Victory with Dishonor

When General Nelson A. Miles relieved Crook, April 12, 1886, there were still at large thirty-six Chiricahua hostiles seventeen men, including Geronimo and Nachez, and nineteen women and children. In addition to this murderous band, led by Geronimo and Nachez, Mangus was still somewhere in the Sierra Madre with a party of eleven men, women, and children. 1 He had, however, cut himself off from all contact with the other renegades in August, 1885; and, so far as was known, had committed no depredations since that time. On the other hand, of the five hundred and twelve Chiricahua and Warm Spring Apaches whom Crook had brought back and placed on the reservation, three-fourths had remained loyal and were still living at or near Fort Apache.

The orders issued to Miles by Lieutenant-General P. H. Sheridan at the time he was placed in command were more drastic than those under which Crook had operated. Crook’s instructions were “to secure the surrender of the hostiles without conditions, if possible; with conditions, if necessary.” Miles was ordered to carry on ceaselessly “the most vigorous operations looking to the destruction or capture of the hostiles.” He was never able either to capture or to destroy the renegades; and the fact that he failed to carry out the exact orders of President Cleveland and General Sheridan at the time he accepted Geronimo’s surrender led later to almost endless dispute and his own discomfiture as a result of criticisms aimed at him by his superiors, President Cleveland and General Sheridan. He had been ordered to capture these Indians, without any promise of mercy whatsoever, or to kill them.

Sheridan specifically urged upon Miles “the necessity of making active and prominent use of the regular troops” under his command. This order concerning the “active and prominent use of regular troops,” together with other implied criticisms of Crook’s military methods, was deeply resented by Crook and the other able officers who with him had borne the stress of the long war with the Apaches. In December, 1886, after Nachez and Geronimo and their followers had been finally disposed of, Crook wrote a letter to the Adjutant-General of the Army, entitled “Résumé of Operations against Apache Indians, 1882-1886,” in which he vindicates his course of action in dealing with Geronimo and the other hostiles and ably defends his methods of Indian warfare. At this point in my narrative it seems desirable to introduce passages from this strong and illuminating document, for it deals vitally with Miles’ military policies and operations as dictated to him by Sheridan.

Crook writes: “The policy pursued by me in the operations mentioned above has been criticised as one ‘of operating almost exclusively with Indian Scouts.’ I am unwilling that such a summary should be placed on official record without a protest, lest by my silence I should seem to acquiesce in the justice of a criticism which would seem to imply that the regular troops at my disposal were not used at all, or were used to little advantage.

“A further criticism is implied in the suggestion of the Lieutenant-General that the troops be used defensively for the protection of life and property. The hostiles were in Mexico; it was therefore necessary to secure this protection, to prevent, if possible, their recrossing the line. To attain this end, troops were stationed in detachments along the frontier. To each detachment was assigned five Indian scouts to watch the front and detect the approach of the hostiles. These troops were stationed at every point where it was thought possible for the hostiles to pass. Every trail, every water-hole, from the Patagonia Mountains to the Rio Grande was thus guarded. The troops were under the strictest orders, constantly to patrol this line, each detachment having a particular section of country assigned to its special charge.

“In addition to this, a second line was similarly established in rear of the first, both to act as a reserve and to prevent the passing of the hostiles who might elude the vigilance of the first line. Behind this again were stationed troops on the railroad who might be sent to any desired point on the whole front, forming thus a third line.

“The posts of Fort Thomas, Grant, and Bayard, with troops stationed at various points on the Gila, at Ash Springs, in the Mogollon Mountains, and other places, formed in reality a fourth line.

“The approach of the hostiles toward any point on the border was telegraphed to all threatened points and the citizens warned in advance. In no case did the hostiles succeed in passing the first line of troops without detection and pursuit. All troops, wherever stationed, had orders to pursue vigorously, and as long as possible, any hostiles who might come within striking distance. In spite, however, of all the efforts of the troops the hostiles did pass these lines, and the pursuits that ensued, though they were persistent, indefatigable, and untiring, and frequently successful in capturing the Indians’ stock, resulted in no other loss to the enemy. Troops never worked harder or more deserved success, but during the entire sixteen months of these operations, not a single man, woman, or child of the hostiles was killed or captured by the troops of the regular Army.” 2

