The Mexicans called him Nana; meaning “Grandma”. In 1881, he was about 75 years old, and was crippled in one leg. Moreover, his eyesight was deteriorating. But he had one good leg, a keen mind, and all-consuming hatred of Americans and Mexicans. In the late 1870's and early 1880’s, this was sufficient to make him among the most feared Apache chiefs in the American Southwest. Over a two-month period, June through August, his star shown brightly above such Apache legends as Mangas Coloradas (Chihenne Chiricahua), Cochise (Chokonen Chiricahua), Victorio (Chihenne Chiricahua), Juh (Nednhi Chiricahua), Loco, (Chihenne Chiricahua) and Geronimo (Bedonkohe Chiricahua).
Likely he killed more Americans and Mexicans than either Cochise or Geronimo.
Paradise at Ojo Caliente
In 1876, Victorio was chief of the Chihenne band of Chiricahua Apaches (Red Paint People) whose homeland was the idyllic Canada Alamosa (Canyon of the Cottonwoods), a steep box canyon about 12 miles long cut by Alamosa Creek. Near the western end of the canyon are the warm waters of Ojo Caliente; what is today Warm Springs, New Mexico. Ojo Caliente is a place that was and is sacred to these Apaches. Here they were reasonably happy on the Warm Springs Reservation until they learned that the United States Government was about to forcibly remove them to the despised San Carlos Apache Reservation in order to consolidate the Indians for the convenience of Washington bureaucrats.
They told an Army officer that “[they] are happier than they had ever been were it not that they feared removal and that if the Government would permit them to remain where they now are they would gladly accept only one-half of their present rations.”
The Indians’ petitions to the U.S. military and to the civilian bureaucrats in the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, were ignored. So, in June 1877, Victorio’s people were herded off their ancestral lands in New Mexico and force-marched to the dreaded San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona where they had to live in close proximity to unfriendly White Mountain Apaches.
- Paradise at Ojo Caliente
- The Dreaded San Carlos Reservation
- Escape From San Carlos
- Escape Again
- Humiliation: A Long Time To Be Without Food
- Lozen: Woman Warrior
- Lozen’s Power
- Nana's Wisdom & Power
- Nana’s Advice
- Mexicans Kill Victorio
- Nana Comforts His Few Remaining People
- Nana’s Power
- Death And Destruction
- Rebuilding On “An Eye For An Eye”
- Nana’s Raid
- Nana & Geronimo: A Very Volatile Mix
The Dreaded San Carlos Reservation
At San Carlos, they would begin to die in substantial numbers from smallpox and malaria, and suffered greatly from bad water, poor soil, and lack of natural foods to gather and game to hunt.
In 1909, from his exile in Oklahoma, one Chihenne described his people’s homeland.
“[Ojo Caliente] is a good country. There are mountains … [surrounding] a wide valley. There are springs in that valley, fine grass, and plenty of timber around. Dig a well and get water in forty feet … Horses and cattle will not freeze there. It is a healthy place for man and beast. Women nor children get sick there. Neither do the animals …
For years I have been on other [Apache’s] ground and trouble has always come.”
When they arrived at San Carlos, a White Mountain Apache warrior killed a Chihenne. Victorio hunted the man down, killing not only the murderer, but his entire family as well. As revenge is a primary Apache ethical value, killing for vengeance typically resulted in feuds that lasted for generations. But Victorio and most of his warriors would not live that long.
Escape From San Carlos
In short, Ojo Caliente was everything San Carlos was not. So, it should not have come as a surprise to the Army that, on September 2, 1877, Victorio led 310 men, women, & children off the San Carlos Reservation along with a herd of White Mountain Apache horses. Most eluded the Army and its White Mountain Apache scouts for weeks as the band made their way back to New Mexico. Desperate for stock to continue their flight, along the way, they raided farms and ranches and killed at least a dozen White-eyes.
However, twenty-some Chihennes, mostly women & children, were captured and returned to San Carlos. Some of the fugitives fled to the Sierra Madre in Mexico. Most, under Victorio’s leadership, returned to a point near Ojo Caliente where they waited for an opportunity to negotiate a peace and return to their homeland permanently.
