“No white man who ever in the service, or employment, of the United States … can keep pace with an Apache on foot when he is in a hurry …” Lt. Charles Gatewood from His Apache Wars Memoir.
I have often thought that if Tucsonans knew the actual history of the people whom they have honored with streets and neighborhoods named for them, many of these names would be changed in an effort to overcome the embarrassment, if not the shame.
Surely streets and places named for Sam Hughes and Jesus Maria Elias would get renamed because of their leadership of the Camp Grant Massacre; the slaughter of over 120 defenseless women & children and the enslavement of 26 youngsters in 1871.)
Another street and neighborhood might get a name-change if Tucsonans knew the truth about a general and his claim that he ended the 25-year-long Apache Wars when Geronimo surrendered to him on September 3, 1886.
Miles Street in Tucson is named for General Nelson A. Miles. It is located two blocks south of Broadway between Santa Rita Avenue and Campbell Avenue. Miles Street runs through the Miles Neighborhood surrounding the Miles Elementary School (now Miles Exploratory Learning Center).
The naming of Miles Street and Miles Neighborhood followed the biggest parade and festival in Tucson up to that time; November 8, 1887. Led by Tohono O’odham warriors, the mile-long parade honoring General Miles made its way west on Pennington Street from the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot to Levin’s Beer Garden just west of Main Street. There was grandiloquent oratory and the Army band, stationed at Fort Lowell 7 miles east of the town, played its heart out. General Miles accepted a gold ceremonial sword presented by Judge William Barnes in gratitude for finally putting an end to the Apache reign of terror. (It should be noted that the sword was so expensive that the City of Tucson could not pay to have it completed. Sheepishly, one might presume, the City Fathers asked General Miles if he could pay for the completion of his own honorary sword … which Miles did.)
The ceremonies continued into the evening with a grand ball in the San Xavier Hotel (adjacent to the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot). At no time did any speaker mention Lt. Charles Gatewood.
In September 1886, Geronimo (with 24 Chiricahua warriors, including Chief Naiche, son of Cochise, plus 14 women & children) surrendered to General Miles at Skeleton Canyon in the Peloncillo Mountains just west of the New Mexico border and just north of the International Boundary with Mexico. This is true by all accounts.
However, these facts obscure the true story of all that led up to the surrender and who in particular should be honored for (a) first meeting with Geronimo under the most difficult and dangerous circumstances; and (b) who actually convinced the 63-year-old shaman and war leader to surrender to the American troops who had been hunting him. Miles had little to do with this except to pick the right man for this nearly suicidal assignment.
Note: to help you understand the bigger picture go to The Apache Wars: A Timeline.
Lt. Charles Gatewood
That right man was Lt. Charles Gatewood. In 1879, Gatewood, a West Point graduate, led companies of Apache and Navajo scouts throughout Arizona and New Mexico against hostile Warm Springs (NM) Apaches led by Chief Victorio and his younger sister, the warrior woman Lozen.
For the next year and a half, Gatewood lived and rode with his Apache scouts in pursuit of hostiles over some of the harshest and most unforgiving land in the American Southwest. During this time, he became all too familiar with sudden, violent death. But he learned how to survive. Eventually, Gatewood’s health failed him. He suffered from rheumatism and other ailments and took an extended medical leave of absence.
When he returned to duty in Arizona in September 1881, he led Apache and Navajo scouts against the Cibecue and White Mountain Apaches. He commanded Indian scouts for the next four years, until October 1885.
In July 1882, the Army replaced Major General O. B. Willcox with Brigadier General George Crook as commander of Indian operations in the Arizona Territory. The reason? In April of that year, Geronimo, Chief Naiche and several dozen other Chiricahua warriors raided the San Carlos Reservation and forced several hundred unhappy Apaches of Chief Loco’s band off the reservation. Pursued by U.S. soldiers, this large group of men, women, and children then raced for the safety of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Northern Mexico. Willcox got the blame for allowing this mass escape. He would not be the last general to be disgraced by Geronimo’s escapades.
(You may wonder why Geronimo and Naiche would want to kidnap hundreds of Apache men, women and children. Wouldn’t this large group of captives merely slow them down and make them more vulnerable to attack by both U.S. and Mexican troops? Very good question! These recalcitrants knew that their vastly diminished numbers threatened their survival as a people. In order to prosper as a free-roaming band of American Aborigines, a certain division of labor was required. Women were essential to the band’s survival and there were now far too few females. Moreover, if they hoped to continue fighting the Americans and Mexicans, Geronimo and Naiche needed a lot more warriors. It did not matter that most of Loco’s band did not want to leave the safety of the reservation. Once off the Rez they would be hunted all the same and have to raid and kill to survive. On their desperate flight to Mexico, traveling mainly at night, they raided for what they needed and killed over 50 people.)
