Five Thousand Men against Thirty-Eight Chiricahua

During the march toward the border Miles himself was on the anxious seat. Much was expected of him. He had promised much. Yet for four months his army of five thousand men had been employed against these thirty-eight Chiricahuas. His troops had suffered serious fatalities and casualties, yet not a single renegade had been killed or captured. Now they were coming to surrender to him. Would they hold fast to their intention? And would they yield on terms that matched his promises to the public and that fulfilled the requirements laid upon him by the President and the commanding General of the Army?

To Gatewood, Lawton, and other officers who were bringing in the hostilities the uncertainty as to the outcome became agonizing, for Miles refused for several days to meet Gatewood, Lawton and the Indians for the conference that had been agreed upon. He ordered Lawton not to bring the Chiricahuas on American soil unless they delivered hostages into his hands. But Lawton had promised them safe conduct into Miles’ presence. He was bound by the honor of an American officer! Miles would not stir. The Indians were growing very restive and suspicious. More than once they had urged Gatewood to run away with them through the mountains toward Fort Bowie so that they could get into direct contact with Miles; but knowing that Miles was not then at Fort Bowie and fearing that if he left them to go in search of the General, they might be attacked either by the Mexicans or by one of our own commands operating in that neighborhood, Gatewood refuse their pleas. Lawton at last, in desperation, said to Lieutenant Abiel Smith, next in command, that he saw no way out but to let them go, give them a start of twenty-four hours in accordance with a promise made to them, and then go after them again. Smith’s soldierly honor did not irk him to the degree Crook’s did, or Gatewood’s, or Lawton’s. He said with a grim and knowing smile:

“I haven’t promised them anything. You stay here [at the San Bernardino Ranch] and communicate with Miles and I’ll take command.” Days went by and still Miles refused to come to meet the Indians. Lawton wrote to his wife, September 2: “I am too anxious and worried to write you much. I cannot get the General to come out and see them and they are very uneasy about it. What will occur, no one can tell.” 1 Lawton being temporarily absent, there was talk of attacking the Indians and killing Geronimo. The renegades got wind of this, and mounting their horses, took the back trail. But Gatewood followed them at once and was able to restore their confidence. Abiel Smith was rather strong for direct action. Geronimo asked Gatewood what he would do if the soldiers fired upon his people. Gatewood said he would try to stop it, but that, if he could not do so, he would run away with them. Nachez then said: “Better stay right with us lest some of our men believe you treacherous and kill you.” Gatewood was in a very difficult situation, indeed. He was so sensitive to any mention of attacking the Indians that he asked to be transferred to some other command; but Lawton gave him to understand that, if necessary, he would use force to compel him to remain with his command. At last, at Skeleton Canyon on September 3, Geronimo’s brother having been sent to Miles as a hostage, the General met Gatewood and Lawton for the promised parley with the renegades.

September 4 Miles met Geronimo and Nachez and agreed upon the terms of surrender. There was tremendous commotion in officialdom following Miles’ report that the hostiles had surrendered. It developed into a “battle above the clouds,” and ended in a Senate investigation during which every order, report, telegram, and comment dealing with the event was introduced. The language of war is best adapted for the elucidation of the matter. It began with a machine-gun chatter of telegrams from such high officials as President Cleveland, Lieutenant-General Sheridan, the Secretary of War, and General O. O. Howard, Commander of the Division of the Pacific. This was replied to by a smoke screen of rhetoric on the part of General Miles: “their surrender as prisoners of war to the troops in the field,” “the last hereditary chief of the hostile Apaches,” “direct result of the intrepid zeal and indefatigable efforts of the troops in the field,” “Skeleton Cañon, a favorite resort of the Indians in former years and well suited by name and tradition to witness the closing scenes of such an Indian war.” Then came the camouflage that led the effete gentlemen of the East to suppose that Geronimo and his band had been captured or had surrendered without conditions; the disappearance of one telegram–“sunk without trace”–and the temporary suppression of another one at a very crucial moment by Miles’ Adjutant-General–these are some of the colorful aspects of this battle of words.

