General Thomas C. Devin Assumed Command in Arizona

Early in 1868 General Thomas C. Devin assumed command in Arizona. He was an able and active officer and carried on vigorous and most difficult scouts into the very heart of the Apache territory south of the Mogollons, north of the Gila, and throughout the Salt River regions; but, in spite of his best efforts, he rarely found any Indians, though the troops came upon numerous deserted rancherías. He also broke new trails into hitherto almost inaccessible Apache haunts and made maps for the guidance of future expeditions. Sometime in 1868 General Devin broke up the temporary reservation at Fort Goodwin, established in 1866, because the Indians would not give up known murderers among them nor promise to settle down permanently. Also a temporary reservation at Camp Grant for Pinal Apaches was abandoned for the reason that these Indians would not agree to the required terms. Between April and September, 1868, the troops in Arizona made forty-six scouting expeditions; almost every Apache-infested part of the Territory was covered, but with meager results. Only thirty Indians were killed and seven captured in the course of these costly and difficult expeditions.

It was a very different story during the year 1869. Early in 1868 General E. O. C. Ord succeeded McDowell as Commander of the Department of California. His attitude toward the hostile Apaches was grim and forceful. He instructed his “troops to capture and root out the Apaches by every means, and to hunt them as they would wild animals.” In his report of 1869 he states that his orders were carried out “with unrelenting vigor. . . . Over 200 have been killed, generally by parties who have trailed them for days and weeks into the mountain recesses, over snows, among gorges and precipices, lying in wait for them by day and following them by night. Many villages have been burned, large quantities of arms and supplies of ammunition, clothing, and provisions have been destroyed, a large number of horses and mules have been captured, and two men, twenty-eight women, and their twenty-four children taken prisoners; and though we have lost quite a number of soldiers, I think the Apaches have discovered they are getting the worst of it.”

Sad to relate, the whites were far from getting the best of it. In Pima County alone, according to lists published in the newspapers during the year that ended July 17, 1869, more than fifty whites were slain by Apaches, and nearly a score wounded; and during the following year forty-seven were killed and six wounded.

The Apache situation is revealed in the dear light of day in the following moving story. It is taken from the report of General Ord to the Adjutant General of the Army, dated September 27, 1869. This is the same General Ord who had instructed his troops to “capture and root out the Apaches by every means and to hunt them as they would wild animals.” Here is the extract: ” Colonel John Green . . . in a recent scout into the White Mountains, a country of which we know but little, after destroying some villages, killing a number of warriors, and destroying a large quantity of corn, etc., having heard of a village thirty miles north, where the Indians were reported friendly, and anxious to appease the troops, sent Captain John Barry . . . to examine the matter, and if he found them concerned in hostilities, to destroy them.” Thus he describes the result: “On the night of August 1, Captain Barry returned with his command, and reported that when he reached Miguel’s village [Miguel was the Apache chief who voluntarily led the way to his ranchería] there was a white flag flying from every hut and every prominent point; that the men, women, and children came out to meet them, and went to work at once to cut corn for their horses, and showed such a spirit of delight at meeting them, that the officers united in saying that if they had fired on them they would have been guilty of cold-blooded murder; even my chief scout, Manuel, who has no scruples in such matters, and whose mind was filled with taking scalps when he left camp, said he could not have fired on them after what he saw. . . .

“Miguel reiterated that he wanted to go on a reservation where he could be protected, and Captain Barry repeated what I had previously told him–that he must go to Camp McDowell and see the district commander. He also gave him a letter for that purpose. Miguel promised to start on the following day and commenced to make preparations at once. . . . The Apaches have but few friends, and, I believe, no agent. Even the officers when applied to for information cannot tell them what to do. There seems to be no settled policy, but a general idea to kill them wherever found. I, also, am a believer in that, if we go for extermination, but I think, and I am sustained in my opinion by most of the officers accompanying my expedition, that if Miguel and his band were placed on a reservation properly managed, and had a military post to protect them, they would form a nucleus for the civilization of the Apaches, as they seem more susceptible of it than any tribe I have seen. I even believe that, if the Apache is properly managed, he could be used against the Apache, and so end the war in a short time. Miguel said that he had soldiers, and would place them at my disposal whenever I wanted them.”

