Life among the Apaches/Chapter 26

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CHAPTER XXVI.


Apache Boldness and Address.—The Papagoes.—A Fine Herd Stolen by One Apache.—An Officer's Horse Stolen.—Soldier Robbed of his Horse.—Necessity for Prudence.—Apache Games.—Sons-in-jah's Version.—Apache Ideas of Gambling.—Races at Fort Sunmer.—The Winners.—Manuelito, the Great Navajo Warrior.


The boldness and address with which the Apaches carry out their designs, and the crafty cunning they display when desiring to mislead their enemies, can be best illustrated by stating several notable occurrences. The horses of the two companies commanded by Captains McCleave and Fritz, of the First California Cavalry, had become thin and weak from long and active service, and needed rest and refreshment. For this purpose General Carleton ordered them to the Reventon, a large rancho near the town of Tubac; but finding better grass and superior camping ground near the town of San Xavier del Bac, the companies took up temporary residence at that place. San Xavier is principally inhabited by Papago Indians, and contains about fifteen hundred souls. The Papagoes are semi-civilized, and have always been friendly; but a deadly feud exists between them and the Apaches, who seize every opportunity to annoy, rob and murder those people. The Papagoes had a large number of horses which were grazed, in the daytime, near the town, and caught up at night for fear of their being stolen by the ever vigilant foe. When McCleave and Fritz arrived with two hundred troopers, and grazed their horses by night under a strong guard, the Papagoes imagined that the force would deter the Apaches and keep them away. Under this impression they also permitted their animals to feed by night. On the other hand, the Apaches, as one of them afterward told me, foresaw precisely what happened. Those foolish Papagoes, said they, will think that because the Californian troops are so near that their property will be safe, and will relax their usual caution; now is our time to act. They did act, and to such purpose that they took nearly every horse once possessed by the Papagoes. Here was a specimen of nice judgment, founded upon a shrewd knowledge of human nature, and executed with boldness and address.

A wealthy resident of New Mexico, near Polvadera, owned a herd of superior horses of which he was extremely careful. The band numbered nearly one hundred, and were renowned for their excellence. These horses were strictly guarded every day, while grazing not far from the house, by twelve or fifteen well armed Mexicans, and at nightfall were inclosed in a large and strong corral, the walls of which were sixteen feet high and three feet thick, the only entrance being through a large and strong gate which was heavily barred and locked. Numerous attempts to steal this herd had been made by the Apaches, but invariably without success. The horses fed on a smooth, open plain, which could be easily scanned, and was so close to the corral that they could be placed in safety in a few minutes. At length one bold rascal determined either to get the herd or die attempting it. One very dark and stormy night he contrived to climb over the corral wall, and concealed himself in the hay and feed scattered about. Here he remained until the earliest dawn, when he selected the best horse in the lot, and mounting him, waited for the gates to be thrown open. Soon afterward the herders, yet unarmed, collected with their reatas, each one ready to lasso a horse for that day's service, as was their custom, after which the selected horses were to be saddled, then arms taken, and the herd driven to pasture. As soon as the gate was thrown open the frolicsome horses made a rush to get out, as they always did, the Apache keeping in the rear until all were outside, when, with a yell, and the alarming sound of an instrument they use when stampeding animals, he started the frightened herd which darted off at full speed, leaving the astonished and bewildered Mexicans in distress. The scoundrel, by leaning down from the horse so he could not be seen, had escaped notice and accomplished the robbery. Comment upon this bold and desperate act is quite unnecessary; it speaks for itself.