When it comes to Apache dealings with white men, for a change they got lucky. Relative to the times, the colonel in charge of Ojo Caliente was an abolitionist from Maine and did not subscribe to General Sheridan’s notion that, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” He offered to let Victorio’s Chihennes settle on the land they so dearly loved and agreed to furnish them with rations for as long as they need them.
Here in paradise, they stayed for the better part of a year. Their only complaint was that many family members were still confined to San Carlos. After 11 indecisive months, the Department of Interior made a final decision about their future. In the bureaucracy’s infinite wisdom, Victorio’s Chihennes were ordered back to San Carlos.
When it was announced, Victorio and 90 followers, mostly warriors, escaped to the mountains where they had wisely stashed their best weapons. The 169 who did not escape were immediately forced onto wagons and shipped back to San Carlos.
Through the winter of 1878-79, the free Chihenne Apaches raided and killed to sustain their freedom. For stealth and lightening action, they broke up into smaller bands. But they were constantly on the move to evade the U.S. Calvary, including the 10th Cav; those highly competent horsemen known as Buffalo Soldiers.
Because they knew that Fort Stanton, in Eastern New Mexico where the Mescalero Apaches had a reservation, had been considered for a permanent Chihenne home, some started to surrender to the fort commander. Eventually, they all came in, including Victorio and his 12 warriors. By July 1879, 145 of Victorio’s Chihennes were on the Mescalero Reservation.
They did not relish living close to Mescalero Apaches, but the idea seemed vastly preferable to San Carlos. Consequently, one band after another surrendered at Fort Stanton.
Humiliation: A Long Time To Be Without Food
But here they were far from content. They were treated to one humiliation after another. The warriors were constantly under guard, made to line up like squaws to beg or do menial work for rations. Victorio himself was treated by the soldiers with mocking insults.
Soon after he had surrendered he went to the rations window to get his promised allotment. The Mescalero Indian agent informed the great Chihenne chief that he could not issue any food, blankets, or other supplies unless he had an official ration card.
Naturally, Victorio asked the agent how he could obtain such an important card. The agent told the chief that it would take a month or more to get one from Washington. Sardonically, Victorio observed that, “A month is a long time to be without food.”
In August 1879, Victorio and his men could take no more. Even though they now knew that they could never live in peace at Ojo Caliente, that’s were they headed first. They knew the Army kept a sizable horse herd there and Victorio need those mounts if their escape was to succeed. As was typical of Apache raids, this one was unexpected, lightening swift, and utterly deadly. In only a few minutes, Victorio and his 40 or so warriors killed 8 guards and made off with 68 horses and mules.
To say that this audacious raid got the Army’s attention would be a major understatement. Almost all of the New Mexico and Arizona troops sprang to life, either in pursuit of Victorio or guarding trails and water holes the renegades might try to use. In the parlance of Apache Wars, the next 14 months would be called “Victorio’s War”. It would be, literally, a war to the death. Victorio gave no quarter and asked for none.
Lozen: Woman Warrior
Many times the soldiers were sure they had the hostiles in a box only to find when they attacked there were only silent boulders and trees where the Indians had been. According to the Apaches, Victorio was able to out smart and out maneuver the White-eyes because he had two secret weapons. The first was his younger sister, Lozen.
Unlike almost all Apache women, Lozen’s value to the band was as a warrior. This was confirmed by the fact that she was a full-fledged member of the Council of Warriors. Of his little sister, Victorio told his sub-chiefs, “Strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy, Lozen is a shield to her people.” All of this meant that she could slit your throat and steal your horses and cattle as fast and efficiently as any Apache warrior.
Moreover, Lozen had Power. In Apache culture, Power is a supernatural ability granted to an individual Apache by Ussen. The individual cannot ask for Power. It either comes to him or her or it doesn't. There are different kinds of Power. Geronimo had his Power to avoid being killed in battle and to heal the sick and injured. Geronimo was indeed a superb Apache warrior, but he was also a well-respected medicine man.