Crook was an experienced Indian fighter. A veteran of the Civil War, Crook had fought the Sioux and Lakota on the Great Plains. From 1871 to 1875, Crook fought the Western Apaches to devastating effect on the native population.
He knew that regular soldiers were almost useless in tracking and engaging Apaches who didn’t want to be found. Thus, Crook adopted a strategy of using “Indians to fight other Indians”. On so many occasions, this strategy had worked from the earliest colonial times. But soon Crook’s quarry would be Geronimo, the preeminent Apache warrior. Things would be different.
In the fall ‘82, General George Crook appointed Lt. Charles Gatewood military commander over the White Mountain Apaches at Fort Apache AT. Gatewood had fought against them and with them. They knew him well, and he knew them better than any white man of that period.
There, Gatewood took up the cause of his Indian wards. He learned their native dialect, their customs and beliefs. He listened to their complaints and tried to rectify injustices. Over time, the White Mountain Apaches grew to trust him. They gave him a nickname: Nanton Bay-chen-daysen, meaning Captain Long-Nose. Any photograph of Gatewood is sufficient explanation.
At this time, Geronimo knew of Gatewood, but the two had not actually met. When they finally did meet, Geronimo already knew that Gatewood could be trusted … or at least as much as he would ever trust any white man.
Tucson Under Siege
In the 1860’s and early ‘70’s, the Chiricahua Apaches led by Cochise, and the Warm Springs Apaches under his father-in-law, Mangas Coloradas (red sleeves) had joined forces as one tribe against the white settlers and their Army. These two great leaders could, almost overnight, raise an army of more than a thousand well-mounted and well-armed warriors. For a decade (1861-1872) they were the scourges of the Southwest. When Apaches were on the move, few Tucson residents dared to travel beyond the town’s perimeter without a heavily armed escort. Many of those who did venture out were later found dead; scalped and mutilated.
The War Of Attrition
By the early 1880’s, the U.S. Army supervised thousands of Apaches of various bands in various concentration camps in Arizona and New Mexico. When dissatisfied Apaches broke out of these “reservations”, as they often did for perfectly understandable reasons, the sons of Cochise and Mangas could not put a fighting force of even 100 on the warpath. Times had changed, but the Apache Wars were not over.
Problems On The Reservations
The reservation Apaches were a disgruntled people because conditions on the “Rez” were appalling on many levels, including disease, hunger, and white men taking advantage of them. General Crook understood enough of the Apache mind to know that the only way to bring peace would be to end the mismanagement of the reservations. The Indian agents were stealing the Indians and the Government blind. White settlers were moving onto land reserved to the Indians. The whole management of the reservations was a mess. He needed reservation commandants who would protect and support the reservation Apaches as they made the difficult transition from raiding to farming and ranching with government help.
Lt. Gatewood’s Role On The Reservation
In his Memoir, Gatewood writes, “ My assignment was to check the consumption of tiswin, preserve the peace among them, and see that they went to work with the view to making them self-supporting.” (Tiswin is a powerful alcoholic drink brewed from corn. One of the biggest complaints of reservation Apache men was that they were forbidden to get drunk and beat their wives, both of which they considered their God-given right).
It was Gatewood’s sense of justice (fairness, not revenge) that resulted in a falling out with General Crook. Gatewood accused a local businessman named Zuck of, in effect, stealing reservation Apache crops. This gentleman was not only a successful merchant in his own nearby Mormon community, he was also a Justice of the Peace. For political reasons, Crook wanted Gatewood to drop the charges. Instead, Gatewood threw Zuck in his Indian jail.
Crook, not a man to be trifled with, was furious. Moreover, Zuck sued. Having been incarcerated in a jail that, according to Zuck, was only fit for filthy Redskins, he had been humiliated. Soon Gatewood was the defendant in a lengthy civil trial without the support of his commanding officer. The charge was unlawful imprisonment. Gatewood was eventually exonerated when the judge ruled that he (the judge) had no jurisdiction. On the military reservation, the commandant (Gatewood) was prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.
