Indian Campaigns of General Miles

by G. W. Baird, Major, U.S. Army
The Century, Volume 42, Issue 3, July 1891

The Capture of Geronimo's Apaches
General Miles was now assigned to the command of the Department of the Columbia, including Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, and nearly all of Idaho. Before assuming it he was employed on a commission to the Indian Territory, and on other duty in the east. He went to his new headquarters, Vancouver Barracks, in the summer of 1881. He secured the return to their former home of Joseph’s band of Nez Perces, who were unhappy in the Indian Territory. In the summer of 1885 there were indications of serious trouble in the Indian Territory, growing out of the conflict between the interests of the owners of immense herds of cattle grazing in that territory and of the Indians whose reservations were thus made a grazing ground, and the President summoned General Miles from the extreme northwest to the Department of the Missouri, with headquarters at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in which department the Indian Territory is situated. One-fourth of the army was assembled under his orders and, by its disposition in posts and camps near the scene of the difficulty, peace was maintained, and there opened before the General the prospect of a quiet residence at that most attractive post, Fort Leavenworth, which had been his army home for several years while he was colonel of the 5th Infantry. But, on April 2, 1886, he was sent to command the Department of Arizona to relieve General Crook. And so, a second time within nine months, the President had through the War Department assigned to him a new and most difficult task. The conditions of success were wholly unlike those which obtained in the Sioux war. In the northwest the great numbers of the enemy and the intensity of the cold were the two chief obstacles to be overcome, whereas in the southwest the hostile force was small and so easily eluded pursuers, and the temperature was torrid. Heat, barrenness, jagged mountain cliffs, steep walled canyons, scant water, or the utter absence of it, these multiplied a hundred fold the prowess of the wily Apaches who had been accustomed for generations to defy these obstacles, to sustain life under these hard conditions, and for years to prey upon the peaceful inhabitants who lived a pastoral or agricultural life on the open plains or along the rivers, or mined the rich ores of the mountains.

Soldier and scout, the Reconnaisance by Frederic Remington

Devastating impartially on both sides of the boundary, Arizona, New Mexico, and Northern Mexico were laid under rude tribute by these lithe and active savages, who moved so rapidly and stealthily that the fancied security growing out of a period of tranquillity was often the precursor of destruction, robbery, and death. This insecurity and alarm had terrorized the citizens of the territories and caused, on the part of many, an abandonment of their ordinary industrial pursuits. Two tasks confronted him; to capture or destroy the Indians who were actively hostile led by Geronimo and Natchez, and to repress and control those who, through sympathy and relationship with the hostiles, and through instinct and experience, were ready to take the warpath and swell the tide of devastation. The mountains and the sun--the first the strongholds of the savages and almost impassable obstacles to the troops, the latter the cause of the desertlike dryness and the intolerable heat which augmented the difficulties of campaigning almost to the point of impossibility--were made his allies, the eyes of his command, and the carriers of swift messages. By a system of heliograph signals, communications were sent with almost incredible swiftness; in one instance a message traveled seven hundred miles in four hours. The messages, flashed by mirrors from peak to peak of the mountains, disheartened the Indians as they crept stealthily or rode swiftly through the valleys, assuring them that all their arts and craft had not availed to conceal their trails, that troops were pursuing them and others awaiting them. The telescopes of the vigilant members of the Signal Corps, who garrisoned the rudely built but impregnable works on the mountains, permitted no movement by day, no cloud of dust even in the valleys below, to escape attention. Little wonder that the Indians thought that the powers of the unseen world were confederated against them.

Fortunately there was a treaty which permitted our troops to pursue the Indians into Mexico, and so the international boundary did not, as in the Northwest, interpose to protect them until they had refitted and recuperated. General Miles organized a special force of picked cavalry and infantry, scouts and guides, under Captain H. W. Lawton, 4th Cavalry, to pursue the hostiles whenever they should take to Mexican territory.

