||General Crook in the Indian Country by Captain John Gregory Bourke
from The Century Magazine, March, 1891
illustrations by Frederic Remington,
from The Century Magazine, March, 1891
Born near Taylorsville, Ohio, in 1829, George Crook graduated from West Point in 1852. By the end of the Civil War he was a major general of the Ohio volunteers with brevets in the regular army to that rank. He served in Oregon in the campaign against the Pi-Utes in 1866 and against the Apaches in Arizona Territory in the early 1870s. Captain John Bourke, who served with him for many years, described him as follows:
At the date of which I am now writing General Crook was an ideal soldier in every sense. He stood about six feet in his stockings, was straight as an arrow, broad-shouldered, lithe, sinewy as a cat, and able to bear any amount of any kind of fatigue. It mattered not under what guise vicissitude and privation came, they never seemed to affect him. Hunger and thirst, rain or sunshine, snow and cold, the climbing up or down of rugged, slippery mountains, or the monotonous march, day after day, along deserts bristling with spines of the cactus, Spanish bayonet, mescal, and palo verde his placid equanimity was never disturbed in the slightest degree. He was at that period of his life fond of taking his rifle and wandering off on his trusty mule alone in the mountains. At sunset he would picket his animal to a mesquite bush near grass, make a little fire, cook some of the game he had killed, erect a small “wind-break” of brush and flat stones such as the Indians make, cut an armful of twigs for a bed, wrap himself up in his blanket, and sleep till the first peep of dawn.
“You ask me to tell you about Indians,” said an old Apache chief whom I was boring about some ethnological matter--”go to the Nantan [the Chief -- Crook’s name abbreviated]; he'll tell you. He's more of an Indian than I am.”
But Crook did not go on “tizwin” [alcoholic] sprees like the Apaches; he never touched stimulants in any form unless it might be something prescribed by a physician; he never drank coffee, and rarely tasted tea. Milk was his favorite beverage when he could get it, and pure water when he could not.
His personal appearance was impressive, but without the slightest suggestion of the pompous and overdressed military man; he was plain as an old stick, and looked more like an honest country squire than the commander of a warlike expedition. He had blue-gray eyes, quick and penetrating in glance, a finely chiseled Roman nose, a firm and yet kindly mouth, a well-arched head, a good brow, and a general expression of indomitable resolution, honest purpose, sagacity, and good intentions. He had an aversion to wearing uniform and to the glitter and filigree of the military profession. He was essentially a man of action and spoke but little, and to the point, but was fond of listening to the conversation of others. He was at all times accessible to the humblest soldier or the poorest “prospector,” without ever losing a certain dignity which repelled familiarity but had no semblance of haughtiness. He never used profanity and indulged in no equivocal language.
Probably no officer of equal rank in our army issued fewer orders or letters of instructions. “Example is always the best general order,” he said to me once when we were seated side by side on a fallen log in the lower Powder Valley, Montana, in a most exasperating drizzle of rain in the summer of 1876. It certainly was true of campaigning in Arizona, and no officer or soldier hesitated to endure any hardship when he saw the commanding general at the head of the column, eating the same rations as himself and not carrying enough extra clothing to wad a shotgun. There is one character in American history whom Crook, saving his better education and broader experience, very strongly resembled--and that is Daniel Boone.
Crook developed one of his key strategies, the use of Indian scouts, early in his career. In 1866 he was in the area where the states of Nevada, Oregon and Idaho meet, then dominated by an affiliation of Indian groups collectively called Pi-Utes.
He lost not a moment, but set out with his troops from the Dalles in Oregon, in the dreary winter of 1866, and moved with several converging columns, each able to take care of itself under any and all circumstances, upon the center of the zone of operations--old Camp Warner, in southeastern Oregon.
His plans were simple and comprehensible: to get into the center of operations, and thence to move out, as necessity dictated, in any and every direction, securing the advantage of operating on interior lines, and of conducting movements which would allow the enemy no rest.
Each column was provided with an effective train of pack-mules, and with a corps of Indian guides, selected first from among the Wascoes and Warm Springs (allied to the Modocs) and latterly from the Bannocks and the Shoshones.
The first results of this campaign were more important in disciplining and hardening Crook's officers and men, in teaching them that military operations could be conducted in the severest of seasons, and that, with the aid of Indian scouts, the wiliest of savages could eventually be brought to bay and forced to a fight, than productive of decisive results ... The Indian scouts were kept from one to two days in advance, and covered not only the front of the columns, but fifty miles of the country on each flank. All marching was made by night, and the general direction was towards the lava beds of northern California. The bronco mules and horses were the source of great anxiety, as they were likely at any moment to stampede or to make off into the brush: a number of them did break away, and, with the rations they carried, were never again found.
