Jimmy McKinn was abducted by Geronimo, rescued from the Apaches by Gen. Crook—and bitterly resisted being returned to "civilization." Whatever became of Southwest New Mexico's most famous Indian captive?
Story and photos by Jerry Eagan
"A group of little boys were romping freely and carelessly together; one of them seemed to be of Irish and Mexican lineage. After some persuasion he told Strauss and myself that his name was Santiago Mackin (sic), captured at Mimbres, New Mexico; he seemed to be kindly treated by his young companions, and there was no interference with our talk . . . . Beyond showing by the intelligent glances of his eyes that he fully comprehended all that was said to him in both Spanish and English, he took no further notice of us. He was about 10 years old, slim, straight, and sinewy, blue-gray eyes, badly freckled, light eyebrows and lashes, much tanned and blistered by the sun, and wore an old and once-white handkerchief on his head which covered it so tightly that the hair could not be seen. He was afterwards returned to his relations in New Mexico."
—John Bourke, On the Border with Crook
On Sept. 11, 1885, a boy named Jimmy "Santiago" McKinn, who lived with his family in the lower Mimbres Valley, was abducted by Chiricahua Apaches led by Geronimo. His older brother Martin was killed. Accounts of Jimmy's age vary, but he was only about 11 or 12. Taking young captives was common practice in those days, and not only for the Apache; Mexicans were still taking captives as slaves or servants. For the Apache the practice was more about warrior replacement, with the boys raised as new warriors, the girls as maidens.
What stands apart about the saga of Jimmy McKinn, however, is that not only was he later rescued by General George Crook, but that he didn't want to be rescued. Jimmy/Santiago had been "fully Indianized," according to Fletcher Lummis, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who accompanied Crook's troops: "When told that he was to be taken back to his father and mother, Santiago began boo-hooing with great vigor. He said in Apache—for the little rascal has already become quite fluent in that language—that he didn't want to go back—he wanted to always stay with the Indians. All sorts of rosy pictures of the delights of home were drawn, but he would have none of them, and acted like a young wild animal in a trap. When they lifted him into the wagon which was to take him to the [railroad] station, he renewed his wails, and was still at them as he disappeared from our view."
What has not been as well recorded is the rest of the story. What happened to Jimmy McKinn after he disappeared from the view of the US Cavalry, headed back to a white civilization he no longer wanted any part of?
As it happens, I knew one of Jimmy McKinn's distant relatives, Toni Montenegro, who lives in Hurley, even before she revealed her relationship with this story. Toni told me about a document her grandmother, Mary McKinn Allison, had prepared years earlier, which related the family's history of the abduction and killing. Jimmy was Mary McKinn's brother. She'd later married Willie Allison; their granddaughter Toni is Jimmy McKinn's great-niece. Toni couldn't find her copy of the family history, but luckily the Silver City library had a copy—sans page two.
I set out first to find exactly where in the Mimbres Valley Jimmy had been abducted and his brother killed by Geronimo. Librarian Pete Crum, my frequent hiking partner, had suggested a location as the "McKinn Ranch," within two or three miles of where Gavilan Canyon empties into the Mimbres. In the days before the Black Range Highway (NM 152) was cut and blasted through those steep crags, Gavilan Canyon was the most direct route over the Continental Divide and into Grant County.
As it turned out, a fortuitous trip to the Mimbres "Rancho del Rio" of my friends Gene and Elizabeth Simon ultimately confirmed that the place Pete had identified was, in fact, the likely location. Amazingly, two women were also visiting the Simons' ranch that day, both residents of the Mimbres, who had information to share with me: 92-year-old Consuela Selva Dominguez and her daughter, Angelina Dominguez Hardin. The elder woman said at first she didn't remember much about the McKinn story. I pressed her to tell me what she knew anyway.
"Well, about all I can remember," she said, "was that the little boy . . . Santiago . . . was laying under a tree on the ranch when the Apaches came."