Crook had had under his command three thousand troops, and had considered this number all that could be used advantageously under the conditions. Miles was assigned two thousand additional men. The most noteworthy deviations in policy that Miles made from the methods employed by Crook were: first, the introduction of the heliostat for purposes of signaling; second, the stationing of troops at all ranches most in danger of attack; and third, the limitation of enlisted Apaches to service as scouts and trailers in cooperation with picked cavalry and infantry commands who were to pursue and fight the renegades wherever they might go. Much credit is due Miles for introducing and successfully operating the heliograph –a telegraphic device for communicating over great distances by means of long and short flashes of the sun’s rays reflected from mirrors, in accordance with the code of the Morse telegraphic system. At Miles’ request General William B. Hazen, Chief Signal Officer of the Army, sent a body of officers and men highly skilled in the use of this instrument to establish and operate the heliograph in the Department of Arizona. Twentyseven intercommunicating stations were established on high mountain peaks in Arizona and New Mexico. 3 His mobile infantry, Miles used to search out the enemy’s common resorts and lurking places in the nearer mountain ranges, to occupy strategic mountain passes, and to guard the supplies. The cavalry he proposed to use in light scouting parties, with a sufficient force always in readiness to make the most determined and effective pursuit.

These cavalry commands, in reality, were to take the place of the Indian scouts as utilized by Crook. Commanding officers were ordered to continue the pursuit until the quarry was captured or until certain that a fresh command was on the trail. Miles selected Captain H. W. Lawton, Fourth Cavalry, to lead his crack cavalry pursuit column; and with Lawton went Acting Assistant Surgeon, young Leonard Wood. Lawton was chosen for this most crucial and difficult part in the campaign, not only because of his exceptional record during the Civil War and his general high qualities as an officer, but also because of his extraordinary strength and toughness of physique and his confident belief that the Apaches could be outmaneuvered, worn down, and subjugated by white soldiers. This attempt to make use of regular troops for pursuit of the Apaches in their wildest and most distant mountain fastnesses in Mexico was such a service as few white men could possibly endure, and such as should not have been required of regular troops. Lawton and Wood, however, were not the first officers to pit themselves against the savage Chiricahua on his own ground and in his own manner. An account has been given in the previous chapter of the almost superhuman hardships in this kind endured by Crawford, Gatewood, Wirt Davis, Britton Davis, Maus, Bourke, and Crook himself. But now, for the first time, an effort was made to engage in such a campaign with a whole command of white men; and the outcome was very disappointing. Lawton and Leonard Wood undertook thus to match the Apache in his own primitive way in his own wild habitat with a sort of grim, yet buoyant daring. They were out to show that white men were more than a match for savages, catch as catch can. Wood, like Lawton, was picked by Miles on account of his combined qualities of keen intelligence, physical endurance, and resoluteness of spirit. When it came to the supreme test in the campaign through June, July, and most of August, 1886, during which they passed over one mountain range after another, nine and ten thousand feet above sea level, and through canyons where the July and August heat was of scorching intensity, Lawton and Wood alone of the white soldiers were able to endure to the end. The command, as organized at that time, consisted of one company of infantry, thirty-five picked cavalrymen, twenty select Indian scouts, one hundred pack mules, and thirty packers. This organization was to operate only in Mexico. Britton Davis writes: “Five days in the mountains of Northern Sonora finished the mounted cavalry. They were dismounted, the horses were discarded, and the men joined the infantry.” 4

Miles’ order to the troops in the field, reiterating that of Cleveland and Sheridan, was brief and peremptory: “Capture or destroy.” Lawton and Wood and other brave, vigilant officers and detachments, did all that mortal men could do to carry out this command; but the months of April, May, and June went by and still Miles’ army of five thousand men had failed either to capture or to destroy Nachez, Geronimo, and their fellow demons. Lawton and Wood were the most enduring among those in active pursuit. Wood equaled Lawton as an heroic figure during these months of indescribable hardship. 5 Lawton wrote concerning him: “I found Wood the most remarkable man in the command on all occasions, doing the work of three men, surgeon, commander of infantry, and commander as well as personal leader of scouts and trailers.” And in his official report at the end of the campaign he refers to Wood as “the only officer who has been with me through the whole campaign. His courage, energy, and loyal support during the whole time, his encouraging example to the command when work was the hardest and prospects the darkest . . . has placed me under obligations so great that I cannot even express them.” At the end of the summer Wood was garbed in nothing “but a pair of canton flannel drawers, and an old blue blouse, a pair of moccasins and a hat without a crown.” Lawton, six feet five inches in stature, presented a more stately appearance, costumed “in a pair of over-alls, an undershirt, and the rim of a felt hat.”