Skirmishes occurred each day between the advance of the Indian scouts and the hostiles, Crook being careful not to march the same distance on two consecutive days. Some days, or nights rather, he would advance so far, and the next march would be twice as far. On one occasion the march began at sundown and lasted through the night and all the next day until close on to sunset, the command halting only to tighten cinches. This greatly fatigued officers and men, but it perplexed the enemy and prevented them from calculating accurately upon the place and moment for an ambuscade.
The Patient Pack Mule by Frederic Remington
Against formidable odds, this northern campaign was successfully completed in March of 1868, and Crook's victory in Oregon led to his appointment to command in the troubled Arizona Territory. When Crook arrived in Arizona, Captain John Bourke, the narrator, joined his staff and so is now speaking from first-hand experience. He continues:
[After receiving supplies,] Crook resumed his work, and in a severe storm of snow on the 17th of March, 1868, struck the Pi-Utes another and final blow which brought them to their knees. Before the end of the month the whole tribe had sued for peace and been granted the terms of unconditional surrender and work. The district thus freed from depredation and disaster was some six hundred miles long by three hundred in breadth, and embraced parts of Nevada where the silver industry, pursued under the protection of peace, within the next ten years yielded hundreds of millions of ounces of silver bullion.
Wonderful as had been Crook’s success in the campaign outlined above, his modesty induced him to regard it as a simple duty performed in obedience to orders, and in all likelihood the outside world would never have heard of it had not General Grant, our greatest soldier, been at the head of military affairs, and soon after in the presidential chair. Accordingly, when the condition of chronic bloodshed in Arizona, always frightful, had become indescribable; when the people of that unfortunate Territory, grappling in a death struggle with the astutest and fiercest of all the tribes encountered by the Caucasian since he crossed the Mississippi, had sent up a wail of agony imploring relief, President Grant wasted no time in red tape, but assigned Crook to the command.
The Situation in Arizona
I was serving in Arizona for two years before Crook’s arrival, which was not until June, 1871. I know that a book could be written regarding the black night of despair, unrelieved by the glint of one kindly star, in which all that pertained to that Territory was involved. I have in my possession copies of the Arizona newspapers of those years which are filled with accounts of Apache raids and murders and of counter-raids and counter-murders. No man’s life was safe for a moment outside the half-dozen large towns, while in the smaller villages and ranchos sentinels were kept posted by day and packs of dogs were turned loose at night. All travel, even on the main roads, had to be done between sunset and sunrise; the terrorized ranchmen who endeavored to till a few acres of barley or corn in the bottoms did so with cocked revolvers on hip and loaded rifles slung to the plow-handles.
There is a history of this land of Arizona, one full of strange stories of all that is horrible, much that is romantic, and not a little that is beautiful. It is too long to receive even scant attention here, but so much of it is written in blood that perhaps my readers may feel grateful for the omission.
An Incident of the March by Frederic Remington
The immediate cause of the transfer of Crook to Arizona was the petition above mentioned addressed to General Grant by the settlers, many of whom, having known Crook in California and Nevada, respected his abilities, admired his character, and felt that he was the man for the place. The killing of Lieutenant H. B. Cushing, and a number of his men, of the 3d Cavalry, in a most desperate fight with the whole band of Chiricahua Apaches, in the Mustang or Whetstone Mountains, and the outrage known as the “Camp Grant Massacre,” had given a mournful emphasis to the demands of the people for a change of military administration. In the latter tragedy Papago Indians, led by white men from Tucson, and smarting under the losses of recent raids committed by bands of Apaches still in hostility, had followed the raiders to the reservation at Camp Grant, at the junction of the Arivaypa and the San Pedro, close to which some eight hundred peaceably disposed Apaches were living under what they supposed to be the shelter of the American flag, and had there butchered scores of women and children in cold blood.
The Tribes of Arizona
There are two great divisions of Indians in Arizonathose who cut the front hair at the level of the eyebrows, and those that do not. The latter belong to the widely disseminated Apache-Navajo family, one of the branches of the Tinneh stock which has conquered its way down from the circumpolar regions of the north, where many bands speaking the same language still live on the affluents of the Yukon in Alaska, of the Mackenzie in the Dominion of Canada, and of the Great Bear and Great Slave lakes in the same desolate region. The other tribes of Arizona are, or have been until a comparatively recent period, sedentary Indians, who in manners, customs, and personal appearance strongly resemble the Pueblos of New Mexico. Among these are to be named the Cocopahs and Yumas, living on the lower Colorado and at the mouth of the Gila; the Maricopas and Pimas, on the Gila at or near the Big Bend; the Papagoes, of the same language as the Pimas, but brought into the Christian fold by Jesuit missionaries nearly two centuries ago; the Mojaves, who plant in the lowlands of the Colorado below the Grand Cafion; the Moquis, who live in houses of stone on the apexes of lofty cliffs, and who are a patient, industrious set of farmers of a very religious turn of mind. Their “Snake Dance,” in which live rattlers are carried in the mouths of the medicine men, occurs biennially, and is an invocation to their rain gods for help for their crops. I was the first white man to describe it, which I did after one of my visits to their villages in 1881.
