Battle of the Pecos River, New Mexico


Mescalero Apache Indians

Mescalero Apache Indians

After the Mescalero Apache were placed on the Bosque Redondo Reservation near Fort Sumner, New Mexico, they were constantly raided by the Navajo tribe.

In the frigid predawn hours of January 4, 1864, they drove off a number of horses from the fort as well as 60 horses and mules that belonged to the Mescalero Apache. Indian Agent Lorenzo Labadie requested assistance from Fort Sumner and immediately took off after the Navajo with Chief Cadete and about 60 Mescalero men. Lieutenant Charles Newbold and 15 men of the 2nd California Cavalry, along with at least 10 men of the 5th Infantry followed them.

Pecos River in New Mexico

Pecos River in New Mexico

The Navajo’s trail led south along the Pecos River to a small valley about ten miles from the reservation. There, they encountered about 100 Navajo warriors who had taken up positions along the river.

The Navajo fired first, and the Apache and soldiers returned the shots. The battle lasted from 11:00 a.m. until sundown. During the battle, the severe winter cold led to frostbite, which slowed the soldier’s and scout’s ability to reload. Because of this, the Apache eventually abandoned their rifles and armed themselves with bows and arrows.

The fighting ended when the Navajo fled. By the end of the day, the soldiers and the Apache suffered no casualties and recovered 50 horses and mules. The soldiers estimated that 40 Navajo warriors were killed and left on the battlefield, at least 25 others were wounded, about 25 of them escaped.

Less than two weeks later, Colonel Kit Carson would lead American troops to Canon de Chelly, Arizona, where the Navajo were defeated, leading to the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo, placing them on the same reservation as the Mescalero Apache.

© Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated December 2020.

Also See:

Fort Sumner, New Mexico

Fort Sumner, New Mexico

Fort Sumner, New Mexico by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Fort Union, New Mexico and the Mescalero Apache

Indian Wars, Battles & Massacres

Long Walk of the Navajo

Military Campaigns of the Indian Wars

New Mexico Indian Battles


Michno, Gregory, Encyclopedia of Indian Wars: Western Battles and Skirmishes, 1850-1890; Mountain Press, 2003.

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