The Breakout of 1885
In May 1885, Chief Naiche and his war leader Geronimo, with about 40 warriors and sixty women and children bolted from the reservation and headed toward the Sierra Madre Mountains in northern Mexico. According to Gatewood, “There had been no breakouts for several years, & as the news swept over the country the consternation among the people of Arizona, New Mexico, & the northern states of Mexico can be better imagined than described. Excitement prevailed everywhere & troops were promptly put in motion from every post.”
General Crook and his U.S. Army which included several hundred Apache scouts pursued the hostiles into Mexico with Mexico’s permission. The Mexicans were as terrified of these renegade Apaches as were the Americans. Moreover, the Mexicans were well aware the United States had far greater military resources. After 10 months of grueling pursuit, Crook was finally able to arrange a peace conference with Geronimo and Naiche. They met at Canon de los Embudos (funnels) in Sonora, Mexico.
Among the things that Geronimo told Crook is this plea for his people. “There are very few of my men left now. They have done some bad things, but I want them all rubbed out now and let us never speak of them again. We think of our relations, brothers, brothers-in-law, fathers-in-law, etc., over on the reservation, and from this time on we want to live at peace just as they are doing, and to behave as they are behaving. Sometimes a man does something and men are sent out to bring in his head. I don’t want such things to happen to us. I don’t want that we should be killing each other.”
General Crook Exceeds His Authority
Geronimo tried to convince the General that his heart was good, but the General had the upper hand now and took a hard stand. “[You] must decide at once upon unconditional surrender or to fight it out; that [in the] latter event hostilities would be resumed at once and the last one of them [Apaches] killed if it took 50 years. The only propositions [you] can entertain are these three: that [you and your followers] shall be sent east [Florida] for not exceeding two years; taking with them such family as so desired, only then can they return to the reservation upon their old status.” As the alternative to this generous offer was either (a) running from the Americans and Mexicans for the rest of their lives and never again seeing their families or (b) annihilation. Naiche, Geronimo, and the rest surrendered to Crook.
General Crook did not have the authority to offer any more than unconditional surrender. He did not have the authority to offer terms that would relocate these Apaches back to their reservation after only two years in exile. General In Chief of the U.S. Army, Phillip Sheridan, and President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, were now not happy with General Crook.
Geronimo Escapes Again
Moreover, on the long hard way back to Fort Bowie, Naiche, Geronimo and many others got drunk. The more intoxicated they became, the more paranoid they became. In particular, they now feared that Crook had lied to them and they would be imprisoned for life or hung when they got to Fort Bowie. So Naiche, Geronimo and 34 men, women, and children escaped into the night. The 80 or so others continued on to Fort Bowie, and then to Fort Marion in Florida as prisoners of war.
General Nelson A. Miles Takes Command
When Crook found out about the escape, he wired General Sheridan to relieve him of his command of the Department of Arizona. Sheridan immediately granted Crook’s request and then appointed General Nelson Miles to the position.
Wanting to be seen as not just following the same “failed” Crook strategy, Miles did two things differently. First, he discarded Crook’s strategy of using “Indians to fight other Indians”. Second, he had his signal corps set up a system of Heliograph machines on mountaintops all across the territory. (One of these was located on Mt. Graham.) These were basically mirrors that reflected sunlight to relay signals using Morse code across vast distances far faster than carriers could travel on horseback.
Where Generals Willcox and Crook had failed, Miles was determined to be the conquering hero who put an end to the Apaches once and for all. He amassed a huge army. For all practical purposes, Miles had more than 5,000 U.S. troops – infantry and cavalry – hunting down one man … Geronimo. His strategy: hound the hostiles relentlessly until they either surrendered or were annihilated. Miles posted troops to guard all of the usual water holes and entrance points into the United States. Then he began to send out patrols into Mexico.
Geronimo Strikes First
Geronimo took the offensive. On April 27, 1886, he and Naiche split their small group in two and began raiding for the things they desperately needed to survive … fresh horses, food, & ammunition. Over the next 23 days, they took whatever they needed and killed 14 people in the process. Asked about this rampage later while a prisoner of war, Naiche said, “We were afraid. It was war. Anybody who saw us would kill us, and we did the same. We had to if we wanted to live.”
On May 3rd, the United States Government offered a $25,000 reward for capturing or killing Geronimo. (Roughly a half-million dollars in 2014 buying power.) Miles ordered Capt. Henry Lawton (4th U.S. Cavalry) to lead his first punitive invasion force into Mexico. After 4 months, they returned to the United States empty-handed and so exhausted that many were unfit for further duty.
