Life among the Apaches/Chapter 4
Journey to Sonora.—Adventure with Apaches.—Fronteras.—Mexican dread of Indians.—Gen. Carasco.—Janos.—Mexican Policy toward the Apaches.—Carasco's Raid.—Gandara, Monteverde and Urea.—Death of Carasco.—Arispe.—Apache Prisoners.—Mexican Guard.—Apaches Attacking a Mexican Train.—Curious Style of Pursuit.—Return to the Copper Mines.—Americans Attacked by Apaches.—Traits of Apache Character.—Craftiness.
Were I to diverge from the proposed plan of narrating only what appertains directly to the elucidation of Indian character, etc., this work might be continued through a series of volumes; but the object of the writer is to condense his remarks to such incidents as have relation only to the various Indian tribes he encountered in the course of nine years experience among them.
In May, the Commissioner resolved on a journey into Sonora, to ascertain whether supplies of corn, flour, sheep, and cattle, could be depended upon from that State for the use of the Commission operating along its northern frontier, and also for other objects immediately affecting the welfare of the body under his orders, and the prosecution of the work committed to his charge. On the afternoon of the third day we camped at a place where several holes had been dug by previous travelers, and being full of sweet water they offered us the first refreshment of the kind we had enjoyed for forty-eight hours. The country for a long distance was a perfect plain, unbroken even by rocks or trees, with here and there a shrub, but none over eighteen inches high. At this place, on a subsequent occasion, an incident illustrative of the Apache race occurred, and it is related here, although having no connection with our march, for the sake of condensation.
Several years after accompanying Mr. Bartlett, it became necessary for a small party of Americans, five all told, to visit Sonora for provisions, and knowing the road I served as guide. One evening we encamped at the place mentioned above, and again found water for our famishing party and their animals. It was a God-send, as we had been without water for nearly sixty hours. Indian signs in abundance had been observed during the day, and we were all alive to the importance of keeping the strictest watch; accordingly two were placed upon guard at a time. Richard Purdy and myself took the first watch, each one occupying a flank of the camp, certainly not a large one, but of the utmost importance. Knowing the nature of the savages, it was agreed that we should not walk our posts, but conceal ourselves as much as possible and keep a sharp lookout. Before nightfall, Purdy and myself took the exact bearings of each shrub within pistol range, and quietly assumed our positions flat down in the grass, each man being sheltered by a small bush. There was no moon, but a bright starlight enabled us to perceive objects at some distance. The evening passed quietly, and at eleven o'clock we called two more of our comrades, who assumed our places, after having pointed out to them our precautions. At two o'clock, a. m., we were again roused to resume guard, and each one took his position. Scarcely an hour had elapsed when it appeared to me that a certain small bush had changed position somewhat; but not liking to create a false alarm and be laughed at for my pains, I merely determined to watch it with earnest attention. My suspicions and precaution were amply rewarded by perceiving the bush to approach, very gradually indeed, but still unmistakably. I dared not call to Purdy, but got my rifle to bear, as nearly as possible, upon the root of the bush. When I thought my aim good, and felt tolerably sure of my sights, I pulled the trigger. The shot was followed by the yells of some fifteen Apaches, who had approached within thirty paces of our camp by covering their heads with grass and crawling upon their bellies. Our comrades jumped to their feet and commenced shooting at the Indians, who discharged one volley into our camp and left us masters of the field. We lost one horse, killed, and had another slightly wounded; but a search developed the Apache of the moving bush lying dead, with a hole through his head. Without waiting for dawn the animals were immediately got ready and the party again started on its trip, fearing that the Apaches might get ahead and waylay them in some dangerous pass or cañon.
