Battle With the Apache, 1872

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8/4/13 Battle With The Apache, 1872 Back | Print Battle With The Apache, 1872 In 1890, the U.S. government officially declared the American Frontier closed. With this act came the end of an era - the Wild West was considered tamed. Only a few years before, however, maps labeled the area west of the Mississippi as the Great American Desert - home only to wild animals and wilder tribes of Native Americans. This situation was not to last, as the end of the Civil War
  8/4/13Battle With The Apache, Back | Print Battle With The Apache, 1872 I n 1890, the U.S. government officially declared the AmericanFrontier closed. With this act came the end of an era - the WildWest was considered tamed. Only a few years before, however,maps labeled the area west of the Mississippi as the GreatAmerican Desert - home only to wild animals and wilder tribes of Native Americans. This situation was not to last, as the end of theCivil War ignited a great westward migration. Prospectors,ranchers, farmers, settlers of all types, began filling this wasteland, transforming it to meet their own needs andbringing with them the means to militarily subjugate the Indiantribes that threatened this advance.The end of the Civil War also brought a new type of militarycommander to the West. One experienced in the practicalities of war and hardened to the demands of combat. General GeorgeCrook epitomized this new breed of Western General. His successin subduing the Indians of the Northwest prompted PresidentGrant in 1871 to order him to the Arizona Territory to deal withthe Apache raids on white settlements throughout the region.Atrocities occurred on both sides. Apaches swooped down onisolated farms and small settlements killing all. In retaliation,whites attacked peaceable Apache camps, massacring innocentwomen and children. General Crook was ordered to end theApache raids and bring peace to the region.His tactics were simple - relentlessly pursue the hostileswherever they may flee and provoke battle or surrender.Columns of infantry and cavalry lead by friendly Apache scoutsfamiliar with the land crisscrossed a region until contact with theenemy was made. Crook began his campaign in December 1872.It ended in the spring of 1873 with the surrender of the hostileelements of the Apache and their removal to the Reservation. Attack On An Apache Fortress Under cover of the cold darkness of the early morning of December 28, 1872, one of Crook's columns approached an Apache stronghold established in a cave etched out of a sheer cliff bordering the Salt River. Captain John G. Bourke led a unit engaged in the assault and recalled his experience 19 years after the event: We moved onward again for three or four hours until wereached a small grassy glade, where we discovered fifteen Pimaponies, which must have been driven up the mountain by Apacheraiders that very night; the sweat was hardly crusted on theirflanks, their hoofs were banged against the rocks, and their  8/4/13Battle With The Apache, knees were full of the thorns of the cholla cactus, against whichthey had been driven in the dark. There was no moon, but theglint of stars gave enough light to show that we were in acountry filled with huge rocks and adapted most admirably fordefense. There in front, almost within touch of the hand, that lineof blackness blacker than all the other blackness about us wasthe canyon of the Salt River. We looked at it well, since it mightbe our grave in an hour, for we were now within rifle shot of ourquarry.Nantaje (an Apache scout) now asked that a dozen picked menbe sent forward with him, to climb down the face of the precipiceand get into place in front of the cave in order to open the attack;immediately behind them should come fifty more, who shouldmake no delay in their advance; a strong detachment should holdthe edge of the precipice to prevent any of the hostiles fromgetting above them and killing our people with their rifles. Therest of our force could come down more at leisure, if themovement of the first two detachments secured the key of thefield; if not, they could cover the retreat of the survivors up theface of the escarpment.Lieutenant William J. Ross, of the 2ISt Infantry, was assigned tolead the first detachment, which contained the best shots fromamong the soldiers, packers, and scouts. The second detachmentcame under my own orders. Our pioneer party slipped down theface of the precipice without accident, following a trail from whichan incautious step would have caused them to be dashed topieces; after a couple of hundred yards this brought them face toface with the cave, and not two hundred feet from it. In front of the cave was the party of raiders, just returned from theirsuccessful trip of killing and robbing in the settlements nearFlorence, on the Gila River. They were dancing to keepthemselves warm and to express their joy over their safe return.Half a dozen or more of the squaws had arisen from theirslumbers and were bending over a fire and hurriedly preparingrefreshments for their valorous kinsmen. The fitful gleam of theglowing flame gave a Macbethian tinge to the weird scene andbrought into bold relief the grim outlines of the cliffs betweenwhose steep walls, hundreds of feet below, growled the rushingcurrent of the swift Salado.The Indians, men and women, were in high good humor, and whyshould they not be? Sheltered in the bosom of these grimprecipices only the eagle, the hawk, the turkey buzzard, or themountain sheep could venture to intrude upon them. But hark!What is that noise? Can it be the breeze of morning whichsounds 'Click, click'? You will know in one second more, poor,deluded, red-skinned wretches, when the 'Bang! Boom!' of riflesand carbines, reverberating like the roar of cannon from peak topeak, shall lay six of your number dead in the dust.  8/4/13Battle With The Apache, The cold, gray dawn of that chill December morning was sendingits first rays above the horizon and looking down upon one of theworst bands of Apaches in Arizona, caught like wolves in a trap.They rejected with scorn our summons to surrender, and defiantlyshrieked that not one of our party should escape from thatcanyon. We heard their death song chanted, and then out of thecave and over the great pile of rock which protected the entrancelike a parapet swarmed the warriors. But we outnumbered themthree to one, and poured in lead by the bucketful. The bullets,striking the roof and mouth of the cave, glanced among thesavages in the rear of the parapet and wounded some of thewomen and children, whose wails filled the air.During the heaviest part of the firing a little boy, not more thanfour years old, absolutely naked, ran out at the side of theparapet and stood dumfounded between the two fires. Nantaje,without a moment's pause, rushed forward, grasped thetrembling infant by the arm, and escaped unhurt with him insideour lines. A bullet, probably deflected from the rocks, had struckthe boy on the top of the head and plowed round to the back of the neck, leaving a welt an eighth of an inch thick, but not injuringhim seriously. Our men suspended their firing to cheer Nantajeand welcome the new arrival: such is the inconsistency of humannature.Again the Apaches were summoned to surrender, or, if theywould not do that, to let such of their women and children as sodesired pass out between the lines; and again they yelled theirdefiant refusal. Their end had come. The detachment left by MajorBrown at the top of the precipice, to protect our retreat in case of necessity, had worked its way over to a high shelf of rockoverlooking the enemy beneath, and began to tumble downgreat boulders which speedily crushed the greater number of theApaches. The Indians on the San Carlos reservation still mournperiodically for the seventy-six of their relatives who yielded upthe ghost that morning. Every warrior died at his post. Thewomen and children had hidden themselves in the inner recessesof the cave, which was of no great depth, and were captured andtaken to Camp McDowell. A number of them had been struck byglancing bullets or fragments of failing rock. As soon as our pack-trains could be brought up we mounted the captives on ourhorses and mules and started for the nearest military station, theone just named, over fifty miles away. References:  Bourke, John G., General Crook In Indian Country, CenturyMagazine (1891); Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee:An Indian History of the American West (1991). How To Cite This Article: Battle With The Apache, 1872, EyeWitness to History, (1999).
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