For several years the Indian Bureau had been sowing the wind; now it was harvest time and it was to reap the whirlwind. In his annual reports Agent John P. Clum smugly implies that the transfers, one after another, of Indians from Camp Verde, Camp Apache, the Chiricahua Reservation, and Ojo Caliente, and their concentration on the San Carlos Reservation were successful and satisfactory. It was in reality far otherwise. In every instance the removal of the Indians was a breach of good faith on the part of the Government, was contrary to the best judgment of Army officers in command, and was in opposition to the desire of the Indians. Nor was the transfer in any case completely effected. Many members of the various bands refused to come along, and always it was the best fighting men who slipped away.
The failure of these attempts was shown clearly in the abortive transfer of the Chiricahua and Warm Spring band. In his annual report of August 15, 1877, General August V. Kautz, Commander of the Department of Arizona, calls attention to the conflicting reports of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the years 1875 and 1876. Quoting the figures as set down for these two years, he says: “The two agencies, Warm Spring and Chiricahua, contained in 1875, before they were broken up, according to the report of that year, 965 and 2,100; total, 3,065. The number removed were 325 and 454; total, 779. There are therefore 2,286 Indians unaccounted for since 1875. It is unnecessary to comment on these discrepancies.” 1 Add to this statement of Kautz the comment of General John Pope (whose Department included New Mexico) in his report of September 22, 1880, and we begin to see the true state of affairs: “This outbreak of Victorio and the severe campaign against him . . . were due to the determined purpose of the Interior Department to effect the removal of the band to the San Carlos Agency in Arizona. . . . Victorio and his band have always bitterly objected to being placed there, one of the reasons given by him being the hostility of many of the Indians of the Agency. He always asserted his willingness to live peacefully with his people at the Warm Springs (Ojo Caliente) Agency and, so far as I am informed, gave no trouble to anyone whilst there. I do not know the reasons of the Interior Department for insisting upon the removal to San Carlos Agency, but certainly they should be cogent to justify the great trouble and severe losses occasioned by the attempt to coerce the removal. The present is the fourth time within five years that Victorio’s band has broken out. Three times they have been brought in and turned over by the Military to the Indian Bureau authorities. Both Victorio and his band are resolved to die rather than go to the San Carlos Agency.” 2
In order to present the tragic story of Victorio–next to Cochise and Mangas Coloradas the greatest warrior in Apache history–we must begin with the year 1871. At that time some twelve hundred Mimbres, Gila, and Mogollon Apaches, referred to usually as the Southern Apaches, were brought together in the Cafiada Alamosa Valley, a fertile and beautiful region which had been their favorite rendezvous for generations and was claimed by them as their own. Previous to this time these bands had been assigned to no reservation. The scanty rations issued to them weekly were not half sufficient to sustain them, so they roamed about existing as best they could–chiefly, of course, by thievery. On August 29, 1871, Mr. Vincent Colyer set apart for these Indians the valley of the Tulerosa, some distance northwest of Ojo Caliente. They did not like this location. Only about four hundred and fifty could be induced to go there. Most of them took to the mountains, a good many joining their kindred, the Chiricahuas, in Arizona. Those who were removed to Tulerosa were unhappy and hard to manage. Many of them would leave the the reservation for months at a time. In the autumn of 1874 a change was made–the Warm Spring Reservation was set aside for them, not far from Cañada Alamosa, and the wanderers now gathered in the region they loved. From time to time other bands came in and joined them. A small body of soldiers was stationed at the Agency. In general there was quiet and satisfaction, though the Indians showed no interest in education and agriculture, and at times bands of the Warm Spring Indians left the agency to visit the Chiricahuas, for the purpose, no doubt, of joining these enterprising neighbors in their raids into Mexico.
Mention has been made of the fact that many of the Chiricahua Apaches had taken refuge with their Warm Spring friends and relatives when the Chiricahua reservation was abolished in 1876 and that a still larger number then became renegades in the mountains of Mexico. In March, 1877, it became evident that Indians from the Warm Spring Agency were in collusion with the Arizona outlaws, taking part in their raids, and harboring them when storm-tossed or in dire need of provisions. As a result, four hundred and fifty-three Southern Apaches, Victorio among them, were removed to San Carlos in May, 1877, and the Warm Spring Reservation was restored to the public domain. September 2, 1877, Victorio with three hundred Warm Spring and Chiricahua followers left the reservation and began marauding. They were promptly pursued and overhauled, but only thirty were recaptured. The main body attacked a settlement in New Mexico. They killed eight settlers and stole some horses. All available troops in New Mexico were now sent out against them. For about a month the renegades held out and continued their depredations; but, as the mountains now swarmed with soldiers and Indian scouts, early in October one hundred and ninety surrendered at Fort Wingate. Later, others gave themselves up. In all, two hundred and sixty were retaken and turned over to the War Department at Warm Spring. Upon recommendation of the Indian Bureau they were returned to San Carlos by a detail of troops in October, 1877. But before the start was made, eighty again escaped and took to the mountains, and the rest objected bitterly to being returned.
