Life among the Apaches/Chapter 16
Condition of New Mexico and Arizona.—Active Campaign.—Californian Soldiers.—Bosque Redondo.—More Intimate Relations with Apaches.—Site of Fort Sumner.—Scarcity of Wood.—Climate.—Arrival of Apache Prisoners of War.—Dog Cañon.—Apache Embassy.—Mr. Labadie.—Placed in Charge of the Apaches.—Form a Council.—Hunting Excursion with Apaches.—Their Mode of Killing Antelopes.—Learn more of Indian Character.—Obtain a Greater Share of their Confidence.
So soon as Sibley's command had been driven from Arizona and New Mexico, Gen. Carleton devoted his attention to protect from Indian outrage the inhabitants of those Territories. Previous to our arrival no one had the hardihood to venture outside the skirts of the towns and villages, unless accompanied by a force respectable in numbers, if in nothing else. The whole country was a theater of desolation. What the Confederates failed to appropriate, the Apaches destroyed. The inhabitants were literally starving and utterly demoralized. Instead of being able to furnish us supplies, we were compelled to afford them occasional assistance. This state of affairs had been foreseen by Carleton, to some extent, and we were consequently in a condition to be independent until such protection could be granted as would induce the resident population to re-commence farming operations.
Soon after our advent, Gen. Canby was recalled, and the chief command invested in Carleton. From that time a series of active and energetic campaigns against the Apache and Navajo tribes was inaugurated, which had the effect of completely humiliating those leading nations and re-establishing the peace, security and productiveness of the two Territories. After much deliberation, and years subsequent to the incidents narrated, it is my conviction that the many signal triumphs obtained over the Apaches and Navajoes could only have been achieved by Californian soldiers, who seem gifted in a special manner with the address and ability to contend advantageously against them. This assertion has been so frequently admitted by the resident populations that it is not deemed necessary to dilate further than mention the names of such men as Roberts, McCleave, Fritz, Shirland, the two Greens, Tidball, Whitlock, Thayer, Pettis, and many others, who rendered good service and compassed the security and peace of the two Territories during their term of service. With the retirement of the Californian troops another series of robberies and massacres was instituted by the Indians, and maintained until the present time without apparent hindrance.
In the winter of 1862-3, I was ordered from Albuquerque to join Capt. Updegraff, commanding company A, Fifth United States Infantry, and to proceed to the Bosque Bedondo, somewhere on the Pecos river, over two hundred and fifty miles to the eastward—outside the bounds of all human habitation, and ninety miles from the nearest civilized inhabitant. Capt. Updegraff was instructed to examine the Bosque Kedondo, and select a site for the construction of a large fort, with the view of establishing an extensive Indian Reservation in its immediate neighborhood. This sort of exile was anything but displeasing to me, for I much preferred being from under the nose of a commanding General, whose unscrupulous ambition and exclusive selfishness had passed into a proverb, despite his acknowledged ability and apparent zeal. But it is not my task to discuss matters of this nature; and the reference is only to show by what means I again became intimately acquainted with renowned Apaches and acquired their language, together with a knowledge of those traits, customs and organizations, which has enabled me to write with confidence and understanding upon these and kindred points.
Capt. Updegraff was ordered to make a reconnoissance of the Bosque Redondo, and select a site for the future post and reservation; such selection to be approved or disapproved by a board of engineers, specially ordered to make a thorough survey. On arriving at the Bosque, the Captain ordered me to go ahead and select a camp ground; and in obedience thereto, I took ten men and reconnoitered the river and its banks for several miles, finally fixing on a spot formerly used as a sheep corral by Mexicans during a time of peace, many years before. This spot was chosen for the three fold reasons that it was near water, which was approachable through an open space in the woods; that it was covered with excellent pasture; and that it contained the stakes and timbers of the old corral, which were dry and made excellent fire-wood. This selection was approved, and the next day a further reconnoissance was made to fix a permanent site for the fort. This ended in confirming the first choice, and here the most beautiful Indian fort in the United States was ultimately constructed, the board of engineers having indorsed the spot as being the most eligible on the river. This fort was built almost wholly by Californian soldiers, and is beyond comparison the handsomest and most picturesque in the Union. Nevertheless, it was easy to comprehend that, should any great number of persons be assembled thereat, a scarcity of wood must ultimately occur, and as Fahrenheit's thermometer occasionally falls to eight and ten degrees below zero in the winter time, wood was an object of prime necessity. The alamo furnished the whole supply of this material, and the extent of the Bosque Redondo, or Round Woods, was only sixteen miles long by half a mile wide in the widest place, and for several miles affording only a few scattered trees, which were by no means thick even in the densest portions. When we arrived the weather was very cold, with eight inches of snow upon the ground, and the first duty was to "hut in" the command. This was accomplished in a short time, after which rude but serviceable stables were put up, a hospital, quartermaster's and commissary's stores built, and the other requisite shelters erected.
