Three Indian Campaigns

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.

The lieutenant received the charge by dismounting and standing, with a nonchalance which was far from natural, at the foot of a large cottonwood tree, the orderly, mounted, holding the horses a few yards in the rear. It was soon apparent that several of the chiefs had remained sober, and were doing their utmost to prevent trouble, and by their exertions, the rabble was halted about twenty yards from the tree, and seated with some attempt at the usual half-circle formation. The counting officer then approached, with book and pencil in hand, and though appreciating the danger of assassination, he resolutely passed along the front of each circle and checked off the numbers on the tags.

Many of the rascals, with impudent drunken leers, shook the tags in his face, and one fellow refused to show his. Passing the mutineer for the time being, the lieutenant concluded the checking process. He was now confronted by a formidable problem: either he must capture the drunken young savage or submit to the indignity of seeing the orders entrusted to him for execution treated with contempt, of which the Indians were sure to take advantage, taking it for a confession of weakness. In this perplexity, he called up the orderly with the horses, and then turned to one of the most reliable of the chiefs standing near, and made signs to him to bring up the young man and force him to show his tag.

The young fellow lounged up when bidden by the chief, but stood immovable, staring at the representative of the government with drunken insolence. Giving the orderly, who was still mounted, a few words of direction, the lieutenant mounted his own horse as if to ride off, and at a signal, the orderly, a fine old soldier, suddenly drew his revolver and covered the young savage, at the same time making an imperious sign to him to jump up behind the officer. The old chief took in the situation instantly, and seizing the fellow under the arms, almost threw him up on the croup of the horse behind the lieutenant, and so, covered by the steady pistol of the orderly, they rode off. The Indians were quick to appreciate the defeat of the braggart, and the little procession of prisoner and captors was followed by yells, screams and jeering laughter. The prisoner was safely landed in the post guard-house, a substantial witness of the nerve and courage of a resolute officer over the savage fury of the Apache. Such captures were not always made so successfully. A few months later two soldiers approached to arrest a young fellow who was seated on the ground wrapped in a blanket. Quick as thought the Indian threw off the blanket, and by a right and left stroke with a knife killed one soldier and severely wounded the other.

No further trouble occurred at the daily verification of the Indians. The young men who preferred war to steady rations quietly slipped away and were seen no more, and a correct estimate of the number of the hostiles was the result of the counting process. There was one exception to the quiet manner of departure. Two desperadoes, Chontz and Cochenay by name, aspiring to be war chiefs, committed a cold-blooded murder within the limits of the military post and then fled to the mountains, followed by their immediate relatives. This party was pursued immediately by an officer and ten cavalrymen summoned from the drill ground.  The soldiers, reinforced by three Apache scouts from the band of Casadore (who had always remained friendly), took up the trail from the scene of the murder, where lay the body of an inoffensive young Mexican, brained from behind by the cowardly assassin. Following the trail, the scouting party soon found a place where a mark drawn in the dust across the path and a red flag stuck up on a stick plainly indicated war.

The trail then led over a country the roughest imaginable. Down deep into the bowels of the earth it seemed to go before the stream at the bottom of the first box canon was reached, and then up, up, along the slanting slippery path worn in the face of the opposite rocks. Forward all day on foot, leading their stumbling horses over the broken rocks, the little party pushed on, halting only after dark, when the trail could not be followed, to spend the chilly winter night on the bare rocks without food, and with their saddle blankets alone for cover. For days the party kept up this pursuit, but, unfortunately, without success. This, however, was a prelude to a tragedy in which Chontz and Cochenay, who were natural leaders and desperadoes, were principal characters.

A little later on, the agency having been moved to the San Carlos, these desperadoes, taking advantage of a stormy night and a sudden rise in the Gila River, which separated the camp of the cavalry from the Indians, boldly entered the Apache village.

It so happened that many of the young men that night, feeling secure from the interference of the soldiers on account of the swollen stream between them, were drinking tiswin, and fast ripening into a fit mood for any mischief. This habit of the Apache of intoxicating themselves deliberately by using a liquor made by the Indian women from fermented corn was a very difficult thing to deal with. Parties of soldiers under determined young officers were frequently sent into their camp to break up the drunken sprees, a most dangerous duty, always successful for the time, but with all care, it was impossible to prevent them from stealing or buying corn and again making tiswin.

Just what happened in the Indian camp after Chontz and Cochenay with their followers arrived it is difficult to say. Casadore subsequently reported that they harangued the bands, and said that all young men, not cowards would follow their lead. Taunts, reproaches, and appeals at such a time produced an explosion. A rush was made for a wagon train loaded with supplies for the troops, which was camped on the Indian side of the river directly opposite the cavalry camp. The teamsters were instantly killed and the wagons plundered, and then with wild yells, the whole tribe started for the mountains.

Here was work indeed. Hurrying from Fort Apache, the nearest post, two cavalry troops made the seventy miles in one march, bringing with them a company of the gallant and faithful White Mountain Apache, enlisted as scouts.

