Life among the Apaches/Chapter 23

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CHAPTER XXIII.


Ojo Blanco Wounded.—Apache Doctoring.—Dr. Gwyther's Treatment.—Results.—Ojo Blanco Killed in Battle.—Religious Creed of the Apaches.—Policy in their Religion.—The Deluge.— Apaches Ignorant of their Origin.—Their Ideas in Reference to Women.—Mexican Women as Wives of Apaches.—Character of their Children.—Horrible Spectacle in Cooke's Canon.—A few Suggestions.—Their Respect for Traditions Upset.


One day, while conversing with Dr. Gwyther, information was brought us from the Apache camp that Ojo Blanco had been desperately wounded in a personal quarrel with another Apache. We immediately proceeded to the camp, where I arrested the assailant and sent him to the guard house, while the Doctor visited the wounded man, where I soon joined him. Ojo Blanco, or Pin-dah-lickoyee, meaning the "White Eye," was surrounded by a dozen or more of his mourning acquaintances, who were keeping up a concerted howl or chant, in obedience to the directions of their prophet. The Doctor, seeing that perfect repose and quiet were indispensable to the patient, requested me to order his friends away, with instructions not to return. To rudely break through the traditions of their tribe and superciliously set aside the dictates of their "great medicine," was a delicate task, so I directed the orderly in attendance to send me, from my company, ten well armed and well mounted soldiers, with a Sergeant and a Corporal. In fifteen minutes the Sergeant reported and requested his orders, which were to keep vigilant guard over the sheltered cabin of Ojo Blanco, and under no pretense to allow an Apache to enter, or permit one to make a noise in the vicinity, but to admit only the hospital nurse who would be sent to tend on the wounded man. Having given these orders, and seen the guard properly disposed, I told the Apache mourners to quit the place, and not to come back until permitted by the doctor. They had noticed the arrival of the troops, and knew that something unusual was brewing, and when this mandate was given them they left, very reluctantly and with sad foreboding, but quietly and in order. In a few days Ojo Blanco gave evidence of improved condition, and his former mourners were admitted to see him, but commanded to make no unusual demonstration. Three weeks subsequently the wounded man was again walking around the camp, an object of wonder to his people.

The reasons for these extraordinary precautions arose from the fact that the injured person was one of the most celebrated warriors of his tribe, and exercised very great influence. His was also the first case of the kind that had come under our cognizance; moreover, I suspected that the rascally prophet would use his death, had it occurred, to stir up the dissatisfaction of his people on the Reservation, and induce their fugitive departure, to engage again in their accustomed depredations. It also afforded an opportunity to exhibit the white man's skill and his interest in the Apaches, for Dr. Gwyther, after examining the wound, pronounced it severe, but not necessarily mortal. It will be seen that with proper precaution and judicious nursing, we had the whole thing in our hands, with the opportunity of further in creasing Apache confidence and respect.

It is due to Ojo Blanco to say that his first visit, after his recovery, was paid to Dr. Gwyther and myself, expressing to each his fervent acknowledgments. In less than six weeks after my recall from New Mexico, this noted warrior fled from the Reservation at Fort Sumner, accompanied by over two hundred other men, women and children. I learned that he was subsequently killed in a battle with the Californian Volunteers.

My conversations with prominent warriors and sagamores on the subject of religion were very frequent and protracted. The Apaches believe in the immortality of the soul, but they also place credence in two divinities, the one of Good and the other of Evil, between whom power is so evenly balanced that it is beyond the faculty of man to determine which is the greater, although the ultimate superiority is credited, without hesitation, to the Good Spirit, but they modify this superiority in so far as we are concerned, by curtailing the activity and interest which the Good Spirit takes in our behalf; while the Spirit of Evil is represented as being infinitely watchful and interested in the affairs of the Apache people. The Spirit of Good is in the distant future; but the Spirit of Evil takes part in our daily and hourly affairs. The result is that while they look up to the God of Good with extreme reverence and ultimate trust, their orisons, or usual petitions, are made to the divinity which they suppose to shape their earthly ends. This may be called the excess of barbarism and heathenish mythology; but, permit me to ask, is there any difference between the untutored and savage Apache and the apparently christianized, civilized, and refined man of the world? Does not the latter put off his worship of Jehovah and take to that of Mammon quite as fully and steadfastly as the Apache endeavors to conciliate the spirit which he believes will yield the most immediate and material response to his prayers? It is not mine to answer this question; let men's consciences—those who have any—respond for themselves.

The Apaches have no tradition whatever of the flood. They are quite ignorant of their origin, and unhesitatingly state that they have always lived in the same country, and been the same unmixed people. They pride themselves on the purity of their blood, and although they admit that many of their wives have been captured from Mexico, yet they affirm that it is not the woman, but the man, who bequeathes tone, character and speciality to the child. In addition to which they assert that no Mexican woman who has become the wife of an Apache, and remained so until she has borne him children, ever desires to renew her former life. That this last assertion is true, experience has sufficiently proved to my comprehension; but the reasons are clear.