Accompanying the Commissioner, in the course of time we arrived at Agua Prieta, from whence I was dispatched with Mr. Thurber and Mr. Stewart to discover the town of Fronteras, and ascertain whether it could be reached with wagons. Mounting our horses we pursued a straight line for the supposed site of the town, passing through some chapparel and over broken ridges, until we arrived upon an extensive and beautiful plain, over which we galloped with free rein. About half an hour before sundown, we discovered a few thin columns of smoke ascending to the right of our road, and nearly ahead, from the top of a slight eminence about three miles distant. A few minutes brought us to the spot, but we could perceive no inhabitants about the houses on the plain, but raising our eyes to the hill, we saw the entire population of some nine hundred souls, besides four hundred soldiers, huddled together in evident alarm. They had taken us for Apaches, and fled in dismay to the presidio and protection of the military; but when they discovered that we were Americans, nothing could exceed their wonder at our hardihood and folly, as they termed it, in penetrating the country with so small a party. This fact will give the reader some idea of the abject terror with which the poor Mexicans on the frontiers of Sonora, Chihuahua and Durango regard the Apache Indians.
To persons not aware of the causes, this timidity would appear as rank cowardice; but, however true such a charge would be of the masses, yet it must be acknowledged that there are notable exceptions. The Mexicans on the northern frontier are the very lowest and poorest of their countrymen. Living in hovels and sustaining themselves in some manner never yet determined or ascertained by any other people, almost wholly without arms or ammunition, and brought up from their earliest infancy to entertain the most abject dread and horror of the Apaches, they are forever after unable to divest them selves of the belief that an Apache warrior is not a man, but some terrible ogre against whom it is useless to contend, and who is only to be avoided by flight or appeased by unconditional submission.
At Fronteras I met with Gen. Carasco, Military Governor of Sonora, and an old enemy whom it had been my lot to confront during the Mexican war. The General received us with marked hospitality and kindness; offered us refreshments of which we stood greatly in need, and dispatched runners to show Mr. Bartlett the way into the town. During the evening's session, which lasted into the "wee sma' hours ayont the twal," the conversation turned upon the battle of Cerro Gordo, where the General commanded a brigade, and we discovered that he barely escaped falling into our hands. Discussing the character of the Apaches and the policy of the Mexican government in their regard, the General made the following remarks:
"There is a small town named Janos, in Chihuahua, near the eastern boundary of Sonora, where the Apaches have for several years been received and provided with rations by the Government of that State, although the same Indians were at the time in open war with the Mexicans of Sonora. Not being able to comprehend the virtue of a policy which feeds Indians in one State that they might prey upon and destroy the citizens of an other, I concluded that my duty was to destroy the enemy wherever I could find him. Acting upon this decision, I waited until the allotted time for the Apaches to visit Janos to obtain their regular quarterly rations, and, by forced marches at night, succeeded in reaching the place just as the carnival was at its height. We killed a hundred and thirty, and took about ninety prisoners, principally women and children. Col. Medina, commanding the State of Chihuahua, was so enraged at my action, that he made formal complaint to the Supreme Government, which, however, after some unnecessary delay, approved of my course."
I expressed much astonishment at such a condition of affairs, when Carasco added: "It is the old story; our territory is enormous, and our Government weak. It cannot extend its protecting arms throughout all portions of the country. Whole provinces are left for years to themselves, except in the matter of taxation, and things run to ruin. It is to this cause that frequent pronunciamentos are attributed. The richest man in either of the distant States is actual lord of the State, and can always set the Government at defiance, because it costs so much to reduce him to subordination. I will give you an instance in point. During the American war, Manuel Gandara loaned the sum of four hundred thousand dollars to the Supreme Government, receiving its acknowledgements for that amount, with interest at the rate of ten per cent, per annum. After the war, during the administration of Peña y Peña, an election for Governor took place in Sonora, in which Manuel Gandara and Manuel Monteverde were the competitors. These families were as deadly rivals as the houses of Romeo and Capulet; and when the voting was over, each candidate claimed the election. As usual, neither applied to the Supreme Government for arbitration, but each summoned its forces and engaged in civil war. Gandara was backed by his numerous friends, peons, and the Yaqui Indians, while Monteverde enlisted the interests of many prominent Sonorians, and the Opatah and Papago tribes. War raged for a long time, until Monteverde applied to the General Government for protection. Gen. Urea was sent with a force of three thousand regulars to suppress Gandara, and for a time succeeded. At this stage of the proceedings, Gandara called upon the Supreme Government to refund his loan of four hundred thousand dollars, threatening that if payment were not forthcoming, he would assign his claim to the British Government. This threat had its effect, and soon after Gandara was put in possession of an order, emanating from the Secretary of War, to the effect that Urea had been operating without proper warrant of authority, and that if Gandara could catch that officer, he was at liberty to suspend him by the neck. This thoroughly frightened Urea, who immediately returned to the capital."
