Texas Lipan Apache, Troublesome Tribe

The Lipan Apaches of Texas, a very troublesome tribe, were crafty enough, when hard-pressed by their wild foes, the Comanches, to seek peace with the Spanish and a settled mission life. Neither the padres nor the soldiers put much faith in their sincerity. The Fathers were willing to experiment, however, and a mission was founded for the Apaches on the Guadalupe River. This action was approved as early as 1750 but was not carried out until 1756, and then the mission was located, not on the Guadalupe, but on the San Saba River. The Apaches were now friendly enough, but when elaborate preparations had been made for missionary supervision, they were shifty and, for one reason or another, declined to settle permanently at the mission. Their real object was to secure the Spanish as their allies against the Comanches and other enemies. As a result of what had already been done, the animosity of the Comanches was now directed against the Spanish. The Apaches warned the Spaniards that the Comanches, now their common foe, were about to strike a blow; but it was too late. Under friendly guise, a Comanche chief with a thousand warriors gained entrance to the Apache mission. They made a thorough job of it–plundering and burning the buildings and killing nearly all the Spaniards. Two padres were killed, and a party sent from the presidio to reenforce the mission was led into ambush. The wily Apaches suffered little, for only a few of them were present at the time of the attack.

This disaster brought such blame upon the padres that they offered to abandon the mission, but their suggestion was set aside. Instead, a punitive expedition made up of five hundred Spanish soldiers and a considerable number of Apaches marched northward against the common enemy. A surprise attack was made on a ranchería and more than five hundred of the Comanches were killed; but when the Spaniards advanced against the towns in the region of San Teodoro, the enemy, not waiting to be attacked, came out against them six thousand strong and put them to flight. After this, for several years, it was all the Spaniards could do to hold their ground against the bold assaults of the Comanches; so no aggressive steps were taken. Peace having been finally effected with the Comanches through the friendly overtures of Padre Calaborra, there was talk of moving the Spanish presidio and mission to the north, but this idea did not meet with the approval of the Apaches. Indeed, they turned traitors to the Spaniards, and in crafty raids against the Comanches left articles behind that seemed to give evidence of Spanish perfidy, and they finally attacked the Spanish posts and then retreated. Of course, the northern tribes now became as hostile as ever toward the Spanish. Yet the Apaches were still able to convince them that they wanted missions; so, in 1761, Missions San Lorenze and Candelaria were established, and four hundred Apaches came together at these places. Conditions seemed so propitious that steps were taken to begin work again at Saba; but nothing came of all these efforts; the enterprise was finally given up; and, in 1767, the missions were abandoned.

At this point it may be well to clarify and summarize the Apache situation as it confronted the Spanish Government during the period between 1700 and 1772. By 1700 the Spanish had pushed their settlements almost to the present northern borderline of Mexico. It was a vast region; the scattered population was to be found in mining camps and missions and on ranches, not far removed from the presidios that had been established for their protection. “Flying squadrons” too, as we have seen, were kept in the field in times of special danger or emergency. However, this frontier military organization was marked by great corruption and incompetence, and, in view of the fact that these northern provinces, especially Sonora, were continually pouring wealth into the royal treasury, the Spanish Government itself was to blame for the failure to provide a strong and coordinated frontier program and administration.

Nowhere is there a better statement in brief space of the weakness and defects of the Government in its dealing with the Apache problem than Dr. C. E. Chapman’s summary of a memorial addressed to the King by Pedro de Labaquera, who had long served in Mexico as Lieutenant Captain-General:

“The Apaches, when attacked, habitually retired to the mountains which were inaccessible to the presidial troops. This was due not merely to the fact that the latter were cavalrymen, but to the nature of the soldiers themselves. Most of them were mulattoes of very low character, without ambition, and unconquerably unwilling to travel on foot, as was necessary in a mountain attack. Moreover, their weapons carried so short a distance that the Apaches were wont to get just out of range and make open jest of the Spaniards. Furthermore, some presidial captains were more interested in making a personal profit out of their troops, arising from the fact that part of the latter’s wages was paid in effects, than they were in subjecting the enemy, nor did the various captains work in harmony when on campaigns. Continuance of the Apaches in Apachería was in the highest degree prejudicial. Not only were they a hindrance to conquests toward the Colorado and in the direct route between Sonora and New Mexico, but also they endangered regions already held by Spain, leading subjected Indians, either from fear or from natural inclination, to abandon missions and villages, and whether in alliance with the Apaches or by themselves, to commit the same kind of atrocities as the Apaches did. Labaquera recommended that two hundred mountain fusileers of Spanish blood be recruited in Spain, equipped among other things with guns of long range, and despatched to New Spain for service against the Apaches. These men, under a disinterested leader, would quickly subject the Apaches, and might then be given lands in the region.” 2

It is necessary to stress the fact that most of the presidio captains were given to greed and tyranny. Not all of them, but most of them, were addicted to graft. They practiced their greed at the expense of the soldiers under their command. Instead of paying the men in the specie provided by the royal government they took the cash and paid off the soldiers in goods purchased from stocks owned or controlled by them. The prices they charged were excessive. As a natural result of the unjust advantage thus taken by the captains, the troops were often illdisposed toward their commanders and indifferent in the discharge of duty. Both Viceroy Francisco de Croix and Visitador José de Gálvez state bluntly that “the Sonora presidios served chiefly to enrich captains and their backers.” 3 The Marques de Rubi and Bucareli point out their shameful delinquencies with equal force.

After all, the failure to control the Apaches was the fault of the Spanish Government. It was their duty to see the fact that the adequate protection of the northern frontier absolutely demanded a coordinated and steadfast program; and it was obligatory upon them to devise and enforce such a program. The problem of controlling the Apaches along the far-flung northern frontier was a single problem–not one to be coped with separately by this province or that, spasmodically. The line of attack was along an exposed border, twelve or fifteen hundred miles in extent. The blows fell thickest and heaviest on Nueva Viscaya ( Chihuahua) and Sonora; but any point on the frontier was subject to attack at any time, and so shrewd were the Apaches that it was their habit when resistance and offensive tactics became very strong in a particular province to turn with lightning speed to some front that had been left weakened or unprotected. Indeed, some of their most successful raids were directed against the presidios themselves at times when the troops were in the field on some ambitious campaign into their territory.

How criminally lacking in cooperation were the various provinces, presidios, and commanders, may be illustrated by the conduct of a captain of the presidio at Janos. About 1770 he entered into a sham armistice with enemy Apaches, by the terms of which they were allowed to go through the pass that his presidio was responsible for guarding. They were thus enabled to enter Nueva Viscaya and make contact with their friends, the Tarahumara Indians (supposedly a pacified tribe) who were stealing horses and mules from the presidio at Chihuahua and trading or selling them to the Apaches whenever they made their appearance. In 1771 a band of Apaches from the Gila profited by this infamous arrangement, slipping by the presidio of Janos and attacking locales not far from Chihuahua. It proved to be a very destructive raid. Two Spanish settlers were killed near Chihuahua, two wood choppers in the mountains suffered a like fate, in another place a cowboy was slain, and sixteen others on a large ranch. The Indians also took several captives, and drove off a large herd of animals. Upon investigation it was found that seventeen hundred of the Tarahumara Indians were in collusion with the invaders. They had a regular rendezvous with the Apache raiders, in the Sierra de Rosario, where there was good pasture for their stolen animals.

But at last great statesmen and great soldiers set seriously to work to rectify the long-existing evils. During the years 1765-1768 the famous Marques de Rubi devoted himself to the task of studying and reforming the whole military organization along the border. His proposals were submitted to his superiors, and in 1772, by a royal decree, his plans were put into effect. Some presidios were dropped, and others, for strategic purposes, were relocated. The result was a line of fifteen presidios, stretching from Matagordo Bay to Altar, Sonora, in the extreme West.

