Life among the Apaches/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII.


Enter the Volunteer Service.—The Column from California.—Antelope Peak.—Visited by Yumas.—Making Metates.—Get Rid of them by a Ruse.—The Maricopas Again.—Carrying the Mails.—Small Force in Camp.—Visit of Col. Bigg.—The Maricopas Recognize me.—Their Gratitude.—Captain Killmoon.—Another Remarkable Lunar Performance.—Loring's Assistance.—Bargaining for Chickens.—Magic Virtues of the Compass.—Effect of the Burning Glass.


Ten years had passed away before I renewed acquaintance with "Lo." It had been my fervent desire and solemn resolve never more to revisit the scenes of so much suffering and personal risk. No pecuniary offer would have proved a sufficient inducement to forego that resolve. But the dreadful war of rebellion burst with fury over our heads. My country needed the help of all her loyal sons, and I quietly placed myself in their ranks as Captain of a company of the Second Cavalry, California Volunteers. General James H. Carleton was ordered to advance into Arizona and New Mexico, with a column of nearly three thousand Californian soldiers, consisting of artillery, infantry and cavalry. He did me the honor to select my company from my regiment and make it a part of his force. Although flattered by the compliment, as mine was the only company of the Second Cavalry attached to his column, I felt by no means delighted with the prospect of again traveling those arid, extensive, and most inhospitable deserts, mountain gorges, and scorching plains, over which the Apache held almost undisturbed rule. In military life obedience to order is the first requisite of a soldier, and of course I submitted without murmur to this unexpected and disagreeable mandate. It is foreign to the text of this work to enter into details of experiences not indicative of Indian character, and I will, therefore, pass over the many occurrences of military life during the trying winter of 1861 and 1862, when nearly the whole State was overflowed, and over sixty millions of dollars worth of property destroyed by the floods. It is not necessary to recite the gigantic labors performed by the column from California, in making roads; digging and restoring wells in desert places; constructing bridges; establishing depots; escorting trains, and sending forward advanced bodies of observation; for certain intelligence had been received that the enemy were advancing upon the frontiers of this State, and were not far from Fort Yuma. All these details have no connection with this volume, and will therefore be ignored.

I was ordered in the advance by Gen. Carleton, with instruction to occupy the pass at Antelope Peak until his arrival. On reaching that place I found that the Gila river had made great inroads upon the mesa or tableland between it and the hill, until only a passage of something like a hundred yards intervened. Of this pass I took possession, drawing up my two wagons and picket line in such a manner as to intercept all travel, while a lookout was maintained during the day from the top of the peak, and a well ordered patrol scoured the country for a space of ten miles to the eastward at all times of day and night. During our occupancy of this pass a band of Yumas, about thirty in number, all warriors, came up from the Colorado river to collect stones, and make metates for their wives. The metate is a slightly hollowed hard stone, upon which soaked maize is laid, and then reduced to paste by the vigorous friction of another oblong and partially rounded stone, in the hands of squaws "who love their lords." The paste so formed is then patted between the hands until it assumes a flat, thin and round appearance, when it is laid on a hot pan and baked into a tortilla. As no stones of a suitable character are found in the neighborhood of the Colorado river, nearer than Antelope Peak, the Yumas yearly visit that place to obtain them, as the metate is an indispensable culinary utensil.

Three days after we had occupied the pass we were visited by the Yumas, who immediately set to work selecting stones and hewing them into the required shape in their rude manner. But it was soon discovered that several blankets, and a revolver, for which I was responsible, had disappeared, and I determined to get rid of my Yumas friends soon—by stratagem if possible, by force if need be. The deadly feud between the Yumas and the Maricopas and Pimos has already been stated, and the knowledge of this feud served me in the case. The sentinel on the hill was instructed to give the alarm to indicate the advance of a body from the east, and to answer, when questioned, that they were Indians. As that side of the compass was occupied only by the Maricopas and Pimos, such an arrangement would probably have the effect of alarming the Yumas and ridding us of their presence. In obedience to order the signal was duly made and the programme carried out. The Yumas were greatly alarmed, and inquired whether I would protect them from the Maricopas. My answer was, that I had nothing at all to do with their quarrels; that the Maricopas were as much our friends as the Yumas; that I possessed no power to take sides, but was entirely subservient to the orders of my chief, and that, if they would procure such an order, I would obey it to the letter, but under any other circumstances refused to take action in the premises. This was enough. Hastily bundling up their metates they decamped with the utmost celerity and left us undisturbed during the remainder of our stay at Antelope Peak.