Unfortunately, Cleveland, Sheridan, the Secretary of War, and Howard all interpreted Miles’ account of the submission of the hostiles as meaning that they had been captured or had surrendered unconditionally. The news was immeasurably gratifying to Cleveland and Sheridan. As early as August 23 Cleveland had telegraphed to the War Department: “I hope nothing will be done with Geronimo which will prevent our treating him as a prisoner of war, if we cannot hang him, which I would much prefer.” September 7 he telegraphed to the Secretary of War urging that “all the hostiles should be very safely kept as prisoners until they can be tried for their crimes or otherwise disposed of.” The same day, September 7, Sheridan telegraphed Miles as follows: “As the disposition of Geronimo and his hostile band is yet to be decided by the President and as they are prisoners without conditions, you are hereby directed to hold them in close confinement at Fort Bowie until the decision of the President is communicated to you.” This same day, September 7, Sheridan telegraphed Cleveland recommending “that Geronimo and all the adult males that have surrendered with him to General Miles be held as prisoners by the military at such point in the Department of Arizona as General Miles may determine, subject to such trial and punishment as may be awarded them by the civil authorities of the Territories of Arizona and New Mexico.” In reply to the above telegram came one from Cleveland, September 8, saying: “I think Geronimo and the rest of the hostiles should be immediately sent to the nearest fort or prison where they can be securely confined. The most important thing now is to guard against all chances of escape.”

Now what Miles had actually reported to his superior officers was this: “I informed [them] should they throw down their arms and place themselves entirely at our mercy we should certainly not kill them, but that they must surrender absolutely as prisoners of war to the Federal authorities, and rely upon the Government to treat them fairly and justly. I informed them that I was removing all the Chiricahuas and Warm Springs from Arizona, and that they would all be removed from this country at once and for all time.” Did Cleveland and Sheridan misinterpret Miles’ words because they lacked adequate training in logic and the correct use of the English language, or did Miles report an unconditional surrender and the conditions upon which the surrender was made in one and the same breath? It is for the reader to decide. What is plain is that Miles was handling a very hot potato and desired to pass it on just as soon as possible. In reality, on the morning of September 8, before he had read Sheridan’s telegram of September 7, he had entrained the hostile, and started them for San Antonio in charge of Lawton, Wood, and a strong escort. Howard, Miles’ immediate superior in command, charged Miles with starting the hostiles for Florida “in direct contravention of the LieutenantGeneral and without waiting to hear the decision of the President or of the War Department.” Miles denied this. But there are other ways of killing a cat than by choking it with butter. Hagedorn, basing his statement upon an entry in Leonard Wood’s Diary for September 8, 1886, says: “The acting adjutant-general on Miles’ staff [ Captain William A. Thompson] . . . received the telegram as the troops were preparing to take the Indians to the railroad, read it, tucked it in his pocket. . . . Wood, arriving with Lawton and the balance of the hostile, with orders to go with them as far as San Antonio, had time only to refresh his tattered wardrobe before the escort wagons drew up. . . . Captain Thompson, riding down to the railroad at Wood’s side, very mellow and friendly, patted his pocket. ‘I’ve got something here which would stop this movement, but I am not going to let the old man see it until you are gone.'” 2

Miles must have drawn a long breath of relief the moment that the entrained Indians crossed the limits of his Department. September 10 the Secretary of War telegraphed to General D. S. Stanley at San Antonio, commanding the Department of Texas: “You will take charge of these Indians and securely confine them at San Antonio barracks and hold them until further orders.” The same day Stanley replied by wire: ” Geronimo and party have arrived and are quartered in quartermaster’s depot under guard. There is no permanent or safe guardhouse and no place of security at the post proper, which is only now in course of construction.” Miles’ disposition of the hostiles was playing hob with the plans of the President and the higher Army officials. Not until September 11 was Sheridan informed that the Indians had been stopped at San Antonio. September 13 he instructed Miles “to forward without delay a special report of the capture of Geronimo and the hostile Apaches.” Evidently Miles did not report promptly. September 17 General Howard sent this telegram to the AdjutantGeneral at Washington: “The special field order of General Miles directing that Geronimo and his band be sent to Fort Marion, Florida, states it is issued in obedience to telegraphic instructions from the Acting Secretary of War, dated September 4. Will you please furnish me with a copy of these instructions?” September 18 the Acting Adjutant-General replied to Howard: “There is no record of a telegram of September 4, or any other date, from the Acting Secretary of War to General Miles, directing him to send Geronimo and band to Fort Marion, Florida. No such order has been given.” September 23 the Acting Secretary of War sent the following telegram to Howard: “The President desires you, without delay, to send him by telegraph a full report of the capture of Geronimo and the Apaches who were with him.” The same day Howard replied: ” GeneralMiles was ordered by telegraph on the 13th instant to forward without delay a special report of the capture of Geronimo and the Apaches who were with him. On the 18th instant he acknowledged the receipt of the telegram, and stated the report would be forwarded by mail.” September 24 the President wired Howard that he would “be satisfied with a detailed account of the immediate circumstances attending the capture.” That same day Howard replied in a dispatch of considerable length that concluded with this paragraph:

“I believed at first from official reports that the surrender was unconditional, except that the troops themselves would not kill the hostiles. Now from General Miles’ dispatches and from his annual report . . . the conditions are plain: first, that the lives of all the Indians should be spared; second, that they should be sent to Fort Marion, Florida, where their tribe, including their families, had already been ordered.”

Howard’s telegram was referred to Sheridan, and September 25 he returned it to the Secretary of War with this endorsement: “It was my understanding that Geronimo and the hostiles surrendered unconditionally, and it was on that account that I recommended that they should be turned over to the civil authorities of Arizona and New Mexico for trial and such punishment as might be awarded them.”

September 24 Miles made his belated special report. It contained nothing that had not already been included in the annual report summarized above by Howard. September 25 the Secretary of War wired Miles: “It would appear from disdispatches received through division headquarters that Geronimo, instead of being captured, surrendered, and that the surrender, instead of being unconditional, was, contrary to expectations here, accompanied with conditions and promises. That the President may dearly understand the present status of Geronimo and his band, he desires you to report by telegraph direct the exact promises, if any, made to them at the time of surrender.” In reply, on the twenty-fifth, Miles telegraphed to the President requesting that he might report to him in person. The following day Cleveland wired denying this request on the ground that it was important for Miles to remain with his command at that time. He also emphatically repeated his request of the previous day. At last poor Miles telegraphed, September 29: “On the 6th instant, I forwarded telegraphic report of 153 words, and on 19th forwarded special report, together with report in full of Captain Lawton, also my annual report. These give as full an account of facts, circumstances, and conversations as language can express, and as this matter involves the lives of men, I beg that they may be carefully read before any further action is taken.”

The President was a man slow to get impressions, but determined in his efforts to learn. So, September 29, the following telegram was sent by the Secretary of War to Stanley at San Antonio: “That there may be no misunderstanding here as to the status of Geronimo and the Indians who surrendered with him, the President desires you to ascertain, as fully and clearly as possible, the exact understanding of Geronimo and Nachez as to the conditions of the surrender and the immediate circumstances which led to it.”

Stanley’s report showed that Geronimo and Nachez had clearly understood all that Miles promised them–and quite a little more. “Both chiefs say they never thought of surrender until Lieutenant Gatewood, interpreter George Wratten, and the two scouts came to them and said the Great Father wanted them to surrender; that they believed this, but did not believe Crook, because he talked ugly to them, and that they thought he would put them under Chatto, and that when Geronimo met Miles at Skeleton Cañon, the latter said: ‘Lay down your arms and come with me to Fort Bowie, and in five days you will see your families, now in Florida with Chihuahua, and no harm will be done.’ ”

October 11 the Secretary of War directed Stanley to supply by telegram the name, age, sex, and condition of health of each one of the hostile Apaches in his custody at San Antonio. Stanley replied the same day giving details concerning the fifteen men, eleven women, and six children in the band, and also the names of the two enlisted scouts who had gone with Gatewood into their camp to demand their surrender. October 19 the Secretary of War issued an order to Sheridan to send the fifteen adult male hostiles under proper guard to Fort Pickens, Florida, to be kept there in close custody. The same order decreed that the eleven women, six children, and two scouts should be sent to Fort Marion, Florida, to be placed with the other Chiricahua and Warm Spring Indians who had been taken there in September. 3

October 20 L. Q. C. Lamar, the Secretary of the Interior, gave his approval of the above order. The prisoners for both Fort Pickens and Fort Marion left San Antonio by special train, October 22. October 25 General Schofield telegraphed the Adjutant-General that the fifteen male hostiles had been delivered at Fort Pickens.

