The saga of the Apache Wars is both complex and compelling. For over a quarter century, hundreds of ambushes, raids, massacres, and full-fledged military battles occurred over a huge, rugged, and diverse landscape. The wars involved hundreds of notable participants. The following is the merest of highlights to help you get your mind around the amazing history of many places you can visit here.
1793 (circa) Birth of Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves).
He will become undisputed Chief of the Warm Springs Apaches (also called Mimbreno Apaches) in southwestern New Mexico after Mexicans massacre many of his tribe in 1837. He will earn his Spanish name from all the blood on his sleeves after violent confrontations with challengers within his own band. Read More
1805 Birth of Cochise.
He will become Chief of the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua Apaches and leader of the Apaches in a war that begins in 1861 because of the seriously poor judgment of a young, inexperienced Lieutenant. Cochise County in Southeastern Arizona is named for him because it is the ancestral home of the Chiricahuas and so much Apache War history is here. (See Apache War Map) Cochise will become the son-in-law of Mangas Coloradas.
1810 Birth of Nana.
He will become the formidable patriarch of the Warm Springs Apaches under Chief Victorio in their wars against the United States and Mexico. When a young man, he will marry Geronimo’s sister and maintain close ties with the Bendonkohe band of Chiricahuas. When he grows up, he will have a crippled leg and walk with a limp. As he ages, his eyesight will not be good. But he will be able to “ride like the devil.”
In old age, he will be considered by his people to be a wise and caring grandfather, but it is likely Nana was responsible for killing more Anglos and Mexicans than either Cochise or Geronimo. After Victorio’s death at the Tres Castillos (Mexico) massacre in 1880, it will be Nana who leads the remains of the band. For more than two months Nana, with only 40 warriors, will elude more than a thousand U.S. troops and hundreds of Apache scouts in a thousand-mile campaign.
1825 (circa) Birth of Victorio.
He will be chosen by Mangas Coloradas to be the next Chief of the Warm Springs Apaches. As a big, powerful man, Victorio will become a brave, relentless warrior, an inspiring leader, and cunning military strategist.
His younger sister, Lozen, will be come a legend among the Apaches.
After living under terrible conditions at the San Carlos Reservation, AZ, and after repeated petitions to the American government to allow them to relocate to their ancestral home are denied, Victorio and his people will bolt from the reservation, wreaking havoc on Anglo and Mexican settlers and soldiers on their flight to northern Mexico.
1825 Birth of Juh
(pronounced Ho or sometimes Whoa). He will become a tough, courageous Apache warrior and resourceful leader of the Nednhi band of the Chiricahua Apache. Their homeland is in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Northern Mexico. Prior to the 1870s, Juh will be unknown to the Americans. He will war together with the Chihenne leader Mangas Coloradas and Chokonen leader Cochise, and will be particularly close to the Bedonkohe shaman and war leader Geronimo. They will grow up together even though they are from different bands. His name reportedly means “He Sees Ahead” or “Sees Far”.
1829. Birth of Goyathlay (He Who Yawns)
He was born into the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apaches, one of 7 Apache Tribes.
He will become a shaman, or medicine man, with a special Power granted by Ussen, the Apache God of All Creation. His Power tells him he will not be killed in a violent clash, but rather he will live to old age. It warns him when danger is near.
As a cunning, ruthless warrior, he will be totally committed to fighting the hordes of Anglos and Mexicans who invade the Apache’s ancestral homeland. The Mexicans will try to exterminate the Apaches and the American Anglos will force them into dismal concentration camps euphemistically called reservations.
He will become known by his Spanish name, Geronimo (Jerome). He is born in a canyon near present-day Clifton, AZ.
During the 1820s and 1830s, the Apaches’ main enemies are the Mexicans who had won their independence from Spain in 1821. Around 1835, the Mexican government begins offering a bounty on Apache scalps (100 pesos for a man’s; 50 pesos for a woman’s; 25 pesos for a child’s). Juan José Compas, the leader of the Mimbreno Apaches, is killed for bounty money. Mangas Coloradas becomes a war leader and begins retaliatory raids against the despised Mexicans.
1846 Birth of Mangus,
He is the son of Warm Springs Apache Chief Mangas Coloradas. His sister, Dos-teh-seh, will become a wife of Cochise, Chief of the Chiricahuas, and mother of Chiefs Taza and Naiche. Mangus was young when his father died (1863) and Loco and Victorio become chiefs of all the Warm Springs Apaches. In the last years before surrender, Mangus will spend most of his time with the Chiricahuas, rather than his Warm Springs Apaches.