Lieut.-Col. Ferguson, of the First California Cavalry, bought a fine American horse, for which he paid three hundred dollars. He availed himself of the escort offered by my company to proceed to Tucson. One afternoon we camped in a grove of large cotton-wood trees, without underbrush, and in a favorable position. The picket line was ran from tree to tree, and at sunset the horses were fastened to it, fed, groomed, and a guard of two men, one each side, placed over them. The Colonel would not permit his horse to be tied up with those of the company, saying that he did not want him kicked nor bitten by those malicious half-breeds—and, I must say, with some reason—for there were a number of vicious animals among them. By his order, an iron stake was driven in the ground, about twenty feet from one end of the picket line, and just opposite the entrance to a narrow, rocky cañon. The moon was very brilliant, but would set behind the mountains about one o'clock a. m., and orders were given to keep a special watch over the Colonel's horse after that hour. About the time mentioned, the camp was alarmed by the report of a couple of carbines, and on inquiring the cause, found that the sentries had fired at an Apache who had gone off with the Colonel's horse. The successful robber had approached quite close to the animal without being discovered, and the moment the moon hid her light behind the hill, he cut the halter, sprang upon its back, stooped off on one side, and galloped up the cañon. The sentries heard the noise, suspected the cause, and fired in the direction of the retreating savage.

The mail service between Forts Sumner and Union, one hundred and eighty miles apart, required that the military courier should be mounted on the best horse disposable. The Reservation, at the former place, was forty miles square, and within its limits the Indians had a right to roam. On one occasion, while the courier was returning with the mails, he stopped near the entrance to a large and very crooked cañon, dotted with huge fragments of rock. At this place the grass was very fresh and fine, which induced the soldier to halt and permit his tired and hungry horse to graze for half an hour. He accordingly dismounted, and let the animal range to the extent of his reata, which was a remarkably fine one, and about sixty feet long. Although on the Reservation, he drew his pistol and seated himself on a fragment of the rock. While occupied in noticing the movements of his horse, he was addressed by an Apache, who had come up within four feet of him without being perceived. The Indian, who was unarmed, held out his hand in the frankest manner, and said: Nejeunee, nejeunee; which means, "friendly, kind." The soldier, believing him to be one of those under our charge, suffered him to approach and shake hands. Soon the wily savage pretended to be delighted at the reata, which he declared was the finest he ever saw, and commenced to examine it with critical attention throughout its length until he reached the horse, which he also evidently admired. Patting the animal, he remarked, mucho bueno; yes, answered the soldier, he is a fine horse. In the meantime, the Indian, unnoticed by the soldier, had drawn a small knife from the leg of his moccasin and severed the reata close to the horse, keeping the cut ends concealed in his left hand while patting the horse with his right. Suddenly he pointed behind the soldier and shouted, Comanche on dahl; which means, "the Comanches are coming." Involuntarily the soldier turned to see, and at the instant the Apache sprang into the saddle, and in two bounds was behind the friendly shelter of a huge rock, from whence he effected his escape with the horse, leaving the soldier holding the reata in one hand and his pistol in the other. I might go on and relate many more incidents of the same character, but as they all illustrate the same special traits, they will be omitted. The moral to be drawn is, that the traveler can never exercise too much prudence while among the Apaches, and it will never do to underrate their boldness, skill and craftiness.