Be it said to the honor of General Ord that he instructed the district commander to send Colonel Green into the White Mountain Country to see whether it was fitted for a reservation for the friendly Apaches. General Ord in his report makes the following pertinent comment: “The earnestness with which the troops make war on the hostile Apaches is in proportion to the good will shown toward the inoffensive or friendly Indians. Many border white men, especially those that have been hunted, or lost friends or relations by them, regard all Indians as vermin, to be killed when met; and attacks upon and murder of quiet bands, who in some instances have come in to aid in pursuit of more hostile savages, is nothing unusual in Arizona. One citizen is now in confinement, arrested by the troops, for an attempt to murder a friendly Hualapai near Camp Mohave, and dozens of them are at large now who have tried it and succeeded. These citizens are not proceeded against by the civil authorities of the country. Reservations to be at all safe from such attacks in that country must be forbidden ground to all white men, save the troops sent there to watch the Indians and guard them and officers of the Indian Bureau.”

It seemed that the conscience of the nation was, at last, being aroused in protest against the injustices and cruelties so long practiced against the Indians. The wise and humane action of Colonel Green and General Ord related above was only one indication among many that the people, both civil and military, were awakening to a sense of their responsibility toward the savages whom we first ruthlessly dispossessed of their native heritage and then shamelessly oppressed and mistreated. The Apaches were the wildest, least known, and least encountered, but now, even they, because of their fierce resistance and the awful atrocities of the inhuman war now being waged between the white man and them, were attracting the sympathetic attention of humanitarians, statesmen, and soldiers alike. The dawn of peace and good will was not far off, but there were still to be devastating storms and deluges of blood.

April 15, 1870, the new Department of Arizona was created. The citizens of Arizona had long desired this action and were hopeful that the military would now be able to curb the Apaches. May 3 General George Stoneman was appointed department commander, and early in July he set up his headquarters at Fort Whipple. Stoneman had passed through Arizona in 1846 with the Mormon Battalion, and though just out of West Point, had discharged his duties with distinction. Later he won the rank of Brevet Major General for long and gallant service during the Civil War. A brave, capable, humane officer, he was highly qualified for his new post. Yet within a few months he was the most unpopular, bitterly criticized commander Arizona had ever had; and during the preceding six years she had had many. The awakened East censured Stoneman for killing wild Apaches wherever found, whether good or bad; he was denounced and reviled in Arizona because he did not proceed more swiftly with the business of extermination–the only policy at that time at all popular with Arizonians. To make matters worse for the new commander, the Government had just inaugurated a program of severe retrenchment in Army expenses. General J. M. Schofield, Commander of the Division of the Pacific, in his annual report gave notice that the meager appropriations for the quartermaster department would require great reduction of expenses in Arizona, the withdrawal of a portion of the troops, the abandoning of unnecessary posts, the breaking up of expensive depots that could be spared, and general economy in administration wherever possible.

What Stoneman actually did during his brief year of command was: to continue the policy of placing Indians who showed a friendly disposition upon reservations and supplying them with food, blankets, and instruction in the ways of civilization; to build permanent military roads into the wilds inhabited by the Apaches; to abandon, or recommend the abandonment of ten of the eghteen posts in the Territory; to discharge as many employees as could be dispensed with, reducing the number “from thousands to as many hundreds”; to cancel contracts by which the Government was deliberately being bled; to set the soldiers at work at Camps Bowie, Date Creek, Yuma, Hualapai, Verde, and Thomas building quarters; and, finally, to carry on vigorously the main work required of him, the chasing and killing of recalcitrant Apaches. The troops were kept constantly on the move, trying to forestall attacks of the enemy and pursuing and punishing marauding Apaches with relentless vigor. Most daring and resourceful among a score of officers, indefatigable in energy and courage, who distinguished themselves during this period were Bourke, Ross, Winters, Sanford, Russell, Carrol, Almy, and above all, Lieutenant Howard B. Cushing who died in desperate action, May 5, 1871. No man during this period had done so much as he to quell and chastise the militant Apaches. Indeed, in view of the fact that up to this time the policy of killing Indians was the supreme test of a commander’s success, Stoneman deserved a high rating; for by October, 1870, in the numerous deadly expeditions led by the officers named above, two hundred Apaches had been slain.