The Navajo differs from the Apache only in having absorbed whole communities of Pueblos, and in having come to a considerable degree under the influence of Catholic missionaries of the Franciscan order, who supplied him with horses, sheep, peach trees, and other necessaries which gradually brought about a change in his character. He has become not only a grazier, but a weaver and a silversmith, and of the wool of his flocks makes blankets which delight the eyes with the beauty of their designs and comfort the body by the solidity of their texture.
But the Apache stands as one of the divisions of the American aborigines (the others being the Lacandones of Guatemala and the Araucanians of Chili) who scorned the religious teachings and despised the military power of the Castilian, and the Apache differs from these others not only in having kept his own boundaries intact, but in having raided and plundered without cessation since the days of Cortez, over a zone of the viceroyalty of Mexico or New Spain, which was greater in area than the territory of Germany, Italy, France, and Great Britain put together, and comprehended the southwestern corner of what we now call Colorado, half of Texas, all of Arizona, New Mexico, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, and Durango, and, on occasion, even as far south as Zacatecas.
Physically, the Apache is perfect; he might be a trifle taller for artistic effect, but his apparent “squattiness” is due more to great girth of chest than to diminutive stature. His muscles are hard as bone, and I have seen one light a match on the sole of his naked foot. Twenty years ago, when Crook took him in hand, the Apache had few wants and cared for no luxuries. War was his business, his life, and victory his dream. To attack a Mexican camp or isolated village, and run off a herd of cattle, mules, or sheep, he would gladly travel hundreds of miles, incurring every risk and displaying a courage which would have been extolled in an historical novel as having happened in a raid by Highlanders upon Southrons; but when it was your stock, or your friend’s stock, it became quite a different matter. He wore no clothing whatever save a narrow piece of calico or buckskin about the loins, a helmet, also of buckskin, plentifully crested with the plumage of the wild turkey and eagle, and long-legged moccasins, held to the waist by a string, and turned up at the toes in a shield which protected him from stones and “cholla” cactus. If he felt thirsty, he drank from the nearest brook; if there was no brook near by, he went without, and, putting a stone or a twig in his mouth to induce a flow of saliva, journeyed on. When he desired to communicate with friends at home, or to put himself in correspondence with persons whose cooperation had been promised, he rubbed two sticks together, and dense signal smoke rolled to the zenith and was answered from peaks twenty and thirty miles away. By nightfall his bivouac was pitched at a distance from water, generally on the flank of a rocky mountain, along which no trail would be left, and up which no force of cavalry could hope to ascend without making noise enough to wake the dead.
Such was Arizona, and such in meager description was the Apache Indian, in June, 1871, when Crook was pitted against him. Of the American troops and their officers in general nothing can fairly be said but words of praise: they were conscientious, brave, energetic, and intelligent; anxious to do their whole duty, but not acquainted with every foot of the ground as the Apaches were. In a word, they were not savages.
To fight savages successfully one of two things must be done either the savages must be divided into hostile bands and made to fight each other, or the civilized soldier must be trained down as closely as possible to the level of the savage. No matter how well disposed or how brave and bright a soldier might be, it took time and attention to teach him how to take care of himself in face of so subtle an enemy as the Apache. Under our then system of recruiting from the slums of the great cities our army often got very inferior material, and generally any candidate was accepted whose chest measurement, weight, and stature were in accordance with official requirements. I know that many an officer’s heart sank within him when, on glancing over the muster-roll of a detachment of recruits assigned to his troop, he read some such legend as this: "Maloney, age 29. Height 5',11"; born in Clonakilty; occupation when enlisted, umbrella-maker. Potztausend, etc., etc., born in Germany; occupation, etc., brewer"and reflected upon the amount of instruction and setting-up of every kind the man would require before he could be trusted with even the apparently unimportant duty of riding from post to post with dispatches.
The vacillating policy of the Government towards the Apaches hampered and delayed Crook's operations for more than twelve months. During the interval he traveled on mule-back over hundreds of miles of the roughest mountains in his new department, and familiarized himself with its topographical features in a manner that could never be learned from maps; he visited the various reservations and made the personal acquaintance of many of the chiefs and head-men upon whose assistance he would have to count when the hour of struggle came.