"Now," added Carasco, "you can appreciate the delicate position in which I find myself. I am ordered to the military command of Sonora, but am supplied with neither men nor money. Every day I was pained by accounts of dreadful Apache raids, in which men were massacred; women and children carried off captives; horses and property destroyed, and extensive districts laid waste and abandoned. At length I resorted to forced contributions from the rich and impressed the poor, determined they should fight for their own interests. This makes me unpopular with all parties, and I expect, some day, to be assassinated for my zeal in their behalf." Prophetic words! In less than a year Carasco was taken off by poison; so, at least, it was reported.
Wending our way from Fronteras we reached Arispe, the former capital of Sonora, on the 31st of May, 1850. At the time of our visit the place contained about twelve hundred inhabitants; but no American can possibly conjecture the terror felt by the people, of all classes, whenever it was announced that the Apaches were near. The second day after our arrival five Apache prisoners—two warriors and three women—were brought into town under a strong guard of twenty-five soldiers, and lodged in the town jail to await their ultimate destination. Two days afterward the rain poured down in torrents; the night was exceedingly dark and stormy; reverberating peals of thunder shook the solid hills, and repeated flashes of the most vivid lightning inspired the beholder with awe. The Mexican guard over the prisoners retired within and lighted their cigaritos, or engaged in the hazards of monte. The doors were securely closed and all prepared to pass the watch away with as much relish as the circumstances would permit. A little after midnight certain peculiar noises were heard about the prison and were repeated with an emphasis which compelled attention. Instinctively the guard knew that these noises proceeded from Apaches who were in quest of their incarcerated friends, and the fact was quickly made apparent by the prisoners, who commenced a chant in their native tongue loud enough to be heard outside. Here was a dilemma. The Indians were undoubtedly watching the door with intense interest, and no one dared go forth in that impenetrable gloom to face the savage foe. The force of the enemy was unknown. The citizens could not be relied upon for aid; no one would come to their assistance if attacked; they only numbered eight men and a sergeant, and they were panic-stricken. Perceiving this state of affairs, the Apache prisoners boldly advanced and demanded to be let out, at the same time giving fearful yells to apprise their friends of their designs, which were seconded by repeated strokes of heavy stones against the door. In their overpowering terror the guard mustered its whole strength, opened the door slightly and permitted their savage charge to leave. It is needless to add that they were never seen more. This is no figment of the brain, but the real, undisguised fact, and is recorded for the purpose of showing how completely the Apaches have control of the Mexican race upon the frontier.
Another incident illustrative of this supremacy occurred in the same town. A band of fifteen Apaches pursued a pack train and overtook it within three hundred yards of Arispe. The arrieros saved themselves by speedy flight, but the train was plundered and the mules driven off. Within an hour nearly two hundred armed men assembled with the avowed purpose of pursuing the savages and recovering the plunder. I happened to be on the Plaza at the time, and had just before observed the Indians making for the mountains lying east of the town. Which way did they go? asked the Mexican leader. I pointed out the direction, and also called his attention to the volume of dust raised by the retreating savages. He thanked me, placed himself at the head of his column, cried out, "Marchamos valientes"—let us march, brave fellows—and took a course the very opposite of the one pointed out. I then and there made up my mind, that if a similar affair should ever happen where I was, and a Mexican should inquire the route of the Indians, I would indicate the opposite to the one actually taken.