Scarcely had these precautions been taken before we received an invoice of five hundred Apaches, including the leading warriors of the Mescalero tribe, their women and children, and a few of the chief Jicarillas. These were the savages who had so long held Dog Cañon, and defied all attempts to force a passage through that renowned stronghold. Capt. McCleave, of company A, First Cavalry California Volunteers, determined to "give it a try;" and having obtained permission, soon succeeded in routing and completely demoralizing the savages, who fled to Fort Stanton for shelter and protection, closely pursued by McCleave and his company—so closely, in fact, that the Apaches saw no other means of escape from certain destruction except to deliver themselves up as prisoners of war to Col. "Kit" Carson, at that time in charge of Fort Stanton, with four companies of infantry and one of native New Mexican cavalry. Carson informed McCleave that the Indians had placed themselves under his protection, subject to the disposal of the General commanding; upon which McCleave withdrew, not over-pleased with the result, although he had whipped them handsomely in Dog Cañon.
Soon afterward five of the leading warriors proceeded to Santa Fé, under an armed escort, to confer with the General, who exacted that they should submit to being placed upon the reservation of the Bosque Redondo. The answer of their chief spokesman, named Cadete by the Mexicans, but whose Apache appellation is Gian-nah-tah, or "Always Ready," is indicative of the nature and character of his tribe. Having listened to the General's final determination, he answered and said:
"You are stronger than we. We have fought you so long as we had rifles and powder; but your arms are better than ours. Give us like weapons and turn us loose, we will fight you again; but we are worn-out; we have no more heart; we have no provisions, no means to live; your troops are everywhere; our springs and water holes are either occupied or overlooked by your young men. You have driven us from our last and best strong hold, and we have no more heart. Do with us as may seem, good to you, but do not forget we are men and braves."
They were remanded back to Fort Stanton, and from thence sent to the Bosque Redondo, since called Fort Sumner, where they arrived after a long and painful march of one hundred and thirty miles, with short rations and much suffering. They were immediately turned over to my charge by Capt. Updegraff, although the Indian agent, Mr. Labadie, was with them, and from that moment I laid the foundation of that confidence and respect which was never alienated, and which enabled me to perfect a knowledge of their character far greater than ever arrived at by the experiences of any other white man.
In a short time their number was increased to seven hundred, and subsequently to nearly fifteen hundred. By their own request I was authorized to take exclusive charge of their affairs. In so far as military movements were concerned, they appointed me their Nantanh-in-jah, or Chief Captain, and submitted to my arbitration all their social and tribal difficulties, my decision being final. I soon formed a council of their principal men, and lost no opportunity to make myself acquainted with their views, manners, habits, customs, religious and social observances, language, and, in fine, whatever tended to unfold their characteristics. My council consisted of Gian-nah-tah, or Always Ready; Na-tanh, or the Corn Flower; Too-ah-yay-say, or the Strong Swimmer; Natch-in-ilk-kisn, or the Colored Beads; Nah-kah-yen, or the Keen Sighted; Para-dee-ah-tran, or the Contented; Klosen, or the Hair Hope; and a Jicarilla man of note, whose Indian name has escaped my memory, but the meaning of which was the Kicking Horse. The renown of these warriors was too well established in the tribe to admit of doubt, and, whatever they said, was submitted to without question. How this control was obtained over these grim savages is worthy of mention, as indicative of their profound respect for personal adventure.
Five days after their arrival in camp, Mr. Labadie came to me and said: "These Indians are in great destitution. They consumed their rations two days ago, and have nothing to eat. There are many women and children among them, and two days more must elapse before rations are again distributed. Their warriors have asked that they be allowed to go hunting. The plains close by are filled with herds of antelopes, which may easily be taken. I have been to Capt. Updegraff, but he will not hearken to the proposition; please try and see what you can do, for otherwise they may attempt to escape from the Reservation."