There was a considerable element among the Apaches strongly inclined towards peace with the whites, and opposed to the idea of being drawn into complications with those of their own tribe who preferred to resort to hostilities. Among the peaceably disposed were chiefs like “ One-eyed Miguel,”-- who in his own language was called Skopus,--"The Strong Man,” Eskititizla, Pedro, and one or two others of great influence. Corydon E. Cooley, a very bright man, had married one of the women of this band, and exerted himself to get these chiefs to agree to help General Crook in every way, and to permit a number of their best young men to be enlisted as scouts. One of the first so to enlist was Nocky-do-klunni, called “Bobby-do-klinny” by the soldiers, who years after became a prophet and announced that he was able to raise the dead. He was killed on the Cibicu in 1881, and numbers of our brave men died at the same time. I have never been quite able to divest myself of the notion that it would have been wiser and cheaper to offer this prophet fifty cents a head for all the ghosts he could resuscitate, and thus expose the absurdity of his pretensions, than to shed so much blood and incur so much expense to prove to the savages that the boasts of their charlatans ruffled our serenity so deeply. So long as our forefathers quivered with fear at the sight of a witch, the crop of old hags who claimed the power of riding on broomsticks and of talking to Thomas cats never diminished; and just so it has been and always will be with the spiritual counselors of the Indians. I speak in this matter from personal experience. A medicine man--a big one, too--of the Cheyennes was very fond of asserting the wonders of his “medicine,” but after I had quietly sent a charge of electricity through him from an old battery and doubled him up like a jack-knife, he sang a different tune altogether. Numbers of the Apache scouts were marvels of physical endurance and manly beauty. Alchisay, “The Little One,” was a perfect Adonis in figure, a mass of muscle and sinew, of wonderful courage, great sagacity, and as faithful as an Irish hound. Esquinosquiz, “Big Mouth,” was an excellent soldier, wily as a cat, and a born general. He told me one afternoon that he had noticed that all the white captains, big and little, wore swords, while he, a big Apache chief, had no such emblem of office. Satisfied that my aboriginal friend was fairly entering upon” the white man’s road,” I exerted myself to get him an old cavalry saber, but my enthusiasm was materially lessened when I was informed that Esquinosquiz wanted the weapon to aid him in beating his two wives; for, as he said, “ Me catchee one, me lickee him; me catchee two, him lickee me damnsight.” Esquinosquiz would drink the Apache intoxicant, “ tizwin,” whenever he could get it. This beer, made from fermented corn, was at an early date prohibited by the military authorities, but its preparation in secret has always been kept up, to the ruin of those addicted to its use. Esquinosquiz, for example, got into a tizwin row and was shot dead near the Gila Canyon by one of his own tribe.
The Tonto Basin Campaign
All arrangements for the new campaign had been perfected by the ninth day of December, 1872, when the word was given for the different columns to converge upon the “Tonto Basin,” the stronghold of the worst elements of the tribe. These were known as the Tonto Apaches and the Apache-Mojaves, the former being of true Tinneh or Apache stock, with a goodly infusion of Mojave blood from captives taken in war; and the latter, the same people as the Mojaves, but crowded out of their old habitat in the Colorado bottom and compelled to live in the mountains. Their language was entirely different from that of the Apaches, and they wore their hair differently, but their rancor towards the whites was the same, and they were equally dangerous.
The “Tonto Basin" is a misnomer, unless we recognize it as an example of gentle frontier satire. It is the seat of the warfare of the Titans, and Ossa has here been upon Pelion piled until the eye grows weary trying to count the wrinkles in Dame Nature’s bosom. Yet rough as the “Basin" itself is, the loftier mountains inclosing it are rougher, and each of these the Mogollon, the Mazatzal, and the Sierra Ancha are thickly matted with timber and white with deep snow during the winter months. The “Basin” is well watered, and has an abundance of acorn-bearing oak, Spanish bayonet, mescal, and other foods dear to the savage palate.
Crook himself took station at old Camp Grant, which enjoyed the distinction of being the meanest, dirtiest, and most squalid post in the United States, and that was saying a great deal. It has long since been broken up and the garrison established in a more salubrious position at the foot of Mount Graham.
As nearly as possible on the same date the different columns were set in motion, each with a liberal number of Indian guides, Pi-Utes, Hualpais, Apaches, Pimas, Maricopas, and Yumas. Major Thomas MacGregor, 1st Cavalry, was in charge of affairs at Prescott; Colonel J. W. Mason, 5th Cavalry, at Camp Verde; Major George M. Randall, 23d Infantry, at Camp Apache; Captain Thomas Byrne, 12th Infantry, at Beale’s Springs; Major George F. Price, 5th Cavalry, at Date Creek; Majors James Burns and John M. Hamilton, 5th Cavalry, of the troops moving out from Camp McDowell, and Major William H. Brown, 5th Cavalry, of those leaving Camp Grant. It was my fortune to be one of Brown’s command, the other officers being Captain A. B. Taylor, Lieutenants Almy and Rockwell, all of the 5th Cavalry, Lieutenant William J. Ross, 21st Infantry, and after we got into the Tonto Basin Captain James Burns and Lieutenant E. D. Thomas joined us with another company of the 5th Cavalry and a force of one hundred and ten Pima Indian scouts, which made a very respectable total. We had three white guides, Archie Mac Intosh, Joe Felmer, and Antonio Besias, who, as well as Al Seiber, Mason McCoy, Al Speers, Lew Elliott, Willard Rice, and others, attached to the other detachment, rendered gallant and invaluable service at all hours during the campaign.