I had an image of Jimmy—"Santiago" in Spanish—lounging under a tree in the late summer heat, tardy perhaps in assisting his 17-year-old brother Martin in rounding up the cattle. Their father, John McKinn, I knew, was then on the road to Las Cruces.
Excited that Mrs. Dominguez recalled the raid as taking place on the ranch Pete had suggested, I called the current owners from the Simons' house. I talked to Wanda Spitzer, who cheerfully invited me to come up to the ranch then and there. She and her husband Wayne were from Indiana, I later learned. Both had worked in Indianapolis, and had lived not far from where I'd lived in 1968-1969, after my discharge from the Army.
I drove up and we talked for three hours. From their house, which sits atop a hill overlooking the flat bottomland along the west side of the Mimbres, I saw just how stunningly green the valley could be when rain drenches it as it had this monsoon season. When I returned home and reviewed the photos I'd taken, I realized that John McKinn—an immigrant who came from Ireland to Kentucky in 1852, the father of Jimmy, Martin and Mary and husband of Lucetia Abyetta—must have thought he'd died and gone to Eire Heaven when he saw the Mimbres Valley.
The Spitzers were both familiar with the McKinn story. They'd heard plenty in the eight years they'd owned the ranch, and had investigated some on their own. I showed them old survey maps and current topos of the land their ranch stood on, and we discussed the articles I'd found in local papers. We stood on their back veranda and looked out over the actual site of the "McKinn Incident."
I told them I'd give them a copy of the family history that Mary McKinn Allison had written. That account set a scene that matched the view from the Spitzers' veranda:
"At the front of the ranch are high, steep mountains. The Apaches could see all the movements that were done on the ranch. We believe that they stayed overnight or maybe more because they made moccasins . . . .
"That morning, Mr. [John] McKinn left for Las Cruces, New Mexico, to bring fruit for the use of our home. Because in those times there were no orchards on our place. The same morning, my two brothers, Martin and Santiago, left for the pasture to graze the cattle. A friend of Mr. McKinn, Jesus Montes, traveled together most of the time in covered wagons. Another friend, Mr. Gonzales and his family, were going to Las Cruces together in one party so that his family might get to see the trains for the first time. . . ."
Here a page is missing from the copy in the Silver City library. The account then picks up:
"The Apaches found Santiago and asked him in English and Spanish how many men were at his house. And trembling with fear, he answered that he didn't know. The Indians had ropes and for sure he thought he was going to be hung. And he began to cry, 'Don't kill me, me apache, me apache, don't kill me.' Then Geronimo removed his [Santiago's] hat and said: 'You no apache[sic],' for he had blonde hair and a freckled face. Santiago said that he would like to go with them and that he loved horses. The Apaches saw some of Mr. McKinn's horses and asked if they were tame or untamed. Santiago answered that they were mixed up. Then Geronimo asked him to get on a horse. He got on and they were on their way to the village when Santiago asked what had happened to Martin."
Geronimo's response, based on what Santiago later told his family, has never before been published:
"Geronimo got angry and hit Santiago with a big rock, and Santiago would ask no more. They kept on and reached a place where they had to stop and eat. The Indians made balls of dough and stuck them into the cinders. They made him eat of the stuff. He had to eat because he was hungry. They also ate horse meat. When night came the Indians tied Santiago to an old, lame, lazy squaw by the legs so that he would not run away. The grass he was lying on stuck in his back and the winter was very cold so he could not sleep."
Meanwhile, the family history tells of Lucetia McKinn, back at the ranch: "Mrs. McKinn, innocent of the day this happened and not knowing what had happened to her two sons, was sewing and singing happily while a dog kept coming up to her and howling. This disturbed her and she got up and ran away the dog which we called 'Watch.' She ran the dog away for the second time only she got her shoe and threw it at him and said he must be crazy." Still, she must have wondered, because the story goes on:
"When they found the body, Martin McKinn was lying on the desert face down, around 9:00 a.m. They brought him back to the house and dressed him. They buried him the next day. They dressed him with some clothes of Mr. McKinn for they didn't risk going into town for fear of the Indians. They buried him in the same desert that he was killed. He was 17 years old when he died."
