Part III: William Oury – Epilogue
This is part of a series on William Oury and the Camp Grant Massacre. If you have not read Part I and Part II on William Oury, start here at Part I.
[Tucson 1930’s] Late in her long life, Atanacia Hughes (1850-1934), was interviewed in her Tucson home that still stands at the corner of Main & Franklin next to the Corbett House. The Corbett House is part of the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block. The following is her account of the Massacre.
“The Indians [renegade Apaches] had been bad all winter [of 1870-71] and they got very bold and kept coming closer and closer – right up to our very door. We had a brush fence on the east side of our place and one night Hiram [her brother-in-law] woke up and saw the Indians inside the fence after the cattle.
Well, it was about daylight. He called to Mr. Hughes [her husband Sam] that the Indians were taking the cattle but Mr. Hughes did not get up. He said to let them alone, he was not going after them alone.
The men followed the Indians, not once, but many times, and every time they followed the same road. So they were sure it was the Camp Grant Indians doing the stealing.
They reported to the officer [Lt. Whitman] but he would not believe what the men said. So when things got too bad they told him if he did not take care of the Indians the citizens would. But he didn’t pay any attention to the warning and, of course, when the citizens got ready to go out they did not tell they were going.
Juan Elias was one of the leaders and, of course, Bill Oury was the leader of them all. He had just lost a fine lot of cattle and was anxious to do something. I don’t know how many Americans went but I am sure there were more than six.
No, Mr. Hughes did not go to Camp Grant but he furnished the means to go. He approved the plan and gave ammunition and arms … and grub. Yes they were given out from this very room we are sitting in.
[Then we] went out during the day to a place that had been decided on as a meeting place – out on the Tanque Verde road not far from Camp Lowell.
When the killing was over the news was brought to Mr. Hughes by Jimmie Lee and he said the crowd was on its way back but had no water and nothing to eat. So Mr. Hughes got some help and we filled up a hayrack we had with bread and other things to eat and barrels of water.
Then the wagon of supplies was taken out to what was then called Nine Mile Water Hole. After the crowd had been fed they separated. The Whites and Mexicans came on into Tucson and the Indians [friendly Apaches and Pima] went back over their usual trail to San Xavier.
At the time, Sam was the Adjutant General of the Territory. He was legally in charge of the supplies and arms to be supplied to the state and federal officials, in the course of their duties. He considered it an act of war, against the Apache renegades, and was acting as ordered by the civilian authorities.
History proved that the [Aravaipa] braves had all left the camp (Camp Grant) on a war/hunting party. Over 200 women and children were killed. A federal inquiry was made. Sam was never indicted. The men that were indicted were found to have done no wrongdoing, since it was a legal act of war. The Tucsonans didn’t have any more trouble.
We suffered no qualms … what we had done was right.”
[Mrs. Hughes tells the reporter that Juan Elais was a leader of the Mexican faction. Oury claimed it was his brother Jesus Elias. In fact, Oury doesn’t even mention Juan Elias.
Mrs. Hughes states that “Over 200 women and children were killed.” Lt. Whitman, whose soldiers buried the dead Apaches, claimed the number was about 125. Other claims were reported in local newspapers that ranged from 35 to 144. “Over 200 …” is by far the highest number of all the accounts. As she was not at the killing field, someone had to have told her the number of dead or she just made it up.
Mrs. Hughes claims “History proves …” that the Aravaipa Apaches were the guilt ones. History proves nothing of the sort.
All the Anglos and Mexicans claimed that the recent raids were the work of the Aravaipa Apaches. Lt. Whitman’s official report explains why it could not have been.
Mrs. Hughes states that the citizens’ actions were a “legal act of war”. That is a novel fiction she needed to believe. Only the Congress of the United States had the legal authority to declare war. Only the United States Army had the legal authority to wage war.
That neither Mrs. Hughes nor any of the others “suffered any qualms” I have no doubt. In 1870’s Tucson, renegade Apaches were generally considered vermin and no American or Mexican would have been criminally liable for killing a renegade Apache … meaning an Apache man, woman, or child caught off their reservation.]
According to Lt. Whitman’s official Army report:
“Their (Aravaipa & Pinal) camp was surrounded and attacked at daybreak. So sudden and unexpected was it, that no one was awake to give the alarm, and I found quite a number of women shot while asleep beside their bundles of hay which they had collected to bring in that morning.
The wounded who were unable to get away had their brains beaten out with clubs or stones, while some were shot full of arrows after being mortally wounded by gunshot.
The bodies were all stripped. Of the whole number buried, one was an old man and one was a well-grown boy – all the rest were women and children. Of the whole number killed or missing, about one hundred and twenty-five, eight only were men.
It has been said (the perpetrators claimed that the men had left camp to raid) that the men were not there – they were all there. On the 28th we counted one hundred and twenty-eight men, a small number being absent of mescal, all of whom have since been in.”
As Mr. Oury admitted without remorse, he and his mob captured about two dozen infants or small children. In newspaper accounts following the Massacre, often this fact was omitted and sometimes the number of slave children was minimized.
At the time, Rueben Wilbur was Indian agent to the Tohono O’odham. According to his October 14, 1871 report, he had learned that two captive children had died, five were in the homes of Mexican families in Tucson, and the remaining 21 were sold into the Altar District of Sonora, Mexico. Two weeks later, Wilbur wrote that he discovered at least eight Apache children were in the homes of Tucson families, including the prominent households of Leopoldo Carrillo and Francisco Romero.
Today we know Leopoldo Carrillo because of his once-popular Carrillo Gardens, Carrillo Elementary School, and the historic Sosa-Carrillo-Fremont House just north of the Convention Center. We know Francisco Romero from the Romero House at Tucson Museum of Art & Historic Block and the Romero Ruins and Romero Pools at Catalina State Park. Today, we have no evidence that these prominent Tucson families suffered any recriminations for owning slaves in post-Civil War Arizona.
In 1871 the Arizona Citizen and Arizona Miner reported the capture of children several times. To no surprise, the disappearance of their children weighed heavily on the surviving Aravaipa Apaches. Royal Whitman reported that one chief begged: “Get them back for us; our little boys will grow up slaves, and our girls, as soon as they are large enough, will be diseased prostitutes to get money for whoever owns them”.
Only a few were ever returned to their Apache families.
Judging The Past By The Present
To us moderns, the treatment of Native Americans in general and the Camp Grant Massacre in particular raises thoughts of grave moral issues, such as civil rights, universal human rights, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Many a professional historian has cautioned us not to judge the behavior of the past by the standards of the present. After all, we are a product of our times. Our Tucson pioneers were a product of theirs. We have the advantage of learning the lessons of history that occurred after they were gone. From our vantage point, we can see the bigger picture, the broad scope of historical events that comprise the “Winning of the West” and the unfolding of America’s “Manifest Destiny”.
This three-part feature you just read I like because it allows the participants to tell their own story. By so doing, they become real to us, rather than historical caricatures. We can admire their strengths; their resourcefulness and resolve in the face of hardship and terror; and their all-to-human failings, such as rationalization and racism … failings we as Americans have hardly overcome.
In this feature, I focused primarily on one significant historical event, the Camp Grant Massacre. In other Southern Arizona Guide features, I have written about both single incidents and the far bigger picture of which Camp Grant was merely a relatively minor incident when compared to the White Man’s western expansion into Indian territory.
You might find these other perspectives of interest.