Each fort was assigned a captain, a lieutenant, a chaplain, an alferez, a sergeant, two corporals, and forty men. Ten Indian scouts were attached to each presidio, also. The presidios were spaced about a hundred miles apart so that exposed points all along the line could be protected. More effective military discipline was enforced; and, all in all, opposition to the Apaches became stiffer and more efficient than ever before.

To the distinguished soldier General Don Hugo Oconor was assigned the task of carrying out the reorganization. For a period of five years he was engaged in the very difficult task of remaking the military system along the border. At the same time that he was selecting new sites, and shifting the location of various forts, he carried on wide and devastating campaigns against the daring, shrewd, and ever-hostile foe. The Apaches repeatedly suffered severe punishment, and at times sought terms of peace. However, only at brief intervals was there cessation of active warfare; and, usually, the Apaches got the better of the fighting. In Sonora, most of the time, the conditions were very distressing.

The Apaches carried on their raids under the very shadow of the presidios–at Tubac, killing a soldier and driving off a hundred horses, and likewise at Terrenate, killing the horseguard and getting away with two hundred and fifty-seven animals. In December, 1772, they murdered an Indian and a Spanish settler at another settlement and escaped with one hundred head of cattle. An expedition against the Apaches had been planned for January, 1773, but the governor of Sonora, disheartened by these bold raids, wrote to his superiors that no more inopportune time for an aggressive campaign into the Apache territory could be chosen, as the residents of Sonora were finding it impossible to protect their own homes. A year later the enemy made another attack on Tubac. This time they killed a sergeant and stampeded one hundred head of cattle. Most outrageous of all, in a third descent upon the presidio of Tubac a little later, they stole one hundred and thirty horses–the best mounts to be had in northern Sonora-that Captain Anza had collected for his famous overland expedition to the Pacific coast. May 7, 1774, a great number of Apaches made a savage assault on Frontéras and drove off three hundred horses from that garrison. In July Tubac was again robbed of thirty horses. As if the impudence and daring of the Apaches knew no limit, in September they got away with thirtysix animals that were used in carrying the mail from Sonora to the Viceroy. And all this time, individual settlers–miners, wood choppers, and ranchmen in lonely places–were being robbed and murdered.

But, in the summer of 1775, Oconor made plans for concerted action along the whole front from Sonora to Texas. Orders to mobilize were issued to governors and captains of presidios in Coahuila, Chihuahua, New Mexico, and Sonora. More than two thousand men, including settlers and Opata Indian allies, were mustered for active service. Every presidio on the border supplied its quota, and Oconor brought into action under his immediate command three hundred soldiers from the various flying squadrons. It was his purpose to strike the Indians hip and thigh, front and rear, in camp and on the move. Buffeted from this direction and that, whether they stood or retreated, they were to be found, repulsed, and beaten. Fifteen defeats of devastating proportions were administered to the Apaches during this campaign. The Spaniards killed, in all, one hundred and four of the enemy and recaptured nearly two thousand animals.

Again, in 1776, Oconor massed his forces for concerted attacks. The results were somewhat disappointing to the Spanish, but in five battles twenty-seven Indians were killed and eighteen captured. It was very plain that Oconor’s repeated blows were beginning to tell. From Zuñi, October 12, 1776, Fray Francisco Garcés wrote to the General stating that all the Western Apaches were returning to their old haunts in the north with their families and horses and were very much inclined toward peace with the Spaniards. Now came the climax of their woes. As they were attempting to escape toward the northeast, they encountered large numbers of their hereditary enemies, the Comanches. Caught, thus, between the upper and the nether millstone, they perished by hundreds.

Favorable as the situation, in general, had been for the Spanish, hostilities still continued on the Sonora border. At eight o’clock one morning in November, 1776, Magdalena was attacked by forty Apache and Seri Indians and almost completely destroyed. At the time there were only four ablebodied Pima men in the village. When the attack began, the priest and the women and children were engaged in the regular religious exercises of the day. At once they all took refuge in the home of the missionary. The leader of the attacking party placed a ladder against the wall of the house and, climbing it, set fire to the grass that formed the covering of the roof.

