United States, Apache War (1871-1873)
The Apache heritage was one of raiding and warfare. Following the APACHE UPRISING during 1861 to 1865, there were several years of neither peace nor formal warfare, during which the Apaches resisted the advance of white American settlers and U.S. troops into the Southwest with swift raids and even swifter retreats to their mountain hideouts.
Not until April 15, 1870, with the establishment of
the military Department of Arizona, did the U.S. government and its army fully confront the Apache “threat” to settlement. The department’s first commander, General George Stoneman (1822–94), vitiated the army’s purpose in creating the department when he established his headquarters not in Arizona but on the California coast. He also sought to deal with the Apaches in accordance with the “peace policy” of President Ulysses S. Grant (1822–85), designed as a “conquest by kindness” under which Native
American tribes were no longer to be considered sovereign nations but wards of the state subject to civilian—not military—supervision.
The Indians would be concentrated on reservations, where they would be “civilized”: educated, Christianized, and taught tobecome self-supporting farmers. Accordingly, Stoneman had set up a series of “feeding stations” for Apaches who renounced raiding. Stoneman’s
remoteness from the scene, combined with his “benevolent” approach to what was at the time a military problem, brought accusations of spineless incompetence from the outraged citizens—and influential newspaper editors—of Arizona.
Conditions were ripe for a citizen uprising. Lieutenant Royal E. Whitmam in charge of Camp Grant, a feeding station on the lower San Pedro River, was performing his assignment well, cultivating the trust and cooperation of Aravaipa and Pinal Apache. As far as local settlers were concerned, Whitman was doing his job too well. They believed that Camp Grant served as a sanctuary for Indians between raids, and on April 30, 1871, six Americans, 48 Mexicans, and 92 Papago Indians attacked the Apache rancheria at Camp Grant, killing from 86 to 150 Indians, mostly women and children. Twenty-nine children were captured and sold into slavery.
The Camp Grant Massacre, as it came to be called, resulted in the replacement of General Stoneman by General George Crook (1829–90), who took command of the department in June 1871.
President Grant wanted peace with the Apaches, and this is precisely what Crook hoped to achieve. He decided that the best way to achieve peace
was to hand the Apaches a sound thrashing beforning negotiations. The notion brought him into conflict with Vincent Colyer (1825–88), Grant’s secretary of the Board of Indian Commissioners, who compelled Crook to suspend operations until he had finished his negotiations.
To his credit, Colyer made some inroads, but the citizens of Arizona continued to endure raids and terror. Crookissued an ultimatum to the Indians: Report to an agency by February 15, 1872, or be treated as hostile. This time, it was General Oliver O. Howard (1830–1909) who overruled him by opening up another peaceful dialogue. Neither Colyer nor, initially, Howard had any success in dealing with the legendary Chiricahua Apache leader Cochise (c. 1810–74), and without the participation of Cochise, there could be no genuine peace with the Apaches.
Finally, late in 1872, Howard enlisted the aid of
frontiersman Thomas J. Jeffords (1832–1914), known tobe a trusted friend of the Chiricahua leader, to es**rt him to “Cochise’s Strong-hold,” where he at last succeeded in hammering out a tentative peace.
At least, he created a situation in which some 5,000Apaches and Yavapais (a tribe distinct from the Apaches, but often called Apache Mohaves) claimed peaceful intentions and began to draw rations from a newly organized system of reservations. In fact, from 1871 to 1872 Apache
raids continued unabated. It was difficult to distinguish between Apaches who professed peace in good faith and those who used the reservations as a cover for their crimes. In any case, Arizona settlers were unwilling to make distinctions. They demanded that Crook and his soldiers be turned loose upon the Apaches, and they threatened to force the army’s hand by staging another Camp Grant Massacre. Faced with citizen anger and the realities of life in Arizona, the Indian Bureau at last authorized Crook to proceed not to declare outright war but to campaign systematically against the Apaches. Crook applied all that he had learned in fighting the Paiutes in Oregon and Idaho. He stressed the use of Indian scouts and auxiliaries, mobility, and determined pursuit until the enemy was engaged and defeated. He took charge of the U.S. troops in Arizona and New Mexico, split them into small squads, and sent them out first to find Apaches,
then capture or kill them.
On November 15, 1872, Crook began an ambitious sweep through Arizona, a winter campaign that aimed at the concentration of hostile Apaches in the Tonto Basin, where they could be dealt with at once and en masse. It was a relentless operation, involving continual pursuit, about 20 actual engagements, 200 Indians killed—76 at the Battle of Skull Cave (December 28, 1872) alone, where 100 Yavapais were cornered in a cave in a wall of Salt River Canyon, and the heavy fire resulted in ricocheting bullets that caused many deaths. But the most punishing aspect of the campaign was the pursuit. Kept constantly on the move, the Indians were forced repeatedly to abandon shelter and provisionsThe Battle of Turret Peak (March 27, 1873) was the “laststraw.” Under the command of Captain George M. Randall, elements of the 23rd Infantry surprised an Indian rancheria, killing 23. Throughout the spring and into the summer, Apaches dejectedly reported to reservations. Even more significantly, Crook managed to keep the peace for four years—an unprecedented span in so volatile a region.