Lawton, Wood, Captains T. C. Lebo and C. A. P. Hatfield, and Lieutenants Leighton Finley, R. D. Walsh, R. A. Brown, H. C. Benson, A. L. Smith, and other officers, as well as packers, scouts, and privates who had grimly continued the chase far into the wilds of Mexico, had done their work well; but to no one of these goes the credit of the final surrender of the hostiles. That distinction was reserved for First Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood, though he was long denied the full meed of honor he deserved through Army jealousies and through the pettiness and vanity that marred the really great soldierly qualities of Miles. Gatewood, a very reticent and sensitive man, though indignant at the treatment accorded him, never entered into controversy over the matter nor related the full and intimate facts in the case even to his closest friends; for to have done so would have been to wound and embitter other officers who reaped an undue share of the glory of the event.

July 1, from a Chiricahua who had been with Nachez and Geronimo, but had recently made his way back to the reservation, Miles learned that the renegades could not hold out much longer and might consider terms of surrender. Acting upon this hint, on July 13, Miles ordered Gatewood to go into Sonora, taking with him two Chiricahuas then at Fort Apache, Kayitah and Martine, find the hostiles, demand their surrender, and make known to them the terms upon which it would be received. Though still a young man, Gatewood, for about nine years had served continuously in campaigns against the Apaches, usually as commander of Indian scouts in the field, though for a considerable time he acted as Indian agent, under Crook at Fort Apache. He knew nearly every warrior and scout personally and was known and trusted by all the Indians, hostile and friendly alike. He was an officer of the highest valor and discretion and was as humane and honorable as he was brave.

Gatewood hastened to Fort Bowie, with written orders from Miles to secure an escort of at least twenty-five men from the commanding officer at Fort Bowie. Indeed, his authority extended so far as to require these men from any commanding officer in the department. At Fort Bowie he picked up the necessary animals for the expedition and added to his party (so far consisting of only the two Indian guides) George Wratten as interpreter, and Frank Huston as packer. Later he hired a rancher, “Old Tex” Whaley, as courier. But the commanding officer at Fort Bowie was unwilling to detach from his small command twenty-five men to serve as an escort. Gatewood did not press his demand, as he was assured that Captain Stretch at Cloverdale would provide the necessary soldiers. But Captain Stretch had such a small force that it seemed to the courteous Gatewood improper to ask his old West Point instructor to turn over to him what would amount almost to his entire command. So he proceeded across the border and soon fell in with a small command of thirty or forty men under Lieutenant James Parker. As Parker’s force was too small to divide, Parker accompanied Gatewood with his entire command in search of Captain Lawton and his troops. It was thought that of all the officers in the field, Lawton would be most likely to know the whereabouts of the hostiles. Lawton was located on the Arros River in the high Sierra Madre about a hundred and fifty miles south of the border. He had lost track of the renegades and was now seeking their trail to the southward; though the Indians at that time were more than a hundred miles northwest of him. Releasing Parker and his command, Gatewood voluntarily placed himself under Lawton; though with the understanding that at his discretion he should be free to pursue his mission independently. From first to last Gatewood was at the head of an independent expedition. Indeed, Gatewood was in some doubt, and wrote to Miles asking rather anxiously whether he was at fault in thus voluntarily subordinating himself to Lawton. The fact is, Lawton himself had only about twenty-five men.

News came now that the hostiles were more than one hundred miles away, not far from Frontéras. About the middle of August, with his own little party and six men supplied him by Lawton, Gatewood moved rapidly toward Frontéras. Marching eighty miles in one day, he camped near Frontéras. The next day he visited that town and learned that two Indian women from the company of the hostiles had recently been there and had hinted to the Mexicans that Geronimo wanted to make terms. While these women were in Frontéras, Lieutenant Wilder of our Army had talked with them about the surrender of their band.