General Miles’ Strategy Isn’t Working
Miles, now becoming desperate to avoid the fate of his predecessors, summoned Lt. Charles Gatewood to his office in Albuquerque and ordered him to find Geronimo and Naiche in Mexico and demand their surrender. At first, Gatewood demurred, thinking this to be a fool’s errand. Moreover, he knew that his health would not hold up on a long campaign through the most rugged country Mexico had to offer.
Miles would not be denied. He offered to make Gatewood his aide-de-camp if he succeeded. This appealed to Gatewood since his advancement in the Army had come to a halt after his falling out with General Crook.
Gatewood knew what it would take to even get close to Geronimo, let alone actually speak to him about surrendering. His traveling companions were carefully chosen. George Wratten was an Apache interpreter. Gatewood could speak Apache fairly well, but he did not want to take any chances with misinterpretations that could scuttle the talks, should they actually take place. According to the Apaches, Wratten could speak in their tongue better than any other white man.
Ka-teah was a proven tracker who had taken part in the hunt for Geronimo after an earlier breakout. Martine, an Apache, had been captured by Mexicans as a young boy and sold to a family who took good care of him and eventually set him free. He was an experienced tracker and could speak Spanish and English in addition to Apache. Most importantly, they both knew Geronimo and Naiche and many of the others personally. They could get Gatewood within speaking distance of the hostiles … if they could find them.
General Miles’ Unrealistic Order To Lt. Gatewood
Gatewood writes, “General Miles particularly forbade my going near the hostiles with less than twenty-five soldiers as escort, fearing that I might be entrapped & held hostage …” Gatewood knew then that he would probably have to disobey this direct order. No officer was going to get close enough to Geronimo for a conversation in the presence of 25 armed and mounted soldiers.
Lt. Gatewood’s Search Party Finally Finds Geronimo
After 5 weeks of searching for the hostiles in the 115-degree heat of Northern Mexico, Gatewood was in poor health and discouraged. However, about sundown on August 24, 1886, Martine and Ka-teah told Gatewood that they had encountered the hostiles and delivered General Miles’ ultimatum to surrender or else. They explained that Geronimo and Naiche were camped on a rocky position high in the Teres Mountains about 4 miles from Gatewood’s camp. Geronimo told them he would only talk to Gatewood.
The meeting took place the next day on the banks of the Rio Bavispe. Gatewood knew most of the hostiles, including Lozen. They were all related by birth or marriage and their bonds of loyalty were very strong.
Lt. Gatewood Meets With Geronimo
Years after this conference took place, Gatewood wrote, “… the last to arrive was Geronimo. [He] appeared through the canebrake about twenty feet from where I was sitting, laid his Winchester rifle down, & came forward offering his hand & repeating their salutation, “Anzhoo”, which means “How are you? Am glad to see you.” [We] shook hands. He remarked [about] my thinness & apparent bad health & asked what was the matter with me. After an answer to this question, [he took] a seat alongside [me] as close as he could get (gentle reader, … imagine him looking me square in the eyes & watching my every movement, twenty-four bucks sitting around fully armed, my small party scattered in their various duties incident to a peace commissioner’s camp, & say if you can blame me for feeling chilly twitching movements).”
Surrender Or Else
“It took but a few minutes to deliver my message, which was, “Surrender, & you will be sent to join the rest of your people in Florida, there to await the decision of the President of the United States as to your final disposition. Accept these terms, or fight it out to the bitter end.”
Over a period of two days, Geronimo, acting as Naiche’s Secretary of State, tried hard to negotiate a better deal. He refused to surrender and be exiled to Florida. But he would surrender if Gatewood would return him and his people to the reservation where they would settle down and renew their farming activities.
Gatewood did not have the authority to change the conditions set forth by General Miles, and told Geronimo so. The talks became very tense. To make Gatewood’s task even more difficult, Capt. Lawton had arrived with his troops. Before it was over, some of Lawton’s soldiers proposed to encircle the hostiles and kill them all. Amazingly, Gatewood talked them out of it … even threatening the use of force against his own soldiers.
After a night of discussing the situation among themselves and “making medicine” to see into the future, Geronimo gave Gatewood his final ultimatum. According to Gatewood, “They would leave the warpath only on the condition that they be allowed to return to the reservation, occupy the farms held by them when they left the last time, be furnished with the usual rations, clothing, farm implements, seeds, etc. that they be placed as they formerly had been with guaranteed exemption from punishment for what they had done.”