Grant County got its first word about what had happened in the Mimbres when the Silver City Enterprise reported on Sept. 15, 1885: "Signal fires [by Apaches] were reported as being seen in Deming in the Florida Mountains. On Saturday morning a report came in that a family had been killed by the Apaches. . . and a Mexican named Evaristo Abeyta had been killed by the Apaches near San Lorenzo. . . . On Sunday night further news came from Georgetown [where John McKinn had registered in the 1880 census as a "dairyman"], that three other men had been killed . . . and J. McKinn's two sons, living on a ranch on Gallianas Creek were killed; the elder being shot through the forehead and the younger in the neck. George Horn, who was chopping wood with two Mexicans in the mountains about two miles back from the mill, was killed."
A week later, however, the newspaper corrected its account of the fate of Jimmy McKinn: "The body of Mr. McKinn's youngest son, who was supposed to have been killed by Indians at the same time of his brother, has not yet been found. A track that looked as if it might have been his was found mixed with the Indian tracks and it is beginning to be hoped that the little boy may still be alive, and was carried away by the Apaches. If this proves likely to be the case every effort will be made to restore him to his father. We trust that this may prove well founded and that the boy may yet return to his home alive and well."
John McKinn would not hear the news until he returned from Las Cruces. He was then age 49, having immigrated from Ireland at 16. A seeker of gold in California and a volunteer of the California Column that marched from San Diego to Arizona and New Mexico in 1862, McKinn had seen his share of adventure. He swiftly joined a group of men hunting the Apache raiders. The family history continued:
"Mr. McKinn followed the Apaches for eight days until he reached Mogollon, and there he received a coat and handkerchief that once belonged to Martin. The Indians had left it with Mrs. Collins. The coat had a hole of the bullet. Mr. McKinn couldn't sleep. He just walked back and forth until a terrible headache came over him and he went completely insane. Twelve years afterward he died insane."
"Santiago" and his Apache captors disappeared into Mexico, pursued relentlessly by General Crook and the US Cavalry. Finally, in late March 1886, word flashed over the telegraph wires that Geronimo had been found and that he was in surrender talks with Crook.
This was also the first hint that the abducted McKinn boy had possibly been found. Captain John Bourke, an aide to General Crook, reported that he'd seen a lad he learned was "Santiago" McKinn. The place was Canyon de los Embudos, Sonora, Mexico. We know what happened next thanks to reports from Bourke, reporter Lummis and C.S. Fly, a photographer from Tombstone, Arizona Territory. Fly had accompanied Crook into Mexico in hopes of photographing the famous Geronimo.
Acting almost insanely boldly, Fly and his assistant, having hauled his photo equipment in a wagon along with Crook's retinue to Canyon de los Embudos, ordered Geronimo and his warriors around like Tombstone tenderfeet, snapping some of the most famous photos ever taken of Geronimo and his men in an oasis amid the roughest country of Mexico. When Fly's pictures were published, Americans nationwide would see not only the surrender of the truculent Chiricahuas but also a ragged young captive, Jimmy McKinn, with his Apache playmates.
Brought to Fort Bowie, Geronimo, the Apache chief Naiche, 11 other warriors and a few boys and women soon managed to bolt during the night, back into the Sierra Madre. There they hid for five more months, killing more Americans and Mexicans. Crook's failure to properly guard the Apache cost him his job.
While Crook "lost" Geronimo and a dozen others, he somehow secured the release of Jimmy "Santiago" McKinn. I've not found any written evidence of how the release of Jimmy McKinn was effected. But Lummis soon reported:
"Santiago McKinn, the 11-year old white boy, the Apaches' prisoner taken with Geronimo's band, will be sent home tomorrow. It is learned that his parents were not killed, but reside at Hot Springs, at Hunter's, N.M., near the railroad from Deming to Silver City. During his half-year of captivity the lad had grown fully Indianized. He joins their sports, and will have nothing to do with the whites. He understands English and Spanish, but can hardly be induced to speak in either. He has learned the Apache language and talks it exclusively."
