Life among the Apaches/Chapter 22

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CHAPTER XXII.


Apaches as Warriors.—Fight with the Maricopas.—Fight with the Comanches.—Cold Weather.—Apache Camp Attacked by Hostile Navajoes.—Navajoes Pursued and Destroyed.—Animals Recovered.—Carillo and the Navajo.—McGrew and Porter.—Their Gallantry.—Apache Ideas of Scalping.—Grand Apache Parade.—Strange Request.—Denied.—Purification of Arms.—The Prophet again Making Trouble.—Apache Cavalry Manœuvres.—Reflections


Several fine opportunities were vouchsafed me to judge of the Apaches as warriors, when compared with other tribes. Some ten or twelve of them made a daring raid on the westernmost Maricopa village, just at a time when I was passing with my company. The Maricopas and Pimos armed themselves in great numbers, and hurried out to punish the invaders who had sought refuge in a dense chaparal, just at the foot of the mountain range which creates the Great Gila Bend. Thither they were pursued and invested on three sides. The conflict waxed warm, and several of the allies were wounded; but not an Apache could be seen. The brush was riddled with balls, and after a short council of war, it was assaulted in great force, but their wily enemies had managed to make their escape without the loss of a man.

A gentleman of New Mexico told me that he once witnessed a fight between eighty Apaches and one hundred and fifty Comanches, in which the former gained a decided victory. The contest was entirely on horseback, and the parties were equally armed. It occurred on the plain known as the Llano Estacado, or "Staked Plain," east of the Pecos river. Exhibitions of rare skill in horsemanship occurred during this conflict which were admirable to behold.

In January, 1864, the weather at Fort Sumner was very cold, Fahrenheit's thermometer being ten degrees below zero at eight o'clock in the morning. The Apaches under our care were then encamped about three miles south of the fort, on the eastern bank of the Pecos. They possessed quite a number of horses, in which consisted their whole wealth. One night, about twelve o'clock, Major Whalen was roused by the guard, who informed him that a deputation of Apaches were present, earnestly desirous of making some communication. An audience was immediately granted, and the Apaches informed the commanding officer that their camp had just been visited by a large band of marauding Navajoes, and their stock driven off. They came for aid to recover their animals. It happened that nearly the whole of my company—the only cavalry force at the fort—were absent on a scout at the time, and only about twelve remained with some of the most used-up horses belonging to the company. Nevertheless, the men were immediately ordered to saddle up and place themselves under command of Lieut. Newbold, while a company of United States Infantry, under the command of Capt. Bristol, was ordered to follow the cavalry with all speed. These forces were assisted by twenty-five Apache warriors, under the conduct of Gian-nah-tah, that being the greatest number the Apaches could mount since the Navajo raid. The trail led due south, and about seven o'clock in the morning the cavalry and Apaches came upon the retreating Navajoes, who were all on foot except those mounted on the animals stolen from the Apaches. The band numbered about one hundred and eighty, of whom about sixty were mounted. So soon as their pursuers came into view they halted, formed, and prepared for fight. Newbold and his small party of twelve cavalrymen and twenty-five Apaches advanced rapidly toward the Navajoes until within eighty yards, when the latter opened fire all along their line. This was answered by a closely delivered volley from a dozen carbines, which knocked over nine Navajoes at the first fire. The weather was so extremely cold that although the men found no difficulty in recharging their breech-loading carbines, yet they could not place the caps upon the nipples, their fingers were so benumbed. Fortunately, the Navajoes were in the same dilemma. The order to draw pistols and charge was given, and the allies went down among the Navajoes like a small tornado. In less than ten minutes their line was broken, and the enemy in full retreat.

The Apaches had likewise abandoned the use of their rifles, and betook themselves to their bows and arrows, and lances. The retreat soon became a rout. Each trooper had two first-class Colt's six-shooters, and used them with terrific effect. The moment a Navajo fell he was pierced full of arrows by the Apaches, and never suffered to rise again. The whites took the lead, but their savage allies seconded them with great courage and undaunted gallantry. For an engagement in which so few were present, the slaughter was terrific. No less than ninety Navajoes were stretched dead upon the ground, and so many others wounded that some of the party who afterward surrendered and placed themselves upon the Reservation, informed me that only twenty of the whole Navajo force ever arrived safely in their country. In this very remarkable engagement, neither our troops nor the Apaches lost man nor horse. Sixty-five of the stolen animals were recovered and restored to their owners.

