Soldiers, Citizens and Savages

Carleton had done his best to conquer and control the Apaches, but had failed after all. It is natural that an enlightened American who coolly reads today the events of the past should suppose that with the close of the Civil War our Government would have turned its attention seriously to the solution of the Apache problem in the Southwest. But it did not do this. There were pressing and clamorous postwar issues that absorbed the attention of populace and officers of government alike. New Mexico and Arizona were very remote; the white population scant; and knowledge of the condition and needs of the people in that region meager indeed. As a result, Apache hostilities went on unabated.

It seems to us now that the failure of the Government at that time to devise some clear, firm policy for the disposition and control of the wild Apaches was stupid and reprehensible. The untold loss of life and destruction of property on the part of whites as well as Indians, and the unimaginable sufferings that came to individuals of both races during the next seven years, must be laid squarely at the feet of the Federal Government. Both soldiers and citizens did the best they could; and, as for the savage, he struggled in primitive darkness to maintain his existence and his hitherto free domain in the only way he knew–by murder and plunder, the A B C of his education and that of his ancestors.

It should have been as plain to the United States Government at that time as it is to us today that the only policy to pursue was that finally enforced by General George Crook: settlement of the Apaches upon reservations under Government protection and supervision, or steady and stern extermination. The only humane course was to allow the Apache to choose between restraint and wise educational direction by the Government, on suitable reservations, or death at the hands of United States soldiers. Necessarily, these alternatives would have to go hand in hand. At the close of the war the United States should have garrisoned New Mexico and Arizona with an active army of ten thousand soldiers, if that many had been necessary, for the stern and prompt subjugation of willful Apache murderers and marauders, and at the same time should have made it unmistakably clear that all Indians who desired to give up warfare and live at peace with the white men would be settled upon honestly and humanely administered reservations set aside for them in their own favorite haunts.

Instead of pursuing such a course, what did Washington do? The Government committed itself to no policy, but allowed confusion to grow worse confounded. Neither soldier, savage, nor citizen was able to say how he should conduct himself. In the absence of any other fixed policy, killing was, of course, continued as the only common and familiar method of dealing with the situation. Meantime, by a reorganization of military forces, January 20, 1865, Arizona was detached from New Mexico and made a district of the Department of California. At this time there was neither telegraph, railroad, nor other means of rapid communication between headquarters on the Pacific coast and commanding officers in wide, wild, rough Arizona.

During the spring of 1865 authority was given to recruit a regiment of Arizona Volunteers for service against the Apaches. By November 3 five companies had been mustered in, namely: Companies A, B, C, E, and F. These Companies together numbered three hundred and fifty men. Companies A, E, and F were made up wholly of native Arizonians, so were, of course, men of Mexican birth. Company B consisted of Maricopa Indians, and Company C of Pima Indians. The officers were all Americans, except Lieutenants Gallegos and Cervantes who were Mexican born. These Arizona Volunteers were mustered out at the end of one year; but civil and military officers alike speak in very high terms of their effectiveness during their period of service.

It was the opinion of General John S. Mason, who commanded the District of Arizona at the time, that “native troops, Papagos, Pimas, Mexicans, and also volunteers of our own race, were more effective in the Indian warfare than were two or three times the number of regular troops.” He recommended that two or three companies of mounted scouts be enlisted from “men who have been raised on the Sonora frontier, and have been fighting Apaches for years–men who are accustomed to travel for days with a little pinole and dried beef, and who can follow a trail with the certainty of an Indian. . . . Such companies would, in my judgment, do more effective service than thrice the number of regulars.” In like vein, General Irvin McDowell, in command of the Department of California, in his report of 1866 to the Secretary of War, writes: “Until very recently there were also several companies of Arizona Volunteers. . . . They were the most effective troops for the service in that country that we have had. . . . In fact it is not too much to say that they only within the past year have inflicted any considerable injury on the hostile Apaches.”

These Arizona Volunteers had spent most of their time actively scouting for Indians. Company F had operated from its station in Skull Valley; Companies B and C from Fort McDowell; and Companies A and E from Camp Lincoln. Though these volunteers came from the hot parts of Arizona and took their stations at higher altitudes in the middle of a very severe winter, when the ground was covered with snow, and in spite of the fact that they were barefooted and only halfclothed and half-fed, and for half of the time had, indeed, “been compelled to remain inactive for want of necessary food and clothing,” during their short enlistment under the conditions described, they killed or captured more than one hundred Apaches.

