organization, and with nothing in life to stimulate them to bravery. They were obliged to support themselves mainly by agriculture and stock raising, and these pursuits put them continually on the defensive, while they scattered the people so as to make defense difficult. The Americans who went into the Apache country prior to our conquest were on a different footing from the Mexicans. They were chiefly trappers or traders, and though many of them had Mexican wives or mistresses, quite ae many had their marital companions from among the Indians, while their business interests were quite diverse. The traders had more cause for sympathy with the Mexicans than the trappers, and yet the traders were so seldom attacked that the Mexicans accused them of having treated secretly with the Apaches. Their immunity was really due to constant preparation for attack; the Apaches never attack except by surprise. The trappers acted with one side or the other, or remained neutral, as their temporary interests demanded.

In 1837 the Mexicans of both Sonora and Chihuahua were at war with the Apaches, and both were becoming desperate over the successful incursions of the enemy. Chiluahua promulgated a law called the Proyfcto de Guerra, or project for war, by which the state offered one hundred dollars for the scalp of an Apache warrior, fifty for the scalp of a squaw, and twenty-five for that of a child. Sonora was also paying a bounty for scalps, and both gave to the captor any booty he might take from the Indians This liberality was produced mainly by the many atrocities of Juan José, a Mimbres chief, who had been educated among the Mexicans, and used his knowledge of their customs to great advantage in his warfare. One favorite scheme of his was robbing the mails, for the purpose of obtaining information as to the plans of the Mexicans. At this time there were several parties of trappers on the headwaters of the Gila, and the captain of one of these, a man named Johnson, undertook to secure a number of Apache scalps. It is said that in addition to the scalp bounty he was induced to this by pay from the owners of the Santa Rita copper mines. At any rate he made a feast and invited to it a number of Mimbreños warriors, who accepted his hospitable bidding. To one side of the ground where his feast was spread he placed a howitzer, loaded to the muzzle with slugs, nails, and bullets, and concealed under sacks of flour and other goods. In good range he placed a sack of flour, which he told the Indians to divide among themselves. Unsuspicious of wrong, they gathered about it. Johnson touched his lighted cigarrito to the vent of the howitzer, and the charge was poured into the crowd, killing and wounding many. The party of trappers at once followed up the attack with their rifles and knives. A goodly number of scalps were secured, that of Juan Jose among others, but the treachery was terribly repaid. Another party of fifteen trappers was camped on a stream a few miles distant. The surviving Mimbreños went to these unsuspecting men and murdered every one of them. Their vengeance did not stop at this. The copper mines of Santa Kita were furnished with supplies from the city of Chihuahua by guarded wagon trains (conductas) that brought in provisions and hauled back ore. The time for the arrival of the train came and passed, but no train appeared. Days slipped away; provisions were almost exhausted; the supply of ammunition was nearly gone. Some of the miners climbed to the top of Ben Moore, which rises back of the mines, but from its lofty summit no sign of an approaching conducta was visible. Starvation was imminent.

The only hope of escape for the miners and their families was in making their way across the desert expanse that lies between the mines and the settlements. They started, but the Apaches, who had destroyed the train, hung about them, and attacked them so persistently that only four or five succeeded in reaching their destination.

The scalp bounty was not always so effective in procuring the death of Apaches as in this case. A few years after our conquest, when the vigilance committees of California had filled Arizona with the most villainous collection of white men that ever breathed, there was enacted a comic tragedy in which the principal performer was John Gallantin. He was a desperate scoundrel, and had gathered about him a band of cutthroats whose infamous characters were excelled only by his own. The governor of Chihuahua undertook to make these men useful to the State by paying them thirty dollars for each Apache scalp they secured. They brought scalps in profusion, but the Apache raids were nowise diminished. On the contrary, large numbers of Mexicans and friendly Indians were assassinated and scalped in the midst of the settlements. The suspicions of the Chihuahuas were excited, and Gallantin was at length discovered taking the scalps of some Mexicans whom his people had murdered. This accounted for the extraordinary activity of “the Apaches,” and Gallantin and his band left the country. They gathered up some twenty-five hundred sheep as they went along, and with these made their way to the Colorado at the mouth of the Gila. They were met with professions of great friendship by the Yumas, who were then (1851) commanded by Caballo en Pelo (Naked Horse), a chief of great prowess. Having placed themselves in favorable positions in the camp of the desperadoes, the Yumas suddenly fell upon them and murdered the entire party. The scalp bounty system was not given up by the Mexicans, and, what is more remarkable, man hunters were allowed to pursue their occupation on our side of the line for the scalp markets of Chiluahua and Sonora. In 1870 Lieutenant Drew was visited by such a party from Janos, Chihuahua, who coolly proposed to massacre the Indians who were then under his protection, preparatory to going on a reservation. He said,

“These people do not care a straw for the depredations committed in this or any other country; they work for the money a scalp brings, and one from a friendly Indian is worth as much as one of any other.” Orders were soon after issued which lessened this business as an international commerce.

