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.
As the sun rose the outlines of the Indian stronghold became plainly visible. Towering up against the sky, it looked formidable indeed, and a disheartening evidence of the difficulties of approach was afforded by the very unusual sight of the smoke of camp fires, 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 breech cloths, 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.
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 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 in to 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.
On the 1st of October, 1879, the garrison at Fort Russell, Wyoming Territory, was startled by the receipt of telegrams recounting a disaster that had overtaken the command of Major Thornburg, who was known to be marching to the relief of the white inhabitants of the Ute Indian Agency. In this command, which had been attacked by the Utes, was part of the garrison of Fort Russell. Major Thornburg is killed; Captain Payne and two other officers, including the surgeon of the command, are wounded. The command is surrounded and constantly pressed by the hostiles; fifty men are killed and wounded, and all the horses are killed.
These were the fragments of news which dribbled through the wires, all too slowly for the impatient comrades of the small beleaguered force in the wilds of Colorado. You will proceed with all available troops in your command to the rescue of Payne and his sorely pressed command said the dispatch from the commanding general of the department to the officer in command at Fort Russell. Officers were assembled and the orders for preparation given. No need to insist on haste; the dead, wounded, and beleaguered were kith and kin to those going to the rescue, endeared by hundreds of associations which make men stick closer than brothers. Each officer went about his work with the coolness and precision of the usual preparation for a routine service, though there were decision and promptitude which told of the serious work ahead.
In four hours from the time the news first reached Fort Russell all the troops of cavalry, with their horses and equipments, for which there was transportation by rail, were on the cars, and running as fast as steam could carry them toward Rawlins, a point two hundred miles distant on the Union Pacific Railroad, from which the march was to commence cross the country to the scene of disaster.