January 20, 1865, Arizona was made a district of the Department of California, and General John S. Mason was placed in command of the district, February 20. It was May before he reached Yuma, June by the time he took active command of the troops in Arizona, and November before he was prepared to undertake a campaign against the Indians. He was not responsible for these delays. He was a good officer, though entirely unfamiliar with the district under his command. Upon reaching Arizona he made a tour of the Territory in company with Governor Goodwin. He writes: “At the time of my arrival in the district, I believe every ranch had been deserted south of the Gila. The town of Tubac was entirely deserted, and the town of Tucson had but about 200 souls. North of the Gila, the roads were completely blockaded; the ranches, with one or two exceptions, abandoned, and most of the settlements were threatened with either abandonment or annihilation. . . . The district is immensely large, the distance over which supplies have to be hauled very great, requiring strong escorts to guard the trains, and with the very small number of men in the different companies, and but one officer with each company, most of the posts, for the present, can do but little more than hold their posts and escort their supply trains.”

At the time Mason assumed command there were twenty eight hundred troops in Arizona; but there was a great lack of officers to command them. Sometimes there was not a single commissioned officer in a company; and at one time a subaltern was in command of a post consisting of two companies, and, besides, he had to do duty both as quartermaster and commissary. The following posts were occupied during the time Mason was in command in Arizona, as points of activity against the Apaches. They were in reality not forts, but mere cantonments. Fort Bowie, in Apache Pass; Camp Crittenden, near the Mexican border; Camp Lowell, at Tucson; Camp Grant, on the lower San Pedro; Fort Goodwin, near the Gila; Fort McDowell, on the Verde; Fort Whipple, near Prescott; Camp Date Creek, south of Prescott; and Camp Lincoln, on the upper Verde.

Mason concluded that the only certain hope of securing peace, eventually, was to occupy the region where the fighting Apaches had settled their women and children and had gathered and stored their provisions, and by destroying their rancherías and food supply in midwinter force them to seek peace. He was greatly hampered in his plans by delays in the bringing up of supplies, by the mustering out of volunteers just at the time the campaign should have been at its height, and by the great severity of the winter, with the thermometer sometimes far below zero and the snow one or two feet deep on the ground. But, in spite of all this, a number of successful scouts were made, and he proved a faithful and intelligent commanding officer.

In March, 1865, before Mason’s arrival in Arizona, numerous Indians in the region about Fort Goodwin came in with a flag of truce and asked the commanding officer, Major James Gorman, to accept their surrender, as they were no longer able to hold out against the warfare of the whites. They were promised security and provisions. Then came the transfer of Arizona to the Department of California, with a long interim of confusion and uncertainty. Gorman wrote: “I was placed in the position of the man who drew the elephant in the lottery: with nothing to feed them, no transportation to send them to the reservation, and no orders to do so if I had. I made the best of it and told them they could go until I heard from the great chief.” They did not leave, but others continued to come in. General Mason wrote in a report dated April 29, 1866: “I am satisfied that the only true policy is that at present adopted. By pressing the Indians from all points, and giving them a reservation where they can be protected and fed, we will succeed in the end. Already we have near nine hundred Indians on the reservation at Fort Goodwin, and they are reported as coming in daily.”

In his report of 1866 to the Secretary of War, General McDowell refers to the fact that Apaches in the territory around Fort McDowell and Camp Lincoln had been punished so severely by the troops that they begged for peace. They were told that their petition would be granted if they would go to Fort Goodwin where well-disposed Indians were being cared for. But they said they could not do that, as they and the Indians already assembled at Fort Goodwin were enemies. Under these circumstances McDowell, uncertain whether they were sincere in their desire for peace, and too short of troops to chastise them further, granted their petition and ordered that they be brought in as prisoners to the vicinity of Fort McDowell, with the understanding that they were to plant crops and “keep the peace with the whites and their allies, the Gila Indians, the Pimas, and the Maricopas.”

In the light of conditions described above, it is scarcely necessary to point out how citizens, soldiers, and Indians would have been relieved from much suffering and embarrassment if the Government at Washington had promptly and intelligently at this time both doubled the military forces operating in Arizona and set aside ample reservations in suitable locations, under wise and humane supervision, for the reception, care, and education of the Apaches whenever and wherever they sued for peace and desired to place themselves under Government supervision; for the same views held by Mason and McDowell were advocated and practiced by succeeding military commanders in Arizona (to the limited extent made possible by the Government) up to the time of General Crook, who finally actually made effective the policy of severe and persistent punishment of hostiles who choose to continue their trade of plunder and murder, rather than live peaceably on ample Government reservations provided for them.