I immediately sought the post commander and said to him: "Captain, the Apaches have asked your permission to go on a grand hunt, which you have refused; allow me to say that they are starving, that you have their wives and children as hostages for their return, and if you will recall your determination, I will volunteer to go out with them and be answerable for their safe return within forty-eight hours."
Capt. Updegraff peered at me through his black, intelligent eyes for a moment or two, and then replied:
"Very well, Captain; if you choose to trust yourself with these unmitigated red devils and make yourself responsible for their return, and give me official assurance in writing, that it is indispensably necessary, you can start with them to-morrow morning at daylight; but do not remain away longer than forty-eight hours."
This resolution was forthwith conveyed to Mr. Labadie, who spread it among the Apaches, taking care to inform them by what means the favor had been granted. Next morning, at seven o'clock, we sallied forth, the party numbering one hundred and ten Apaches, ninety-five of whom were warriors and fifteen women—the only person present, not an Apache, being myself. I had four Colt's six-shooters, two in my saddle-holsters and two in my belt, with a large bowie knife, but my horse was infinitely superior to anything they could boast in that line. They were all armed with bows and arrows—all who possessed rifles or pistols having left them in camp.
In the field, whether for warlike purposes or for hunting, the Apache is very reticent, and by no means given to talking. Conversation is only indulged while in camp, and amidst friends during a period of apparent security. But upon this occasion they gave full vent to their joy and satisfaction, and offered me a number of little attentions. We rode on for five miles until the top of a hill was reached, from which we could obtain a fair view of the surrounding country. Here a short consultation was held among them, during which I smoked a cigarito, giving several to those close in my neighborhood. A certain direction having been selected as the field of operations, we again started, and after having progressed about two miles, the band formed into two lines, the first being about six hundred yards in advance of the second. These two bodies then prolonged their lines so that no two individuals were nearer than forty or fifty yards, which stretched each line to the distance of two thousand five hundred or three thousand yards, sweeping a large surface of territory, and yet close enough to prevent the escape of an antelope through the two human barriers, or between the huntsmen in each. In this formation we progressed until a herd was seen about half a mile in advance. Instantly the two wings of the first line rode forward at full speed, and succeeded in cutting off the retreat of the doomed animals by completing a circle; at the same time the gaps were rapidly closed up, and the circle narrowed with amazing celerity and dexterity. The terror-stricken antelopes turned to flee, but on every side they met an inexorable and keenly watchful enemy. Bewildered, panting with agony and fear, inclosed on all sides, they soon became incapable of continuing the unequal contest, and were killed with perfect ease. The few which contrived to break through the first line were sure to meet death at the hands of the second. Not one in fifty escaped, and their preservation seemed almost miraculous. In this way we managed to destroy eighty-seven antelopes on that expedition, and it was my good fortune to kill five, being two more than were bagged by any other hunter on the field. These I gave the Apaches, reserving only a hind quarter for myself. Within thirty-six hours I had the satisfaction of reporting to Capt. Updegraff, and relating to him the complete success of our hunting excursion, at which he was so well pleased that I never afterward met any objection from that gallant and good officer when a like expedition was to be undertaken.
After this event the Apaches seemingly gave me more of their confidence than ever, but I was still far from the point ultimately reached, although I then thought I had achieved it nearly all. This fact should warn us never to arrive at hasty conclusions, especially when dealing with a people which have studiously endeavored to mislead and cozen all with whom they come in contact. I had rendered them an important service; they were grateful to me for such aid. I had trusted myself unreservedly among them, the avowed enemies of my race, and they respected me for my confidence. But I was still a white man, and they were still Apaches. While professing a certain degree of personal regard, they not only refused to admit me within the sanctum of their trust, but some of them even began to look upon me as endeavoring to gain their confidence for the purpose of betraying and using it against them should opportunity serve. Fortunately, these suspicions were allayed in the course of time, and after a year and a half of constant intercourse, during which period they and several thousand Navajoes—a branch of the great Apache race—were under my personal supervision, I was admitted to a tolerably fair knowledge of the points under consideration in this work.