Taking up the trail, these troops followed the wake of the devastating Apache. Straight for the settlements on the San Pedro River it led, and was found returning up the valley of that stream and making for the mountains north of the Gila.

No need to follow the trail to the ruined homes of the white settlers down the San Pedro. At the point where it was encountered returning from the raid, torn dresses, children’s clothing, and broken household utensils, scattered along the path, showed that the red devils had swept through the peaceful colony like a whirlwind, leaving nothing but the wreck behind. And so it proved, as those who later visited the scene reported. Dead mothers, appealing to the sky with staring eyes, the lifeless bodies of helpless little children, and last the scalped and mangled forms of the natural protectors of the frontier home, composed the too familiar picture presented of the visit of an Indian war party.

The advance troops, after much suffering in the mountains and three days of absolute fasting, finally reported that they had located the whole band of Indians on the top of the Pinal Mountains, in a position unassailable by direct attack. The commanding officer of the San Carlos, a man of nerve, and one familiar with the ins and outs of Apache character, had by this time secured the services of a renegade from the hostiles, who promised to lead the troops into the natural fortress under cover of the darkness.

The expedition started at once. It included the soldiers from Frt Apache and the cavalry troops summoned from the nearest posts. Marching only at night, and halting during the hours of daylight, for concealment, it reached at dawn on the third morning a point fifteen miles in an air line from the Pinal Mountains.

Old Commanding officer quarters at Fort Apache today, courtesy  White Mountains Online

Old Commanding officer quarters at Fort Apache today, courtesy White Mountains Online

As the sun rose the outlines of the Indian stronghold became plainly visible. Towering up against the sky, it looked formidable indeed, and disheartening evidence of the difficulties of approach was afforded by the very unusual sight of the smoke of campfires, which the hostiles made no attempt to conceal.

The extent of their impregnable position along the rocky ridge was plainly indicated by the curling pillars of smoke, and it was apparent that the Apache felt defiant and secure.

Although only fifteen miles in an air line, the renegade insisted that it would be necessary to make a detour to the north in order to avoid the fearful chasms that intervened, and twenty-five miles of the roughest country in Arizona must be crossed to reach the crest of the mountain.

Early in the afternoon, the storming party set out. Only the very best of the men were taken. All marched on foot. The sick and exhausted were left in charge of the horses and pack-mules, with orders to keep everything well concealed from any outlying scouts of the enemy. Single file, in one long column, the troops for the advance pushed out, led by their White Mountain allies. Stripped to their breechcloths, lithe, graceful fellows, the Indian scouts, like a pack of greyhounds, surrounded and guarded the sullen renegade guide. Officers and men alike carried their two days rations on their backs but had divested themselves of all superfluous weight, and saving their breath by silence, they strove manfully to keep up with their fleet-footed guides.

A terrible task was before them. The country was one mass of broken rocks, and canons with almost precipitous sides crossed the trail at frequent intervals. All night long they stumbled, struggled, scrambled forward. How they succeeded in crossing the gloomy pitch-black canons no one in the party could ever tell. Keeping within touch of each other, and guided by faith, they groped their way to the bottoms of the dark chasms, and in the same order toiled, panting for breath, up the opposite sides. Treachery on the part of the Apache scouts would have turned any one of the dark holes into a slaughter pit.

White Mountains

White Mountains

The briefest halts for rest were made; for should daylight come before the crest was reached, discovery, repulse, and death to many must follow. Before the glimmer of the dawn appeared it was apparent that they were climbing up the side of the last and highest ascent, and with increased caution, the men pulled themselves upward from rock to rock. From the almost precipitous face of the ridge, sharp rocky spurs ran out at intervals in the direction from which the troops advanced. The attack was made in three parties, each ascending by one of these natural scaling ladders.

So well-timed was the operation that when, just at the first streak of dawn, the White Mountain scouts on the right opened fire, and with shouts charged the startled hostiles, the troops had gained the top of their rocky spurs, and the fortified camp which, warned of the attack, could have repulsed a brigade, was carried in three places. The capture of this natural fortress, which Chonts and Cochenay, the war chiefs, had labored to prove to the bands was impregnable, broke up the unity of the tribe, shook confidence in their leaders, and increased their fear of the troops. The Indians not killed or captured dispersed in small parties into the surrounding mountains. The expeditionary force in a like manner separated, and in small squads scouted the mountains in every direction, giving the hostiles no chance to attack the settlements.

Before long, runners came into the San Carlos from the scattered tribe, asking for peace and permission to return. The commanding general met every such messenger with the information that any band might come in which would surrender one or all of four outlaws named. These were Chontz, Cochenay, Pedro, one of the most active leaders in the murders on the river of that name, and Sondazzy, the tool of Chontz in the killing, a short time before, of a cavalry officer at the agency.  They were also notified that if they could not surrender the outlaws named alive they themselves should mete out the punishment of death and that upon proof that a just fate had overtaken the desperate criminals, any and all the other Indians could come in and live at peace.

So it finally turned out: the Indians themselves punished the outlaws, furnishing satisfactory proof that justice had been done, and before summer the Arivipa tribe was re-established at the San Carlos Agency.