In years to come, he will marry Dilth-cley-ih, one of Victorio’s daughters. He will fight along side Geronimo in a futile attempt to push the White Eyes from his ancestral homelands and avoid being sent to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona Territory.
Now seventeen, Geronimo is admitted to the Council of the Warriors, a status that allows him to marry. Once he receives permission, he marries a beautiful young woman named Alope, and the couple have three children. (Geronimo will have many wives and children before his life is over.)
In the mid-1850s, Geronimo’s tribe is at peace with the Mexican towns and neighboring tribes along the border, and they often travel into Old Mexico where they can trade. In 1858, they camp near a Mexican town for several days. Leaving a few warriors to guard the camp, the rest of the men go into town to trade. On their return, they are met by several of their women and children who tell them that Mexican soldiers had attacked their camp.
Entering their camp they realized that their guard warriors had been killed, and their horses, supplies, guns, and ammunition, taken. Devastatingly, many of the women and children had also been killed. Among them are Geronimo’s mother, wife Alope, and their three children. For the rest of his life, Geronimo hates all Mexicans and kills them for revenge as much as anything.
Americans begin in mass to occupy the ancestral home of the Warm Springs Apaches in search of gold. Mangas Coloradas tries several peaceful ways to convince the Anglos to leave his land. On one occasion he tries to convince the miners that there is richer digs further south. The miners tie him to a tree, whip him nearly to death, and then release him (big mistake). For Mangas Coloradas, this was the ultimate humiliation. When he recovers he gathers his forces and drives the miners out of the region.
Thirty miners attack the Bedonkohes Apaches on the west bank of the Mimbres River, New Mexico Territory. According to historian Edwin R. Sweeney, the miners “…killed four Indians, wounded others, and captured thirteen women and children.” The Apache retaliated, raiding settler’s property and murdering U.S. citizens.
In a rare show of unity, Mangas Coloradas joins forces with Chiricahua and White Mountain Apaches to wage all-out war on the Americans. They focus their attacks on Butterfield stagecoaches using Apache Pass. This pass through the Dos Cabezas (Two Heads) Mountains is critical to both the Apaches and Anglos because it is (a) a low point (5,000 feet) through rugged mountains and (b) it has a year-round dependable source of drinking water for people, horses, and mules called Apache Springs. For these reasons, the Butterfield Overland Mail stages carry passengers & U.S. Mail though Apache Pass on their route from St. Louis to San Francisco.
Apache Pass and Apache Springs are so important to the Anglo Americas that they will build Fort Bowie here to protect them. You can visit the remains of the old fort today.
1861 The Bascom Affair.
Lieutenant George Bascom falsely accuses Cochise and starts a quarter century of needless and horrific bloodshed between the White Eyes and the Chiricahua Apaches who try desperately to expel the invaders and hold on to their ancestral homeland.
On January 27th, Tonto Apaches raid the ranch of John Ward at Sonoita Creek, steal livestock and kidnap Ward’s 12-year-old stepson. Ward reports the raid to the nearby military authority who direct Lieutenant Bascom and his infantry to attempt to recover the boy and cattle. Bascom is unable to locate the boy or the raiders.
For whatever reason, probably Ward’s testimony, Bascom concludes that the Chiricahua Apaches are responsible for the raid. Bascom is ordered to use whatever means necessary to punish the kidnappers and recapture the boy.
Bascom, Ward, and 54 soldiers head east to Apache Pass and arrive on February 3rd. Bascom convinces Cochise to meet with him under a flag of truce. Cochise brings with him his brother, two nephews, his wife, and his two children.
At the meeting, Cochise tells Bascom he knows nothing of the raid or the kidnapping, but asks for a few days to find out what he can. Bascom, in effect, calls Cochise a liar and attempts to imprison him and his family in a tent where they are to be held hostage. Cochise escapes by cutting his way through the tent canvas, unavoidably leaving his relatives behind.
On February 5, Cochise delivers a message to Bascom pleading for the release of his family, but Bascom refuses and sends a message back to Cochise that they “would be set free just so soon as the boy was released” and the cattle returned.
Over the next several days, Cochise’s warriors steal a herd of army mules, seize a civilian wagon train, and take several Anglo and Mexican hostages of their own.