Sometime afterward we reached the first Maricopa village, where I was ordered to establish my camp and keep up communications between the column and California. Lieut.-Col. Theodore Coult, of the infantry, was in command at the central village, twelve miles beyond my post, and successive orders of his reduced my force to the Orderly Sergeant, E. B. Loring, (subequently Captain of Co. A, Second Cavalry, Cal. Vols.) one man with a broken arm, and myself. My chief bugler and Quartermaster-Sergeant, George Shearer, had been dispatched across the Grila Bend, sixty-five miles, with the mails, and orders to bring forward the return mails from California. Our camp was located on an extensive, clear plain, covered with short, green alkaline grass, wholly unfit for our animals, of which we had twenty-seven, including horses and mules. There was also about fifty thousand dollars worth of Government property to be guarded, and for which I was responsible. By digging a foot or two, water was obtainable in abundance, but it was so deeply impregnated with alkali as to be almost undrinkable. However, there was nothing else for it, and we were compelled to use it or die of thirst. The camp ground was nearly two miles west from the nearest Maricopa village, and had frequently been invaded by the Apaches. As our animals were sickened by the grass about us, it became indispensable to graze them in a more favorable locality which existed about three miles further westward, and exactly where the Apaches were frequently visitors. Fortunately, we escaped their attentions at that time. Our far-reaching carbines swept the whole expanse around us, and we had formed a sort of redoubt of earth, as a defense in case of attack, within which our ammunition, spare arms, provisions and personal effects were ensconced. One kept guard while the other slept. Our animals were placed in a line which could be swept by our fire, and the wagons so arranged as to furnish additional defense. In this unpleasant and inglorious manner several days passed, until the arrival of Col. E. A. Bigg, who was quite astonished at the facts brought to his knowledge and immediately imparted them to the commanding General, by whom I was ordered once more in the advance, and the major part of of my company reunited under my control.

The grazing ground to which we resorted during our stay near the Maricopa villages had been the scene of a desperate conflict between that tribe and the Pimos, on one side, and the Yumas, Chimehuevis, and Amojaves, on the other. Victory rested with the Maricopas and Pimos, who slew over four hundred of the allied tribes, and so humiliated them that no effort has ever been made on their part to renew hostilities. This battle occurred four years before our advent, and the ground was strewed with the skulls and bones of slaughtered warriors. Every day large numbers of the Maricopas visited my camp and were received with kindness, which they never failed to appreciate. On one occasion the head chief, Juan Chivari, and his Lieutenant, Palacio, paid me a visit, and almost immediately recognized me as the man who, ten years before, they had dubbed with the title of "Captain Killmoon," by reason of the part I took when Lieut. Whipple was observing an eclipse of the moon. I acknowledged the soft impeachment and was received with every demonstration of regard and kindness. Messengers were dispatched to inform the Maricopa man and woman we had succored more than twelve years before; and, although they resided some ten miles distant, in another village, in less than four hours they were hugging and embracing me as if I were their warmest friend. This recognition and gratitude for the slight services rendered touched me nearly, especially when the priceless information they imparted at the time was probably the means of saving our lives. Every little gift within my possession was freely and gratefully conferred upon these two deserving beings, savages though they were, who had married and were passing their peaceable lives together.

One afternoon Palacio said to me: "You killed the moon once, and brought it to life again. That was good. You are a great medicine. You were then among us. You are here once more. I have told my young people of the affair; but they will not believe, although hundreds were witnesses. When can you kill the moon again, and prove the fact?"