Near the close of the year 1877 sixty-three of the eighty who had escaped presented themselves at the Mescalero Agency in an almost starving condition and asked to be allowed to live there. In February, 1878, Victorio and twenty-two of his band who had been spending these months in Old Mexico approached the commanding officer at Ojo Caliente and expressed a desire to surrender, provided that Nana’s band, who were among those who had sought refuge at the Mescalero Agency, be permitted to join them at Ojo Caliente. This request was granted, and messengers were sent to confer with the agent at Mescalero and with Nana and his people. It seems that only seventeen Warm Spring Indians cared to return. Victorio had remained quietly at Ojo Caliente awaiting the outcome; and now, February 16, these thirty-nine Southern Apaches surrendered as prisoners of war, but at the same time protested that they would resist to the death any effort to take them back to San Carlos.
It was then decided that they should be taken to the Mescalero Agency, but they were bitterly opposed to this also; and April 15, 1878, they all escaped and took to the mountains again. June 30 Victorio with a small party came to the agent at Mescalero who promised to treat them well if they would come there and stay. Twenty-eight agreed to do this and were entered on the roll with the other Southern Apaches then at this agency. So genuine seemed the desire of these harried renegades to settle down quietly at last that their earnest request to have their wives and children brought back to them from San Carlos was also granted.
July, 1879, a belated indictment was brought against Victorio in the civil court in Grant County, New Mexico, for horse stealing and murder. No steps were taken to arrest him, it would seem, but the Indians were aware of the danger that was hanging over their heads; and when, a little later, a hunting party rode through the reservation, among whom Victorio recognized a judge and a prosecuting attorney, alarm seized them, for they believed the expedition was a preliminary to the arrest of the chief and perhaps the whole band. In September, taking with them all the other Southern Apaches on the Mescalero Reservation, Victorio and his band escaped, rode westward into the wilds, and again took up their bloody occupation.
The career of this supremely daring and capable Apache chief was nearing its end. Such strategy and endurance, such command over a handful of desperate warriors, such defiance of interminable mountains and arid desert, and such victory over superior numbers of white foes armed and equipped with the best that a civilized nation could provide or invent has rarely been equaled in the records of savage warfare–perhaps never surpassed. To follow the fights and the retreats, the ambushes and the flights, the pillage, the wounds, the torture, and the slaughter through which this flaming savage rode as on a red whirlwind would require a volume. Already both writer and reader are weary of the frightful details of the insane and savage warfare so long waged between the white man and the Apache. As briefly as possible, then, let us complete the story of Victorio’s outlawry.
Before Victorio had gone ten miles from the reservation, he began his depredations. With sixty warriors, September 4, he suddenly descended upon the horse guard of Company E, Ninth Cavalry, at Ojo Caliente, killing or wounding eight of the men and capturing about forty-six horses. Major Morrow, in command in Southern New Mexico, at once pursued the marauders with all the troops at his disposal. The chase was carried on with tireless energy and persistence; there were several spirited engagements; but just as often as the Indians were hard-pressed, they would scatter into small parties and make their escape into the mountains northwest of Ojo Caliente. There were Mexican sheepherders all through this region. Many of these were killed, and the Indians were able to subsist. upon the stolen sheep. Major Morrow was never able to force the renegades to stand and fight, and the skirmishes were always indecisive. Finally, his horses nearly all dead or broken down from casualties, exposure, or lack of forage, and his troops exhausted and in tatters, Morrow was compelled to return to his post to refit.
In January, 1880, General Edward Hatch, Commander of the District of New Mexico, a brave and energetic officer, ordered his entire regiment to southern New Mexico and took personal command of operations in the field. March 16 he was reenforced by troops and Indian scouts from the Department of Arizona under Lieutenants Gatewood and Mills, numbering one hundred and twenty-eight men in all. A little later Captain McLellan of the Sixth Cavalry arrived with an additional troop and took command of the entire Arizona force.
