Life among the Apaches/Chapter 6

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Rescue of Two Mexican Boys.—War Talk.—Exciting Scene.—Peaceful Termination.—Large Indian Forces.—An Apache lulled by a Mexican.—Intense Excitement.—Fearless Conductor Col. Craig.—The Apaches Pacified.—Another War Talk.—Amicable Result.—Necessity of Firmness and Precaution.

It has already been stated that my tent was pitched several hundred yards from the rest of the Commission, and hidden from the view of my companions by an intervening hillock. This fact rendered me far more cautious than I otherwise would have been. Several days subsequent to the rescue of Inez, the afternoon being exceedingly hot and sultry, I was lying on my cot reading a work borrowed from Dr. Webb, while José was busy in front of the tent, washing some clothes in the pool. A very large number of Apaches were in our camp that day, but had not disturbed me, as was their usual custom. Suddenly, two boys, evidently Mexicans, darted into my tent, got under my cot, and concealed themselves between the side of the tent and the drooping blankets. This visitation, in such an abrupt and irregular manner, excited my surprise, and I asked who they were and what they wanted. "Somos Mejicanos, caballero, y estamos cautivos con los Apaches, y nos hemos escondido aqui para escaparles. Por Dios no nos rinde otra vez entre ellos," which means in English—"We are Mexicans, sir, and we are captives among the Apaches, and we have hidden here to escape them. For God's sake, do not deliver us again among them."

I called to José, and asked: "Are there any Indians close by."

"No, sir," he replied, "but they are coming this way."

I instantly jumped from the cot, thrust two six-shooters in my belt, took two more in my hands, one in each, ordered José to sling the carbine over his shoulder and carry the double-barreled gun in his hands, and telling the boys to keep close to my side one on the right and the other on the left I sallied from the tent with the determination to take these captives to the Commissioner, for his disposal.

We had not proceeded twenty yards before a band of some thirty or forty surrounded us, and with menacing words and gestures, demanded the instant release of their captives; but, having made up my mind, I was determined to carry out my intention at all risks. I told José to place his back to mine, cock his gun and shoot the first Indian he saw bend his bow or give sign of active hostility; while, with a cocked pistol in each hand, we went circling round, so as to face all parts of the ring in succession, at the same time warning the savages to keep their distance. In this manner we accomplished about two hundred yards, when my situation was perceived by several gentlemen of the Commission, and, drawing their pistols, they advanced to my aid. The Indians relinguished their attempts and accompanied us peaceably to the Commissioner, to whom I surrendered the boys and detailed the affair. The boys were respectively named Savero Aredia and José Trinfan, the former aged thirteen, and a native of Bacuachi, in Sonora, and the latter aged about eleven, and a native of Fronteras, in the same State. The next day at night, Mr. Bartlett sent them to the camp of Gen. Garcia Conde, the Mexican Commissioner. They were accompanied by a strong guard, which delivered them safely to the General, who subsequently restored them to their respective families, much to their wonder and gratification.

Four or five days afterward, Mangas Colorado, Ponce, Delgadito, Cuchillo Negro, Coletto Amarillo, and some two hundred warriors, together with the fellow who claimed the boys, entered the Copper Mines, to have a "big talk." Mr. Bartlett was not at all displeased to see them, and determined to settle the matter at once. The mass of Indians formed themselves in a semicircle, two and three deep, facing the door of the room in which the talk was had, while the principal men and about a dozen of the Commission, well armed, occupied a large room in our adobe building. Pipes and tobacco were handed round and a "cloud blown" before the real business of the seance commenced. About a hundred and fifty of the Commission were near at hand with their arms ready. After a long and profound silence, the conversation was commenced by Mangas Colorado, on the part of the Apaches, and by myself, on the part of the Americans, every expression of the savages being taken down in writing, and then translated to Mr. Bartlett, who dictated a reply, if anything important occurred to him, or allowed the interpreter to respond, as the circumstances would permit. As the succeeding recital of the interview was originally written out in full by myself, and handed to Mr. Bartlett as the official record, and subsequently published by him without alteration, I deem myself justified in making use of it for this work.

Mangas Colorado spoke and said: "Why did you take our captives from us?"

Reply.—"Your captives came to us and demanded our protection."

Mangos Colorado.—"You came to our country. You were well received. Your lives, your property, your animals were safe. You passed by ones, by twos, by threes through our country. You went and came in peace. Your strayed animals were always brought home to you again. Our wives, our women and children came here and visited your houses. We were friends—we were brothers! Believing this, we came among you and brought our captives, relying on it that we were brothers and that you would feel as we feel. We concealed nothing. We came not secretly nor in the night. We came in open day, and before your faces, and showed our captives to you. We believed your assurances of friendship, and we trusted them. Why did you take our captives from us?"

