Biography of William S. Oury

William S. Oury was born in Wythe County, Virginia, on August 13th, 1816. In early life he drifted to the west and was with General Sam Houston, at the battle of San Jacinto. He came to Arizona in 1856, and engaged in stock raising and trading. He bore his part in the early history of the Territory, and was a member of several expeditions against the Indians. He organized the expedition against the Indians which resulted in what has been called the “Camp Grant Massacre.’ ‘ The following is his own story concerning it; and is a paper read by him before the Society of Arizona Pioneers on April 6th, 1885:

“Having been chosen by our President to give a paper upon some events connected with the early history of Arizona, the writer has selected for his theme the so called Camp Grant Massacre, believing it to be one of the events most important in its result to the peace and progress of our Apache cursed land. To give a mere recital of the act of killing a few more or less of the bloodthirsty savages without the details of the causes and provocations which drove a longsuffering and patient people to the adoption of remedial measures so apparently cruel in their results, would be a great wrong and injustice to those of our friends and neighbors who in various ways gave sanction and aid to the undertaking, and would fall far short of the object and aim of the writer to give fair and impartial history.

“In the year 1870, in accordance with the peace policy which had been decided upon by the U. S. Government, the Pinal and Aravaipa bands of Apache Indians were collected together and placed upon a reservation around Old Camp Grant at the junction of the San Pedro and Aravaipa creeks, about fifty-five miles from Tucson, under the supervision of military stationed at that post. One or two agents for them had been taken from civil life, but in a short time their management proving unsatisfactory, one Royal E. Whitman, a lieutenant of the 3rd Cavalry, U. S. A., was assigned to duty as their agent. Being what is termed a sharp man and of thrifty disposition, he soon saw that there was money in the Apache, and lost no time in the practical application of that knowledge, to do which required outside partners, who were soon found in Tucson. A settler’s store was first started, followed by a blacksmith, butcher, and a number of others chosen in various capacities, ostensibly for the benefit of ‘poor Lo,’ ‘affidavy’ easy conscience witness-men, for the boss, and, as a trite saying goes ‘hell was fully inaugurated.’

“The Indians soon commenced plundering and murdering the citizens of Tucson, San Xavier, Tubac, Sonoita, San Pedro and every other settlement within a radius of 100 miles of Old Camp Grant, in the confidence that if they escaped to their reservation, they reached a secure haven. During the winter of 1870-71, these murders and depredations were so numerous as to threaten the abandonment of nearly all the settlements outside of Tucson, especially that of San Pedro, the most numerous and most important of them all. In the meantime, the citizens of Tucson were aroused, meetings were held upon the occurrence of each new murder or outrage, representations were made to the right Royal Whitman, that his Indians were plundering and murdering our people, which he denied, and stood ready to prove by every striker on the reservation that his Indians never left the place. Meanwhile, the work of death and destruction kept up with ever increasing force until the slaughter of Wooster and wife on the Santa Cruz above Tubac so influenced the people that an indignation meeting was held at Tucson. A great amount of resoluting and speechifying was indulged in, and it was determined to raise a military company at once for which a paper was drawn up and signers called for, to which eighty-two Americans signed their names. The writer was elected Captain, and all hands pledged to eat up every Apache in the land upon the recurrence of a new outrage. A committee was appointed to visit Department Commander General Stoneman, at the time on the Gila near Florence, consisting of S. R. DeLong, J. W. Hopkins and the writer. The result of the conference with the august personage, General Stoneman, was that he had but few troops and could give us no aid- that Tucson had the largest population in the Territory, and gave us to understand that we must protect ourselves. With this cold comfort after a trip of one hundred and fifty miles, and the loss of a valuable mule, we returned to our constituents, and although no public demonstration was made, at a quiet assemblage of some of our ablest and most substantial citizens, it was resolved that the recommendation of General Stoneman should be adopted, and that we would, to the best of our ability, endeavor to protect ourselves.