At the same time that Miles was pressing the campaign against the renegades in Mexico he was deeply employed in an attempt to remove forever from Arizona the Chiricahua and Warm Spring Indians located on the military reservation near Fort Apache. Men, women, and children, they numbered four hundred and forty. Their status was that of prisoners of war. They were kept under strict surveillance by the military, but had never been disarmed or dismounted. Among them were Chatto, Loco, Ka-ya-ten-na, and many other scouts who had served faithfully and efficiently under Crook in his campaigns against Nachez, Chihuahua, Mangus, and Geronimo in 1885, and in 1886. These four hundred and forty prisoners of war had been more or less industriously cultivating little farms near Fort Apache, accumulating cows, sheep, horses and mules, and cutting and selling hay and wood to the Government. The leaders seemed to be doing their best under the very difficult circumstances to live the life of the white man so earnestly pointed out to them by Crook. They were intensely hated and feared by the citizens of Arizona and heartily disliked by the White Mountain and other Apaches.

In July Miles went to Fort Apache for the purpose of working out some plan by which these Indians could be removed to a remote location in the East. He talked with the leading men, holding before them rosy pictures of what the Government might be persuaded to do for them in money and farms and stock if they would consent peaceably to leave their native mountains and mesas and give up their plots of ground for Larger and more productive holdings in some new land. He was able to induce a delegation of ten or twelve of the principal men to go to Washington for the purpose of inquiring what the Government would be willing to do for them if they moved. It was an ill-advised step on the part of Miles; there was no good ground to believe that the Government would or could relocate them satisfactorily on an Eastern reservation. However, about the middle of July, the delegation journeyed to Washington in charge of Captain J. H. Dorst, with Mickey Free, Concepcion, and Sam Bowman as interpreters. Chatto was the leading man in the delegation.

The Indians met the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Interior and were presented to President Cleveland. But no decision was reached concerning a new location, nor was anything important accomplished. Chatto was presented with a large silver medal, and Secretary Endicott of the War Department gave him a certificate to carry away. These gifts pleased Chatto and set his disturbed mind at rest, for he supposed, naturally, that they were marks of approval from the highest officers of the Government and carried with them the assurance that he and his people were not to be removed from the Apache reservation. He was soon disillusioned. While the delegation was still in Washington, Cleveland and Sheridan had made up their minds that all of the Chiricahuas, both the delegation in Washington and those at home on the reservation, should be sent to Fort Marion, Florida, and held there as prisoners. Sheridan telegraphed to Miles, July 31: “The President wishes me to ask what you think of the proposition to forcibly arrest all on the reservation and send them to Fort Marion, Florida, where they can be joined by the party now here.” Miles replied by wire, August 2, giving his reactions, pro and con, to the President’s proposal. On the whole, he favored it; but he pointed out this serious objection: “As the delegation went to Washington by authority of the Government with a view of making some permanent arrangement for their future, I fear it would be charged that the Government had taken advantage of them, and believe the Indians would consider it an act of bad faith. . . .” However, he protested against the return of the delegation to Arizona; for he had already taken steps for the forcible removal of the Chiricahuas in Arizona. Colonel Wade, in command at Fort Apache, had been directed to keep them completely under his control. Accordingly, Chatto and his party were delayed at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for five days; and then, notwithstanding Miles’ request that they be detained still longer, were again started on their way to Arizona. By the time they reached Kansas, the War Department, yielding to Miles’ repeated request, ordered that they be stopped and taken to Fort Leavenworth; and there they were held, in fear and great anxiety of mind, until September 12. The Secretary of War then sent the following order to the Commanding General of the Division of the Missouri: “You will cause the Apache Indians now at Fort Leavenworth to be sent under charge of Captain Dorst, Fourth Cavalry, by the most direct and expeditious route to St. Augustine, Florida, and upon arrival to be turned over to the commanding officer at that post for confinement with other Indian prisoners now there.” This disposition of the delegation met the approval of President Cleveland, Endicott, the Secretary of War, L. Q. C. Lamar, the Secretary of the Interior, and Lieutenant-General Sheridan.

During August and September, while the delegation was confined at Fort Leavenworth, Miles had made ample military preparation for the removal of the four hundred and twenty-eight Indians on the reservation. He had added to Colonel Wade’s five troops stationed at Fort Apache a troop from San Carlos, two from Fort Thomas, and one from Alma, New Mexico. The Indian men were placed under guard and disarmed; and on September 7 the whole camp–men, women, and children–were started for Holbrook, one hundred miles away, where they were put on the Atlantic and Pacific Railway train and sent by way of Albuquerque, St. Louis, and Atlanta, to Fort Marion, Florida, which they reached on September 20, the same day that Chatto and his party arrived.

