Three Indian Campaigns

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 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.

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