It subsequently appeared that the Navajoes were greatly incensed at the Apaches on the Reservation for having surrendered themselves, and entered into peaceful understanding with the Americans, and the raid had been undertaken in revenge for this apparent perfidy. Our allies were highly elated at their triumph, and also conceived a more positive idea of the gallantry and prowess of Californian cavalry, for whom they had always entertained a high respect, coupled with a whole some dread. As I was absent on a scout with the remainder of my company, I took no part in this affair, but arrived at the fort the day after its occurrence, and heard the same reports from all concerned. A visit to the battle-field, only fifteen miles off, satisfied me as to the number of slain Navajoes, and the subsequent relation of the survivors corroborated the narratives of the victorious parties.

Among the assailants were Mr. Labadie, the Indian Agent, and a man named Carillo, the major-domo of the Indian farm at Fort Sumner. Both these men were eminently courageous, and both did splendid service. Carillo had been a captive among the Navajoes, years before, and spoke their language, the same as the Apaches, with tolerable fluency. During the fight he hailed a retreating Navajo, and said to him: "Halt, and surrender. I do not wish to kill you. Here are numbers of your people in our camp, who have given themselves up, and are now living in peace and comfort, with plenty to eat." The Navajo replied: "Am I not a man as well as you? If you can kill me do so; if not, I will try to kill you. Surrender I never will." At this response Carillo raised his rifle and fired, putting a half ounce ball through his foe; but the fellow staggered on at considerable speed, until his rifle was reloaded, when he whirled about and let fly at Carillo, the ball passing in close proximity to his head. Having re-charged his rifle, Carillo again cried out: "Did I not tell you; will you now halt or must I shoot you again?" The Navajo made no other answer than to again raise his gun and shoot at Carillo, who, being untouched, again sent a ball through his foe. This second shot brought him to a halt, when he sat down, and throwing away his rifle, commenced to use his bow and arrows. At this juncture a soldier rode up and sped a six-shooter ball through the Indian's breast, which did not kill him, but had the effect of distracting his attention from Carillo, who slipped round behind the savage, and seizing him by the hair, plunged a large bowie-knife in his heart. While in the death agony this warrior said to his slayer, tu no vale nada, meaning, "you are good for nothing." This incident, and another related elsewhere, demonstrate the extreme tenacity of life possessed by the Apaches and Navajoes, and I doubt not, by most of our American savages. This engagement was signalized by many acts of valor and cool courage on the part of our men. Privates McGrew and Porter followed the retreating savages for ten miles, killing fifteen more of them. McGrew himself slew no less than thirteen Navajoes that day.

It may as well be mentioned here, that the Apaches do not scalp all their enemies. After a considerable engagement they will select one or two scalps for the performance of a ceremony somewhat allied to the "scalp dance" of other tribes, but in most respects totally different. With them it is a strictly religious ceremony, growing out of their superstitions; while among other races it is observed as a grand rejoicing, a triumphal jubilee. Four days after the fight above narrated the Apaches were observed to be dressed in their greatest finery. About eighty of their most noted warriors were mounted, and each was armed with a lance, from which streamed a small red pennon. Every member of this party was enveloped in a red blanket, given by the Government a short time previous, and they were formed in close column of twenty men front and four ranks deep. After going through a variety of manœuvres, they rode directly toward the fort, and halted a few yards in front of the commandant's residence. That officer, Major Whalen, requested me to inquire into their wishes, which I did, and was answered by Gian-nah-tah that they desired permission to visit the field of the late battle for the purpose of obtaining a Navajo scalp, in order to perform some religious rites imposed upon them by their prophet, who, by the by, was the same wily rascal that had attempted to lead them astray by his pretended vision of the black cloud. To this request Major Whalen bade me reply, that it was entirely impossible to accede; that they had behaved like brave men during the fight, and that they should not tarnish their gallant deeds by acts of intense barbarism. He further added, that their enemies, being defunct, were past all sensation, and that stripping them of their scalps was an act of atrocious cowardice, of which he had not believed his Apache friends susceptible. He had given them credit for gallantry; but if they persisted in their demand, he, and all of us, would be coerced into the conviction that they were not animated by true courage. He would, therefore, forbid them from visiting the battle ground for the purpose named.