During the late winter and early spring of 1880 Victorio and his band, together with one hundred renegades from Old Mexico, were in the mountains within forty miles of the Mescalero Agency and were in frequent communication with their friends on the reservation. He had been so uniformly successful in his frequent fights and skirmishes that he was able to induce many of the Mescaleros to take the warpath with him. April 12, after a hard fight in the San Andreas Mountains, Colonel Hatch with a strong body of troops, supported by Colonel Grierson of the Tenth Cavalry from Texas with an equally strong force, surrounded the Mescalero Agency where the agent had brought together as many of the Indians as he could persuade to come in, and took their horses and arms from them. It was too late. Two hundred had left the reservation by April I to join Victorio in the mountains, fifty of them being effective fighting men.
Victorio’s raids continued, frequent and furious; the hearts of the settlers in New Mexico, Arizona, and Chihuahua were filled with terror and they made little effort to resist the savages. Victorio rarely, if ever, had more than two hundred and fifty fighting men, and there were more than one thousand troops in the field against him, yet he nearly always got the best of it. The pursuit by the troops was unremitting and their number was constantly increasing. Though almost completely hemmed in by two thousand cavalrymen and several hundred Indian scouts at the last, about June 1, 1880, Victorio made his escape into Mexico; for the Mexican Government refused to let our troops cross the line. During the raids and skirmishes described above, it is estimated that at least two hundred settlers and soldiers had been killed in New Mexico and an equal number in Old Mexico. Not less than one hundred Indians had been slain–Victorio’s son among others.
Given no respite, driven from pillar to post, hard beset by both United States and Mexican troops, Victorio, now wounded and an old man, had about reached the end of his rope. Many of his warriors had been killed, many were suffering from wounds, and his band was divided. In October, 1880, a large force of Mexican troops under General Terrazas encountered Victorio with one hundred warriors and four hundred women and children at Tres Castillos. The Indians were trapped in a box canyon. A fight began in the evening and lasted all night. By morning the Apaches had run out of ammunition. Still, terribly as they had suffered and hopeless as their case seemed, not until Victorio, who had already been wounded more than once during the battle, fell dead on the field would they yield.
The accounts of Victorio’s death vary in a perplexing way, and unfortunately, none of the writers who describe this last battle refer to official records or eyewitnesses. Twitchell 3 says that the Mexican troops, while on a march through Chihuahua, discovered Victorio encamped near a lake in the vicinity of Tres Castillos and in an all-night battle killed the chief and many of his followers and compelled the survivors to surrender. Paul I. Wellman , in Death in the Desert, 4 states that Colonel Joaquin Terrazas with a large body of irregular troops trapped Victorio and his band in the Tres Castillos Mountains; that in locating Victorio, Terrazas was joined by several fighting organizations from the United States, including a body of sixty-eight Chiricahua Apache scouts under Captain Charles Parker; that when, with this combined force, Terrazas had trailed Victorio to Tres Castillos, he dismissed his allies on the ground that he could not trust the Chiricahua scouts, and then took all the glory of the exploit to himself. Wellman says that Terrazas had with him Tarahumari Indian scouts, one of whom, Mauricio, a famous rifleman, caught sight of Victorio directing the battle and with Careful aim shot him down; and that the Governor of Sonora was so pleased with Mauricio’s feat that he had the State present him with a beautiful nickle-plated rifle.
Lieutenant Thomas Cruse, who was in command of Company A Indian Scouts during an expedition led by General Carr into Mexico to cooperate with the Mexican Government in its attempt to destroy Victorio and his renegades, says that in the month of September, 1880, with his scouts he was far beyond the Mexican border. He gives this account of Victorio’s end: “Victorio and his band stayed in the mountains for a month or so, but finally ventured into the vicinity of Santa Rosalia to buy ammunition and supplies if possible. They seemed to have plenty of money and a keen desire to be peaceful, all of which was taken at face value, but the Mexicans sent a courier to Chihuahua for some rurales to come to Santa Rosalia quietly. They then had a big fiesta to which all the Indians were invited and came. When it was over Victorio and his band had been exterminated summarily, except Nana and three others who had been sent into the mountains a few days before to get money cached by them on the road when retreating.” 5
In spite of their leader’s death these desperate renegades remained irreconcilable. Nana, seventy years old, stepped into the breach. In the Sierra Madre he was able to bring together about fifteen members of the scattered survivors of Victorio. Twenty-five Mescaleros reenforced him, and a few renegade Chiricahuas joined him. With this last remnant of hardened and cruel outlaws, Nana, between July, 1881, and April, 1882, almost outdid the flaming deeds of Victorio at their best–or worst–crossing the Rio Grande and making his way into New Mexico on two whirlwind campaigns during which he butchered mercilessly herders, prospectors, and all others who came in his path, plundered the country, and set the whole American Army in the Southwest in violent motion.