Reply.—"What we have said to you is true. We do not tell lies. The greatness and dignity of our nation forbid our doing so mean a thing. What our brother has said is true and good also. We will now tell him why we took his captives away. Four years ago, we, too, were at war with Mexico. We know that the Apaches make a distinction between Chihuahua and Sonora. They are now at peace with Chihuahua, but at war with Sonora. We, in our war, did not make that distinction. The Mexicans, whether living in one or the other State, are all one nation, and we fought them as a nation. When the war was over, in which we conquered, we made peace with them. They are now our friends, and by the terms of the peace we are bound to protect them. We told you this when we first came here, and requested you to cease from hostility against Mexico. Time passed, and we grew very friendly; everything went well. You came in here with your captives. Who were those captives? Mexicans; the very people we told you we were bound to protect. We took them from you and sent them to Gen. Garcia Conde, who will set them at liberty in their own country. We mean to show you that we cannot lie. We promised protection to the Mexicans, and we gave it to them. We promise friendship and protection to you, and we will give them to you. If we had not done so to Mexico, you would not believe us with regard to yourselves. We cannot lie."

During the above conversation, which was carried on in a slow and dignified manner, Ponce was becoming very much excited, altogether too much so for an Indian, and being unable to restrain himself any longer, he arose, and, with many gesticulations, said:

Ponce.—"Yes, but you took our captives without beforehand cautioning us. We were ignorant of this promise to restore captives. They were made prisoners in lawful warfare. They belong to us. They are our property. Our people have also been made captives by Mexicans. If we had known of this thing, we would not have come here. We would not have placed that confidence in you."

Reply.—"Our brother speaks in anger, and without reflection. Boys and women lose their temper, but men reflect and argue; and he who has reason and justice on his side, wins. No doubt, you have suffered much by the Mexicans. This is a question in which it is impossible for us to tell who is wrong, or who is right. You and the Mexicans accuse each other of being the aggressors. Our duty is to fulfill our promise to both. This opportunity enables us to show to Mexico that we mean what we say, and when the time comes, we will be ready and prompt to prove the good faith of our promises to you."

Ponce.—"I am neither a boy nor a squaw. I am a man and a brave. I speak with reflection. I know what I say. I speak of the wrongs we have suffered and those you now do us." Then, placing his hand on my shoulder, he said in a very excited manner—"You must not speak any more. Let some one else speak."

As this was rather more than I had bargained for, I immediately placed both hands on his shoulders, and, crushing him down on the floor, I said:

"I want you to understand that I am the very one to speak—the only one who can speak to you. Now, stay there. Do you sit down. You are a squaw and no brave. I will select a man to speak for the Apaches. Delgadito (beckoning to that warrior) do you come here and speak for your nation."

It is impossible to describe the smothered rage of Ponce, but he saw there was no chance, and never again uttered a word during the session.

Delgadito then arose and said: "Let my brother declare the mind of his people."

Reply.—"We wish to explain to our Apache brethren why we have done this thing, and what we can do for the late owner of those captives. We know that you have not acted secretly or in the dark. You came in open day, and brought your captives among us. We took them in open day, in obedience to orders from our great chief at Washington. The great chief of our nation said: 'You must take all the Mexican captives you meet among the Apaches and set them at liberty.' We cannot disobey this order, and for this reason we have taken away your captives."

Delgadito.—"We cannot doubt the words of our brave white brethren. The Americans are braves. We know it, and we believe a brave scorns to lie. But the owner of these captives is poor. He cannot lose his prisoners, who were obtained at the risk of his life, and purchased by the blood of his relatives. He justly demands his captives. We are his friends, and wish to see this demand complied with. It is just, and as justice we demand it."

Reply.—"We will tell our Apache brethren what can be done. The captives cannot be restored. The Commissioner cannot buy them. No American can buy them; but there is a Mexican in our employ who is anxious to buy and restore them to their homes. We have no objection that he should do so; and if he is not rich enough, some of us will lend him the means."

Delgadito.—"The owner does not wish to sell; he wants his captives."

Reply.—"Our brother has already been told that this cannot be. We do not speak with two tongues. Make up your minds."

A short consultation was then held among the leading Apaches, after which Delgadito said: "The owner wants twenty horses for them."

Reply.—"The Apache laughs at his white brother. He thinks him a squaw, and that he can play with him as with an arrow. Let the Apache say again."