Lozen’s Power helped her locate the whereabouts of unseen enemies and determine their strength in numbers. She would stand with her arms outstretched, turning slowly in a circle, and chant a prayer to Ussen. When her hands began to tingle and her palms changed color, she “knew” how far away the enemy was, and from which direction they would attack. This supernatural Power allowed Victorio to plan his battle strategy well in advance. The only time his strategy failed him was once when Lozen was not with him.
Nana's Wisdom & Power
Victorio’s other secret weapon was Chief Nana. In 1879, Nana was at least 70 years old, and the only sub-chief that Victorio would occasionally defer to because of the old man’s wisdom.
After evading the U.S. Cavalry for the better part of a year and a half, during which time Victorio and his 75 warriors killed dozens of New Mexicans, the chief made a fateful decision. He wanted to get his remaining people, 450 men, women and children, to the Apache stronghold in the Sierra Madre of Old Mexico. However, they were nearly out of ammunition and would need to travel through harsh, flat desert to find both.
Always the Apaches fought with the mountains at their backs so they could quickly attack or ambush then flee into the safety of the steep canyons and boulders where the cavalry could not follow. Now they were in open desert and in desperate need of food. Victorio turned to Nana for advice.
“I have fought with three great chiefs of my people, Mangas Coloradas, Cochise, and Victorio,” the old man told him. “The problems confronting you are more difficult than either of the others had to meet. To the future of our people your decisions are of great importance. Your wisdom has never failed us. Command and we obey.”
Victorio’s decision was to camp at a lake near Tres Castillos (three spiky little hills) and send scouts to find ammunition. “For a short time, we will be comparatively safe here,” he told his warrior council. “The cavalry will look for us in the mountains, not on this plain. We need rest badly. We need food.”
Mexicans Kill Victorio
On October 15, 1880, General Joaquin Terrazas, with his fresh, disciplined, and well-equipped Mexican militia led by Tarahumara Indian scouts, spotted the Apache camp. Lozen was not with her brother at this time. Apaches to this day say that had she been with Victorio she would have used her Power to warn her people. They were taken completely be surprise.
Terrazas attacked was straight-forward. The Apaches had nowhere to hide and were nearly out of ammunition. Fighting continued until it got too dark to see the enemy. At daybreak on the 16th, the fight resumed, mostly hand to hand combat. Apaches are excellent at close quarters with a knife. But the Mexicans had plenty of bullets and, in the end, the Apaches had none.
By 10 AM, the battle was over. Terrazas counted 78 dead Apaches, mostly warriors. Victorio was among them. The general also counted 68 women and children who were taken prisoner to be sold into slavery. Nana wasn’t among the dead or captives. During the night he and 17 others had slipped away.
North and south of the International Border, both Mexicans and Americans celebrated. One of the most deadly Apache Wars was over … or so they thought.
Nana Comforts His Few Remaining People
A few days later, the survivors rendezvous in a prearranged canyon. Nana, now their chief, spoke to them in their grief.
Seventy years later, Kaywaykla who had been a young boy at the time of the massacre, recalled what Nana said.
“The chief had died as he would have wished – in defense of his people. [Victorio] was the greatest of all Apache chiefs, yes, of all Indian chiefs. So, do not mourn him. He has been spared the ignominy of imprisonment and slavery, and for that he would have been thankful to Ussen.”
Afterward, the two scouts who had been sent for ammunition returned with enough bullets to have made the battle at least a fair fight. One weary warrior said bitterly, “Too late.”
But Nana reproached him. “It is NOT too late; so long as one Apache lives.” Nana was already making plans to avenge Victorio and his followers who had been killed at Tres Castillos. As far as Nana was concerned, the American who had driven them out of their homeland were just as responsible for the tragedy at Tres Castillos as the Mexicans.
Kaywaykla said of Nana, “[He] was the fiercest and most implacable of all Apaches …’ the shrewdest in military strategy, surpassing even Victorio himself.” Like Lozen, Nana had a Power. His was the Power to locate White and Mexican ammunition mule and wagon trains. He was also a superb tracker and unsurpassed at guerrilla warfare.