Cochise’s warriors hold the Anglos for exchange, but the Mexicans don’t fare well. Apaches had long hated Mexicans because of their countless cruel acts upon, and wholesale slaughter of, the Apache people. The Apaches tie the captured Mexicans to a wagon and set it on fire.
While the Mexicans scream in agony, a not-yet-famous Apache warrior and medicine man takes pleasure in poking his lance into the burning men. Many years later, he would become known as the “worst Indian who ever lived.” At this time, Geronimo was about 38-years-old.
In the days following, Cochise pleads with Bascom to treat his family members well and trade for the Anglos he now holds. Stupidly, Bascom refuses. Bascom holds out for the boy but Cochise has no idea of his whereabouts. Cochise eventually gives up and has his hostages killed and mutilated. Apaches were well-known to do such things in either order.
In response, on February 19th, Bascom orders Cochise’s male family members hung, but allows the women to leave.
Thus it is that the Apache Wars begin. Countless Apaches, Mexicans, and Anglo Americans will live in misery and die violently because of incredibly stupid decisions made by a young, inexperienced officer and the idiot who put him in charge. (Note: U.S. Army officers were given little or no training in the languages and customs of American Indians. Few had any empathy for native people whose way of life and very survival were threatened by the American’s massive migration to, and occupation of, the West.)
President Jefferson Davis declares Arizona Territory to be a part of the Confederate States of America. To take control of the American Southwest, Confederate soldiers commanded by Captain Sherod Hunter occupy Tucson on February 28, 1862.
May 5th. 1st Battle of Dragoon Springs
Confederate soldiers are ambushed by 100 Apache warriors led by Cochise near present-day town of Dragoon, AZ. The Apaches kill four soldiers and confiscate a large number of cattle and horses.
May 9th. 2nd Battle of Dragoon Springs
Confederate soldiers take back their herd of cattle and horses, and kill five Apaches. The Confederate soldiers that had been killed 4 days earlier are buried near the Dragoon Springs stage station.The ruins and grave sites are still there near the town of Dragoon, AZ.
Battle of Apache Pass
General James Carleton, Union Volunteers of the California Column, leads a Union army eastward to halt the Confederate invasion of New Mexico. He establishes Fort Bowie and the American forces fight the hostile Apaches for control of Apache Springs over two days.
Mangas Coloradas tries to make peace with the Americans on several occasions, and on January 17th, the old Chief decides to accept a truce offer from the captain of the California Volunteers. American soldiers violate the truce, ambush and take Mangas Coloradas prisoner. General Joseph West orders him killed.
Daniel Conner, a miner who witnesses the event, said later that the soldiers assigned to guard Mangas were tormenting him by poking his legs with red-hot bayonets. When Mangas tried to get up, the soldiers shot him. One soldier took his scalp: another boiled the flesh from his head, and sold the skull to a phrenologist in the East. His body was dumped in a ditch.
His son Mangus joins forces with the bands of Victorio, Nana, and Geronimo and continues to fight the American invaders. Except for a few warriors, women and children, his Warm Springs Apaches will be nearly annihilated by the time Geronimo surrenders for the last time in 1886.
Camp Grant Massacre.
Camp Grant is located at the confluence of the San Pedro River and Aravaipa Creek about 50 miles north of Tucson. It was the home of the Aravaipa Apaches before they had been driven from the area by white settlers. In February, five starving old Aravaipa women come to the camp under a flag of truce asking for sanctuary, which is granted by a Lieutenant Whitman. Before long, over 500 Aravaipas, under Chief Eskiminzin, gather in the area, asking that they be allowed to grow crops along the creek to feed their people. This too Whitman allows. He also arranges for them to “earn their keep” by working as farmhands for the local ranchers after extracting a promise from the Indians that none would participate in any raids.
However, other Apache bands continue raiding, and some of these raids are blamed on the Camp Grant Aravaipa. On April 30, an angry mob of 150 Tucson citizens and their Papago (now Tohono O’odham) mercenaries attack the Aravaipa camp, clubbing and shooting 144 people. All but eight of the corpses are women and children, as most of the men had been away hunting. Twenty-seven Araviaipa Apache children are captured and sold in Mexico by the Papagos.
Chief Eskiminzin had tried to make peace with the Whites. He negotiated the treaty that created the San Carlos Reservation where he hoped that his people could be safe. Following the massacre, he spoke for his people when no one else would.