Nevertheless, before the beginning of the year 1871, the attacks upon Stoneman and the Army by citizens and the newspapers were scathing, scornful, and bitter in the extreme. Bare facts alone cannot make clear the state of mind in Arizona at this time. The modern reader must view the situation with a sympathetic and imaginative mind if he would know the whole truth. No one was wholly to blame except bad white men and bad Indians. The suffering and death inflicted upon the settlers of Arizona had driven them to frenzy, fear, and fiery hatred. During the year that Stoneman was in command, the Apaches had renewed their attacks with the most deadly intent. They struck simultaneously at points far apart. The stage stations, both east and west of Tucson, on the San Pedro, at the Cienega, and near the Picacho were attacked; Pete Kitchen’s ranch near the border was raided and his boy killed in the field; Tucson itself was taken by surprise and a large number of beeves and work oxen were driven into the mountains; a mail carrier was killed near San Xavier; the Paymaster’s clerk and one of his escorts were killed on the road between Camp Reno and Camp McDowell; A. J. Jackson was murdered at San Pedro; and a Mexican was killed and scalped near Fort Wallen. On Portrero Creek six Mexicans were attacked and killed; the ranch of Gardner, near Sonoita, was raided, his herd of cattle was stampeded, a Mexican boy was captured, and David Holland killed; at Davis Springs, not far from Camp Crittenden, Peter Riggs, Thomas Venable, and a Mexican were killed and goods valued at six thousand dollars were burned; a Mexican wagon train was attacked on the road between Phoenix and Wickenburg, one teamster was killed and three wounded, and a horse and thirty-two cattle were stolen; in an attack upon a wagon train near Camp McDowell, George King was killed, two men wounded, and twenty-five mules stolen; two prominent men, Kennedy and Israel, were killed about twenty-five miles northeast of Tucson by a large party of Apaches, their teams captured and their wagon train and valuable goods burned; and, finally, most tragic of all, a party of Mexicans returning to Sonora after a visit to relatives in Tucson, were massacred near the border. A beautiful young Mexican girl, Doña Trinidad, was one of the victims. The above is a typical, but only partial, list of the atrocities visited upon the inhabitants of Arizona during the incumbency of General Stoneman.

In order to form a rounded and correct picture of conditions in Arizona at this time it is necessary for us to consider some very prevalent sins and shortcomings of the white population. There were staunch and honest citizens in Arizona at that time –but their number was all too few. On the other hand, there were numerous cruel and depraved men. Some of the finest, most honorable Americans in Arizona at this period were Army officers, and they, as well as other honest and decent white men, have made it clear to us that innumerable worthless citizens of that day exceeded in vileness and brutality any outrage ever traced to an Apache. Residents of Arizona–especially politicians, corrupt contractors, and some of the Indians agents–regularly robbed the Government and cheated the Indians.

In his report of September 28, 1869, General Ord states that “at one post inspected by me, I found that its garrison of eighty-six men had lost fifty-four men by desertion, and every deserter had carried off a good horse and repeating rifle, worth together from $150 to $300 at the post. These horses and arms are generally sold to citizens in the vicinity for half or a third of their value, so that the citizen finds more profit in encouraging desertion by buying the deserter’s arms, horse, and clothing than in arresting him for the small reward of about $20 in gold. . . . If the paymasters and quartermasters of the army were to stop payment in Arizona, a great majority of the white settlers would be compelled to quit it. Hostilities are therefore kept up with a view to protecting inhabitants, most of whom are supported by the hostilities. Of course, their support being derived from the presence of troops, they are continually asking for more.” Stoneman affirmed when he reduced the number of posts in the department that the only hardship involved was the money loss to the people in the vicinity of the deserted posts, as they would “be unable, as heretofore, to dispose of their hay, etc., to the Government at the usual and exorbitant prices.” At Fort Thomas a citizen had contracted to furnish five hundred tons of hay at eighty-two dollars a ton in gold. When Stoneman took command, this agreement was canceled, and a contract entered into for two hundred tons at forty-four dollars in paper money.

Joseph Fish, an Arizona pioneer, in his well-known unpublished manuscript, writes: “Of all the contractors of early days, it is hardly possible to find one who remained in the Territory. As soon as they made their money, they went east or to San Francisco to live. Not one of this patriotic fraternity cared a fig for Arizona. The people were taught to oppose agencies where the Apaches worked and were fed. They feared that it would reduce the military force for one thing, and that it would suspend campaigns and lead to an inactive state of war.”

As a climax to the whole situation described in this chapter came the Camp Grant Massacre of April 30, 1871. The story of this deed constitutes the blackest page in the Anglo-Saxon records of Arizona. In February, 1871, one hundred and fifty Arivaipa Apaches led by Eskiminzin, their chief, came to Old Camp Grant and expressed an earnest desire to live at peace. They declared that they were not hostile to the whites; that for five years they had been living in the mountains like wildcats, in fear of the troops; and that many of their number had perished from exposure and starvation. Now they were very poor, without food or clothing, and many were old and sick. Here in the fertile Arivaipa Canyon, near its junction with the San Pedro, before the coming of the Americans, they had for many years built their wickiups, planted their crops of corn, and lived happily. They begged that they might return to their native fields under the protection of the troops.