On our return from Sonora we met a force of two hundred Mexican soldiers in the Guadalupe Pass, who informed us that a party of ten Americans had been waylaid by the Apaches near the town of Janos, in Chihuahua, and that one was killed and three others wounded, the panic-stricken survivors saving themselves by precipitate flight. I felt convinced that this villainy had been perpetrated by the Copper Mine Apaches, who had been so seemingly friendly with us, but could not substantiate the charge. Subsequent revelations satisfied me that my suspicions were well founded, for soon after our arrival at the Copper Mines Mr. Bartlett sounded Mangas Colorado on the subject, but he denied any knowledge whatever of the affair; yet two days afterward admitted that he knew about it, and said that it had been done by some bad young men over whom he had no control. An Apache is trained from his earliest infancy to regard all other people as his natural enemies. He is taught that the chief excellence of man is to outwit his fellows. He is made to feel that the highest honors are bestowed upon him who is master of the greatest amount of rascality. The favors of the women are lavished upon the most adroit thief, because his dexterity enables him to furnish a more copious supply to their wants and caprices. As they never engage in any pursuit except that of war and the chase, all their worldly goods are the results of their skill and proficiency in these vocations. Polygamy being an institution among them, the man who can support or keep, or attract by his power to keep, the greatest number of women, is the man who is deemed entitled to the greatest amount of honor and respect. Gianatah is a great brave, said one in my hearing does he not keep seven squaws? and yet Gianatah was not, so far as personal bravery goes, the leading warrior of his band; but he was the most dexterous thief.
After our return to the Copper Mines, I was sitting in front of my tent one afternoon, writing a letter, when an Apache approached and for some reason regarded me attentively.
"What are you doing?" he at length inquired.
"Talking to my friends at home."
"But how can you talk to them so far off?"
"I will tell you. When the Apache desires to indicate speed he makes the figure of a bird; if he wishes to denote something beautiful or sweet, he delineates a flower; if he desires to express sloth, he makes the figure of a tortoise. These facts you know; but we do not use those symbols, and in their place we have agreed upon certain, characters, which being put together make words and indicate ideas. For instance, you see we make such marks; well, I send this paper to my friends, and they know just what these marks mean, the same as you would know what a bird or a tortoise meant; because we have all agreed upon a distinct and special interpretation."
These ideas were expressed to him in Spanish with great distinctness, and repeated until he seemed to comprehend their gist.
The savage pondered for a while, and then said: "I do not believe you; those characters all seem alike; nobody can distinguish any difference among many of them; you are trying to fool me, and make me believe you are a great medicine man."
"Indian," I answered, "I will give you proof. You see yonder man? He is the sutler. I will give you a note to him, authorizing you to receive a piece of tobacco; he is at least four hundred yards away, and cannot know of this conversation. If he gives you the tobacco on the reception of my note, you must believe."
"Very good; my white-eyed brother speaks well. I will make the trial, and will see if he says truth."
The note was written and delivered to my copper-colored friend, who started off on a brisk trot until he reached the sutler, to whom he delivered his order. Having read it, the sutler handed him a piece of tobacco, which seemed greatly to excite his astonishment. My friend looked at the weed, then scratched his head and looked again, in undisguised wonderment, advancing toward my tent steadily. "When within twenty yards, I noticed his eyes gleam with suppressed satisfaction, and hastily coming up, he said:
"Look here, white man, you try to make a fool of poor Apache. You and the other man made this thing up beforehand, to force me into the belief that you are a great medicine. Now, if you want me to believe you, just write another letter for another piece of tobacco, and if he gives it to me, then I will believe."
It is needless to add that the cunning ruse of the Apache to secure two pieces of tobacco, did not succeed.
Although my tent was so far removed from, the rest of the Commission as to render me isolated from the protection of my comrades, I never experienced any alarm, as I possessed two very large and fine dogs, and was accompanied by my servant, José, a faithful and brave Mexican boy, of some nineteen years of age. My armory consisted of four six-shooters, two rifles, a double-barreled shot gun, two bowie-knives, and plenty of ammunition for each weapon. I could discharge twenty-eight shots without reloading, and backed by Jose and my faithful dogs, which kept the strictest watch at night, I was satisfied that a moderate band of Indians could be kept at bay until assistance arrived. This fancied security was destroyed after a few weeks, by a circumstance which will be related in a future chapter; but it required very strong motives to induce my relinquishment of the most pleasant location at the Copper Mines.