Delgadito.—"The brave who owns these captives does not want to sell. He has had one of these boys six years. He grew up under him. His heart-strings are bound around him. He is as a son to his old age. He speaks our language, and he cannot sell him. Money cannot buy affection. His heart cannot be sold. He taught him to string the bow and wield the lance. He loves the boy and cannot sell him."

Reply.—"We are sorry that this thing should be. We feel for our Apache brother, and would like to lighten his heart. But it is not our fault. Our brother has fixed his affection on the child of his enemy. It is very noble. But our duty is stern. "We cannot avoid it. It wounds our hearts to hurt our friends; but if they were our own children, and the duty of the law said: 'Part with them; part with them' we would. Let our Apache brother reflect, and name his price."

Delgadito.—"What will you give?"

To which Mr. Bartlett replied: "Come and I will show you."

The whole conclave then broke up and adjourned to the Commissary's stores, where goods, such as calicoes, blankets and sheetings, to the value of two hundred and fifty dollars were laid out for their acceptance. This was more than Apache cupidity could stand; the bargain was soon closed, and the affair passed away in peace. But it was never forgotten, and I felt positive that the time would come when they would endeavor to wreak their ill-concealed vengeance. My expectations were justified by the result, for they ultimately stole nearly two hundred head of animals from the Commission.

At this period the band of Mangas Colorado, numbering some three hundred warriors, remained encamped about four miles distant, while that of Delgadito, numbering nearly as many, occupied the valley of the Mimbres river, eighteen miles off. At the same time four hundred Navajoes occupied the banks of the Gila, distant twenty-eight miles. We were thus placed between three large Indian forces, but took no notice of the fact, continuing our hunting excursions in twos and threes with as much apparent indifference as ever, and adopting the precaution of taking our six-shooters and plenty of ammunition, as well as our rifles.

On the 6th of July, a Mexican, named Jesus Lopez, in the employ of the Commission, had a dispute with an Apache, which terminated by the Mexican shooting his savage friend. Large numbers of Apaches, including Mangas Colorado and several prominent men, were in our camp at the time, but in a moment they mounted their active ponies and were fleeing in all directions. Col. Craig called upon me to follow him, and we rushed out and up the hills after the Apaches, telling them not to go, that we were friends, that the murderer was already a prisoner, and that full justice would be done them. After many persuasions, we induced them to calm their fears and come back. The prisoner was shown them with chains on his feet in care of the guard; while the wounded man was taken to the hospital and accorded every assistance. He lingered for a month and then died, surrounded by his friends, who had been witnesses to the care bestowed upon him. This affair brought on another talk, which took place a few days after his burial, which was performed by his own people in secret, having declined the offer of a coffin and sepulture at our hands.

A large body of Apaches had congregated to hear the talk, and they were evidently determined to have the best of it on this occasion. They had made up their minds to have the blood of the slayer, and had they succeeded would have attributed their triumph to fear on our part. Mr. Bartlett was quite as determined that American law only should have weight, and I was prepared for a lively scene. On that day the Commissary's and Sutler's stores were closed, and every man of us stood ready for active duty at a moment's warning. The smoking process over, the Apaches were addressed as follows, the same rules being observed as on the former occasion.

Commissioner.—"I feel sad, as well as all the Americans here, and sympathize with our Apache brothers for the death of one of their braves. "We are all friends. The dead man was our friend, and we regret his loss. I know that he committed no offence; that he even did not provoke the attack upon him. But our Apache brethren must remember that it was not by the hand of an American he died. It was by that of a Mexican, though employed by the Commissioner. For this reason it is my duty to see justice done you, and the murderer punished. I am here in command of the party engaged in tracing the dividing line between the United States—the country of the Americans—and Mexico. I have fully explained this to you before, and you now understand it. Beyond this I have no powers. The great chief of the Americans lives far, very far, toward the rising sun. From him I received my orders, and those orders I must obey. I cannot interfere in punishing any man, whether an Indian, a Mexican, or an American. There is another great chief who lives at Santa Fé. He is the Governor of all New Mexico. This great chief administers the laws of the Americans. He alone can inflict punishment when a man has been found guilty. To this great chief I will send the murderer of our Apache brother. He will try him, and if found guilty, will have him punished according to American laws. This is all I can do. Such is the disposition I will make of this man. It is all I have a right to do."

To my surprise, Ponce arose to reply; he said: "This is all very good. The Apaches know that the Americans are their friends. The Apaches believe what the Americans say is true. They know that the Americans do not speak with two tongues. They know that you have never told them a lie. They know that you will do what you say. But the Apaches will not be satisfied to hear that the murderer has been punished in Santa Fé. They want him punished here, at the Copper Mines, where the band of the dead brave may see him put to death—where all the Apaches may see him put to death. (Here Ponce made the sign of suspending by the neck.) Then the Apaches will see and know that their American brothers do justice to them."