In the first place, there is but a modicum of difference between the actual condition of the women in the northern frontiers of Mexico and that of the Apaches. In each case it is she who does all the work, and undergoes all the servitude to which women are condemned among semi-civilized races. In the second place, after having born children for an Apache her affections are concentrated upon her offspring more than upon the savage author of their birth, and she will not abandon them under almost any circumstances. In the third place, she knows that her restrained and protracted residence among the Apaches would subject her to rude, inhuman and opprobrious comments among her fellow countrywomen—should she return—although their own lives may be the exemplars of all that is vile and prostituted. It is not, therefore, difficult to conceive that the captive Mexican woman, the wife of a noted warrior, should cling to family relations of her own conception, whether forced or not, in preference to those which may have formerly occupied her attention as being natural.

People everywhere, and of all stages of refinement, accommodate themselves to the circumstances by which they are surrounded, and it is not ungenerous to permit the same privilege to the ignorant, docile and demoralized Mexican women of the lower classes. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." But it is proverbially true that from this mixture of races arise the most bloody, cruel and revengeful of American savages. The genuine Apache, after having killed his foe will leave his body to be desecrated and mutilated by his half-Mexican offspring, should such be present. It is true, that he will not interfere to prevent such outrage; but he seldom takes part in it himself, unless influenced by unwonted excitement; but when he does, he proves himself the master spirit, and his treatment is carried to the extent of savage excess. Precisely as the cat or terrier dog teaches its young how to catch and torment their prey, does the Apache instruct his disciples. In their heathenism, and barbarous ignorance, the dead bodies of their enemies are mutilated, and left in localities where they are sure to be found, to convey a sense of dread rather than from any innate disposition to deface that which they know to be insensible to their acts.

Their philosophy and treatment of the captive is entirely different. In such a case their savage and blood-thirsty natures experience a real pleasure in tormenting their victim. Every expression of pain or agony is hailed with delight, and the one whose inventive genius can devise the most excruciating kind of death is deemed worthy of honor. One of the most cruel spectacles ever presented to my gaze occurred in Cooke's Cañon, about twenty-eight miles east of the Mimbres river. A party of eight well armed Mexicans, accompanied by their families, and having seven wagons with eight mules to each wagon, were on their way from Sonora to California. They had some money, and expected to convert their mules and wagons into cash upon their arrival. They had already traversed the more dangerous portions of the Apache country, and had commenced to felicitate themselves, when they were set upon by nearly two hundred savages in Cooke's Cañon. The Mexicans defended themselves with undaunted courage, which forced the Apaches to take refuge in their accustomed cunning. Suddenly ceasing their assault, they informed the Mexicans that they had no desire to destroy their lives, adding, that the Mexicans could perceive from the superior numbers of their enemies, and their vantage ground, that it would be no very difficult task to effect such an object, had it been contemplated. They then said, that if the Mexicans would surrender their arms, and give them half the number of mules attached to the wagons, they might prosecute their journey in peace with the remainder. This proposition was accepted by the inexperienced Mexicans, and so soon as their savage enemies had obtained control of their arms, each man was seized, bound to the wheel of a wagon, head downward, about eighteen inches from the ground, a fire made under them, and their brains roasted from their heads. The women and children were carried off captive, and the train with its contents became a prey to the Apaches. As I was the first to pass through Cooke's Cañon after this affair, the full horror of the torture was rendered terribly distinct. The bursted heads, the agonized contortions of the facial muscles among the dead, and the terrible destiny certain to attend the living of that ill-fated party, were horribly depicted on my mind.

It is all very well to argue that the Indian knows no better that he merely possesses the teachings of his race, that his cruelties are the results of untaught savage disposition, etc.; but the real questions are: must we continue to endure the perpetration of such atrocities, simply because they are committed by uncivilized beings; is it true policy that intelligent, Christian people should be sacrificed, year after year, and their massacres excused on the ground that the murderers were only Indians? Is the special plea of the self-styled humanitarian, who knows nothing about the matter, to set aside the life-long experiences of other equally humane but more practical and experienced men? Must we forever continue to accept the wild and impracticable theories of parlor readers on Indian character? Can we continue to pay millions annually for the short-sighted and pernicious policy which has heretofore regulated our Indian affairs? The American savage is no idiot. He knows right from wrong, and is quite as cognizant of the fact when he commits a wrong as the most instructed of our race. If the reader should feel a particle of doubt on this point, all he has to do is to commit a wrong upon an Apache, and he will very soon become convinced that the savage is quite as much aware of the fact as he can be.