“A few days afterward, in the beginning of April, 1871, the arrival of a courier from San Xavier brought the sad intelligence that Indians had just made a descent upon that place and driven off a large number of horses and mules. The alarm drum- the usual way of collecting our people – was beaten, a flaming cartoon carried by a man who accompanied the drummer was displayed with the following inscription: ‘Injuns! Injuns! Injuns! – Big Meeting at the Court House – Come Everybody- Time for Action has Arrived.’ This device had been so frequently resorted to, and the results had been so unsatisfactory, that it failed to draw. Meanwhile a party of citizens had saddled their horses and learning from the San Xavier courier the direction the marauding Indians had taken, rode off, hoping to intercept them before they reached Cabadilla Pass. In this they were disappointed because the Indians had gone into the pass before they arrived, but they met the pursuing party from San Xavier and the whole party followed through the pass and overtook the rear Indian driving the stock, on a tired horse, and killed him and recovered some of the cattle – the other Indians escaped with the horses and freshest cattle. Upon the return of the party to Tucson, I hunted up Jesus M. Elias, and had a long conference with him in which he said to me: ‘Don Guillermo, I have always been satisfied and have repeatedly told you that the Camp Grant Indians were the ones destroying us. I have now positive proof, the Indian we have just killed, I will swear, and others will swear, is a Camp Grant Indian. I have frequently seen him there, and know him well by his having his front teeth out, and, as a further proof, when we overtook the Indians; they were making a direct course for Camp Grant. Now, it devolves upon you as one of the oldest American residents of this country to devise some means of saving us from total ruin, which the present state of affairs must inevitably lead to if not remedied. See your countrymen; they are the only ones who have money to furnish the supplies necessary to make a formal and effective campaign against our implacable enemies. I know my countrymen and will vouch that if arms, ammunition and provisions, however scant are furnished, they will be ready at the first call.’ I replied, ‘Don Jesus, I will answer that at all times I will be ready to do my part, and will at once issue a call for the assemblage of my people at the court house where you can publicly state what you have just told me, and some concerted plan can be adopted which may give the desired relief.’ With a sad shake of his head, he answered: ‘Don Gruillermo, for months we have repeatedly held public meetings at which many patriotic speeches have been made, and many glowing resolutions passed; meanwhile our means of subsistence have been rapidly diminishing and nothing has been accomplished. We cannot resolute the remorseless Apache out of existence – if that could be done, everyone of them would have been dead long since – besides, giving publicity to the course we might pursue would surely defeat any plan we might adopt. You are aware that there are wealthy and influential men in this community whose interest is to have the Indians at Camp Grant left undisturbed who would, at the first intimation of an intent to inquire seriously into their operations, appeal to the military, whose ear they have, and frustrate all our plans and hopes.’ I saw at once the force of his arguments, and replied: ‘Lay out a plan of action and I will aid you with all the zeal and energy I possess. ‘ He then developed the following plan: ‘You and I will go first to San Xavier, see Francisco the head Papago there, and have him send runners to the various Papago villages, notifying them that on the 28th of April we want them to be at San Xavier early in the morning with all the force that they can muster for a campaign against our common enemy, the Apaches – Francisco to be prepared to give them a good breakfast on their arrival, and send messengers to me at once. ‘ This matter being satisfactory, we returned to Tucson. Don Jesus said: ‘I will see all the Mexicans who may desire to participate in the campaign and have them all ready to move on the day fixed. You will make arrangements with the Americans you can trust; either to take an active part in the campaign, or render such assistance in supplies, arms, ammunition, and horses as will be required to carry out the expedition. And, on the day fixed, April 28th, news of the arrival of the Papagoes at San Xavier having first been received, all who were to be active participants in the campaign to leave town quietly and singly to avoid giving alarm and rendezvous on the Rillito opposite San Xavier, where the Papagoes will be advised to meet us, and where as per arrangements, the arms, ammunition and provisions were to be delivered and distributed. All hands having arrived at the rendezvous, the command to fully organize by the election of a commander whom all shall pledge to obey implicitly. When thus organized the company to march up the Rillito until the trail of the Indians, who had committed the recent depredations at San Xavier was struck, which was to be followed wherever it led to, and all Indians found on it killed if possible. ‘ Here you have the whole plan of the Camp Grant campaign as proposed by Mr. Elias and concurred in by the writer.