It has seemed to citizens of sensitive honor–particularly to men like Captain John G. Bourke, Lieutenants Charles B. Gatewood and Britton Davis, and General George Crook, humane and chivalrous soldiers–that these Chiricahua and Warm Spring Reservation Indians were dishonorably dealt with by the Government. In the closing pages of his excellent book, Britton Davis, with caustic force, arraigns the Government for its treatment of these Indians; and the valiant John G. Bourke, at the close of Chapter XXIX of his great book, On the Border with Crook, has this to say about Miles’ campaign against the outlaw Chiricahuas and concerning the final disposition of the well-behaved Indians who had remained on the reservation:

“Not a single Chiricahua had been killed, captured, or wounded throughout the entire campaign–with two exceptions–unless by Chiricahua-Apache scouts who, like ‘ Chato,’ had kept the pledges given to General Crook in the Sierra Madre in 1883. The exceptions were: one killed by the White Mountain Apaches near Fort Apache, and one killed by a white man in northern Mexico. Yet every one of those faithful scouts–especially the two ‘Ki-e-ta’ and ‘Martinez,’ who had at imminent personal peril gone into the Sierra Madre to hunt up ‘Geronimo’ and induce him to surrender, were transplanted to Florida and there subjected to the same punishment as had been meted out to ‘Geronimo.’ And with them were sent men like ‘Goth-Kli’ and ‘Toklanni,’ who were not Chiricahuas at all, but had only lately married wives of that band, who had never been on the war-path in any capacity except as soldiers of the Government, and had devoted years to its service. There is no more disgraceful page in the history of our relations with the American Indians than that which conceals the treachery visited upon the Chiricahuas who remained faithful in their allegiance to our people. An examination of the documents cited [on a preceding page] will show that I have used extremely mild language in alluding to this affair.”

General Crook, in a report dated January 6, 1890, to the Secretary of War (who had asked him to assist in finding a suitable reservation for these Chiricahua Apaches after they had suffered four years of blighting confinement in Florida), with his usual gravity and calm clarity, shows just how callous and unjust was the action of Cleveland and the military authorities in their dealings with Chatto and his fellow scouts:

“In the operation against the hostiles, Chatto and others of his band were enlisted as scouts in the service of the United States and rendered invaluable services in that capacity. It is not too much to say that the surrender of Nachez, Chihuahua, Geronimo, and their bands could not have been effected except for the assistance of Chatto and his Chiricahua scouts.

“The final surrender of Geronimo and his small band to General Miles was brought about only through Chiricahuas who had remained friendly to the Government.

“When the services were no longer required Chatto received an honorable discharge and returned to his farm. He planted wheat and barley, raised sheep and owned horses and mules. Before his crops had ripened he was summoned to Washington. After an interview with the President he left the capital expecting to return to his farm at Camp Apache. On the way he was stopped at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and kept there for two months. At the end of this time he was taken to St. Augustine, and placed in confinement with the captive hostiles, whose surrender he had been so instrumental in securing. Ever since, he has been continued in confinement with them on the same terms, and with the yet more guilty band of Geronimo, which subsequently joined them. . . .”During my interview with him at Mount Vernon Barracks, Chatto took from his breast a large medal that had been presented to him by President Cleveland and holding it out, asked, ‘Why was I given that to wear in the guard-house? I thought that something good would come to me when they gave it to me, but I have been in confinement ever since I have had it.’ I submit that this Indian has received but scant encouragement from the Government in his efforts to become a self-sustaining citizen.”And Chatto is not alone in this experience. By far the greater part of the tribe remained true to the Government in the outbreak of 1885, and the most valuable and trustworthy of the Indian scouts were taken from among them. For their allegiance all have been rewarded alike–by captivity in a strange land.” 4Citations:

  1. For this quotation and many additional details, see Hagedorn Hermann. Leonard Wood, A Biography, Vol. I. New York, Harper, 1931, Vol. I, chap. 5.[]
  2. Hagedorn Hermann. Leonard Wood, A Biography, Vol. I. New York, Harper, 1931, pp. 102-103.[]
  3. There is a discrepancy between this report and that of Lieutenant Gatewood. Stanley reports thirty-two Apaches in all. Gatewood states the thirty-eight surrendered. The contradiction is accounted for by the fact that the night before Lawton reached Fort Bowie with his prisoners, three men and three women slipped out of his camp and escaped into the mountains.[]
  4. Fifty-first Congress, First Session, Executive Document No. 83.[]

Apache, History,


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top