This is the first of a six part series about the longest war in American History.
The saga of the Apache Wars is both complex and compelling. For over a quarter century, roughly 1861-1886, 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. (This article has been broken up into 6 more manageable parts).
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.
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 as many Anglos and Mexicans as 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 become 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 Apaches. 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 Apache tribe.
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 9 wives and many 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.
1860 - December
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 soldiers and settlers traveling the abandoned Butterfield Overland Stage route through 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 carried passengers & U.S. Mail though Apache Pass on their route from St. Louis to San Francisco from 1858 to 1861. At the beginning of the Civil War, this southern route was abandoned in favor of a more northerly route.
NEXT: The Apache Wars: A Timeline Part 2