When the Americans invaded the country during the Mexican war, the Apaches welcomed them as allies, though their professions of friendship were not much believed. At San Lucia Springs, near the Santa Kita mines. General Kearny was met by Mangas Colorado (Red Sleeves in defective Spanish), chief of the Mimbreños, who vowed eternal friendship to the Americans. It was noticed, however, that they kept shy of howitzers, and that one of them wore a shirt made of a Henry Clay campaign flag, which doubtless signified a dead American somewhere. The Apaches were overwhelmed with admiration of our soldiers and their weapons. Said one of their chiefs to General Kearny, as they prepared to leave, “You have taken New Mexico and will soon take California; go, then, and take Chihuahua, Durango, and Sonora. We will help you. You fight for land; we care nothing for land; we tight for the laws of Montezuma and for food. The Mexicans are rascals; we hate and will kill them all.” This feeling, though somewhat advantageous to us during war, was a disadvantage as soon as peace was made. We were bound by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to protect our newly acquired Mexican citizens, and also to prevent our Indians from depredating in Mexico. Americans who settled in New Mexico lived, of course, in the Mexican settlements, and had interests much in common with the Mexicans. The Apaches in the neighborhood of these settlements were not very troublesome for several years, but the western bands pursued their old vocation of plunder with unabated vigor. The settlers below the Gila, and the emigrants who passed over the southern road, retained their lives and property only by eternal vigilance.

After the massacre of the miners, the Mimbreños held possession of the Santa Rita mines for a dozen years undisturbed. The place became known as their great stronghold, and no white men were able to break through its surrounding wilds.

In 1850 there came an invasion. The American half of the Mexican Boundary Commission, under charge of Mr. J. B. Bartlett decided to make the copper mines their headquarters for a time, and a force of three hundred men took possession of the place. The Mimbreños, under the leadership of their great war Chief Cuchillo Negro, or Black Knife, were disposed to resist at first, but thought better of it, and received the Americans with professions of friendship. A short time after the commission was established in these quarters, there came along three Mexican traders, who had been among the Final Apaches, and purchased of them a young Mexican girl named Inez Gonzales. This girl, who was about fifteen years old, had been a captive for nine months. Pier parents lived at the town of Santa Cruz, whence she had started in company with her aunt and others, with an escort of soldiers, to attend the feast of San Francisco at Magdalena. They were ambushed by the Pinaleños; the men were killed, and the women and children carried away. The Mexicans were taking her to Santa Fe, probably to sell her or to keep her for immoral purposes, as was the common practice with female slaves. Mr. Bartlett had no hesitancy as to releasing her, inasmuch as the United States had expressly agreed, in the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, to release all such captives and to suppress the traffic in them. Inez was returned to her parents by the commissioner when he arrived in Santa Cruz. She subsequently became the mistress of Captain Gomez, who commanded the troops in Northern Sonora. He married her on the death of his wife, and after his death Inez married the Alcalde of Santa Cruz, her social standing not having been at all affected by her romantic adventures.

The release of this captive did not directly affect the Indians, but a few days later two Mexican boys, who were held as slaves by the Mimbreños, took refuge in the tent of Colonel Cremony, with the commission, and appealed to him to save them from their masters. These children, Saverro Aredia and Jose Trinfan, had heard the Indians speaking of the release of Inez, and determined to seek the same protection. Protection was given to them. There were some indications that the Apaches, thwarted in recovering them, might murder them, and on account of this Mr. Bartlett sent them away at night, under guard, to the camp of General Condé, the Mexican commissioner. Condé at once forwarded them into Mexico. The Mimbreños were very indignant at this summary release of their property – a rather inconsistent interference, too, at a time when the Fugitive Slave Law had just gone into operation – but after holding a council, and being informed that they could not help themselves, they concluded to accept about two hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of goods for the two boys.