In May or June, 1866, Mason was superseded, and in his place came two commanding officers–ColonelH. D. Wallen for the north, and Colonel Charles S. Lovell for the south. Conditions remained unchanged during the few months these officers were in command. Nor was anything of importance achieved during the incumbency of their successors, General J. I. Gregg and General T. L. Crittenden, who came early in 1867. Apache hostilities continued as usual.

The military situation in Arizona in 1867 is made clear through three military reports: that of Assistant-Inspector Roger Jones to General H. W. Halleck, commanding the Division of the Pacific, dated July 15, 1867; that of General Irvin McDowell, commanding the Department of California, commenting on the recommendations made by Colonel Jones; and that of General Halleck in his annual report, dated September 18, 1867.

After a tour of all the posts in Arizona Jones, in the report referred to above, recommended the following changes: first, the organization of Arizona into a separate Department; second, instead of the policy then in operation whereby small commands were dispersed widely over the Territory in small posts, the concentration of troops at a few large posts; third, provision for more mounted men; and fourth, the erection of storehouses, hospitals, and comfortable quarters for the men. The reason for each recommendation are set forth by the inspector with clarity and emphasis. Always, he says, it requires weeks to transmit orders from San Francisco to the distant and scattered commands in Arizona. As to the disposition of troops in the Territory, he maintains that the dispersing of soldiers into small commands entails both great waste and loss of military efficiency. He points out that it is impossible to cover so wide an extent of country with the small number of troops available. At each post many men are taken from active service because a good many men must be left to perform routine duties and to protect the post itself. Besides, these numerous posts provide soft berths for incompetent commanders and disbursing officers. The change suggested would surely be in the line of economy. He asserts that, as things are now, life and property were never so insecure on the roads and around the settlements. In support of his third point, he shows that effective operations against the Indians are impossible without more mounted soldiers. He thinks that infantrymen should be supplied with mounts and armed with the Spencer carbine; and that when on escort duty, mounted infantrymen should be armed with both revolvers and carbines. Finally, as to storehouses, hospitals, and quarters for the men, he contends that if the comfort, health, and welfare of the soldiers are not provided for, they grow discontented and inefficient. He asserts that money annually appropriated by Congress for such purposes is squandered by incompetent officers; and he drives home his criticisms by saying that in a region where the heat is more oppressive than in any other place he has ever known, soldiers are left to endure such misery as no Southern Negro or Irish peasant has ever been left to suffer.

General McDowell’s reply is no less vigorous and illuminating than the Inspector’s charges. He states that he has not been unaware of the unsatisfactory conditions stressed by the Inspector; but he makes it clear that these conditions are not due to the causes set forth. The first two recommendations made by Jones had already been tried, but without success, as he would know had he been acquainted with the region for a longer time. When Arizona came under his command, McDowell says, he made it a District, appointed a general officer with full authority to command it, sent a brigade, numbering at one time thirty-six companies, more and better men than had ever served in Arizona before, and, for the most part, better officers than those now on duty in that Territory. The posts were then larger even than now recommended by the Inspector. Seven companies were stationed near old Fort Buchanan, four at Camp Grant, five at Fort Goodwin, four at Fort Whipple, and, at one time, six at Camp McDowell. The general in command had his headquarters “at Yuma, Prescott, and at the very place suggested by the assistant inspector-general, Sacaton.” Two of his successors had their headquarters at Sacaton. Were conditions any better then than now? They were not.

McDowell proceeds to explain lucidly the real difficulties that had to be met in the war against the Apaches. First, “the Apache kills and robs as a means of livelihood. It is his normal condition.” Second, “there is no confederation or alliance between the several tribes, frequently none between the bands of the same tribe.” Third, “the hostile Indians all live in the most remote and inaccessible parts of the Territory, to which it is difficult for whites, under the most favorable circumstances, to penetrate.” Fourth, the parts of the “Territory inhabited by the whites are seamed with mountain ridges, which, like the plains between them, are bare of trees, and from which the roads and the settlements are as plain to the sight of the stealthy Apache as is the pit of a theatre to the spectator in the gallery.”