“If it had not been for the massacre, there would have been a great many more people here now; but after the massacre, who could have stood it? When I made peace with Lieutenant Whitman my heart was very big and happy. The people of Tucson and San Xavier must be crazy. They acted as though they had neither heads nor hearts..they must have a thirst for our blood. These Tucson people write for the papers and tell their own story. The Apaches have no-one to tell their story.”
Following the massacre, President Ulysses S. Grant demands an investigation and a trial and threatens to put the state under martial law if the Governor fails to act. However, at the trial that occurs later in the year, the jury takes only 19 minutes to acquit more than 100 defendants. In subsequent years, several of the slave children were found working for some of Tucson’s most prominent families.
A Lt. Cushing and his troops relentlessly pursue Cochise, about whom Cushing had been making disparaging remarks. Juh and his warriors ambush and kill him in the Whetstone Mountains, about a half-hour drive northeast of Sonoita (Wine Country).
After a dozen years of guerrilla warfare against the Americans, Cochise concludes a peace treaty with General Oliver Howard. Howard, with the full authority of the United States government, grants Cochise and his people a permanent reservation in the Dragoon Mountains of Southeastern Arizona, a small portion of their ancestral homeland.
Moreover, as a critical aspect of the treaty, Howard names as agent the only White Man Cochise trusts, Tom Jeffords. By this treaty, the U.S. military will have no presence in or authority over the new reservation. A resigned Cochise relocates his people.
The treaty says nothing about the Apache’s right to continue raiding in Mexico, an omission that General Howard and many others will live to regret.
Massacre at Casas Grande (Northern Mexico near the U.S. border)
Mexican troops once again attack Juh’s band of Apaches south of the border. After months of fighting in the mountains, the two foes agree to meet to discuss a peace treaty at Casas Grande, Sonora. After terms are agreed, the Mexicans offer the Apaches mescal. The Mexican troops attack and kill twenty drunk Apaches and capture more than two dozen. The few remaining Apaches limp back into the mountains, their only sanctuary.
Death of Cochise
Cochise dies, probably of stomach cancer. He is buried somewhere at Cochise Stronghold (Dragoon Mountains), but no one today knows precisely where.
Before he dies, Cochise extracts a sacred promise from his two sons, Taza and Natchez, that they shall remain at peace with the Americans.
His oldest son,Taza, is elected Chief of the Chiricahuas.
On an official trip to visit the Great White Father in Washington, D.C. Chief Taza dies of pneumonia. Though he is too young and not ready to shoulder the responsibility of guiding his people through their rapidly changing, disintegrating world, Natchez is elected Chief.
Chatto and Chihuahua become sub-chiefs. They will become major, and opposing, players in the saga of their people.
Without consulting the Indians, the U.S. government breaks the Cochise treaty by closing the Chiricahua Reservation in June and forcibly moving Natchez and his people to the San Carlos Reservation where inadequate food supply, exposure to the elements, and malaria will decimate their population. About half comply. Led by Geronimo, the rest escape to Mexico. Both decisions will have lasting and devastating consequences for the Chiricahuas.
Alma, New Mexico. In a violent attempt to force white settlers out of their homeland, Warm Springs Apaches of the Chihennes band led by Victorio swoop down on unsuspecting miners, killing three. Then they pursue and kill three others who tried to flee. They then massacre 35 sheepherders nearby. Victorio and his band leave the area when federal troops eventually arrive.
Death of Chief Victorio in the Massacre of Tres Castillos, Mexico.
In the 1870s, Victorio and his band of Warm Springs (NM) Apaches are forced to move to the dreaded the San Carlos Reservation about 35 miles east of Globe, AZ and 140 miles north of Tucson. In 1877, he and his followers escape the reservation. To survive they raid, stealing cattle, horses, guns, ammunition and whatever else they need, as they evaded capture by both the U.S. and Mexican armies and citizen militias.
Lozen is Victorio’s younger sister, a ferocious warrior, and perceptive seer. She fights with him and his followers as they attack, and are attacked by, Americans who had stolen their ancestral homeland in southwestern New Mexico.
James Kaywaykla was a young Apache lad at this time. He told this story to Eve Ball who published it in her authoritative 1970 book entitled, In The Days Of Victorio: Reflections of a Warm Springs Apache.