In the spring of 1880, Victorio’s warriors wreaked vengeance along New Mexico’s Black Range and Mogollons, killing settlers with abandon. Nana, and his 8 hand-picked warriors, in one skirmish along the Rio Grande killed twenty settlers in a few minutes. A U.S. Army officer, Thomas Cruse, recalled what he found when he and his soldiers discovered the carnage left by Nana. “Scores of spent cartridges; dead animals; half-burned corpses on a pyre of charred wagons.” This was typical Nana.
Death And Destruction
After Victorio and Nana had made their way south of the border, Cruse estimated that “in fourteen months of crisscrossing New Mexico and Chihuahua, Victorio’s warriors, seldom more than 75 strong, had taken the lives of more than a thousand whites and Mexicans while eluding three American cavalry regiments, two American infantry regiments, a huge number of Mexican troops, and a contingent of Texas Rangers.”
Rebuilding On “An Eye For An Eye”
During the 7 months after the slaughter at Tres Castillos, Nana took care of his exhausted, discouraged, bewildered, and frightened people and began to rebuild a fighting force in the safety of the Sierra Madre.
As most of those who are reading this are White-Eyes, a brief detour will help in understanding the motives that drive the actions that are about to unfold. As I pointed out, revenge is a primary Apache ethical value. This is more than personal spite. When someone kills an Apache, their universe is out of balance until the perpetrator is killed. Moreover, it is perfectly acceptable that if an Apache cannot kill the actual perpetrator, he should kill his relatives or people of the same band.
Kaywaykla explained, “Ussen had not commanded that we love our enemies. Nana did not love his enemies; and he was not content with an eye for an eye, nor a life for a life. For every Apache killed, he took many lives.”
From their sanctuary in the Sierra Madre, Nana and his warriors took long forays in search of anything they could use to survive and fight: horses, mules, cattle, guns, ammunition mainly. They even dared return to Ojo Caliente, now deserted by the Army, and for two days, luxuriated in the warm, healing waters on their ancestral homeland.
Unlike the other great chiefs, Mangas Coloradas, Cochise, and Victorio, Nana’s party was not hindered by women and children. They were left in the safety of the Sierra Madre. Initially, Nana led 15 Chihenne warriors. Eventually, he recruited 30-40 more warriors from the Mescalero Apache Reservation. The Army was powerless to stop him.
By the end of June 1881, Nana had enough horses and weapons to launch what has come to be known as Nana’s Raid. To quote David Roberts, author of the excellent book, Once They Moved Like The Wind:
“Of all the extraordinary deeds of war ever performed by the Chiricahuas, this was arguably the most brilliant. The summary statistics only hint at the intensity and perfection of Nana’s wild campaign. In two months, the chief and some fifteen warriors rode three thousand miles – an average of fifty miles a day. They fought seven serious battles with cavalry, winning every one, and attacked more than a dozen towns and ranches. With one thousand soldiers and another three to four hundred civilians chasing them, the warriors escaped every trap. During those two months, they killed at least thirty-five of their enemy, wounded many more, and captured more than two hundred horses and mules. Their casualties are uncertain, but not a single dead or wounded Apache was found by any of the pursuing horde. All this, with a handful of warriors under the leadership of a lame-footed chief some seventy-five years old.”
By late August 1881, Nana’s Raid was over. He and his warriors slipped back into Mexico and their high, impenetrable Sierra Madre sanctuary. Apparently, Nana’s thirst for revenge had been satiated for now. However, he and his warriors would fight again in Geronimo’s War.
During the two months of Nana’s Raid, the U.S. Cavalry never caught Nana or his warriors, even though they fought the old man directly at least seven times. But once they had escaped into Mexico, the Americans gave up and hoped the Mexicans would deal with them as they had Victorio.
Nana & Geronimo: A Very Volatile Mix
It was not long before Nana joined forces with Geronimo and continued fighting the Americans and Mexicans for another two years. In 1883, Nana was captured in a surprise attack by General Crook’s soldiers and sent to San Carlos, the seat of most Apache grievances.
Later he would escape and fight with Geronimo until the last days of resistance. Nearly all Chiricahuas, including Chief Nana, Chief Naiche, Shaman/Warrior Geronimo and the Apache scouts who had run them to ground, were shipped to Florida as prisoners of war, never to return to their ancestral homelands in New Mexico and Arizona.
To read more about Apache history click here for a timeline.