Back at Fort Bowie, Lummis provided more up-to-date information: "Santiago McKinn, their 11-year-old white captive, was sent home to-day. He would not leave the camp with a white man, and had to be brought into the fort by Chiricahuas. He bawled badly when told that he was to be taken back to his parents, and said he always wanted to stay with the Indians."
The reporter continued, "Wildest in the rough sports of the bronco boys was one figure which you would single out at a glance. His sandy hair cropping under a dirty cotton rag; his light skin, pretty liberally exposed and everywhere a mass of miscegenated dirt and freckles, showed that he was no Chiricahua. He was their little white captive Santiago McKinn. This poor child, scaly with dirt, wild as a coyote, made my eyes a bit damp. His is a pathetic case. . . . He has had to share their long marches, their scanty and uninviting fare, and all the hardships of such a life, no doubt; but he has not been maltreated. The Apaches are kind to their children, and have been kind to him. The sorrow of it is that he has become so absolutely Indianized."
After describing the boy's "boo-hooing," Lummis concluded, "By this time he is probably at home. I hope he is finding the welcome that a good home would give him to such a return."
It would have been a short train ride from Fort Bowie to Deming, roughly 100 miles. No account has been found of who accompanied Santiago on the eastbound train, but the Silver City Enterprise captured the family reunion in its edition of April 9, 1886:
"On Wednesday John McKin [sic] the father of Jimmy McKin [sic] the thirteen-year old captive taken by Geronimo and his band from the Ginnas [sic] creek, east of the Mimbres, in this country, on the 11th day of September, 1885, went to Deming to meet his boy. The little fellow arrived there Tuesday in deplorable condition, having been shipped from Ft. Bowie, Arizona, by the 'greatest Indian fighter' in the army—Crook—C.O.D. Mr. McKin, who is a poor man, was required to pay the boy's railroad fare, and Lindaner, Wormeerd & Co. generously took the little fellow in and dressed him up in a handsome new suit of clothes, at which he was much pleased. He was overjoyed to see his father, whom he recognized upon sight, and to whom he related the rough experiences of the past seven months. On the arrival of the train in the city, and the news of the coming of the boy, being circulated, a large crowd of curious people gathered to see the little fellow, who was the lion of the hour.
"His face was very much sun-burnt, and the marks of exposure were plainly visible on him. He readily answered every question put to him in Spanish, but when spoken to in the English, would answer 'no sabe' signifying he did not understand that language. He appeared to solicit being questioned by his father, and unhesitatingly answered every question asked by him. He said that Geronimo killed his brother Martin and took his coat and pants off, and that upon hearing the shot which killed his brother he hid in the brush, but was found by the Indians and put upon a horse and taken along. He states that the Indians sometimes traveled two days and nights without sleep or rest, and that they lived mostly on horse flesh, occasionally killing a cow. While a band of Indians were endeavoring to round-up some cattle the boy says that an Indian named Chinco was killed by a party of cowmen, and that he was the only Indian that he knew to have been killed while he was with them. When asked by his father how he liked horse flesh he said: 'It is good when hungry.'
"He vividly describes the burning of a frame house that looked very much like a store, but cannot say in what part of the country it was. Flour, sugar, molasses, bacon and other articles were obtained from the house before it was fired. A large supply of candies and domestics were secured at another place, which is supposed to have been Sabourin's wagon, as he had a large amount of candy aboard when taken in. The little fellow was required to work carrying wood for camp fires, herding and hunting horses. One day Geronimo, becoming angry at him, struck him with a gun on the head, knocking him down and severely injuring him. He is acquainted with every Indian in the band, and will make a good witness against Geronimo, as he saw him kill his brother. He says that when the bucks were going on raids they would leave him in camp with the squaws.