An almanac happened to be within reach, and I referred to it for the next lunar eclipse. To my great surprise, it stated that a full eclipse of that luminary would take place two nights from that date. Preserving the greatest composure, I told Palacio that if he would bring his people to my camp two nights from that time, and wait till a certain hour, I would again kill the moon, and again restore her to life. This piece of news was extensively spread throughout all the villages; and next day my camp was thronged, from morning till night, with Maricopas and Pimos anxious to know if Palacio had reported correctly. They were answered in the affirmative, and sent away with very mixed sensations.

Before the time for slaughter arrived, I visited the grazing ground and selected seven finely polished skulls of Yumas, which I kept concealed in a sack. A quantity of powder was then mixed and made into a paste, and so arranged as to compose fuses. A few iron filings were mixed with several of these fuses, and a number of carbine caps arranged in such a manner as to flash and snap when required. The skulls were placed in a circle, the center of which I was to occupy. In each one was a burning candle, the light from which shone through the eye sockets. In front of every skull was a small fuse, and from each fuse led a train of dry powder to the center of the ring. Back of the fuses were placed considerable charges of dry powder, which would explode so soon as the fuses burned to their locations, and which explosion would immediately extinguish the candles, leaving all in darkness. The skulls were also attached to each other by a fine but strong thread, and the thread to a small twine, which, when drawn in, would bring the whole affair in a pile, and allow of their secretion. All my designs were confided to Loring, the Orderly Sergeant, and our plans laid.

Long before the appointed time, (about ten o'clock p. m.) the camp was crowded by excited Pimos and Maricopas. Probably three thousand were present. It was necessary to distract their attention from my movements, and I directed Sergeant Shearer to draw them off by some device from my immediate neighborhood. In this he succeeded admirably. No one was present to observe what I did. The skulls were properly arranged; the fuses, powder and caps laid, and candles lighted; and I took my place in the center, armed with a sabre, my head and right shoulder bare, and my gaze fixed on the moon, which was about to be obscured. The signal was given, and Shearer led the excited crowds toward my position. With great ceremony I drew a circle round the lighted skulls, and forbade the already frightened audience from passing that bound on pain of death. I sat in the center of the circle, with my head between my hands, waiting for time to pass until the eclipse should be complete, or nearly so. The silence and anxiety of that immense crowd of savages was something fearful. I was undertaking a dangerous experiment. If it failed, the consequences might be fatal; if it succeeded, my influence among them would be almost unbounded. Circumstanced as I was, the thing was worth trying. As an officer of my country, I felt the necessity of obtaining a moral as well as physical ascendancy of these populous tribes, which occupied the highway of immigration between the East and the West. I was almost alone among them, and they had begun to despise the paucity of my force. It had become necessary to re-assert our superiority, and the adventitious circumstances before related favored my attempt. Crouched down, with a naked sabre in my hand, gleaming with the lights thrown through the sightless sockets of the encircling skulls, I impatiently waited the time to apply the match to my train. It came at last. The train was touched; the brilliant flame flashed with the speed of lightning and ignited the fuses, which fizzed and sputtered, and sent forth streams of bright sparks, lighting up the scene with somewhat of radiance, when suddenly the whole affair terminated in darkness. The change from intense light was so great that no one observed Shearer draw in and secrete the skulls, and when vision was restored the whole paraphernalia had passed away. In the meantime, the moon began to reappear; its disc became rapidly more observable and brilliant, until she again "O'er the dark her silver mantle threw" in all its splendor. The effect upon the surrounding Indians I can not pretend to describe; but the sobriquet of "Captain Killmoon" was unanimously adopted as a very proper appellation. About one o'clock a. m. the savages retired, and left us to the enjoyment of a hearty laugh and undisturbed repose.