Lieutenant Royal Whitman, who was then in command at Camp Grant, was convinced that they were in desperate straits and had a sincere desire to live at peace. He had no authority to receive them or to deal with them, but told them he would consult his superiors to find out what could be done, and, meantime, that they should settle down in their old fields near the post where he would supply them with food and blankets. March 1 they came back to the spot that had been their home for generations–sixty warriors poorly armed, and ninety children, women, and old men. Whitman was a drunkard and, no doubt, was crooked in his dealings with the Government, but he had a warm heart and a genuine interest in these good, well-disposed Indians. He rode over to their camp frequently; he knew them by name–men, women, and children; and he won their complete confidence and friendship. The influence he exerted over them was really remarkable. Other Arivaipas, singly, and in small bands, gradually came in and settled near the post, and they were all regularly cared for and supervised by Whitman. Among them there may have been some hostiles who used this improvised reservation as a safe rendezvous before and after a raid; but it has never been proven that there were such; and the other white men at Camp Grant, as well as reliable pioneer writers of that day, give it as their opinion that these Indians were sincere and peaceful.

Meantime, bloody and destructive raids were constantly occurring near Tucson, around Tubac, and in other parts of southern Arizona. At each new outrage the settlers grew more frantic. They had never approved of this irregular settlement of Indians near Camp Grant. They declared that renegades were continually slipping away from this reservation, committing some new outrage, and then returning to be fed and protected by Whitman until they were ready for another outbreak. Late in April a small band of Indians drove off a number of horses and cattle from San Xavier and killed a man. The people of Tucson and San Xavier declared that the outlaws were from Eskiminzin’s band. Excited crowds in Tucson came together in public meetings demanding vengeance; and a committee of three or four leading citizens was sent to interview General Stoneman, then near Florence, with the demand that the Arivaipa Indians be punished and that the settlers be given protection. General Stoneham replied that he had a very limited number of troops at his disposal; that they were constantly in the field in pursuit of bad Apaches; that Tucson was the most populous center in the department; and that its citizens would have to protect themselves as best they could.

This answer supplied oil to the fire of their rage. A secret movement was at once set on foot to destroy, root and branch, the Indians on the Camp Grant Reservation. Extermination –nothing less–was the end and aim of these “leading citizens,” all of whom had always held that club and gun only could end the Apache menace. The two men who took the initiative in the infamous affair, Jesus M. Elias and W. S. Oury, were two of the most militant and influential pioneers in Arizona.

The expedition left Tucson secretly in small parties in order to avoid suspicion on the part of the military. Some miles out of Tucson on the road to Camp Grant guards were stationed to turn back any rider who might be sent to warn the troops at Camp Grant of what was afoot. The party rendezvoused, April 28, in the Pantano wash, east of Tucson. There were one hundred and forty-six in all: five Americans in addition to W. S. Oury, the leader; forty-eight Mexicans; and ninety-two Papago Indians. A wagonload of arms, ammunition, and provisions had been supplied by the Adjutant-General of the Territory. Leaving the Rillito at four P.M., the company went by Cabadilla Pass, between the Rincons and the Santa Cruz, and lay hidden most of the next day on the San Pedro. Marching all night they reached the encampment of the Indians just at dawn; and with clubs, rifles, and revolvers fell upon the Indians before they were fully awakened from their slumbers. The camp was unarmed and most of the men were away hunting in the mountains; but men, women, and children, utterly dazed and surprised, were brained by the Papagos with clubs, or shot down as they ran by Mexicans and Americans. One hundred and eight Arivaipas were slaughtered during the course of a few minutes. Only eight of this number were men. Twenty-nine children were “spared” and taken by Tucson citizens or sold by the Papagos into Sonora as slaves. Two of these children escaped and five were later recovered from Arizonians. The fate of the rest was never known. From the point of view of the avengers the expedition was a great success. The “red devils” had all been killed or captured; the army had been outwitted; and not a man in the punitive expedition had been hurt “to mar the full measure of the triumph,” in the words of Oury. The deep damnation of the deed cried out trumpet-tongued to the people throughout the nation. In his report of that year General Schofield referred to this ferocious incident as “no less barbarous than those which characterize the Apache.” Captain John G. Bourke writes: “The incident, one of the saddest and most terrible in our annals, is one over which I would gladly draw the veil.” Historians who were residents of Arizona in the middle seventies–for example, Joseph Fish and John P. Clum–with bitter indignation, stamp the outrage upon their pages in all its gory horror. President Grant, in a letter to the Governor of the Territory, declared that he would place Arizona under martial law unless those who engaged in the massacre were promptly brought to trial before a civil court. One hundred and four of those who took part in the affair were indicted and tried before a Federal judge in Tucson. After being out only twenty minutes, the jury “exonerated them. The majority of leading white men in Arizona at the time approved, or at least condoned, the action of their fellow citizens. No Arizona judge or jury would have convicted a white man for killing an Apache.


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