Like so many others, I enjoy local histories. Understanding history is how I get a sense of the places and people I visit as I travel around Baja Arizona creating my videos, photographs, stories, and reviews to share with you on my Southern Arizona Guide.
Of late, I have been reading extensively about the Apache Wars (1861-1886), a quarter century of raids, murders, rapes, kidnappings, massacres, pitched battles, treaties and treachery that raged over what is now Northern Mexico, Western New Mexico, and Southeastern Arizona from Fort Apache & San Carlos Reservations in the north down to Fort Bowie and the Chiricahua and Dragoon Mountains an hour or two east of Tucson to Skeleton Canyon 12 miles north of the International border near the Slaughter Ranch where Geronimo surrendered for the fourth and last time.
In 1929, decades after he had led U.S. troops and Apache scouts to find Geronimo and his small band of Chiricahua renegades and talk them into surrendering, former Lt. Britton Davis published The Truth About Geronimo.
He tells us, in this fascinating first-person account, that in the intervening years, there had been so many lies told about the U.S. – Apache conflicts and particularly who should be given credit for “capturing” Geronimo, that he, Davis, just wanted to see the record set straight by someone who had actually participated directly.
One of the first things he tells us is NOBODY EVER CAPTURED GERONIMO. After days of difficult and sometimes heated exchanges between General Crook and Geronimo, the Chiricahua war leader finally agreed to fairly generous terms of surrender, terms the General had no authority to offer.
A few years earlier, General Crook had assigned Lt. Davis as commandant of the San Carlos Apache Reservation, where he undertook to improve the lives of the Indians there.
Toward the end of his military career, Lt. Davis was assigned to bring Geronimo and the other prisoners of war back to the reservations, which turned out to be a most difficult and frightening mission. Through it all, Davis got to know Geronimo and his Chiricahua Apaches as well as any White Eyes.
What I want to share with you is an excerpt from Britton Davis’ The Truth About Geronimo. I find it most revealing of the Anglo and Apache mindset at the time, 1883.
“The General (Crook) directed that several of the principle Indians be selected and sent East, to bring back tales of the white man’s power and the futility of the Indian’s efforts to oppose it. Years before, the eldest son of the great Apache captain, Cochise, had gone to Washington with a delegation of Apache and had died there (TB). His body rests in Arlington Cemetery. With this in mind, none of the Indians now evinced any enthusiasm when again offered a sight-seeing tour at Uncle Sam’s expense. The sentiment was universal to “let George do it.” Finally, however, a party of eight or ten was made up and sent on their way, in charge (was) Lieutenant West. They were taken to Washington and to New York City on a tour that lasted several weeks.
On their return, I questioned some of them and formed the opinion that West was the only one of the party who had enjoyed himself. One of the chiefs told me that on leaving (for the East) he had determined to count all the white people he saw on the trip. At Willcox, the railroad station (75 miles east of Tucson), he decided to count only the wikiups (houses). Later, on the train, he confined the count to Rancherias (towns), but soon ran out of Indian numerals and gave up counting.
In New York City, they were quartered in an upper room of the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Some of them, leaning out of the window and gazing at the people on the street below, asked West why these people were walking round and round the hotel? When West explained that they were not the same people, but different ones passing by, they told him he was lying to have some fun with them.
As far as impressing the Indians of the Reservation was concerned, the trip was a failure. The delegates were denounced as liars who had been corrupted by the white man, and for a time were avoided as though they had the plague. One of (the delegates) went insane and several were long in recovering from a sort of daze, refusing to discuss what they had seen. They had, of course, no words to describe much of it, even if they desired to do so.”