Fleeing the U.S. Army, Lozen leads a group of mounted Apache women and children across the rapids of the Rio Grande into Mexico. Holding onto his grandmother as the group approached the riverbank, Kaywaykla knew that she and the others were terrified of drowning. Then, “I saw a magnificent woman on a beautiful horse—Lozen, sister of Victorio.”
“High above her head she held her rifle. There was a glitter as her right foot lifted and struck the shoulder of her horse. He reared, then plunged into the torrent. She turned his head upstream, and he began swimming.”
Immediately, the other women and children follow her into the raging river. Amazingly, they all reach the far bank of the river, cold and wet but alive, Lozen rides up to Kaywaykla’s grandmother. “You take charge, now”, she said. “I must return to the warriors”, who were fighting to stay between their women and children and the advancing U.S. cavalry. Lozen drives her horse back across the wild river and returns to fight with her brother and his warriors.
According to Kaywaykla, “She could ride, shoot, and fight like a man, and I think she had more ability in planning military strategy than did Victorio.” He also remembers Victorio saying, “I depend upon Lozen as I do Nana”, Victorio’s uncle and patriarch of the band.
In late 1880, Lozen leaves her band to escort a new mother and her newborn infant across the Chihauhua Desert in northern Mexico to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in western New Mexico to spare them the horrific hardships faced by their band as they flee before the well-equipped, fast-moving armies of Mexico and the United States.
Beginning the perilous journey on foot with only a rifle, a cartridge belt, a knife, and a meager three-day supply of food, she has to evade both the American and Mexican cavalry as well as Anglo and Mexican settlers.
In a few days, they need more food, but she is afraid to hunt because a gunshot would betray their presence. Ever resourceful, she uses her knife to kill and butcher a stray longhorn steer.
Soon thereafter, she steals a Mexican cavalry horse for the new mother, barely escaping through a volley of gunfire. Employing all her strength and cunning, she then steals a Mexican cowboy’s horse for herself and disappears before he can give chase. A few days later she steals a soldier’s saddle, rifle, ammunition, blanket, and canteen. After weeks of trudging, riding, and stealing their way through the most dangerous region for any Apache, she delivers the mother and child to the reservation.
It was there that she learns that Mexican soldiers and their Tarahumara scouts have ambushed Victorio and his band at Tres Castillos in northeastern Chihuahua.
The Mexican Destruction of Victorio
On October 15th, the Mexican Commander Terrazas and his battle-hardened troops, surprise Victorio’s Apaches, and in the boulders of Tres Castillos, slaughter most of them. To this day, Apaches believe that Victorio fell on his own knife rather than die at the hands of the Mexicans, who almost certainly would have tortured him to death over many days.
Many Apache women die fighting. The older people are shot. Young Apache women captives are raped. Then they and the surviving Apache children are sold into slavery. Very few of Victorio’s Warm Springs Apaches escape.
Knowing the survivors would need her, Lozen immediately leaves the Mescalero Reservation to help her people. She rides alone south across the desert, somehow making her way undetected through U.S. and Mexican cavalries. She rejoins the decimated band, now led by the patriarch Nana, in the Sierra Madre Mountains in northwestern Chihuahua.
Lozen fights along side Nana and his few remaining warriors as they engage in a two-month-long bloody campaign across southwestern New Mexico to avenge Victorio’s death and the slaughter and enslavement of their people. Nana, the patriarch, says of Lozen, “Though she is a woman, there is no warrior more worthy than the sister of Victorio.”
Many say that the Mexican army never would have achieved their surprise ambush at Tres Castillos if Victorio’s younger sister had been there. Her people believed she had the power to know, not only when the enemy was near, but their strength and from which direction they would attack. After Victorio’s death, the crippled, half-blind 78-year-old Nana becomes leader of the few remaining Warm Springs Apaches. He and Geronimo will fight to the bitter end and receive the same fate at the treacherous hands of the United States government.
Battle of Cibecue (northeast of present-day Globe on the White Mountain Apache Reservation)
The Battle of Cibecue is a consequence of the teachings of an influential Apache shaman, known as The Prophet. He preaches a faith that includes the resurrection of dead Apache warriors who will rise again and force all the white invaders from Arizona. Whites are understandably alarmed and both the civilian and military authorities want him arrested and silenced.
Following The Prophet’s arrest, a battle erupts along Cibecue Creek. The Prophet dies in the aftermath along with several soldiers. Even more alarming to the whites, most of the military casualties resulted from the mutiny of White Mountain Apache scouts.