"Mr. McKin went to Georgetown on yesterday's coach, taking his boy with him. Much valuable information could be obtained from the boy if time was taken to question him closely by a person familiar with the Spanish language."
More personal, however, are Mary McKinn Allison's words on the reunion at the family ranch, in the Mimbres: "By the time Mr. McKinn reached Deming, Mr. Lindaur had furnished Santiago with clothes, shoes and a hat. He couldn't get to his son for there was a terrific crowd there.
"Then about 5:00 that evening, Mr. McKinn was approaching the ranch with Santiago who was shooting up in the air. We heard the shots and Mrs. McKinn and children ran out to greet him. The dog, Watch, went with us. As soon as we reached the wagon, Watch couldn't keep still, he jumped up and down. Santiago, the captive, was looking strong and healthy, but his face was sunburned. We greeted him warmly. And we went back into the house happy and at the same time sad in remembrance of Martin, the other brother."
No doubt the "Indianization" of Santiago McKinn raised eyebrows upon his return. How many people, after all, had survived capture by the Apache? How could a young boy, raised by decent American parents, have "gone wild" in such a short time and not wanted to return to his home and family?
Today we would probably find that Santiago suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, precipitated by the violent death of his brother and his own abduction. That trauma was exacerbated by his kidnapping, abuse and terror at living with men and women from a different culture who were always on the run, always just a whisper away from extermination. We might also explain his "Indianization" as an example of "Stockholm Syndrome," in which hostages come to identify with their captors.
In a 1979 newspaper article, Marc Simons of the El Paso Times repeated some of Lummis' characterizations of Santiago's reluctance to return to his home. Apparently, that article stirred the local McKinns, because in a followup on April 16, 1979, the El Paso Times Southwest section cited some new facts that had emerged about Santiago McKinn's later life—which had not been in the original Simons article. The family seemed interested in updating the record. They contested whether Santiago had been allowed to play with Apache children, and said he'd been "relegated to work with the squaws. He was tied to an old squaw by his legs because 'they were afraid he would run away," Dora Morales, daughter to Mary McKinn, said her mother had told her.
Little is known about the former Apache captive's life after his return. Census records indicated that he stayed in Grant County past the turn of the century, marrying here and having children of his own. A 1900 census entry shows a James McKinn, born in New Mexico in 1873 (with a father born in Ireland and mother in New Mexico), living in Grant County with his wife, Victoria (maiden name Villanueva, according to an offspring's death record), and daughters Josefa, age four, and baby Victoria. His occupation is listed as "miner."
The family said that he learned the blacksmith trade and worked much of his life in that capacity. McKinn worked at W.A. Tenney's Silver City freight company in 1908, as a blacksmith. A man named Fred Ramsey ("Uncle Fred") recalled that McKinn, who had a red beard, "was a patient man. He had to be to put up with all of us kids. He always had time to tell a youngster how to do this or that." Ramsey said McKinn occasionally allowed the children to fetch horses that needed shoeing from the Tenney corral, which was on South Bullard, near the corner most recently occupied by the Black Diamond Bakery.
The followup Times article quoted Dora Morales as saying her uncle rarely talked about his experience as a captive. Once, however, he taught her to count in Apache: "Maybe he made it up to hush me up, but I haven't forgotten it." She also said, "I remember how he hated the Indians." She opined that his hatred may have surfaced when he had to deal with two of his daughters-in-law—one a full-blooded Chiricahua and another of partial Indian descent. He didn't "want them around, but they came to visit us at his house." His concern was that they had "lice" and he called them "dirty."