This reply evoked the extreme anger of the prophet, who immediately informed the band that, unless the ceremony took place, they and their people would be visited with the vengeance of the Great Spirit. At this they became much excited, and reiterated their request, stating that but one scalp was required to fulfill their obligations to the Most High. Major Whalen remained immovable, and gave me orders to get my company in readiness immediately to frustrate any such attempt on the part of the Apaches, at the same time instructing me to inform them of this order. They heard me through with Indian patience, and then, with undisguised expressions of hate against the commanding officer, rode down the river in solid square until they arrived at a point about three miles, below the fort, where the ceremonies, I am about to relate, were solemnized.

My company had been got ready, pursuant to order; but were kept in waiting, at the fort, until it should become certain that the Apaches were determined to visit the battle ground. Accompanied by two chosen men I kept about four hundred yards in their rear, but never intruded upon their privacy. Having reached a point where the bank of the Pecos descended gradually toward the stream—a very rare occurrence in that river—they wheeled to the right, and having reached the water, formed line, the right toward the south, while the prophet, dismounting from his horse, entered the stream, about knee deep, and commenced a series of incantations, the warriors preserving profound silence. Having performed the rite of ablution upon his own person and arms, he proceeded to the warrior at the southernmost end of the line, and received from him the weapons he had used in the fight above mentioned. The lance blade, the knife and the arrow heads were bathed in the stream, and then dried with a cloth, after which they were pointed upward, and the prophet, with a strong expiration, blew upon their respective blades, beginning at the hilts and ending at the points, at the same time muttering a series of incantations, accompanied by the groans and apparent contrition of the owner of the weapons. This system of purgation was gone through with every warrior present who had been in the conflict. When the ceremony came to an end the band separated into four distinct parties, and went through a sort of sham fight, which lasted half an hour. They then reformed in the order they came and returned peaceably to camp.

I subsequently inquired of several of their more prominent men the objects contemplated in these ceremonials, and was told that the spirits of the dead would haunt them unless wafted away by the breath of the prophet. The blood shed by them was supposed to be washed off only by the power of their medicine man; but the ghosts of the slain were laid by blowing them away from the weapons by which they had died. This power was vested solely in the prophet, but the ceremony was incomplete, because they had no scalp. It was necessary to have one, from which each warrior should take a few hairs and burn them, in order that the fumes might purify the atmosphere of the battle ground and prevent it from being pestilential to the Apaches. Having been denied the privilege by Maj. Whalen, they could no more hunt in the direction of the field where the Navajoes had fallen without jeopardizing their personal safety, either from disease or other causes.

This incident confirmed my opinions in regard to the superstitious ideas of the Apaches, and induced me to make many inquiries on the subject, but they were never advanced as if from mere motives of curiosity, but rather as being desirous to learn something which might be beneficial. On no occasion did I ever permit myself to intrude an innate sense of American superiority over their savage ignorance, but approached them as a seeker after knowledge which they alone could impart. This course flattered their vanity and opened to me sources of information which I might otherwise have sought in vain. Nothing was lost by this seeming dependence. They knew as well as I that they were no match for Americans, but nothing could bring them to confess the fact. They perfectly understood and appreciated the difference between us, but it was beyond human nature to think that they would acknowledge that difference. That an American officer, placed in charge of their camp, should seek information from them should endeavor to comprehend their laws, nature, habits, language, manners, religion, and other ceremonies was something so new and unexpected, that they involuntarily opened their hearts and laid them comparatively bare, but never for a moment did they forget to exercise caution and reserve, even while accepting these advances. They invariably apply a test of acts, and refuse to put faith in words which are systematically used by them to cover their designs; but the ordeal passed, they are prepared to give limited credence to promises.