The Battle of Cibecue touches off yet another Apache War in which Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apaches, including those lead by Natchez, youngest son of Cochise, Juh, and Geronimo, break out of their hated reservation and plunge Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico into two years of terrible bloodshed. Cibecue battlefield is located in the village of Cibecue (a 2-hour drive north of Globe), but today there is no monument at the site.
Juh, now a bold, physically-imposing Chiricahua war chief, attacks the San Carlos Reservation and forces the peace-advocate Chief Loco and his followers to break out. Juh leads perhaps 700 Apache men, women, and children back to the sanctuary of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Northern Mexico with the U.S. Army in hot pursuit.
Mexico and the United States sign an accord by which the soldiers of either nation may cross the border when in close pursuit of hostile Indians. This will be the beginning of the end for those Apaches who choose a life off the reservation. The United States Army, led by General Crook, is now free to track the Chiricahuas to their sanctuary in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Sonora and Chihuahua.
This incident, sometimes referred to as the McComas Massacre, occurs in
southwestern New Mexico Territory on the afternoon of March 28. Former Union soldier and judge, Hamilton McComas, his wife Juniatta, and six-year-old son Charlie, are attacked by a Chiricahua war party led by Chatto (1860-1934) while on the road between Silver City and Lordsburg. McComas dies of gunshot wounds, his wife is killed by a blow to the head. Charlie is later killed by an Apache but no White Eyes know this for many years after the Lordsburg event. The incident makes national headlines all across the country. Whites demand revenge.
General George Crook is put in charge of the Arizona and (eventually) New Mexico Indian reservations.
With 193 Apache scouts under Captain Crawford, and the approval of local and federal Mexican governments, Crook’s mighty army follows Chiefs Juh, Chihuahua, Natchez, Bonito, Loco, & Nana, their most trusted warriors, including Chatto & Geronimo, along with their women & children, across the International Border.
One by one, they surrender and return with their people to the dreaded San Carlos Reservation. Chiefs Bonito, Loco, and Nana come with Crook. Juh remains in Mexico, where he dies, perhaps of a heart attack, in November. Geronimo does not come to San Carlos until February 1884.
Crook institutes much needed reforms on the reservation, but local newspapers criticize him for being too lenient with the “savages”.
Not one Apache raid occurs in Arizona this year, a first for at least 10 years. The Apaches seemed fairly content on their respective reservations and are adjusting to a farming way of life. This will change. And Geronimo will be the agent of change.
As such, he will be vilified by those Chiricahua Apaches who wanted to stay on the reservations in Arizona and at peace with the White Eyes. Geronimo will be blamed for the U.S. Government’s decision to ship all Chiricahuas, including the loyal scouts, to Florida or Alabama. Here they will lose everything: not just their homeland, but their culture – language, religion, and even their children. The tribe will be almost entirely exterminated by disease and negligence.
By contrast, Geronimo will attain super-hero status among those who wanted to remain free and fight to an honorable death for their people, their homeland, and their way of life (which includes getting drunk on tizwin and beating their wives).
Geronimo is drunk and intimidated by newspaper editorials that demand his death. He and a small band of warriors escape again to Mexico where they continue to raid and kill, primarily for food, ammunition, and horses.
Geronimo’s “Power” that warns him of impending danger, not surprisingly, coincides with his well-founded paranoia, based on the many times the Apaches have been lied to, cheated, starved, humiliated, and killed by the U.S. military and Indian agents.
On the reservation, rumors fly. What Geronimo hears is that Captain Davis has been authorized to have him and Mangus killed. Many years later, Chatto, who became General Crooks most trusted scout, says, “Talk of troops made Geronimo like a wild animal.”
1885-May: THE LIE
Geronimo hatches a plan to persuade reluctant Chiricahuas led by Chiefs Natchez and Chihuahua to follow him in a mass exodus from the reservation to Mexico.
Geronimo’s plan includes having his cousins, Fun and Tisna, kill Captain Davis and Chiricahua scout Chatto, two who are most trusted by both the U.S. military and the reservation Chiricahuas.
Geronimo knows that with Davis and Chatto dead, the reservation Chiricahuas, particularly the Apache scouts, will feel hopelessly vulnerable and will then follow him in a desperate attempt to escape to Northern Mexico and continue the good fight.