As this institution of slavery in the West has been the cause of much trouble with the Indians, a glance at its features and extent will be advantageous in considering the difficulties between the two races. The system obtained with all the tribes of the Rocky Mountains, and also with the Kiowas and Comanches who sprang from mountain stocks. Instead of dooming their captives to death, or adopting them into their tribes, as the Eastern Indians did, they held them for barter and the performance of menial duties. The slave was the property of his immediate captor, but in case he was taken by a band he was the property of the tribe. Ownership was frequently changed by sale or gambling. The slave was wholly subject to the caprices of his owner, even to his life. “Women,” says Captain Johnson, speaking of the Apaches, ” when captured, are taken as wives by those who capture them, but they are treated by the Indian wives of the capturers as slaves, and made to carry wood and water; if they chance to be pretty, or receive too much attention from their lords and masters, they are, in the absence of the latter, unmercifully beaten and otherwise maltreated. The most unfortunate thing which can befall a captive woman is to be claimed by two persons. In this case she is either shot or delivered up for indiscriminate violence.” This latter abrupt method of deciding controversies was adhered to by the Apaches to prevent quarrels among themselves. Other property was treated similarly. If a horse were claimed as booty by two warriors, they must adjust their differences speedily or the animal was shot.

The case of Inez Gonzales was not an exceptional one, wherein Mexicans who had been captured by Indians were bought and held as slaves by Mexicans. It was the almost universal rule. In the preceding summer, Indian agent Calhoun released four Mexicans, three boys and a woman, all of whom had been bought by Mexicans from the Apaches. He reported: “The trading in captives has been so long tolerated in this Territory that it has ceased to be regarded as a wrong; and purchasers are not prepared willingly to release captives without an adequate ransom. In legislating upon this subject it should be distinctly set forth under what circumstances captives shall be released, and limiting the expenditures that may be incurred thereby. Unless the Mexicans are paid for such captives as they have purchased, and have now in possession, but very few of them will be released; nor will it answer well to allow captives to make their election as to a release, for their submission to their masters is most perfect, and they are well instructed as to proper replies to interrogatories. … I may, in conclusion, mention that there are a number of Indian captives held as slaves in this Territory, and Congressional action may be necessary in relation to them, and I respectfully submit the question for appropriate consideration.” The Mexicans could never see any great evil in slavery. Their system of peonage, or bondage for debt, amounts to life servitude in most cases, for wages are so low that a peon ordinarily earns only enough for his subsistence. There was no public sentiment against the subjection of women to the pleasures of their owners, for virtue is almost unknown among them. It is the common mode, to this day, for one who desires a Mexican mistress, to select the girl and make arrangements with her parents by the payment of a small sum monthly.

The Americans who settled in the country held very similar ideas in regard to Mexicans and Indians, both of whom were considered as inferior races. The trapper or trader who desired a squaw purchased one, and the settler who wanted servants very commonly purchased them. They took to the system so naturally that legislation was made necessary to prohibit it. Many of the more reckless characters engaged in the business of catching and selling slaves, as is illustrated in the following extract from the journal of Colonel Cooke: “I had lately a conversation with old Weaver, which was not official. He said, ‘ The Tontos live in that range over there; I never see them with more than one or two lodges together; they are a band of the Coyotéros, and are called fools for their ignorance. When I went over once, from the Pimas to the Cochanos and Mochabas [Mohaves], I met some lodges and had a fuss with them.’ – ‘What sort? – ‘ Oh, we killed two or three and burned their lodges, and took all the women and children and sold them.’ – ‘ What I’ – ‘ Yes, I have often caught the women and children of Digger Indians and sold them in New Mexico and Sonora. Mr. _____ of Tucson told me a squaw I sold him ran off, and was found dead, famished for water I s’pose, going over from the Pimas to the Colorado.’  What! have you no feeling for her death, trying to return to her father and mother you tore her from? ‘ I killed her father and mother, as like as not; they stole all our traps; as fast as we could stick a trap in the river, they’d come and steal it, and shoot arrows into our horses; they thought we would leave them for them to eat, but we built a big fire and burned them up.’ “The weaker tribes of course suffered most in this business. The wretched Diggers of the Salt Lake Basin were especially the victims of it, in an early day, as was often testified to by travellers. Farnham says, “These poor creatures are hunted in the spring, when weak and helpless, by a certain class of men, and when taken are fattened, and carried to Santa Fe and sold as slaves. A ‘likely girl,’ in her teens, often brings three or four hundred dollars. The men are valued less.”