The Crook System of Fighting Indians
The essentials of the Crook system of fighting Indians made themselves manifest in very short order. A subordinate was never asked by Crook to go anywhere, but was shown the way and made to follow. Baggage was cut down to the lowest notch; officers wore the same style of canvas clothing as the men, ate their meals with the pack-trains, and were allowed all the baggage they could carry on their own backs, or in the exceedingly limited supply of bedding each could send to the packtrain attached to the command.
Crook recognized, as every one recognized who ever had any practical experience in the country, that a white man’s strength and sagacity were no match for the cunning of savages who had been running about in these hills and mountains since childhood. Unless the fullest use were made of scouts to the manner born, thoroughly posted in the minutest details of the country, able to detect the slightest mark on the trail and to interpret it correctlyin short, unless savage should be pitted against savage, the white man would be outwitted, exhausted, circumvented, possibly ambuscaded and destroyed.
The white soldiers, meantime, had no holiday; they followed close on the heels of the scouts, and, after a time, kept up to the front with them. The scouts were on foot and so were the cavalry, because the "epizootic" during that winter swept over the country and dismounted them. Bright, active officers were designated for each separate detachment, and rarely did the selection prove a wrong one. No harder or more efficient work was ever done by any small army in the same limited time, on the same inadequate means, and in the face of so great obstacles, than was accomplished by the troops of the Department of Arizona in 1872-73, under General Crook.
Lastly, but by no means least, the condition of the pack-trains was most jealously scrutinized by General Crook. He made the great question of military transportation the study of his life. Every pack-train in our army today has grown from a nucleus arranged by General Crook; and although he picked out such skilled assistants as Tom Moore, Uncle Dick Kloster, "Hank ‘n’ Yank,” Harry Hawes, Frank Monach, Jack Long, Charlie Hopkins, “Long Jim” Cook and “Short Jim” Cook, Henry Dailey, Jim O’Neil, and others, it is the statement of a fact known to all in that command that Crook knew every packer by name, what his peculiarities were and how he cared for his animals, and besides knew every mule in the outfit. Some of these packers were men of unusual intelligence and extended experience. Harry Hawes has since those days wandered to the diamond fields of Africa, where Sir Garnet Wolseley was quick to discern his merits and to employ him in organizing a pack-train for the Zulu campaign and afterward for the work to be carried on in Egypt. Tom Moore, a native of Virginia, living on the Pacific slope since the first days of the mining fever, knew more about a mule than any other man in America: his treatise on the management of mules and pack-trains has long been the accepted standard. He was studious in his habits and a reader of good books, from which he extracted a fund of general information of a very wide range. He had all the courage of a lion, with a woman’s gentleness and a high sense of honor. In the great scheme of Nature there is nothing perfect: even the sun has spots; and Moore with all his virtues had one grave defect he sang. He wooed the Muses, and would now and then favor us with one of his own compositions; for which reason some of our camp-fires were lonelier than others.
Hank‘n’Yank were two of the best men on the Pacific coast; they never knew what it was to say no to an appeal for charity, and no matter how much their generosity might be abused and it was abused they never learned to tie a knot in their purse-strings. Jack Long was a man whom Bret Harte or Mark Twain ought to have known; he was a character modeled after himself. There never was but one Jack Long, and another is an impossibility. He had seen all the ins and outs and experienced all the ups and downs of the Pacific coast in its most hilarious age, and where all men were wild, Jack had been just a tiny bit wilder than anybody else; but under all this, in spite of all this, there was a stratum of rugged, honest, truthful manliness in Jack Long’s composition that made him friends wherever he went.
From the moment the campaign began in the first week of December, 1872, until it ended in the surrender of the principal hostile chiefs and twenty-five hundred of their followers at Camp Verde, in the month of April, 1873, there was not one hour of respite granted the enemy. The Apaches, cunning as snakes, found themselves beaten at their own game; neither on mountain-top nor in canyon-depth could they find safety. To shoot game attracted the attention of our Indian scouts, who were on the watch for every such sound as well as for the wreathing smoke which betrayed the hidden “rancheria.” True to their usual policy under such circumstances, the Apaches scattered like quail among the rocks, generally keeping not more than two or three families together until they fancied that the pursuit had calmed down, and then reuniting in some one of their numerous places of rendezvous.
After a few of these small parties had been rounded up the young men and boys belonging to them were employed as guides and trailers, and our larger and more unwieldy bodies of scouts from other tribes were dismissed to their homes. The Pi-Utes had proved themselves efficient, but were unacquainted with Arizona, as they were five or six hundred miles from their own habitat.
