Arizona Indian Battles


Apache Pass, Fort Bowie, Arizona.

Apache Pass, Fort Bowie, Arizona.

Apache Pass – Fort Bowie (1862) – Located in forbidding Apache Pass, a landmark on the old  Butterfield Overland Stage road, Fort Bowie played a significant role in the wars with the Chiricahua Apache. Here, in February 1861, even before the fort was established, Lieutenant George Bascom faced Cochise in a dramatic confrontation that touched off a quarter-century of bloody hostilities between the Chiricahua and white invaders, and a personal ten-year war between Cochise and the U.S. Army. This event is now known as the Bascom Affair.

General James H. Carleton, leading a Federal army eastward in 1862 to head off the Confederate invasion of New Mexico, founded Fort Bowie and fought for two days, July 15th and 16th, a battle with the Apache for control of the nearby Apache Spring.

This battle occurred when an advance guard of 96 California volunteers, marching toward the San Simon River along the old Butterfield Road through Apache Pass. As they approached the abandoned state station, Cochise and his ally, Mangas Coloradas, with a combined force of about 150 warriors, ambushed the rear of the column. The Californians countermarched from the station, driving the Apache into the hills, only to find they had taken up new positions around the Apache Spring. The Californians attacked again and finally reached the water, after dispersing the Apache from rock fortifications commanding both flanks of the spring.

This battle led directly to the establishment of Fort Bowie. Sergeant Albert Fountain chronicled the event:

“The situation was by no means an enviable one. Men and officers were worn out with fatigue … but water we must have, and to obtain it we must force the enemy’s almost impregnable position: garrisoned with the bravest warriors of the combined Apache tribes.

Our line dashed forward, and advanced under a continuous and galling fire from both sides of the canyon until we reached a point within 50 yards of the spring. Then from the rocks and willows above the spring came a sheet of flame.

I ordered the men to fix bayonets and make one dash for the summit and the next moment we were over a rough stone wall and on the inside of a circular fortification some 30 feet in diameter; 50 or more Indians were going out and down the hill on the opposite side.

As we carried the hill a cheer came up from down below, as our comrades dashed to the spring with camp kettles and canteens. Then fire was opened upon them from the opposite hill, but we turned a plunging fire upon the enemy, and they were soon full flight. The howitzers were brought into action, and from our elevated position we could see hundreds of Indians scampering to the hills to escape the bursting shells.”

Thereafter, until the final surrender of Geronimo, the post operated as a base for scouts, patrols, and major offensives against the Apache. Most notably, Fort Bowie served as headquarters of General George Crook and his successor Nelson A. Miles in the campaigns deep into Mexico that brought about the surrender of Geronimo and his band. From the Fort Bowie parade grounds, in September 1886, Geronimo and his people started on their journey to Florida and imprisonment. The National Historic Site is operated by the National Park Service.

Contact Information:

Fort Bowie National Historic Site
3203 South Old Fort Bowie Road
Bowie, Arizona 85605

Big Dry Wash (1882) – In what is now Cocnino County, Arizona a column of the 6th Cavalry from Fort Whipple, Arizona led by Captain Adna R. Chaffee mauled a party of 54 White Mountain Apache led by Nantiatish on July 17, 1882. The warriors, aroused by the death of their medicine man, Nakaidoklini, the year before in the Battle of Cibecue Creek and resenting the intrusion of settlers and miners, had fled the White Mountain (Fort Apache) Reservation. They raided the San Carlos Agency, plundered settlements in the Tonto Basin, and for some time evaded the 14 cavalry troops from various Arizona forts who were giving pursuit. Spying Chaffee’s force from the Mogollon Rim, the Indians planned an ambush in a canyon seven miles to the north. Chaffee, forewarned by scouts, dismounted and formed a skirmish line with part of his force at the brink of the canyon to pin down his opponents, on the opposite rim. He then deployed two parties that surprised them on the flanks.

The trail road from Mogollon Rim passes along Chaffee’s approach route and terminates at the canyon brink where the fighting began. A stone monument at the southern edge of the canyon describes the action and lists the names of the soldier participants. The heavy pine forests and rugged canyon are unchanged from 1882. A marker describing the battle is located at General Springs. The battlefield site is in the Coconino National Forest, on a rough trail road, about 7 miles north of General Springs, which is located on Mogollon Rim Road.

Camp Grant Massacre(1871) – Situated at the confluence of the San Pedro River and Aravaipa Creek, the location of Camp Grant was the home of the Aravaipa Apache before they had been driven from it by white settlers. In February 1871 five starving old Aravaipa women came to the camp under a flag of truce asking for sanctuary, which was granted by Lieutenant Royal Emerson Whitman. Before long, over 500 Aravaipas, under Chief Eskiminzin, had gathered in the area, asking that they be allowed to grow crops along the reek to feed their people. This too was allowed and Whitman also arranged for them to “earn their keep” by working as farmhands for the local ranchers as well as extracting a promise from them that none of the tribe would participate in any raids.

However, other Apache bands were continuing their raids at this time, many of which were blamed on the Aravaipa at Camp Grant. On April 30, 1871, an angry mob of citizens from Tucson and their Papago Indian mercenaries attacked the Aravaipa camp, clubbing, shooting 144 people, mostly women, and children. All but eight of the corpses were women and children, as the men had been off hunting in the mountains. The attack was made in retaliation for a Gila Apache raid in which six people had been killed and some livestock stolen. Twenty-seven children who were captured were sold in Mexico by the Papago Indians.

After the massacre, a trial was demanded by President Ulysses S. Grant, who threatened to put the state under martial law if the Governor failed to act. However, at the trial that occurred later in the year, the jury took just 19 minutes to acquit more than 100 defendants who were named in the attack.

Canon de Chelle, Arizona

Canon de Chelle, Arizona

Canyon de Chelly (1864) – This Navajo citadel was the scene of climatic events in the conquest of the Navajo Indians by the U.S. Army Colonel Christopher C. “Kit” Carson’s invasion of this bastion of Navajo defenses in the winter of 1863 – 1864.

On January 12, 1864, Carson invaded Canyon de Chelly, attacking several Navajo with livestock, killing 11 of them and taking four captives, as well as a herd of sheep and goats. Over the next few days, a number of skirmishes were fought between the Indians and Carson’s forces. On January 16th, 150 starving Navajo surrendered and soon joined some 8,000 of their people in the tragic “Long Walk” across New Mexico to the Bosque Rendondo at Fort Sumner.

In 1868, after four years of exile, they were allowed to return to their homeland. The site is operated by the National Park Service. The Visitor Center is three miles from Route 191 in Chinle, Arizona.

Contact Information:

Canyon de Chelly National Monument
PO Box 588
Chinle, Arizona 86503

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