The charismatic Chief Chihuahua fears that Crook will deport him to Alcatraz. Chiefs Natchez and Chihuahua throw their support in favor of Geronimo’s plan to escape from the reservation when Geronimo tells them that Davis and Chatto are already dead. It’s a lie. A lie that will have devastating consequences for the Chiricahuas and divide the Apaches between those who want the relative comfort and security of the reservation and those who prefer an arduous life on the warpath defending their ancestral homeland against the despised White Eyes and Mexicans.
When Chief Chihuahua realizes he has put the lives of his people in serious danger because of Geronimo’s lie, he vows to kill the shaman-turned-war-chief. Had he been successful, it is likely the war would have ended and the remaining hostiles would have returned peacefully to the San Carlos Reservation.
But the war continued and President Cleveland, with the support of his Secretary of War and Lt. General Phil Sheridan, decides the fate of all Chiricahuas, not just the hostiles.
Lozen fights along side Geronimo and his few remaining warriors in a desperate attempt to survive and not be herded back to the dreaded San Carlos Reservation. Unbeknownst to them, this is the last campaign in the Apache Wars. Pursued relentlessly, she uses her mysterious power to sense the whereabouts and strength of the U.S. and Mexican cavalries.
Alexander Adams writes in his book, Geronimo, “she would stand with her arms outstretched, chant a prayer to Ussen, the Apaches’ supreme deity, and slowly turn around.” (until she senses the presence and number of the enemy and the direction of their impending attack.)
Leading General Crooks second expedition into Mexico in pursuit of the renegade Apaches led by Geronimo, Captain Crawford and his scouts are attacked by Mexican militia led Mauricio Corredor. Corredor had shot and killed Chief Victorio six years earlier at Cerro Tres Castillos.
Crawford attempts to get the Mexicans to cease fire by waving a white handkerchief so he can explain to Corredor that his troops and scouts are in pursuit of the Apaches. The Mexicans don’t listen and one shoots Crawford in the head.
Dutchy, one of the Apache scouts, pulls the mortally wounded Crawford to safety, and then kills the Mexican who had shot him. He then kills the Mexican commander.
Crook’s army and Chiricahua Apache scouts, now led by Chatto, go after Geronimo and his warriors. They catch up with them again just over the Mexico border in March. At first, there are negotiations and hope that Geronimo will surrender.
Crook is only authorized to negotiate unconditional surrender, but Geronimo
refuses. Crook makes concessions. He tells Geronimo that, if he and his people give up, they will be confined in the East with their families for NOT MORE THAN TWO YEARS. Geronimo accepts those terms.
That night, Natchez, Geronimo and their little band get roaring drunk, reconsider their surrender, and disappear into the mountains. Crook’s vast army with all its Apache scouts cannot catch them.
After the conference with General Crook (March 1886) Natchez and Geronimo head back to the relative security of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Northern Mexico as fast as they can. With Natchez is his 3rd wife Ha-o-zinne.
General Crook sends Chiefs Chihuahua & Nana, with their band of 12 men and 47 women and children, including Natchez’s mother Dos-teh-seh, his 2nd wife E-clah-heh, and daughter Dorothy, to Florida as prisoners-of war.
Ridiculed unmercifully in the newspapers and officially reprimanded for his failure to capture or kill Geronimo, Crook resigns his authority over all the Indians in the New Mexico and Arizona Territories.
In April, General Crook, who had tried to help the Apaches on their reservations, is replaced by the arrogant, pompous, shamelessly self-promoting General Miles. He deploys over two dozen heliograph points to coordinate the movements of 5,000 soldiers, 500 Apache scouts, 100 Navajo scouts, and thousands of civilian militia against Geronimo and his 24 exhausted warriors who, in order to survive, continue raiding in Northern Mexico.
(Note. The heliograph signaling system was Miles solution to poor communications and coordination in pursuit of the hostiles. Their use was one of the ways Miles employed to distinguish his campaign from his failed predecessor’s. Despite Mile’s claims to the contrary, the heliograph system was of no benefit to his pursuing army in locating the hostiles. The hostiles moved primarily at night. No sun, no heliograph signal. You can see a heliograph machine at the Fort Lowell Museum at 2900 N. Craycroft Road in Tucson.)
September 3, 1886. Lt. Charles Gatewood, now reporting to Miles, leads his troops and Chiricahua scouts in an exhausting pursuit of Natchez and Geronimo. Later that summer, scouts Kayihtah and Martine guide Lieutenant Gatewood to the Natchez and Geronimo camp.