Two days afterward I had occasion to visit the headquarters of Col. Coult, and received his hospitality. That officer informed me that since our arrival the Indians had increased their prices for ground provisions, poultry, etc., five and six hundred per cent. Chickens, which had been a drug at a bit a piece, were then worth seventy-five cents. I told the Colonel that I could obtain all I required at twenty-five cents each, and he commissioned me to purchase a dozen or more on his account. This statement of mine had been made off-hand, and without any deliberation. I had bought only three or four chickens, and had no right to determine the market; but as the promise was given, it was my duty to fulfill it, even at expense to myself. Here, again, strategy came into play. "Captain Bob Shorty" was once more at his old tricks.

I was the fortunate possessor of a powerful magnet and a fine pocket compass, and with these instruments I resolved to test the acumen of my savage friends. A strong burning glass aided me greatly, as it did on subsequent occasions, to obtain their implicit trust and confidence. Armed with these peaceable weapons, I informed the Maricopas that chickens would find a ready market in my camp, and in a few hours several dozen were proffered. Determined upon paying only a fair price, I coolly commenced rolling a cigarito, at the same time giving one to a Maricopa, who went to the camp fire and got a light, with which he returned and proffered me the civility of igniting my cigarito from his. This did not suit my purpose, and taking my burning glass, I said—"Do you think that a 'Great Medicine' like me would light his cigar from common fire? No; I will draw it from heaven," and, suiting the action to the words, I drew a focus in that glaring sun, which soon gave me the needed fire. This simple achievement filled them with unbounded astonishment, and prepared them for the reception of other miracles. Turning to a warrior who appeared a person of some consequence, I ordered him to produce his chickens, whereupon half a dozen of fair quality were offered for sale. I took them one by one in my hand, appeared to go through a most careful examination, and then suddenly turning to the man, inquired what he meant by trying to deceive me. The poor fellow was exceedingly mortified, and asked in what particular. The reply was, you have offered to sell me sick chickens, unfit for food, and are therefore attempting an imposition. He stoutly denied the charge, insisting that the chickens were sound and well. We will soon test that, I answered, and then deposited my fine pocket compass on the ground, holding the magnet concealed in the hollow of my left hand. The needle soon ceased oscillating and settled down to its proper pointings, when the Indian was requested to turn the compass round, which he did, and, to his great wonder, the needle again resumed its normal situation. After several essays of this kind, he became convinced that the north pole would invariably point northward, no matter what changes were made in the position of the case. So soon as the required impression had been effected, they were told to lay their chickens, one after the other, either on the east or west side of the compass, and informed that if the birds were good and healthy no change would be observed in the instrument; but if not, the north pole would point directly at the object and detect the imposition. These injunctions were implicitly followed, and keeping the magnet in my left hand, with the index finger of the right, I approached the instrument, muttering several cabalistic words, and described a half circle close to and about the case. Of course, no movement followed, and the chicken was accepted at the price asked. In this manner two or three were bought: but then came my turn. Changing the magnet into the hollow of my right hand, I again approached the compass, at the south pole, and instantly it commenced to circle round in obedience to well known causes, and under full control of the magnet, until the north pole pointed exactly toward the doomed chicken. There! I exclaimed, in a tone of simulated indignation, did I not tell you that some of your chickens were sick and bad? Do you expect to cheat a "Great Medicine?" If you are not more honest for the future, you may possibly be visited by a malady, which will kill off all your fowls.

By this time a large and anxious crowd had assembled to witness this new and extraordinary test, and any attempt to describe their wonderment would be fruitless. Realizing the impression made, I then continued in the following strain: I do not believe that you meant to be bad, but rather give you credit for ignorance, and I only claim that all the sick chickens shall be forfeited to me, for I can cure them, and make them ultimately useful. This proposition was eagerly accepted, nem. con., and in this manner I secured six dozen of excellent birds at the rate of two bits each, while only twelve miles distant my brother officers were paying six bits each for inferior birds. The Indians, knowing us to be in their power for supplies of this kind, had raised the prices five hundred per cent., and I had turned the scales against them by a very simple process.