Fifth, the Apache is thus able “to make a sure what to do, and what to avoid. He can from his secure lookout in the mountain side or top, see for miles off exactly how many persons are moving on the road, and how they are moving; he knows exactly where they must pass, where only they can get a drink of water; he never has occasion to take any risk, and it is the law never to take any.” Sixth, “having been in this business for years, and having an exact knowledge of every ridge, pass, and ravine, and being entirely unencumbered with any luggage, camp or garrison equipage, and being able to go for days on an amount of food on which a white man would sink from exhaustion, he can strike and escape before anyone but the one stricken has knowledge of his presence; and if he is too hard pressed to carry off his booty, he has only to abandon it and gain one of the inevitable mountain ridges, and he is safe from any pursuit that a white man either on foot or horseback can make.”

After giving examples of the difficulties listed above, and explaining how impossible it is for a large body of troops to practice the necessary secrecy and celerity to make successful attacks on the savages under such conditions, McDowell shows the unfairness of the assertion made by Jones that life and property in Arizona have never been so insecure as at present and that he had never known the roads so dangerous since he traveled through the Territory in 1857 and 1859. McDowell asserts that even if this statement were true, the reason would not be that offered by Jones. Rather, it would be due to the fact that then there were “fewer hostilities to guard against, and fewer, much fewer, points to guard.” For when the Americans first came into Arizona the Apaches were friendly toward them and remained so until the time of the Civil War. There were then only two military posts in the region–Forts Buchanan and Breckinridge; and north of the Gila there were no white settlements. The Indians, at present constantly on the warpath against the whites of Arizona, were then ravaging and murdering in Sonora and Chihuahua.

McDowell reiterated his belief that nothing would be gained by mounting infantrymen; and, as to the inadequacy of storehouses, hospitals, and quarters for troops in Arizona, he declared orders had been given that under the direction of their officers “and by their own labor, for which they would receive extra pay, they were to make themselves comfortable, just as miners and prospectors were accustomed to do, by building huts of stone, wood, adobes, poles placed upright and filled in with clay, turf, sods, reeds, willows, etc.” The reason that more permanent quarters were not built, McDowell explains, was because “it was not known, nor could it be ascertained at once where permanent posts would be required.”

Reference to General Halleck’s annual report dated September 18, 1867, written with Assistant-Inspector Jones’ report and General McDowell’s reply to it before him, enables us to round out the picture of military and civil conditions in Arizona at that time. Halleck states his belief that, while operations against hostile Indians would be more effective if “troops could be concentrated in larger posts, so as to have available a greater number for active campaigning in the country where they leave their families and obtain most of their supplies,” to do this with the limited forces at hand would make it necessary “to withdraw all protection to many small settlements which have heretofore been often broken up, but are now in a more flourishing condition. . . . It has, therefore, been found that local military protection to the small agricultural districts in Arizona has not only reduced the Government expenses in such districts, but has had a most beneficial effect upon the Territory generally.” So he approves McDowell’s disposition of troops, and at the same time emphasizes the fact that more soldiers are needed in Arizona. “With an additional force of, say, one regiment of cavalry and one or two regiments of infantry in that country, which are really required there, we would be able to accomplish the double object of affording local protection, and, at the same time, of penetrating into the mountain homes of these savages.”

In his report to the Secretary of War one year later, September, 1868, Halleck states that there are located in Arizona two full regiments of infantry and nine companies of cavalry; yet, both in his report of 1867 and in this one, he recommends that the military forces be increased by one or two regiments of infantry and 200 enlisted Indian scouts. He writes: “Officers are unanimous as to the value and usefulness of these scouts in the field.”

In another part of his report Halleck says: “It is useless to try to negotiate with these Apache Indians. They will observe no treaties, agreements, or truces. With them there is no alternative but active and vigorous war, till they are completely destroyed, or forced to surrender as prisoners of war.” Then he hits the nail squarely on the head: “But what is to be done with these Indians when captured or surrendered as prisoners of war? The agents of the Indian Bureau, as a general rule, refuse to receive them, and the military have no funds or authority to establish special military ‘reservations’ for them. To keep and to guard them at military posts will require the whole force of the garrison, and prevent the troops from operating in the field. We have no available funds with which to purchase seeds and agricultural implements, so that they can be made to contribute to their own support; and to keep them in idleness for any length of time has a most injurious effect. If permitted to hunt and fish for their own support, they are certain to desert and resume hostilities. It is hoped that some steps may be taken to modify our Indian system, at least in Arizona, so as to obviate these very serious difficulties in the reduction of the Apaches and the pacification of the Territory.”

Apache, History,


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