The savages next began to rob and desecrate the church. They carried off the vestments and the altar utensils and tore up the missal and threw it away. Meantime, some of the band had driven the cattle into the mountains. The house by this time was in flames and the people–men, women, and children –on the point of suffocation. With heavy stones the enemy managed to batter down one of the doors. But this proved their undoing; for the three brave Pima warriors within were able to discharge their arrows through the opening, and so, for a time, drove off the foe. As all were now momentarily expecting to die in the flames, the priest prepared to administer absolution. Salvation came from a different quarter, however. The fourth Pima brave, soon after the attack began, had slipped away to San Ignacio where there was a detachment of soldiers; and, barely in the nick of time, the soldiers arrived and drove off the murderers, not, however, before they had mortally wounded one woman and carried another one and two children into captivity.

Oconor’s health gave way under the strain of his long and unremitting duties on the border, and at the beginning of 1777 he was relieved. Don Teodoro de Croix now took over responsibility for the control of the Apaches. Frequent and deadly raids still continued in New Mexico and Chihuahua, and bleeding Sonora had never been given time even to bandage her wounds; but Croix’s immediate and most urgent task was the suppression of the apparently irrepressible Gila Apaches. On October 12, 1777, a band of these Indians attacked Janos. But they met a hot reception, and were not only repulsed, but were pursued so energetically that they found it convenient to ask for a peace parley. Stern and bitter, indeed, were the conditions offered them. However, the time had come when they must either come to terms or perish. They were between the devil and the deep sea–that is, the merciless Comanches and the unremitting concerted action of the Spanish.

It was left to Croix to determine upon a course of action. He was a humane man, but a shrewd one, too. He saw that to deal with a widely scattered people, every member of which was law unto himself, was all but impossible. No binding treaty could be made with the nation as a whole. He could not suppose that these savages would ever give up robbery and butchery, trained to it as they had been from infancy. They could not change their nature overnight; it was impossible that the thought of good faith to the Spaniards could find permanent lodgment in the brain of an Apache. It was too much to expect that they would give up roaming the plains, abandon the hunt, and settle down to the life of Christians. Nor did he believe that they would return their white captives, or the horses they had stolen, or that they would give hostages. In short, he felt confident that their present overture was simply a makeshift. What they were trying to do was to gain time, and escape immediate destruction at the hands of the Comanches.

A renewed application for peace on the part of the Apaches in the region of Janos brought matters to a head. Croix offered peace on the following terms: they were to come together at Janos, and at other places with their families and live in regularly organized pueblos; were to obey the captain of the presidio, or such justices as Croix should designate; were to select one of their own leading men as governor; were to give up a roving life, and not leave the pueblo without permission; were to set about the building of their houses and the cultivation of the patch of ground that would be allotted to each head of a family; and were also to help cultivate the mission fields (for it was required that they should be under the instruction of the padres). It was further stipulated that, for one year, rations should be issued each week by families; but that at the end of the year they were to support themselves from their own herds and from the crops that they were to raise. They were to be provided with necessary tools, were to be supplied with horses to tend their herds, and were not to be required to return animals previously stolen.

But, as Croix had feared, this attempt at a peaceful solution was in vain. Depredation went on as usual. A party of twentyfive Spaniards was set upon and a soldier badly wounded. Raids were made on San Elezario and El Paso. Early in the year 1778 the very Indians who had sought peace at Janos killed a settler near the fort. In August, only a short distance from Chihuahua, one hundred and thirty-three horses and mules were stolen. When Croix sent Captain Gil to punish the marauders and to make exchange of prisoners, the Indians refused to come down from their mountain retreats to talk with him. Other military expeditions sent out to punish these recalcitrants all failed.