Commissioner.—"I will propose another plan to the Apaches. It is to keep the murderer in chains, as you now see him; to make him work, and give all he earns to the wife and family of your dead brave. This I will see paid in blankets, in cotton cloth, in corn, in money, or anything else the family may like. I will give them all that is now due to the man, and at the end of every month I will give them twenty dollars in goods or in money. When the cold season comes, these women and children will come in and receive their blankets and cloth to keep them warm, and corn to satisfy their hunger."

Ponce.—"You speak well. Your promises are good. But money will not satisfy an Apache for the blood of a brave! Thousands will not drown the grief of this poor woman for the loss of her son. Would money satisfy an American for the murder of his people? Would money pay you, Señor Commissioner, for the loss of your child? No; money will not bury your grief. It will not bury ours. The mother of the dead brave demands the life of his murderer. Nothing else will satisfy her. She wants no money. She wants no goods. She wants no corn. Would money satisfy me (striking his breast) for the death of my son? No! I would demand the blood of the murderer. Then I would be satisfied. Then I would be willing to die myself. I would not wish to live and feel the grief which the loss of my son would cause me."

Reply.—"Your words are good. You speak with the heart of feeling. I feel as you do. All the Americans feel as you do. Our hearts are sad at your loss. We mourn with this poor woman. We will do all we can to assist her and her family. I know that neither money nor goods will pay for her loss. I do not want the Apaches, my brothers, so to consider it. What I propose is for the good of this family. My wish is, to make them comfortable. I desire to give them the aid of which they are deprived by the loss of their protector. If the prisoner's life is taken, your desire for revenge is satisfied. Law and justice are satisfied; but this poor woman gets nothing. She and her family remain poor. They have no one to labor for them. Will it not be better to provide for their wants?"

A short interchange of opinions occurred at this period of the proceedings, and the mother of the murdered man was called on for her decision. Acting under the influence of the leading warriors, whose object is stated at the opening of this chapter, she vehemently demanded the blood of her son's slayer, and stated her determination to be satisfied with nothing else. In accordance with this decision Ponce resumed and said:

"If an Apache should take the life of an American, would you not make war on us and take many Apache lives?"

Reply.—"No; I would demand the arrest of the murderer, and would be satisfied to have him punished as the Apaches punish those who commit murder. Did not a band of Apaches attack a small party of Americans, very recently, on the Janos road? Did they not kill one of them and wound three others with their arrows? And did they not take from them all their property? You all know this to be true, and I know it to be true. I passed near the spot where it took place, three days afterward. The Apaches did not even bury their victim. They left him lying by the wayside, food for the crows and the wolves. Why do not these Americans revenge themselves on you for this act? They are strong enough. They have many warriors, and in a few days can bring a thousand more here. But there would be no justice in that. The Americans believe this murder was committed by your bad men—by cowards. The Apaches have bad men among them; but you who are now among us are our friends, and we will not demand redress of you. Yet, as I told you before, you must endeavor to find the men who killed our brother, and punish them. Our animals feed in your valleys. Some of your bad men might steal them, as they have already done; but the Americans would not make war on you for this. We hold you responsible, and shall call on you to find them and bring them back, as you have done. While the Apaches continue to do this, the Americans will be their friends and their brothers. But if the Apaches take our property and do not restore it, they can no longer be the friends of the Americans. War will then follow; thousands of soldiers will take possession of your lands, your grazing valleys, and your watering places. They will destroy every Apache warrior they find, and take your women and children captives."

This rather menacing speech, with the firmness and determination evinced, brought our copper colored and belligerent visitors to a proper sense of the case, and after considerable "pow-wow" among themselves, the mother of the deceased agreed to leave the punishment of the murderer to the determination of our own laws, and to receive as equivalent for his loss all the money due the prisoner, and twenty dollars a month, the amount of his wages, while we remained at the Copper Mines.

During the foregoing talk I learned the important fact, that coolness and quiet determination will almost always overawe and subdue an Indian, provided the right is on your side. But however much he may yield, one may make sure that he will seize the first favorable opportunity to "get even." Should such an opportunity never occur, it becomes his cherished object to wreak his vengeance on the next comer, entirely regardless of his antecedents. For this reason the utmost caution is always necessary; because, although one may feel wholly guiltless of act or intention against the savages, he is held strictly responsible by them for the acts and intentions of his predecessors.