Typical Trooper by Frederick RemingtonGeronimo did not permit this well-devised machine to rust from disuse. In truth, before it was fully in order, he put it to the test, making a blood-red trail from a point 150 miles within the Mexican Territory and invading ours on the 27th of April, just fifteen days after General Miles had taken command. The trail was taken up in succession, by twenty-five different commands or detachments, representing four regiments, each detachment inspired by the energy expressed in a paragraph of General Miles’s order in which he said: “Commanding officers are expected to continue a pursuit until capture or until they are assured a fresh command is on the trail.” This vigorous pursuit and the five encounters with different commands convinced the Indians that Arizona afforded them no place of security, and they hurried from its borders to the supposed inaccessible fastnesses of the Sierra Madre in Mexico. Though the contests of forces so small may not merit the name of battle, yet in no battle have the participants incurred greater risks or evinced a higher degree of heroism. Captain Lebo of the 10th Cavalry, after a hot pursuit of 200 miles, brought the indians to bay and there ensued a spirited contest just within the Mexican Territory, in which Lieutenant Powhatan Clarke of the 10th Cavalry, then recently from the classrooms and the drill ground of West Point, distinguished himself by rushing forward at the risk of his life and bearing to a place of safety a wounded veteran soldier who lay helpless under a sharp fire of the enemy. A like act of heroism was a few days later exhibited under similar circumstances by First-Sergeant Samuel Adams of the 4th Cavalry, of the command of Captain Hatfield of that regiment.

The Rescue of Corporal Scott by Frederic Remington

The Rescue of Corporal Scott by Frederic Remington
from Soldiering in the Southwest

Lawton’s command (with its sixty days’ supplies on pack mules) now took up the trail. The rough nature of the country and the absence of grass and water made it impossible to employ cavalry in a long continued pursuit. Assistant-Surgeon Leonard Wood, who for a part of the time added to his professional duties the command of the infantry of Lawton’s force, gives a graphic description of the country and of the chase. He writes:

Sonora, taken as a whole, is a continuous mass of mountains of the most rugged and broken character. Range follows range with hardly an excuse for a valley. It produces nothing save a few wild fruits, cactus, and more or less of game. Troops operating in these sections are dependent for all supplies on pack trains. Such is the roughness of the country in some portions that even these cannot pass through. Water is scanty and often of poor quality. Grass almost wanting during the dry season. The heat is intense, often reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Of the Apaches of Geronimo’s band he says:

Mountaineers from infancy, they found little difficulty in passing through the roughest country. The cactus and various roots furnished food; water or its equivalent was also furnished by the former plant; rats, mice, rabbits, and deer contributing the meat ration, also the horse when forced as far as he could carry his rider. During the latter part of June and July it was my good fortune to command the infantry. In the detachment of Companies D and K, 8th Infantry, were men who had served in India and South Africa, and, in their opinion, this was by far the hardest and roughest service they had ever seen. Infantry on this expedition marched in drawers and undershirts. I do not remember seeing a pair of blue trousers put on after once wearing the lighter articles mentioned above.

Through such a region and with such drafts upon the strength and fortitude of the men this force kept up the pursuit during the intolerable heat of that summer of ‘86, and with such steadfastness and skill that no craft or device of the savages could throw them off the trail or secure to the pursued an hour’s respite. The extreme southern point of pursuit was three hundred miles south of the international boundary and its tortuous windings spread a network of intersecting trails over the mountains and canyons of Sonora. At last (September 4) the Indians, worn out, surrendered. This band was sent ultimately to Alabama. The conduct of Lieutenant C. B. Gatewood, 6th Cavalry, in going unattended by troops into the camp of the hostiles and demanding their surrender, must be recorded as a conspicuous instance of the fortitude which at the call of duty defies danger. Simultaneously with the winding up of the Geronimo and Natchez campaign and the deporting of them and their followers, the four hundred Warm Spring and Chiricahua Indians at Fort Apache, who were thought to be ready for an outbreak, were also hurried from the territory which they had harried and devastated for years. The citizens of Arizona indicated their appreciation of General Miles’s services by presenting to him a richly ornamented sword. For the first time in our history our temple of Janus had closed doors.

The Struggle for Apacheria
The Struggle for Apacheria by
Peter Cozzens
Volume I of the Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars series
The American West in the 19th Century
The American West
in the 19th Century
by John Grafton