The Pimas were of no account whatever. My judgment was that they were cowardly, and anxious to kill women and children, just as their brothers the Papagoes had done at the Camp Grant massacre, and having such a religious cast of mind that the killing of only one of the enemy imposed upon the whole party the duty of returning to their own villages, there to undergo a protracted purgation from the defilement. Sweat-baths, smoking, singing, and fasting make up the round of this ceremonial observance, which became a source of annoyance to the officers who had to depend upon them for assistance in the prosecution of a campaign. In the present instance they deviated from established custom, after a successful attack upon a “rancheria” on the lofty peaks of the Mazatzal, in which half a dozen Tonto Apaches were killed and as many more taken prisoners, because it was pointed out to them that the expedition would not delay by reason of their superstitious scruples, and that the Apache scouts who were to remain with us would assuredly make off with the Pima ponies which might be recaptured from the hostiles. So the medicine-men after a long powwow concluded that the Pimas and Maricopas might just as well stay a while longer and do their bathing and smoking all at once.
I have said that I was attached to Brown’s column which swept through the Mescal, Pinal, Superstition, Sierra Ancha, and Mazatzal ranges, and afterward the southern end of the Bradshaw and the southern and western extremity of the great Mogollon plateau. The different detachments crossed and recrossed each other’s trails, frequently meeting and always being within supporting distance of one another. The Apaches were unable to reassemble in rear of any passing column, as had so uniformly been done on previous occasions, and had to keep an eye open for danger from all points of the compass in darkness as well as in daylight. In this extremity they concentrated in their strongholds, the most impregnable being the cave in the canyon of Salt River, the summit of Turret Butte, and the cliffs of the Superstition Mountains.
The first of the three was struck by Major Brown’s command at the first peep of day of a very cold morning, December 28, 1872. The evening before, our Apache scouts told Major Brown that, although the command had been very successful in its work thus far, yet there was a big “rancheria” only a short distance off in which the hostile Apaches felt that they were perfectly invincible. One of the scouts had been brought up in this fortress, for such he claimed it to be, and would guide us there because he bore enmity to the chief and some others of the band.
By starting from our present bivouac, which was in a small box canyon on the east side of the Mazatzal Mountains, at the first appearance of a certain star in the east, and marching briskly all night, we could reach by first dawn of the morning the canyon of the Salt River, where in a cave, half way down the face of the vertical cliff the Apaches dwelt. A dangerous trail led to this spot, and it would be all we could do to reach there by the time fixed. If we were fortunate enough to get down there before the enemy discovered our presence, we could count upon destroying the whole band; if we did not, the last of the Americans would die on the trail, trying to escape out of that canyon.
Did his American brothers have the “sand” to follow him? They did. There was very little bustle or confusion, as we were all ready for a fight at a moment’s notice. All that was really done was to examine our carbines and ammunition and see that everything was slick; put some crackers, bacon, and coffee in the blanket which each was to sling over his shoulder; fill canteens with water, and give a final look at our moccasins, which we wore through preference because they made no noise going over the rocks. The mules and horses were to be left back in this bivouac, under a strong guard, and there was plenty of time for all who so desired to scratch off a line to the folks at home, for whom this might, in some cases at least, be the last letter.
The Apache scouts wasted no time in this sentimental way. They gathered about little fires and stuffed themselves with the meat of one of our mules which had died that day: its ribs were picked clean and not a particle left. This kind of feasting before going into battle is the ceremony described by the French missionaries in Canada two centuries ago under the title festins a manger tout [feasts of eating everything]. The medicine-men of the Apaches and Pimas told their followers what they were expected to do, and by eight in the evening Nantaje's star twinkled on the horizon and we were on the trail.
For half an hour or more our progress was leisurely. The top of a high mesa was reached, and there we halted to let the column close up and every man get his second wind. The air blew keenly across this barren mountain, dotted here and there with a scraggly growth of cedar, and we were all glad when Nantaje took up a brisk gait which started the blood into better circulation. We moved like a long file of specters: not a word was spoken; there was no whistling, humming of tunes, coughing, or anything to betoken that we were anything else than a battalion of ghosts coming in on the keen breath of the north wind. At the crest of each hill the front of the column halted for a few minutes until a warning "Tzit! Tzit!” hissed from the rear, signaled that the last man had reached his place.
About midnight Nantaje suddenly turned and seizing Major Brown with both arms about the body held him firmly in place. The Indian’s foot had struck a depression in a sandy spot on the trail, and his keen instinct told him it was the imprint of a human foot. He lay down on the trail, and with some comrades alongside of him, with their blankets spread over their heads so that not the slightest gleam of light could escape, struck a few matches and inspected the “sign.” It was the track of a big bear’s foot, which is not at all unlike a man’s, and had been made only an hour or so before. The Apaches believe that if Bruin crosses the trail of a war party it is an omen that they will soon meet the enemy, consequently our scouts were in a flutter of excitement.