Gatewood tells Natchez that his mother, wife and daughter have been shipped to Florida with Chief Chihuahua and his people. Gatewood tells Geronimo that his family is in Florida and if he ever wants to see them again, he will have to surrender now and go there too.
Broken, Natchez decides to surrender. Many other hostiles surrender too. Geronimo, war-weary and missing his family, knows he cannot continue his struggle for freedom without them. Natchez and Geronimo surrender to General Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona Territory.
It was a momentous event in the history of the Apaches and the United States. On Route 80 south of Rodeo, New Mexico, near Apache, Arizona, stands a marker commemorating Geronimo’s surrender. A short distance south of the marker is a road that leads east and then south/southeast to the actual surrender site.
Prisoners of War
Geronimo, along with Chiefs Nana and Natchez, surrenders at Skeleton Canyon, AZ for the fourth and last time. They, their followers, and the Apache scouts who hunted them for the U.S. military, all become prisoner of war and are shipped in unsanitary, stifling railroad cars to Florida under heavy guard. Geronimo is imprisoned at Fort Pickens. Some of the Chiricahuas, including Chief Nana, are imprisoned at Fort Marion, Florida.
Crook, who had tried to improve the reservations for the sake of all, is furious that the Apache scouts, who had faithfully served the Army, were also exiled to Florida. He sends numerous telegrams of protests to military and civilian authorities in Washington. His protests are ignored by President Cleveland and General of the Army, Phil Sheridan.
The evidence suggests that “Geronimo’s last breakout from the San Carlos Apache Reservation left fourteen Americans dead in the United States and between 500 and 600 Mexicans dead south of the border.”
In his autobiography, Geronimo says, “I have killed many Mexicans; I do not know how many, for frequently I did not count them. Some of them were not worth counting. It has been a long time since then, but still I have no love for the Mexicans. With me they were always treacherous and malicious.” Would any of us feel differently toward those who had killed our mother, spouse, and children and tried to annihilate our people?
Taken into U. S. military custody after Geronimo’s final surrender, Lozen is shipped as a prisoner of war to Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama. As is the fate of so many other imprisoned Apache warriors and their families, she dies the next year of tuberculosis.
Northerners vacationing in St, Agustine, where Fort Marion is located, include teachers and missionaries, who become interested in the Apache prisoners. Volunteers teach the Apaches to speak and write English and try to convert them to Christianity. Many citizens raise money to send about 20 of the younger male prisoners to a historically black college in Virginia. Many Apaches die of disease while in the prisons.
Later, Apache children are (for all practical purposes) kidnapped and taken to the Carlisle Industrial School, a boarding school in Pennsylvania where fifty of them die.
General Crook, the Apache’s most powerful friendly voice in the U.S. Government, dies.
Geronimo and 341 Chiricahua Apaches are transferred to Fort Sill, OK where they live in villages around the post.
Chief Nana dies at Fort Sill (OK) at the age of 96. Despite the fact that he was half blind and crippled from arthritis most of his adult life, he had the longest, and perhaps deadliest fighting career of any of the more famous Apache warriors.
Geronimo, with permission from the War Department, appears as a celebrity at the St. Louis World Fair where, for money, he signs autographs and sells bows and arrows.
Geronimo, “the worst Indian who ever lived”, leads President Theodore Roosevelt’s Inaugural Parade.
Despite his many petitions, Geronimo is never allowed to return to the land of his birth. He later regrets his surrender and claims the U.S violated the terms he had agreed to. After 23 years as a prisoner of war, Geronimo dies of pneumonia at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he is buried.
Arizona Territory becomes the 48thstate in the Union.
The Chiricahuas’ status as prisoners of war is lifted. Of the 498 original prisoners, only 271 survived their 27-year ordeal. The Chiricahuas are given the choice of accepting lands north of Fort Sill or sharing a reservation with Mescalero Apaches in New Mexico. For most, the decision is wrenching.
According to Ft. Sill Apache historian Michael Darrow, “Up to the last minute, people were trying to make the decision. Brothers and sisters split up, fathers and children split up. Some wanted to go one place, some to another. That’s how our tribe came to be split, with the Fort Sill Apaches in Oklahoma and the Chiricahuas at Mescalero.” Ultimately, 187 Chiricahuas decide to move to New Mexico; 84 choose to remain in Oklahoma.
For more information on the Apaches and the history surrounding the Apache Wars, see our other features about the Local History of the Apaches.