It is even criminal to contend that they do not distinguish the full difference between the two qualities. Their dealings with each other, and their conduct toward other races, prove that they do, and to an extent almost commensurate in this respect with our own system of morals. The capacity to discriminate between right and wrong is not the exclusive property of christianized people. It obtains with almost equal force among barbarians and heathens, for otherwise communities could not exist. Whenever the Apache commits an act of atrocity, he does so with design and intention, and not from any ignorance as to whether it is a good or bad deed. He knows all about that as well as if he had attended Sunday School all his life; but it is done with an object a purpose which his untutored mind cannot perceive the effect of when weighed in the balance of the instructed in letters. When an Apache mutilates the dead body of his enemy, he knows that he is doing a wrong and cowardly act; but he persists in doing it, because he judges us from his stand-point, and imagines that sight of the mutilated corpse will produce terror in the beholders. He has not arrived at that amount of information which would instruct him that disgust and anger, with a determination for redress at the earliest opportunity, are engendered instead of dread. Like the rest of mankind, he is apt to measure other people's corn by his own bushel.

In respect to traditions they are very tenacious; but an incident occurred, when I enjoyed a favorable opportunity, to demonstrate the utter uselessness of relying upon such testimony. "After having acquired their language, the idea suggested itself that it would be good policy to make them an address in the Apache tongue. To this end I composed a short oration, and, to be certain of the terms used and the pronunciation, I summoned Gian-nah-tah, Nah-tanh and Klo-sen, to whom I read my speech, requesting them to make the necessary corrections, which they did with undisguised pleasure. Having everything exactly right, a meeting of the leading Apache warriors was convoked at my cabin to hear my address in their own language. It can be readily understood that such an extraordinary announcement insured a full gathering of the invited warriors; and, after some preliminary ceremonies, I read the lecture, which was listened to with earnest attention. I took particular pains to impress them with the importance of remembering what I said, as it was my intention to demand from them a repetition of my words, or their tenor, in a few days from that time. They were also requested to convey the substance of my remarks to those who were not present, as I intended to investigate for myself the value of oral tradition. Three days subsequently I collected Gian-nah-tah, Klo-sen, Nah-tanh, and one or two other leading men, and taking each one aside separately, I asked him to repeat what I had said on the occasion referred to above. Some of them came very near stating the tenor of my remarks, while others gave very erroneous versions; but when it came to questioning the parties who had received my speech second-hand from those who had heard it, I could scarcely recognize my own offspring. Having listened carefully to all their statements, I again read the original production, which was immediately acknowledged as genuine.

Now, said I, you can comprehend the unreliability of your traditions. If you cannot remember, for even three days, the substance of so short an address, and if it becomes so mangled by being related from one to another that its original meaning is entirely perverted, what faith can be placed in those traditions which you say came down to you through so many generations? This question, enforced as it had been by a notable example, was unanswerable, and it was followed up by pointing out the difference between oral and written tradition. This paper, I said, holding up the manuscript of my speech, will remain for generations exactly as it is now, and should it be preserved for a thousand years, it will read, at the expiration of that time, precisely as you have just heard it read.

My hearers were wonderfully impressed with the truth of these words; but when I endeavored to imbue them with the necessity of learning to read and write, so that they might be able to create written history, with one accord they refused, on the ground that it was work and consequently degrading. This abhorrence is so deeply rooted in their minds as to be a part of their nature, and no efforts of ours can remove it. Wherever an Apache child has been taken captive, and converted into a servant or domestic, it is only by extreme precaution that they can be restrained from running off and leading a vagabond life, and, if possible, rejoining some portion of their tribe.

Among those who were present at the above mentioned reading was the wife of Para-dee-ah-tran, who was also the daughter of Gian-nah-tah. This woman deserves special mention. Even in the most elevated circles of refined society it would be difficult to find one who possessed more grace, dignity and elegant self-repose. She was above the medium height, and of very fair complexion, although a full blooded Apache. Every motion and posture was replete with modesty and innate good sense. She was always well and comely clad; but never indulged in the tawdry finery and tinsel so much prized by other Apache women. Her figure was lithe and symmetrical; her hair long, black and glossy, and suffered to grow without being subjected to the process of cutting even with the eye-brows, which had been ruthlessly plucked out. It was parted in the middle, and smoothed away from the brow with as much taste as could be exhibited by any of our ladies. Her eyes were very large, black and lustrous, with a decided modesty of expression.

This woman was the pet of her tribe, and possessed characteristics in harmony with her exterior superiority. She was never permitted to perform hard labor, and her hands were delicately small and well formed. She was several times invited, with her husband and father, to dine with the officers, by whom she was much respected, and invariably conducted herself with an ease and dignified propriety which astonished her hosts. Her Indian name has escaped my memory, but its definition in English is the "Stately One." It must, however, be borne in mind that hers was a solitary exception, and so considered by all of her own people. There were many very handsome young girls among them, but none like the "Stately," who, instead of being an object of envy, possessed their unbounded admiration and respect.