“For its successful fulfillment, we both went to work with all our hearts, he with his country men, the Mexicans, I with mine, the Americans, and both together with our auxiliaries, the Papagoes. Early in the morning of April 28th, 1871, we received the welcome news of the arrival of the Papagoes at San Xavier, and that after a short rest and a feed they would march to the general rendezvous on the Rillito. Soon after Elias informed me that the Mexican contingent was quietly and singly leaving town for the same destination, and soon after the writer, having given proper directions to the extremely small contingent of his own countrymen, silently and alone took up the line of march to the common rendezvous. By three P. M. all the command had arrived, also that which was still more essential to the successful issue of that campaign, towit, the wagon with the arms, ammunition and grub, thanks to our companion, the Adjutant General of the Territory, whose name it might not be discreet to give in this connection, but who is well known to almost every member of the Society of Pioneers. As soon as the writer was convinced that no further increase was to be expected, he proceeded to take account of the stock with the following result: Papagoes, 92; Mexicans, 48; Americans, 6 – in all 146 men, good and true. During our stay at the general rendezvous, a number of pleasantries were indulged in by the different members of the party upon the motley appearance of the troop, and your historian got a blow squarely in the right eye from an old neighbor, who quietly said to him: ‘Don Guillermo, your countrymen are grand on resoluting and speechifying, but when it comes to action they show up exceedingly thin,’ – which, in view of the fact that 82 Americans had solemnly pledged themselves to be ready at any moment for the campaign, and only six finally showed up, was, to say the least, rather humiliating. However, everything was taken pleasantly. Jesus Elias was elected commander of the expedition, and at 4 P. M. the company was in the saddle ready for the march. Just then it seemed to me that we had neglected a very important, precautionary measure, and I penciled the following note to H. S. Stevens, Esq., Tucson: ‘Send a party to Canada del Oro on the main road from Tucson to Camp Grant, with orders to stop any and all persons going towards Camp Grant until 7 A. M. of April 30th, 1871.’ This note I gave to the teamster who had not yet left our camp, who delivered it promptly to Mr. Stevens and it was as promptly attended to by him. But for this precaution, our campaign would have resulted in complete failure from the fact that the absence of so many men from so small a population as Tucson then contained was noted by a person of large influence in the community, at whose urgent request the military commander sent an express of two soldiers with dispatches to Camp Grant, who were quietly detained at Canada del Oro, and did not reach the post until too late to harm us.

“After writing and dispatching the note above referred to, the order ‘Forward’ was given, and the command moved gaily and confidently on its mission. About 6 P. M. the trail was struck which we proposed to follow, and the march continued through Cabadilla Pass and down the slopes of the San Pedro to the point where the San Xavier party had killed the Indian above referred to, when the order was given to camp, as it was about midnight – the moon going down and the trail could not well be followed in the dark. Just at break of day on the morning of April 29th, we marched down into the San Pedro bottom, where our commander determined to remain until nightfall, lest our command be discovered by roving Indians, and an alarm given at the rancheria. We had followed all this time the trail of the Indians who had raided San Xavier and every man in the command was now fully satisfied that it would lead us to the reservation, and arrangements were made accordingly. Commander Elias gave orders to march as soon as it was dark, and believing that we were much nearer the rancheria than we really were, and that we would reach its neighborhood by midnight, detailed three men as scouts whose duty it was when the command arrived conveniently near the rancheria, to go ahead and ascertain the exact locality and report to him the result of their reconnaissance in order to have no guess work about their actual position, and make our attack, consequently, a haphazard affair. Everything being now ready for the final march, we moved out of the San Pedro bottom just at dark. It soon became evident that our captain and all those who thought they knew the distance had made a grave mistake, and that instead of being sixteen miles, as estimated, it was nearer thirty miles, so that, after a continuous march through the whole night, it was near daybreak before we reached Aravaipa Canyon, so that when we did reach it, there was no time to make the proposed reconnaissance, to ascertain the exact location of the Indian camp – which involved the necessity of a change in our plan of attack. We knew that the rancheria was in Aravaipa Canyon, somewhere above the post, but the exact distance nobody knew – we were in a critical position – we were in sight of the post – in either case our expedition would be an absolute failure – but our gallant captain was equal to the emergency. Promptly he gave orders to divide the company into two wings, the one to comprise the Papagoes, the other the Mexicans and Americans, and to skirmish up the creek until we struck the rancheria. When the order forward was given, a new difficulty arose, which, if it had not been speedily overcome, would have been fatal. The command was now in plain view of the military post – the Papagoes had all the time been afraid of military interference with us. I assured them that no such thing would occur, and vouched for it. It happened that just as the command was halting I had dropped the canteen from the horn of my saddle, and dismounting to look for it in the dust and semidarkness, behind the troops, the Papagoes, not seeing me at the front when the order forward for the skirmish was given, refused to move, inquiring where Don Guillermo was. Word was immediately passed down the line to me, and I galloped to the front, and with a motion of my hand – without a spoken word, the Papagoes bounded forward like deer and the skirmish began, and a better executed one I never saw even from veteran soldiers. There was not a break in either line from the beginning to end of the affair, which covered a distance of nearly four miles before the Indians were struck. They were completely surprised and sleeping in absolute security in the wickiups, with only a buck and a squaw on the lookout on a bluff above the rancheria – who were playing cards by a small fire, and were both clubbed to death before they could give the alarm. The Papagoes attacked them in the wickiups with guns and clubs, and all who escaped them took to the bluffs and were received and dispatched by the other wing, which occupied a position above them. The attack was so swift and fierce that within half an hour the whole work was ended, and not an adult Indian left to tell the tale. Some 28 or 30 small papooses were spared and brought to Tucson as captives. Not a single man of our company was hurt to mar the full measure of our triumph, and at 8 o’clock on the bright April morning of April 30, 1871, our tired troops were resting in the San Pedro a few miles above the post in full satisfaction of a work well done.