Geronimo later told Gatewood that he had no intention of giving up to the Mexicans but purposely had the hint dropped that he was eager to surrender so that his party could get supplies, secure a little time for rest, and have a glorious drunk on the mescal they had secured. On his part, the Prefect of the district thought he saw a chance to lure the renegades into Frontéras, get them drunk, and then kill all the men and enslave all the women. He did his best to get rid of the American troops in Frontéras so that the Mexicans might have the glory of capturing the hostiles. The Prefect forbade Gatewood to follow the trail of the women who had visited the town. However, with two additional interpreters, Tom Horn and José Maria, whom Lieutenant Wilder allowed him to take, Gatewood set out as if to rejoin Lawton’s command, which had by this time come up within twenty miles of Frontéras. Then as soon as he could do so without being discovered, he turned northward again, picked up the trail of the Indian women about six miles east of Frontéras, and cautiously followed it over very rough country for three days, advancing always with a white piece of flour sack attached to a stick as a flag of truce. The third day Gatewood came to the place where the fresh tracks of the Indian women joined the main trail made by the renegades. From this point the way led down a narrow canyon to the Bavispe River. So dangerous seemed the situation that Martine and Kayitah, who were ahead, hesitated. However, they soon moved on and the white men after them, and crossed the Bavispe River in safety, where at the farthest point in its northward course it makes a great bend to the eastward before flowing south. Camp was made for the night in a canebrake, a sentinel keeping watch on a near-by mound that commanded a view of the entire surrounding country.

The next day the two Indians scouted ahead, with the flour sack always conspicuously displayed. Martine returned at nightfall with word that the hostiles had been located about four miles in advance, high up in the rocks of the Torres Mountains. Geronimo kept Kayitah in his camp, and sent Martine back to say that he would talk with Gatewood, but with no one else. Gatewood said later that he would hardly have trusted himself in the hostile camp had not word come also from Nachez, who was the real chief, telling Gatewood to come on and assuring him that he would be safe unless trouble should be started by his men. Nachez had more influence with the renegades than had Geronimo or anyone else, so Gatewood now felt that he might venture into their camp with some degree of safety.

During the past three days Gatewood had kept Lawton informed through couriers of the state of affairs. Lawton’s thirty Indian scouts had already reached Gatewood’s camp, and Lawton himself was reported to be not far away. On the morning of August 24 Gatewood moved out toward the hostile camp, with Lawton’s thirty scouts under Command of Lieutenant R. A. Brown. When they had approached to within a mile of Geronimo’s stronghold, an unarmed Chiricahua met them and repeated the reassuring message of the previous evening. Then came three armed members of the band with a request from Nachez for Gatewood to meet him and the other renegades in the river bend and for Brown, his scouts, and any soldiers who had come up, to return to Gatewood’s camp and there remain. Shots and smoke signals were exchanged between Gatewood and the hostiles to give notice that the agreement was understood. Gatewood and his own little party went down to the bank of the river, where they were soon joined by members of the outlaw band. Geronimo was among the last to arrive. Depositing his rifle about twenty feet from Gatewood, he came forward to shake hands. Gatewood had brought an ample supply of tobacco in his pack saddles and soon the smoking began, with Geronimo seated so close to Gatewood that the latter could feel the revolver that Geronimo carried in his coat pocket pressing against his thigh. When a semicircle had been formed, Geronimo, always the voluble spokesman, said they were ready to listen to General Miles’ message. Gatewood very tersely delivered it in these words:

“Surrender, and you will be sent with your families to Florida, there to await the decision of the President as to your future disposition. Accept these terms or fight it out to the bitter end.” 6

There was great silence and tension for a long time—as it seemed to Gatewood. Geronimo asked for liquor, but Gatewood replied that they had brought no whisky with them. Then, in reply to the terms offered by Miles, Geronimo said they would continue to fight unless they were returned to their old status on the reservation and promised exemption from punishment. Gatewood answered that he could offer nothing more than the ultimatum already quoted from Miles; that, if he made promises he could not fulfill, it would only make matters worse; that most likely this was the last chance they would have to surrender; that if they continued on the warpath they would all be killed; or, if they surrendered later, would have to do so on more severe terms. This led to much talk, and finally to an hour’s conference among themselves. After that, as it was now noon, everyone ate dinner. Then Geronimo said, with a savage glint in his eye as he looked straight in Gatewood’s face:

“Take us to the reservation–or fight!”