They are fond of bathing in the summer, and are all expert swimmers; but nothing can induce them to wash themselves in winter. They are the most reckless of all gamblers, risking anything they possess upon the turn of a card. Men, women and children indiscriminately engage in this vice; but there are some games to which women are never allowed access. Among these is one played with poles and a hoop. The former are generally about ten feet in length, smooth and gradually tapering like a lance. It is marked with divisions throughout its whole length, and these divisions are stained in different colors. The hoop is of wood, about six inches in diameter, and divided like the poles, of which each player has one. Only two persons can engage in this game at one time. A level place is selected, from which the grass is removed a foot in width, and for twenty-five or thirty feet in length, and the earth trodden down firmly and smoothly. One of the players rolls the hoop forward, and after it reaches a certain distance, both dart their poles after it, overtaking and throwing it down. The graduation of values is from the point of the pole toward the butt, which ranks highest, and the object is to make the hoop fall on the pole as near the butt as possible, at the same time noting the value of the part which touches the hoop. The two values are then added and placed to the credit of the player. The game usually runs up to a hundred, but the extent is arbitrary among the players. While it is going on no woman is permitted to approach within a hundred yards, and each person present is compelled to leave all his arms behind. I inquired the reason for these restrictions, and was told that they were required by tradition; but the shrewd old Sons-in-jah gave me another, and, I believe, the true version. When people gamble, said he, they become half crazy, and are very apt to quarrel. This is the most exciting game we have, and those who play it will wager all they possess. The loser is apt to get angry, and fights have ensued which resulted in the loss of many warriors. To prevent this, it was long ago determined that no warrior should be present with arms upon his person or within near reach, and this game is always played at some distance from camp. Three prominent warriors are named as judges, and from their decision there is no appeal. They are not suffered to bet while acting in that capacity. The reason why women are forbidden to be present is because they always foment troubles between the players, and create confusion by taking sides and provoking dissention. I once asked Gian-nah-tah why the Apaches were such fools as to risk all they had in gaming. "Why," said he, "what difference does it make? They never play with any but Apaches; fortune will not always stick to one person, but continually changes. What is mine to-day will belong to somebody else to-morrow, while I get another man's goods; and, in course of time, I once more own my old articles. In this manner each successively owns the property of all his fellows." To argue against this style of reasoning, by pointing out the vice and immorality of gambling, would only have subjected me to derision and contempt, and as I am not a missionary—especially one of the self-sacrificing class—I received his explanation with every mark of favor. The women have several games of their own, in which the men never mingle; but when cards are used, everybody takes a share in the business.

Racing on foot is another diversion frequently resorted to by these active, restless Indians, and the women generally manage to carry off the palm, provided the distance is not too great. The officers at the post offered a number of prizes to be competed for, the fastest runner to take the prize apportioned to the distance for which it was offered. The longest race was half a mile, the next a quarter, the third three hundred yards, and the fourth one hundred. It was open for men under forty years of age and over fifteen, and for girls from fifteen up to twenty-five. About a hundred Apaches and Navajoes entered for the prizes, and practiced every day for a week. At the appointed time everybody in camp assembled to witness the contest. Among the competitors was the Apache girl, Ish-kay-nay, a clean-limbed, handsome girl of seventeen, who had always refused marriage, and she was the favorite among the whites. Each runner was tightly girded with a broad belt, and looked like a race horse. Ten entered for the half mile stake, which was a gaudy piece of calico for a dress or shirt, as the case might be. At the word, they went off like rockets, Nah-kah-yen leading handsomely, and Ish-kay-nay bringing up the rear, but running as clean and easy as a greyhound. Within four hundred yards of the goal, she closed the gap, went by like a steam engine, and got in an easy winner, six yards ahead of all competitors. For the quarter mile race she again entered, but was ruled out by the other Indians, and their objections were allowed, it being decided that the victor in either race should not enter for another.

The second contest was won by Nah-kah-yen, but not without a desperate struggle with Manuelito, a very prominent Navajo chief. The third and fourth prizes were gained by Navajoes. Manuelito was the finest looking Indian man I ever saw. He was over six feet in height, and of the most symmetrical figure, combining ease, grace, and power and activity in a wonderful degree. He was a great dandy, and was always elaborately dressed in the finest Indian costume. His leggings were highly ornamented, and his buckskin jacket fitted without a wrinkle. A splendid bunch of many colored plumes, surmounted by two eagle's feathers, adorned his head, while his shapely feet were incased in elegantly worked moccasins. Navajo blankets have a wide and merited reputation for beauty and excellence, some of them being worth a hundred dollars a piece in the New Mexican market, and over his shoulders was one of superior character, worn with the grace and dignity with which a Roman Senator might be supposed to don his toga. So vain a man could not be well otherwise than brave, and he was noted for his gallantry. But he was also esteemed one of the wisest counselors in his tribe, and had headed many a bloody and destructive inroad until compelled to yield to the Californian troops. While on the Reservation his conduct was proud, haughty and decorous. He never honored any of us with his presence except when he came on business, but never exhibited any animosity.