In June, 1881, Nock-ay-del-Klinne, a White Mountain medicine man, began a series of religious dances in the region about Fort Apache that continued for weeks, increasing constantly in fervor to the degree, at times, almost of frenzy. The meetings reached their climax late in the summer at Cibicu, about fortyfive miles west of Fort Apache, though they had been held at various camps in the northern part of the reservation. They were instrumental in arousing to the highest degree the primitive and racial emotions of the people. They affected the Apaches very much as the exciting religious revivals carried on by Peter Cartwright and others did the frontier white people who gathered for camp meetings in the primeval forests a hundred years ago. The agent at San Carlos and the Army officers at Fort Apache were aware that these dances and incantations were going on and were not a little disturbed, as the summer advanced, by the tremendous excitement created and the everwidening influence of the medicine man. They had even been present at one or two of the meetings held near the Fort.
“What particularly amazed me,” wrote Lieutenant Thomas Cruse, “was the unusual mixture of his audience, which included Apaches who had been proscribed as murderers, horse-thieves, women-stealers; all there mingling with the best elements of the tribes who only a short time before had been trying to locate and exterminate these same renegades.” 6 All seemed to be under the influence of some strange superstition that lifted them out of themselves and the affairs of this world. Nock-ay-delKlinne, it seems, spoke of raising from the dead certain of their great chiefs; but this could not be accomplished, he said, until the white man had left the country, which would not be before the time of the corn harvest. He seemed to exercise some hypnotic power over the Indians, and long afterwards an Apache told Cruse that he had been one of three who went with Nockay-del-Klinne to a high mesa–a sort of Mount of Transfiguration–where, after many hours of silent prayer and fervent appeals to the dead to return, three of their former chiefs did actually rise part way out of the ground and address them, asking why they were disturbed, saying they did not wish to come back, as the hunting was poor, the buffalo gone, and the white people all over the land; exhorting them to let them rest and to remain at peace with the whites. Then they slowly faded from view.
Cruse and others believed that the medicine man was sincere and had the best interests of his people at heart, that he was the victim of his own belief and strange power, that he lost control of the tremendous forces of tribal enthusiasm and superstition that he had let loose, and that the bad men of the tribe, taking advantage of the situation created by his prophecies and incantations, determined to wipe out or drive out the white men from the hunting grounds of their fathers. Steeped in the legends of his tribe, reflective and introspective from boyhood, Nock-ay-del-Klinne naturally became a medicine man. In 1871, when he was twenty-six years of age, he was chosen as one of the delegates to go to Washington to meet President Grant. With the other representatives of the Indians who met the President of the United States at that time, he was presented with a silver medal as a souvenir of the trip and this he wore about his neck at the time he was killed. As a young man he went to Santa Fe, attended school there for a while, and became imbued, crudely, with some of the Christian doctrines. The account of the Resurrection, in particular, seemed to make a deep impression upon him. After he returned to the reservation he spent much time in seclusion and meditation in the mountains, but was always kind and attentive to the sick and disposed toward all good works. At the time of the events now to be narrated, he was about thirty-six, a slender, light-skinned, ascetic-looking man, about one hundred and twenty-five pounds in weight and less than five feet and a half in height.
By early August both Colonel E. A. Carr, in command at Fort Apache, and Tiffany, Indian agent at San Carlos, became alarmed as the strange excitement created by the medicine man’s prophecies grew more intense and ominous. August 6 Carr telegraphed General Willcox, in command of the Department of Arizona, that he was informed by his interpreter that Nockay-del-Klinne was telling the Indians their dead chiefs would not return “because of the presence of the white people; that when the white people left, the dead would return, and the whites would be out of the country when the corn was ripe.” August 11 Tiffany telegraphed Willcox that he was sure some medicine man of influence was moving on the San Carlos and White Mountain Indians for some evil purpose. He also requested additional arms. August 13 Carr received the following telegram from Willcox: “The commanding general desires that you arrest the Indian doctor whom you report as stirring up hostilities as soon as possible”; and August 14 a formal request came to Carr from Tiffany to arrest Nock-ay-del-Klinne or kill him or both. Bitter disputes later arose as a result of the killing of the medicine man and the battle of Cibicu now to be related. Both General Willcox and Tiffany were disposed to evade responsibility and to throw blame upon Colonel Carr.
