Three Indian Campaigns

Chiefs Little Wolf and Dull Knife

Chiefs Little Wolf and Dull Knife

In the period before the Civil War, battling with the savages of our plains was quite a different matter. Then, while the advantage of numbers was still on the side of the Indian, the whites had greatly the advantage in arms. There was then never any hesitation on the part of an army detachment, however small, in attacking any force of Indians, however large. The bow, tomahawk, and spear, rudely made, though skillfully handled, were never a match for the firearms of the white man. It was an unwritten law of the frontier, religiously observed, that arms and ammunition should never, at any price, be furnished the Indians. This  has all been changed. Now the most approved arms and the best ammunition are accessible to the Indian, made so by the cupidity of the traders who infest the frontier; and the Indian today is a more dangerous foe than would be a like number of veteran soldiers. To prove this it is only necessary to compare the list of casualties in recent Indian wars with those among civilized nations, bearing in mind the numbers engaged.

Incidents Of Indian Campaigning In Arizona

The following events connected with the subjugation of the Apache, given substantially in the words of an accomplished officer who took part for several years in the Indian wars in Arizona, afford an illustration of another phase of the occupation of the army on the frontier in so-called times of peace.

A parallelogram formed by a line from Camp Verde eastward to the White Mountains, south to the San Carlos, continued westward to Camp McDowell, and thence north to the point first named, would contain 15,000 square miles of rocky mountain peaks, deep canons, heavily wooded mountain streams, and dark pine forests. Here and there beautiful little valleys or parks are found, each an isolated oasis, and it is in this isolation and the intervening barriers that the peculiar difficulties of the region for campaigning purposes are discovered.

Apache Teepees in Arizona

Apache Teepees in Arizona

After incredible upward toil along the zigzag trail, the scouting party reaches the sharp rocky ridge, whence the almost precipitous descent begins to the pleasant camp ground far below, and it is plainly seen from the commanding height that the beautiful grassy plain is of very limited extent, and shut in on all sides by almost impracticable mountains. Thus are anticipations of rest and refreshment somewhat dashed by the prospect of the interminable, heart-breaking, rock-climbing struggle to begin again at daybreak.  In most wild mountain regions the narrow berme on the edge of streams, or the bed of the stream itself, is the only passable route, but here the mountain torrents that pour out in every direction from the great ranges pass for the most part through dark precipitous box canons, which cut off communication between the parks, strung together like beads by the pure, clear, deep streams, and all who would penetrate the mountain ranges must do so by painfully climbing their rugged sides.

In this Apache paradise many varieties of climate are found. Prom the cool shade of the pine forests on the Black Mesa to the burning sandy wastes that form the valleys of the Salt and Gila rivers, one passes from one extreme to the other, but would prefer rather to remain in the worst than encounter the torture of a journey over the miles on miles of confused and jumbled masses of rocky mountain-peaks to reach the better.

The theatre of operations thus faintly outlined, as well as adjacent portions of the immense territory of Arizona, has been for many years the scene of innumerable conflicts between the troops and the many Apache tribes. A record carefully compiled by the historian of one of the cavalry regiments which .took its share of the sufferings and hardships of the mountain scouting between the years 1875 shows that in that period the regiment had ninety-seven combats with the marauding savages.

Early in the year 1872 it became evident that a portion of the Arivipa Apache were using Camp Grant as a base of supply and pushing their marauding parties out in every direction into the settled parts of the territory. The dread entertained by the settlers for these marauders is best appreciated when the character and mode of warfare of the mountain tribes are understood. As an old wagon-master remarked to a cavalry officer: We have a horror of them that you feel for a ghost. We never see them, but when on the road are always looking over our shoulders in anticipation. When they strike, all we see is the flash of the rifle resting with secure aim over a pile of stones, behind which, like a snake, the red murderer lies at full length.

All the Apache are footmen, mountain climbers. They will steal horses and use them, but when driven into the mountains the horses become a part of their rations. Graceful, well formed, with legs of steel wire, light and active as a cat, the Apache on the rocky hillside is unapproachable, and to fight him, with any chances of success, he has to be attacked with skill and great caution at gray dawn in his bivouac far up among the rocks.  Many a surprise has been effected by night marches against natural fortresses absolutely unassailable in the daytime by any number of men, and where, if the Indians had discovered the ascending columns, even in the night, they could have repulsed them with great slaughter.

As a first step in the campaign, the commanding general directed that all warriors receiving rations should be counted every day, at a place to be selected, within five miles of the post. In order that the officer detailed for this delicate and dangerous duty might be able to identify and keep a record of the young men, a metal tag stamped with a number was issued to each Indian of fighting age.

Camp Grant, Arizona

Camp Grant, Arizona

Many of the Indians received the order with sullen dissatisfaction, because, if carried out, it checkmated their rovings. Seated on their heels in increasing concentric circles in front of the general, the crouching attitude and the steady glare of their brilliant bead-like eyes made them resemble snakes coiled ready to strike, and it was plain that when opportunity offered they would resist by the most deadly means this effort to scotch them. The next day the cavalry officer detail-ed rode out four miles from the post, accompanied by one orderly, to meet the young savages and make the first count.

The officer selected was one who had seen considerable service and fighting, but he subsequently confessed that he would have been glad to exchange the duty assigned him for a detail to lead a forlorn hope over a breastwork.

Saber exercises, Fort Custer, Montana

Saber exercises, Fort Custer, Montana

However, he had been told by the general that it was undesirable to send a force on the duty, as some of the warriors might become alarmed, and in their ignorance make trouble, and that the object was to give the Indians a fair chance. So out he rode, with his heart in his throat, feeling pretty confident that unless he kept his head some young buck would stab him in the back, and thus distinguishing himself, take his departure for the war-path. The place selected was at the foot of a hill on which was situated the largest Indian village of the reservation. Arriving at the point, the officer was met by the whole band rushing down the hillside with yells and shouts, and as they approached nearer he had the horror of perceiving that they were nearly all drunk. They had been celebrating the disagreeable order of the day before by a tiswin spree.

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