Although the Navajoes and Apaches are identically one people, speaking the same language and observing nearly the same ceremonies, yet they differ materially in many respects, undoubtedly caused by a marked difference of climate. The country of the Navajoes is cold and inhospitable in winter—subject to deep snows and long continued frosts—while that roamed over by the Apaches is far milder, and in many portions of even torrid heat. This compels the Navajoes to erect substantial huts of an oval form, the lower portion of the hut being excavated, and the upper composed of substantial stakes brought together and firmly fastened at the top. Long, slender and supple poles are then hooped closely about the stakes, and the whole thickly covered with mud. These huts are sometimes quite roomy, many of them being twelve or fourteen feet in diameter. The women are extremely dexterous in weaving a very superior kind of blanket, the colors of which are generally black and white; but sometimes made of green, blue, red, pink, purple, white, black, etc., so arranged as to produce a very gaudy and striking effect. These blankets are perfectly water-proof, and very thick, but they scarcely impart as much warmth as one of first-class California manufacture. They last for years, retaining their beauty and colors without loss of brilliancy. This manufacture of blankets arises from the exigencies of the climate, and was originally learned from the Mexicans when the two people lived on amicable terms. The procurement of wool is one of their prime necessities, and is the inciting cause of the terrific raids they make into New Mexico, which is specially a sheep raising country. When large herds of cattle are met, the Navajoes "gobble them up" with avidity, but seldom molest them when few in number, as they cannot be driven with the rapidity of sheep; leave a broader and more marked trail, and serve only for food. These Indians live together in considerable numbers during the winter months, a village frequently containing from two hundred to eight hundred inhabitants. Such communities must necessarily be governed by a more systematic organization than obtains among the Apaches proper; hence they have regular chiefs and sub-chiefs, whose orders are obeyed, and who are charged with the government of all present; but his office is not hereditary, the chieftainship being determined by election. The fortunate candidate holds office for life, or during good behavior, and feels no little pride in his position. In all matters wherein the Navajoes differ from the Apaches, they will be found chargeable to the climatic differences of their several countries. Their ceremonies, religious views, traditions, language, and general deportment, as well as their personal appearance, are so strikingly similar as to be almost undistinguishable. If the Navajo woman is more industrious and skilled than the Apache, she is also much more loose and wanton. A very marked characteristic of the latter people is their strict chastity, while the Navajoes are quite as much noted for their utter want of virtue.

Prior to the time of Mangas Colorado, several disputes of a serious character had occurred between these two tribes, but that shrewd Indian statesman managed to bestow one of his daughters upon the most noted of the Navajo chiefs, and finally succeeded in restoring the strictest amity, which continued without cessation during his long life devoted to his people's good, and until the Navajoes, angered at the surrender of the Apaches at Fort Sumner, made a raid upon their horses, and were driven off with great slaughter. But the enmity engendered by such conflicts never extended to parties outside the Reservation. Fort Bascom, situated on a branch of the Red river, one hundred and twenty-five miles east-north-east from Fort Sumner, was frequently visited by Comanche Indians, and on one occasion a large band, numbering nearly two hundred, informed the commander at Bascom that they intended to "clean out" the Apaches located at Sumner. That officer replied: "Do not attempt so foolish a thing. There are three companies of soldiers at that place, two of which are cavalry, and so sure as you molest the Apaches under their charge they will not only fight you themselves, but will arm and place the Apaches in the field against you. Take my advice and let them alone." Shortly afterward, while out with a small party, I met this same band of Comanches, when the chief repeated his intention to me, and told me what the commander of Bascom had said. Divining the Indian's drift, I immediately replied: "You tell me nothing new. We have all heard this before, and have made preparations to give you a welcome commensurate with your fame as a warrior. My commander has sent me out with these twenty-five men to find you and conduct you to his camp. The Comanches and Americans are friends. He does not wish to molest you, nor will he permit you to molest him, or those for whose safety he is responsible; but if this thing must come off, the sooner the better. Whenever my Comanche brother wishes to move toward Fort Sumner, I am ready to accompany him." "I have no time now," was the reply, "but will come this way again after three moons, and then we will catch the Apaches, but we will not fight the Americans." He and his band then wheeled their horses and rode off into the wilderness, taking an easterly course. We never heard of them afterwards.