In his telegram to headquarters from Fort Apache, after the tragic events at Cibicu, Carr said: “I first hoped to arrest him when he came to hold his dances and incantations here, but he did not keep his appointment. I then sent two Indian scouts with message that I wanted to see him on Sunday, August 28. I received an evasive reply from him, and next day marched with troops D, E, Sixth Cavalry, and Company A, Indian Scouts, the command numbering 6 officers, 79 soldiers, and 23 Indian scouts. I reached his village on the 30th, and arrested the medicine man. He professed entire willingness to come with me, said he would not try to escape, and there would be no attempt at rescue; but as we were making camp, our own scouts and many other Indians opened fire upon us, killed Captain Hentig the first fire, and ran off the animals already turned out to graze. The medicine man was killed as soon as they commenced firing, and we drove them off after a severe fight in which we lost Captain Hentig, shot in the back by our own Indian scouts as he turned to get his gun; four privates killed, one sergeant and three privates wounded, two mortally.” 7
Second Lieutenant Thomas Cruse, in command of Company A, Indian Scouts, in his story of his life adds graphic details to this terse report concerning the battle at Cibicu. For some time past both Cruse and Carr had feared that the scouts, however good their intention, could not remain loyal in view of the religious frenzy that was taking possession of the whole tribe. Some of them had grown sullen and truculent. For a time their arms were called in. Cruse suggested that he be ordered to Fort Huachuca with his Company and that Company C scouts under Lieutenant Mills, a mixed organization made up of MohaveApaches, Yuma-Apaches, and some Chiricahuas, be brought to replace them. It was so ordered, but before the reply could be sent from headquarters, the telegraph line went down; and when authorization for the transfer came, August 30, both Carr and Cruse were fighting desperately for their lives at Cibicu.
Nock-ay-del-Klinne was in camp about three miles above the point where the expedition struck Cibicu Creek. As they started up the valley toward his rancheria, they met armed and painted Indians everywhere. Nock-ay-del-Klinne was reclining on a pile of Navajo blankets. He greeted the officers gravely and courteously, and after the General had explained the situation to him, he was promptly arrested. About twenty Indians were gathered about him, but at that time they showed no hostile intent. Nock-ay-del-Klinne said that he could not leave at once but would return to the post in a few days. Carr replied that he must go with the command at once. So tense was the situation at this instant that Cruse thought the clash was coming. He felt a thrill run through the crowd–Indians and white men alike.
Two scouts took charge of the medicine man and Carr sent for McDonald, an army sergeant, and made him personally responsible for Nock-ay-del-Klinne. He was to see that no harm came to him unless he tried to escape or his friends fired on the troops. In such an event the Sergeant was ordered to shoot Nock-ay-del-Klinne instantly. Cruse, with the scouts and Lieutenant Stanton, brought up the rear, as the command started down the stream to look for a suitable camping place. The medicine man gave orders to bring in his pony and to gather up some of his belongings, which caused some delay. Meantime he had seated himself on the ground. Finally McDonald was ordered by Stanton to lift him to his feet, and the march began. All this time more and more Indians were flocking down the side canyons. In about twenty minutes Stanton and Cruse, with the prisoner, reached the spot selected for the night’s camp. Cruse remarked to General Carr:
“Things looked pretty ‘scaley’ as we marched along.”
“What do you mean by ‘scaley’?” Carr asked somewhat sharply.
Cruse replied: “The Indians, armed and painted for fight, have kept pouring into the valley from the side canyons, and it looked to Stanton and me as if we might be attacked any minute.”
He looked surprised and exclaimed: “Where are those Indians now?”
“There are some of them crossing at the ford right now,” replied Cruse.
He looked, and turning to Adjutant Carter, said: “Those Indians must not be allowed to come into camp; direct the troop commanders to keep them out.”
- Kauts, August V. Report of the Secretary of War, 1877, p. 144.
- Pope, John. Report of the Secretary of War, Vol. I, 1880, p. 88.
- Twitchell, Ralph E. The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Vol. II. Torch Press Cedar Rapids, 1911.
- Wellman, Paul I. Death in the Desers, pp. 190-192. New York, Macmillan, 1935.
- Cruse, Thomas. Unpublished Autobiography in the author’s possession. Cruse is still living, a brigadier-general, retired. He is a man of eminent honor and ability, and since, both as to time and place, he was near the event, his statement must be respected.
- Cruse, Thomas. Unpublished Autobiography in the author’s possession.
- Report of Secretary of War, 1881. Vol. I.