We moved onward again for three or four hours until we reached a small grassy glade, where we discovered fifteen Pima ponies, which must have been driven up the mountain by Apache raiders that very night; the sweat was hardly crusted on their flanks, their hoofs were banged against the rocks, and their knees were full of the thorns of the cholla cactus, against which they had been driven in the dark. There was no moon, but the glint of stars gave enough light to show that we were in a country filled with huge rocks and adapted most admirably for defense. There in front, almost within touch of the hand, that line of blackness blacker than all the other blackness about us was the canyon of the Salt River. We looked at it well, since it might be our grave in an hour, for we were now within rifle-shot of our quarry.
Nantaje now asked that a dozen picked men be sent forward with him, to climb down the face of the precipice and get into place in front of the cave in order to open the attack; immediately behind them should come fifty more, who should make no delay in their advance; a strong detachment should hold the edge of the precipice to prevent any of the hostiles from getting above them and killing our people with their rifles. The rest of our force could come down more at leisure, if the movement of the first two detachments secured the key of the field; if not, they could cover the retreat of the survivors up the face of the escarpment.
Lieutenant Ross's Attack by Frederic Remington
Lieutenant William J. Ross, of the 21st Infantry, was assigned to lead the first detachment, which contained the best shots from among the soldiers, packers, and scouts. The second detachment came under my own orders. Our pioneer party slipped down the face of the precipice without accident, following a trail from which an incautious step would have caused them to be dashed to pieces; after a couple of hundred yards this brought them face to face with the cave, and not two hundred feet from it. In front of the cave was the party of raiders, just returned from their successful trip of killing and robbing in the settlements near Florence, on the Gila River. They were dancing to keep themselves warm and to express their joy over their safe return. Half a dozen or more of the squaws had arisen from their slumbers and were bending over a fire and hurriedly preparing refreshments for their valorous kinsmen. The fitful gleam of the glowing flame gave a Macbethian tinge to the weird scene and brought into bold relief the grim outlines of the cliffs between whose steep walls, hundreds of feet below, growled the rushing current of the swift Salado.
The Indians, men and women, were in high good humor, and why should they not be? Sheltered in the bosom of these grim precipices only the eagle, the hawk, the turkey-buzzard, or the mountain sheep could venture to intrude upon them. But hark! What is that noise? Can it be the breeze of morning which sounds “Click, click”? You will know in one second more, poor, deluded, red-skinned wretches, when the “Bang! Boom!” of rifles and carbines, reverberating like the roar of cannon from peak to peak, shall lay six of your number dead in the dust.
The cold, gray dawn of that chill December morning was sending its first rays above the horizon and looking down upon one of the worst bands of Apaches in Arizona, caught like wolves in a trap. They rejected with scorn our summons to surrender, and defiantly shrieked that not one of our party should escape from that canyon. We heard their death song chanted, and then out of the cave and over the great pile of rock which protected the entrance like a parapet swarmed the warriors. But we outnumbered them three to one, and poured in lead by the bucketful. The bullets, striking the roof and mouth of the cave, glanced among the savages in rear of the parapet and wounded some of the women and children, whose wails filled the air.
During the heaviest part of the firing a little boy, not more than four years old, absolutely naked, ran out at the side of the parapet and stood dumfounded between the two fires. Nantaje, without a moment’s pause, rushed forward, grasped the trembling infant by the arm, and escaped unhurt with him inside our lines. A bullet, probably deflected from the rocks, had struck the boy on the top of the head and plowed round to the back of the neck, leaving a welt an eighth of an inch thick, but not injuring him seriously. Our men suspended their firing to cheer Nantaje and welcome the new arrival: such is the inconsistency of human nature.
Again the Apaches were summoned to surrender, or, if they would not do that, to let such of their women and children as so desired pass out between the lines; and again they yelled their defiant refusal. Their end had come. The detachment left by Major Brown at the top of the precipice, to protect our retreat in case of necessity, had worked its way over to a high shelf of rock overlooking the enemy beneath, and began to tumble down great boulders which speedily crushed the greater number of the Apaches. The Indians on the San Carlos reservation still mourn periodically for the seventy-six of their relatives who yielded up the ghost that morning. Every warrior died at his post. The women and children had hidden themselves in the inner recesses of the cave, which was of no great depth, and were captured and taken to Camp McDowell. A number of them had been struck by glancing bullets or fragments of falling rock. As soon as our pack-trains could be brought up we mounted the captives on our horses and mules and started for the nearest military station, the one just named, over fifty miles away.
This was the worst blow ever received by hostile Indians in America: in their chosen fortress, red-handed with plunder and blood, the whole band was wiped out of existence, with a loss to us of only one killed.