The Diggers fell under the control of the Mormons, and to their honor be it said that they made an effort to ameliorate the condition of these captives. The evil to be remedied is thus set forth in the preamble of an act passed in January, 1852:

“Whereas, from time  immemorial, the practice of purchasing Indian women and children of the Utah tribe of Indians by Mexican traders has been indulged in and carried on by those respective people until the Indians consider it an allowable traffic, and frequently offer their prisoners or children for sale; and

“Whereas it is a common practice among these Indians to gamble away their own children and women; and it is a well  established fact that women and children thus obtained, or obtained by war, or theft, or in any other manner, are by them frequently carried from place to place, packed upon horses or mules, lariated out to subsist upon grass, roots, or starve, and are frequently bound with thongs made of rawhide, until their hands and feet become swollen, mutilated, inflamed with pain, and wounded; and when with suffering, cold, hunger, and abuse they fall sick, so as to become troublesome, are frequently slain by their masters to get rid of them; and

“Whereas they do frequently kill their women and children taken prisoners, either in revenge, or for amusement, or through the influence of tradition, unless they are tempted to exchange them for trade, which they usually do if they have an opportunity; and

“Whereas one family frequently steals the children and women of another family, and such robberies and murders are continually committed in times of their greatest peace and amity, thus dragging free Indian women and children into Mexican servitude and slavery, or death, to the almost entire extirpation of the whole Indian race; and

“Whereas these inhuman practices are being daily enacted before our eyes in the midst of the white settlements, and within the organized counties of the Territory; and when the inhabitants do not purchase or trade for those so offered for sale, they are generally doomed to the most miserable existence, suffering the tortures of every species of cruelty, until death kindly relieves them and closes the revolting severity:

“Wherefore, when all these facts are taken into consideration, it becomes the duty of all humane and Christian people to extend unto this degraded and downtrodden race such relief as can be awarded to them,” etc.

The act following this argumentative recital provides that any white person having a captive in his possession, shall go with it before the selectmen, or the probate judge, and bind the captive to some proper person, in the discretion of the selectmen, for a term of not over twenty years. The person to whom he is bound is required to send him to school three months in the year, from the age of seven to sixteen, and to clothe him in a suitable manner. The selectmen are also empowered to obtain such captives from the Indians for the purpose of binding them out.

In the North slavery prevailed everywhere, and was abetted and encouraged by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Said Mr. Slocum, of slavery in Oregon, “The price of a slave varies from five to fifteen blankets. Women are valued higher than men. If a slave dies within six months of the purchase, the seller returns one half the purchase money.

Many instances have occurred where a man has sold his own child.  The slaves are generally employed to cut wood, hunt and fish for the families of the men employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and are ready for any extra work. Each man of the trapping parties has from two to three slaves, who assist to hunt and take care of the horses and camp. They thereby save the Company the expense of employing at least double the number of men that would otherwise be required on these excursions. As long as the Hudson’s Bay Company permit their servants to hold slaves, the institution of slavery will be perpetuated.” Slavery was, in fact, more extensive in Oregon than anywhere else in the West, and more similar to the African and Oriental systems. Stanley says of Casino, the celebrated Klickitat chief, “In the plenitude of his power he travelled in great state, and was often accompanied by a hundred slaves, obedient to his slightest caprice.” The same authority says, “It is a very common practice of the Shaste, Umpqua, and Rogue River Indians, to sell their children in slavery to the tribes inhabiting the banks of the Columbia River. During my tour through the Willamette Valley in 1848, I met a party of Klickitats (Klickitats) returning from one of these trading excursions, having about twenty little boys, whom they had purchased from the Umpqua tribe.” The Oregon Indians also preyed upon the degraded tribes of California in this trade, and the Modocs, Klamaths, and Pitt River Indians obtained the reputation of fierce and cruel slave drivers in procuring captives for sale to their Northern neighbors.

See Further: Indian Slaves in the Rocky Mountains

Apache, History,

Dunn, Jacob Piatt. Massacres of the mountains: a history of the Indian wars of the far West. Harper & brothers, 1886.

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