“Here, also, might your historian lay down his pen and rest, but believing that in order to fully vindicate those who were aiders and abettors, he craves your indulgence whilst he gives a brief summary of the causes which drove our people to such extreme measures, and the happy effects resulting there from.

”Through the greater part of the year 1870, and the first part of 1871, these Indians had held a carnival of murder and plunder in all our settlements until our people had been appalled and almost paralyzed. On the San Pedro the bravest and best of its pioneers bad fallen by the wayside – instance Henry Long, Alex. McKenzie, Sam Brown, Simms, and many others well known to all of you. On the Santa Cruz noble Wooster and his wife, Sanders, and an innumerable host sleep the sleep that knows no waking. On the Sonoita the gallant Remington, Jackson, Carrol, Rotherwell, and others, were slain, without a chance of defense, and our secretary, W. J. Osborne, severely wounded.

“In the vicinity of Tucson, mail drivers and riders, and almost all others whom temerity or necessity caused to leave the protection of our adobe walls, were pitilessly slaughtered – makes the array truly appalling. Add to this the fact that the remaining settlers in the San Pedro, not knowing who the next victim would be, had at last resolved to abandon their crops in the field, and fly with their wives and children to Tucson for safety, and the picture is complete up to that glorious and memorable morning of April 30, 1871, when swift punishment was dealt out to those red handed butchers, and they were wiped from the face of the earth.

“Behold, now, the happy result immediately following that episode. The farmers of the San Pedro returned with their wives and babies to gather their abandoned crops. On the Sonoita, Santa Cruz, and all other settlements of southern Arizona, new life springs up, confidence is restored and industry bounds forward with an impetus that has known no check in the whole fourteen years that have elapsed since that occurrence.

“In view of all these facts, I call on all Arizonans to answer on their conscience: Can you call the killing of the Apaches at Camp Grant on the morning of April 30, 1871, a massacre?”

This event caused great excitement throughout the East among the party which was known at that time as the “Indian Lovers.” General Grant was President and informed the authorities in Arizona that if the men engaged in this, what he termed, outrage, were not brought to trial by the civil authorities, he would place the territory under martial law, as a result of which, at the request of W. S. Oury, and others of the leaders of the expedition, they, with about a hundred John Does and Richard Roes, were indicted, arrested, and brought to trial. They were all released. Further particulars of this trial will be fully related in its proper place in this history. W. S. Oury was the first President of the Pioneers’ Society at Tucson, and died in that city in March, 1887.

Granville H. Oury was born in Abingdon, Virginia, and came to Arizona in 1856. He commanded the expedition out of. Tucson which went to join the Crabb expedition in Mexico, as heretofore related. Upon the seizure of Tucson by the Confederates and the organization of the Territorial Government under Secession rule, he was sent as a Delegate to the Confederate Congress at Richmond, where he remained during the war. At its close he returned to Arizona, settled in Florence, where he practiced his profession that of an attorney, and served two terms as Delegate to Congress in the years 188082. He was a brother of W. S. Oury. He died in the year 1891, in Washington, D. C.



Farish, Thomas Edwin. History Of Arizona, Volume 2. Printed and Published by Direction of the Second Legislature of the State of Arizona, A. D. 1915.

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