Here Nachez spoke up and said that, whether or not hostilities continued, Gatewood and his companions should be safe so long as they made no trouble. As they had come in peace, they should depart in peace. Now for the first time Gatewood made known to them a crushing bit of news. He told them that all the Chiricahuas had already been removed from the Apache Reservation, the mother and daughter of Nachez among them, and had been sent to Florida. They well knew that all the remaining Apaches in Arizona were their enemies; so for them to return to the reservation would bring them no happiness. This was a grievous and unexpected blow and in view of this new aspect of the matter they again went apart for private conference. They conferred for an hour and then came back to Gatewood and talked on until sunset. Then Gatewood said he would return to this camp. But Geronimo wanted him to wait, as there was a request he desired to make; and after further beating about the bush, he said to Gatewood:

“We want your advice. Consider yourself not a white man but one of us; remember all that has been said today and tell us what we should do.”

Gatewood earnestly replied: “Trust General Miles and surrender to him.” 6

They were all very solemn at this. They said they would hold another council that night and make their final reply in the morning. Then after a friendly shaking of hands all around, Gatewood and his attendants went back to their own camp, where, meantime, Lawton had arrived. From the picket line next morning came a call for Gatewood. With his interpreters, he met Nachez, Geronimo, and several others of the band about a quarter of a mile from the camp. They had decided that they would all go to Miles and surrender. They stipulated, however, that Gatewood should accompany them continually and sleep in their camp; that they should retain their arms until they had finally surrendered to Miles; and that Lawton’s troops should march near enough to their band to protect them from other troops as they proceeded toward the border. Both Gatewood and the Indians now entered Lawton’s camp, explained the agreement to him, and obtained his approval. A courier was at once sent to Miles, notifying him of the situation and naming a time and place where they would meet him; and on that very day, August 25th, Gatewood and the Indians, thirty-eight in all–twenty-four men with fourteen women and children–started for the border.

Gatewood and Lawton, as they began their march toward the border, were faced by difficulties similar to those that Lieutenant Maus had to deal with after Crawford’s death. The Chiricahuas were heavily armed and unsubdued. They were not prisoners. They refused to march with Lawton’s troops and were always distant two miles or more from Lawton’s flank. They invariably made camp for the night in places where it would have been impossible to take them by surprise. But there was this difference: the escort consisted of officers as grim and capable and seasoned as any in the field during that generation; and at the end, Miles had Crook’s experience to profit by. On the first day’s march, a very exciting incident occurred: just as Gatewood and the Indians were about to make camp, the Mexican commander from Frontéras, with two hundred Mexican infantry, made his appearance at no great distance. Now that the renegades seemed within their reach, the Mexicans demanded the right to effect their capture. While Lawton and his command disputed the matter with them, Gatewood fled northward about ten miles with the renegades, and then halted to see how Lawton would make out. A courier soon came up to say that the Mexicans demanded a conference with Geronimo in order to assure themselves that the renegades intended actually to surrender to General Miles. The Indians wanted nothing to do with the Mexicans; and it was very difficult to bring about the desired meeting. But it was at last agreed that the Mexican officer with an escort of seven men should meet the hostiles for a talk. Geronimo and his party met them-alert, suspicious, and fully armed.

Gatewood writes in his official report: “The Prefect asked Geronimo why he had not surrendered at Frontéras. ‘Because I did not want to be murdered,’ retorted the latter.

“‘Are you going to surrender to the Americans?’

“‘I am; for I can trust them not to murder me and my people.’

“‘Then I shall go along and see that you surrender.’

“‘No,’ shouted Geronimo, ‘You are going south, and I am going north.'”

However, a Mexican soldier was sent along and later reported to the officer that the Chiricahuas had surrendered and had been sent by Miles to Florida.Citations:

  1. October 18, 1886, Mangus, two other warriors, three women, and seven children were captured in the White Mountain by Captain Charles L. Cooper of the Fourth Cavalry, and sent to Florida.[]
  2. From a photostat copy made by Charles Morgan Wood.[]
  3. Miles Nelson A. Personal Recollections, pp. 481-485. Chicago, Werner, 1896.[]
  4. Miles Nelson A. Personal Recollections, p. 219. Chicago, Werner, 1896.[]
  5. Hagedorn, Hermann. Leonard Wood, A Biography, Vol. I, p. 78. New York, Harper, 1931.[]
  6. Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood, 6th U. S. Cavalry, and the Surrender of Geronimo. Compiled by Major C. B. Gatewood, U.S.A., Retired. Edited by Brigadier General Edward S. Godfrey. Copyrighted 1929. Copy supplied by Charles Morgan Wood.[][]

Apache, History,


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