In less than a week Major Randall, of the 23d Infantry, had crept upon the Indians at Turret Butte and inflicted a blow almost equal in severity to the fight at the caves; and before a fortnight more the garrison of the stronghold in the Superstition Mountains, one hundred and ten in number, surrendered to Major Brown’s command in open day and accompanied us back to Camp Grant.
In April, 1873, Cha-ut-lipun, “Buckskin Hat,” head chief of all the Indians in the Tonto Basin, said to General Crook: “My friend, I have come to surrender my people, because you have too many copper cartridges. I want to be your friend; I want my women and children to be able to sleep at night, and to make fires to cook their food without bringing your troops down upon us. We are not afraid of the Americans alone, but we cannot fight you and our own people together.” Crook took Cha-ut-lipun’s hand and said: “If your people will only behave yourselves and stop killing the whites, I will be the best friend you ever had. I will teach you to work, and will find you a market for everything you can sell.”
It sounds like a fairy tale, I know, but the official records can be overhauled and will show that before the end of May, 1873, Crook had all the Apaches in Arizona (excepting the Chiricahuas, who had been specially exempted from his jurisdiction*) hard at work at Camp Apache and Camp Verde, digging irrigating ditches, planting vegetables of all kinds, corn, melons, and squashes, cutting hay and wood to sell to the quartermaster’s department for the use of the troops, living in houses arranged in neatly swept streets, and in every way on the high road to prosperity and civilization. Major George M. Randall and Lieutenant Rice, of the 23d Infantry, were assigned to the care of those at Camp Apache; Colonel J. W. Mason and Lieutenant W. S. Schuyler, of the 5th Cavalry, to the superintendence of those at Camp Verde.
The transformation effected was marvelous. Here were six thousand of the worst Indians in America sloughing off the old skin and taking on a new life. Detachments of the scouts were retained in service to maintain order; and also because money would in that way be distributed among the tribes. Some few at first spent their pay foolishly, but the majority clubbed together and sent to California for ponies and sheep. Trials by juries of their own people were introduced among them for the punishment of minor offenses, the cutting off of women’s noses was declared a crime, the manufacture of the intoxicant tizwin was broken up by every possible means, and the future of these Indians looked most promising, when a gang of politicians and contractors, remembered in the Territory as the “Tucson Ring,” exerted an influence in Washington, and had the Apaches ordered down to the desolate sand waste of the San Carlos, where the water is brackish, the soil poor, and the flies a plague. It is the old, old story of Indian mismanagement.
There is no brighter page in our Indian history than that which records the progress of the subjugated Apaches at Camp Apache and Camp Verde, nor is there a fouler blot than that which conceals the knavery which secured their removal to the junction of the San Carlos and Gila.
Could my readers have seated themselves about our camp-fires as the various detachments assembled at Camp Verde in the early months of 1873 and listened to the tales which circulated, describing the sections traversed and the varying wonders seen, they would have learned much of the land of Arizona. One comrade had stood on the Natural Bridge over the Piney, a worthy rival of its better known brother in the Valley of Virginia; another had sat by the brink of the Grand Cafion of the Colorado and gazed upon the muddy waters of the great river dashing along a mile beneath; two others were exchanging notes about the Zunis and Moquis, the dwellers in villages of stone; and the whole circle would have something to say about visits to cliff dwellings, to the six-storied ruin in the Beaver Canyon, Montezuma’s Well, the Casa Grande, the quaint mission church of San Xavier del Bac, and last, but not least, the petrified forests, where all portions except the leaves of giant trees lie on the ground, half embedded in sand, transmuted into precious stonejasper, agate, or carnelian. No better description of this great forest, which is now easy of access, has ever been given than the one made by the first American trapper who visited it fifty years ago. “Podners,” he said to his comrades on returning to Taos, New Mexico, for the winter, “I seed a pewtrified forest of pewtrified trees, with their pewtrifled limbs chock-full of pewtrified birds, asingin’ of pewtrified songs.”
John G. Bourke, Captain, 3d Cavalry, U. S. A.
This page has presented mainly the sections from Bourke's article which deal with Crook's operations in Arizona. The complete article is available for download as a free e-book. Find out more about our free Arizona history e-books here. If you do not have the Microsoft e-book reader, you can download it free from the Microsoft website.
* The Chiricahua Apaches were excluded from Crook's control because of a special treaty made between Cochise and General O.O. Howard. General Howard produced no written treaty and was very vague on the terms of the agreement he had made with Cochise. Cochise clearly interpreted it to mean that his tribe was permitted to raid as much as they wished in Mexico so long as they left the Americans alone. This raiding was facilitated by the fact that the land set aside by the treaty was on the U.S. / Mexican border, and no one was very vigilant about making sure that the young bucks stayed within the boundaries. Needless to say, the Mexican government soon demanded the U.S. to correct the situation, which was not completely resolved until the final capture of Geronimo.