The article noted that McKinn later moved to Phoenix. Absent a 1910 census entry, where he can't be found anywhere, "Jim McKinn" first appears there in a 1918 World War I draft registration, residing at 15 Grant St. in Phoenix. Though his birthdate on the draft card is listed as March 15, 1872, he's clearly the same man—wife, Victoria—who lived in Grant County, NM, 18 years before. (Census takers were notoriously casual about recording accurate birthdates; draft registrars may not have been much better.) He was enumerated again in Phoenix in the 1920 census (now age 45, which would make him born in 1874 or 1875, but still listed as born in New Mexico), with Victoria, daughter "Josepha" (now 24), and four new children: sons Prospero (17), Pete (9) and infant John, plus daughter Josephina (7). No sign of daughter Victoria, who may have grown up and married by 1920. The family appears for a final time in the 1930 Phoenix census—subsequent censuses have not yet been released to the public—where Jim is 54 and listed as born in Arizona (!). But it's again surely the same people, with wife Victoria, sons Pete (19) and John (10) and daughter Josephina (17). The entry immediately above—for the household next door—shows grownup son Prospero McKinn, now 27, his wife and two grandchildren of the one-time Apache captive, Richard and Madeline.
Dora Morales said she last saw her Uncle Jim in the early 1950s on a visit to Phoenix and that he died later in that decade. No death record can readily be found for Jim McKinn himself. His son Prospero Paul McKinn, born in 1902 in New Mexico, died in 1985. Pete McKinn, born in 1910, died in 1986 in Tempe, Ariz. A John V. McKinn, born in 1919, died in Phoenix in 2004 and is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona after serving during World War II in the US Army—the military force that rescued his father from the Apache.
Jim McKinn's daughters presumably married and shed their maiden names, making them more difficult to find. The trail of his direct descendants grows murky thereafter, though numerous McKinns still live in the Phoenix area.
Wanda Spitzer had told me that a previous owner of the ranch had written a summary of her knowledge of the McKinn incident, and she mentioned that there might be graves somewhere on the ranch. Pete Crum and I went back the next Saturday for an exploratory hike. We met again with the Spitzers at their house, but also went down to the adobe building now serving as headquarters for their ranch and apple orchard.
The building, Wayne Spitzer told me, was what was left of the McKinns' adobe house. Whether it was the "original house" wasn't clear, as there were mentions of a stone foundation, but regardless, he said he felt the house originally had five rooms. The front porch, he guessed, had been a front room that had fallen in disrepair; that conjecture had been confirmed by a previous owner.
We also found graves, right where we'd been told they might be. There were at least two large graves, likely of adult males, another that might have been dug for a female, and several smaller graves, possibly for children. The largest of the group, with more debris around it, also had two large stones at the "head" of the grave. As would have been typical for the time and geology, which made it difficult to dig, stones appeared to have been piled over the body.
It also appeared that later, perhaps in response to animals knocking over the stones or actually trying to break into the grave, a large wooden object, perhaps a door, had been laid over the original layer of stones. More stones were piled on top. It also looked like several strands of barbed wire had been strung in a rectangle around all the graves.
Whether any of those graves held the murdered Martin McKinn, I have not learned. His parents may have also been buried there.
A few weeks later, I took Toni Montenegro, her daughter and several nieces and nephews to the Spitzers' ranch, to view what was possibly a distant relative's final resting place. It was hot, and the fields were as green as anything I've seen in my five years in New Mexico. The view of Cooke's Peak from the McKinns' adobe house was wonderful. From the graves, we could see the eastern hills across the verdant fields and orchards, and the Mimbres River.
For my money, Santiago McKinn was a survivor. The morsels of recollection of him portray someone who was quiet. Whether he was quiet before his abduction, I'll never know. But I do know that my own experiences of war left me quieter, much as Santiago's ordeal may have changed him. Much as I must give myself time alone, hiking Apacheria, perhaps he too sometimes sought silence in order to negotiate the world.
In that silence, where Santiago, Martin, Geronimo, John and Lucieta McKinn, Mary McKinn Allison and I come together, alive or dead, I know there is healing. For that, I am grateful. And if Santiago's in Heaven, I hope to meet him there someday.
Solved! For the rest of the story, see Tumbleweeds, April 2012.
This is the sixth of Jerry Eagan's accounts of "Hiking Apacheria." He is a retired civil servant who writes, sells his photography at A Daily Practice yoga studio, 104 N. Texas St. in Silver City, and hikes twice a week into Apacheria.