“Take us to the reservation, or fight,” was his ultimatum, as he looked me square in the eyes. [But] I couldn’t take him to the reservation & I couldn’t fight, neither could I run, nor yet feel comfortable. Naiche, who had taken little part in the proceedings, here said that whether they continue the war or not, my party would be safe so long as [we] did not begin hostilities. Knowing his influence among them (he was, after all, the son of Cochise) I felt considerably easier in my mind.”
Lt. Gatewood’s Gamble
At this point it looked to all concerned that the talks had failed. Yet, given the horrors that would result from failure, for the Americans, the Mexicans, and especially the Apaches, Gatewood gambled.
He knew that General Miles planned on shipping all of the reservation Chiricahua Apaches to Florida. These were the people that Naiche, Geronimo and the others wanted to be re-united with. But as far as Gatewood knew, the plan had not yet been executed. So, he lied.
“[I] informed them that the rest of their people – mother & daughter of Naiche were among them – had been moved to Florida to join Chihuahua’s band, & their going back to the reservation meant living among their hereditary enemies, the Coyoteros (White Mountain Apaches).”
The talks continued into the next day, but Geronimo’s ultimatum began to break down. He wanted to know everything he could about General Miles. Gatewood indulged him. Finally, he told Gatewood, “He (Miles) must be a good man, since the Great Father sent him from Washington, & he sent you all this distance to us.”
Lt. Gatewood’s Advice To Geronimo
Then, Geronimo asked Gatewood one last question. “We want your advice. Consider yourself one of us & not a white man. Remember all that has been said today, & as an Apache, what would you advise us to do under the circumstances. Should we surrender, or should we fight it out?”
To which Gatewood replied, “I would trust General Miles & take him at his word.”
Now it was up to Gatewood to take his wards to General Miles for the official surrender. Remember, these talks took place deep in Mexico. The Mexican Army was hunting for Geronimo. There were U.S. troops out looking for Geronimo who had no idea that Gatewood was bringing the hostiles back to surrender to Miles. They had to avoid all of these soldiers as well as Mexican militia over a hundred miles of harsh terrain.
Skeleton Canyon and The End of the Apache Wars
Finally, they arrived at Skeleton Canyon, A.T. to meet General Miles and surrender, Miles arrived one day later, September 3, 1886. Geronimo was presented to the General. Miles told him that they would be sent to Florida, there to await the decision of the President. Then, through an interpreter, [Miles said:] Tell them I have no more to say. I would like to talk generally with them, but we do not understand each other’s language.
That was it. For this minor role in effecting the fourth and final surrender of Geronimo, General Miles got all the glory while Gatewood took all the risks.
The following year, 1887, Tucson invited General Miles and Lt. Gatewood to be honored with a parade and gala. Gatewood and his wife, Georgia, purchased a new wardrobe for the auspicious events. But just before they were to leave for Tucson on the Southern Pacific, General Miles ordered is aide-de-camp to remain on post doing clerical work.
Military historians surmise that General Miles downplayed Lt. Gatewood’s heroic role because it would have lent legitimacy to General Crook’s excellent strategy for subduing the Apaches: using Indians to track Indians. Moreover, while Miles claimed that his use of heliographs had been instrumental in the capture, most military historians dismiss this claim because the Apaches almost always moved at night when the heliographs were useless.
Others say that Miles took revenge on Gatewood for disobeying a direct order, to wit: “General Miles particularly forbade my going near the hostiles with less than twenty-five soldiers as escort, fearing that I might be entrapped & held hostage …” When initially approaching Geronimo to talk surrender, Gatewood’s party, including himself, was only six, two of whom were Apaches.
More likely, Miles just wanted the glory for himself.
So it came to be that Tucson has a Miles Street and a Miles Neighborhood and a Miles Elementary School, and the name Gatewood was forgotten.
Gatewood’s revenge was to author a true account of his involvement in the Apache Wars from 1879 to 1886. Unfortunately, he died in 1896 at the age of 43 before he could complete the manuscript.
In 2005, Louis Kraft edited Gatewood’s original, but incomplete manuscript and added text for context and clarity. The result is Lt. Charles Gatewood & His Apache Wars Memoir that includes extensive notes.
Probably because Kraft was editing an incomplete manuscript (actually two), it is sometimes difficult to follow the string of events. However, in Kraft’s By Louis Kraft Gatewood and Geronimo (First Edition) [Paperback]
, this incredible story flows smoothly and it is much easier for the reader to keep track of who’s doing what to whom and when. So it is this book that we recommend you read first.
In the above article, in the interest of brevity, I left out a great deal of historically relevant and highly interesting events, knowing that anyone sufficiently interested in this period of Arizona history can acquire at least one of these two fascinating books.