Just about this time the able and experienced explorer and Apache fighter, Don Juan Bautista de Anza, was entering upon his duties as governor of New Mexico. For the next two years Croix and Anza worked hand in hand for the complete conquest of the Apaches. Croix was convinced once for all that the Spanish must adopt an aggressive policy and pursue it relentlessly. He determined that from this time on the war should be carried into the heart of the Indians’ own territory, and that a constant stream of detachments should be poured in from all of the frontier states, so that the Indians might have no rest. It was his plan to have expeditions concenter upon the Apaches from Santa Fe, Zuñi, El Paso, Chihuahua, and Sonora and encircle them with a ring of iron. To Anza was assigned the task of breaking a direct road from the Pueblos on the Rio Grande into central Sonora as a line of communication. He was also required, if possible, to enter into an alliance with the Comanches.

Croix carried on one well-coordinated campaign that reached to the remote strongholds of the enemy, but the result was not highly successful. He had intended to follow this campaign up with a similar one the following season, but emergencies arose that prevented him from doing this. Likewise, Anza, because of a crisis in New Mexico, was forced to give his immediate attention to the suppression of the destructive Comanches in the north and to vital negotiations with the Pueblo Indians of northeastern Arizona. So it was not until November, 1780, that he was able to undertake the all-important road-breaking expedition through the Apache country into Sonora. Even when he was free to make this long and perilous march, the result was disappointing. He merely skirted the eastern edge of the Apache wilds; and so failed to penetrate to their strongholds on the Gila–the main purpose of the expedition.

Croix’s ambitious plans were carried out to some extent by his successor, Felipe de Neve; and Anza, also, between 1783 and 1787, made solid gains against the Apaches. Neve launched a great drive during April and May, 1786, for the purpose of dislodging the enemy from their mountain rancherías near the frontier and forcing them back into more remote fastnesses. As a result sixty-eight Apaches were killed and eleven captured; two Spanish captives were delivered and one hundred and sixty-eight animals recovered. Nor were the spoils of war inconsiderable–in the form of buffalo robes and deer skins. Perhaps most important of all was the shock that must have come to the savages when they found themselves confronted by the Spanish in remote sierras where white men had never before been seen. Indeed, they were so alarmed and depressed that they sought an alliance with the Navajos.

The Navajos, however, were unstable allies. They were bound by a treaty of peace entered into with the former governor of New Mexico; and Anza forced them to stand by this former agreement. Anza’s skill in effecting an alliance with the Comanches, and then in mustering Comanches, Navajos, and Spanish unitedly in active operations against the Apaches, is deserving of great praise. However, when he resigned as Governor, the good work he had done came to naught. In 1796 the Navajos again established friendly relations with the Apaches, and again the Spanish were at war with both tribes.

Coincident with the increased rigors of war that had been visited upon the Apaches by Oconor, Croix, and Neve, was the Spanish policy of encouraging friendly Indians to make settlements near the presidios and missions along the border; and this policy was made to include well-disposed bodies of Apaches, as well as Opatas and Pimas. So, occasionally, groups of Apaches did thus settle down peaceably. Eventually treaties were entered into with such communities, and these agreements in some instances were mutually observed. The Indians found it to their advantage to keep these treaties, for the Government expended from eighteen to thirty thousand pesos a year in cash for their support. Of course the Spanish knew that the Apaches were not to be trusted, even in this seemingly friendly relation. They were aware that the spirit of hostility was not fully allayed. That such attempts at peace were very uncertain and dangerous is illustrated by an incident at Arispe when Apaches came there to make a peace treaty in 1795. Says Bancroft: “Being lodged in the barracks they rose in the night, killed the sentry, and fled to the mountains, killing all they found on the way.”

Nevertheless, from 1790 to 1810, there was a nearer approximation to peace than at any previous time. It is true that recalcitrant bands, operating independently, continued to make raids now and then and that the soldiers had to be forever on the alert to meet these attacks and to pursue and chastise the troublemakers; but, as compared with earlier conditions and with those that were, unhappily, to follow, there was a state of peace between the red man and the white. For the first time in generations there was an opportunity for constructive development along the border, and it was during these years of respite that mines were opened and successfully operated, churches built and beautified, and ranches prosperously conducted.


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