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HIKING APACHERIA

The Eloquence of Surrender

The Apache warriors were the Spartans of the 19th century. When they finally began to talk of surrender, their words were as powerful as their resistance had been.

By Jerry Eagan

 

Camp El Cañon de los Embudos, 20 miles southeast San Bernadino, Mexico, Fort Bowie, AT [Arizona Territory]. To Lieut. Gen. P.H. Sheridan, Wash., DC: "I met the hostiles yesterday at Lieut. [M.P.]. Maus's camp, they being located about five hundred yards distant. I found them very independent and fierce as so many tigers. Knowing what pitiless beasts they are themselves they mistrust everyone else. After my talk. . . it seemed as if it would be impossible to get any hold on them except on condition that they be allowed to return to their reservation on their old terms. Today looks more favorable.—Geo. Crook, Brig. Genl."

—from "A Detailed Record of the Official Occurrences
attending the Close of the Campaign against the
Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apaches"

"On or about May 17th, 1885, Geronimo and other renegades left the San Carlos Reservation, and committed the outrages which have not yet ceased. . . these renegade savages did not kill or wound, or their squaws mutilate, the bodies of these peaceable people with the purpose of obtaining anything of value to them. They kill purely because they have been reared from childhood to do so."

—from a letter by G. Gordon Adam.

 

Without doubt, these statements made by G. Gordon Adam, who was most likely a politician, were true. Adam pointed out the negative effects of Apache outbreaks on the growth of Arizona Territory. American and Mexican herders, prospectors, mail riders, ranchers and businessmen had all been slaughtered in one Apache outbreak or another, since 1860. Each killing, he said, impeded economic advancement for the territory.

Several key players in the March 1886 surrender were: Geronimo, near left side facing camera; Gen. Crook, in pith helmet, gloved hand on his knee, second from right; first from right, Charlie Roberts, teenager who came with his father, an adjutant of Crook's; Nana, on Geronimo's left. Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society.

Save for several brief hiatuses in those 25 years, whatever the reasons, whenever the Chiricahua Apaches left the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona Territory, or the Chihenne Apaches left the Warm Springs Reservation in New Mexico Territory, people died violently.

In my last three articles of "Hiking Apacheria" (August 2006, November 2006 and February 2007 Desert Exposure), I've dealt with various aspects of the 1885 "breakout" from San Carlos, and one raid in the fall of 1885 that caused severe hardship for our part of New Mexico. Nat Wittum, an "old Army scout," was believed killed in the first three days of the May 1885 outbreak along the Blue River in Arizona. Ulzana's (Jolsany's) Raid, which took place in November and December 1885, led to 34 Americans, Mexicans and White Mountain Apaches being killed. The Chiricahuas who struck San Carlos on that raid did so in the hope they could liberate their brethren. Much of Ulzana's raid took part in southwestern New Mexico. The firefight that Lieutenant S.W. Fountain's 8th Cavalry troop had on the Middle Fork of the Gila River on Dec. 9, 1885, was with Ulzana's Apaches. Nine days later, Fountain's troop was ambushed as they rode and sang their way to a place that would be named for them: Soldier's Hill, just south
of present-day Pleasanton, NM. With five killed, it was one the bloodiest days of the raid.

By then, no love was lost for the Apaches by the citizens of Arizona and New Mexico. Very few voting citizens sent letters to their governors or political representatives, asking for a kinder, gentler approach to "The Apache Problem."

After my article on Hiking Apacheria in the Floridas appeared (January 2006), a reader sent a letter to the editor suggesting I was naive to believe Apaches would have spared me had we encountered one another then. No problemo. I doubt they would have, either. It's moot, of course, but even so, I'd expected those charges to be leveled at me sooner or later.

The Apache who inhabited the mountains and deserts in our part of the world were fit like Spartans. As Gen. Crook wrote, "Knowing what pitiless beasts they are themselves they mistrust everyone else." They inflicted savage pain on any prisoner. As a fictional Apache scout says in the Burt Lancaster movie, Ulzana's Raid, when asked why the Apache were so cruel: "Is the way it is. Apache get power from those people. More pain, more power." It was a wise man or woman who warned the uninitiated in Apache country, "Save the last bullet for yourself. You do not want to ever be caught alive by those animals!" Jimmy "Santiago" McKinn, Merjildo Grijalva and Apache Bill were young boys captured by the Apache who escaped death because they were too young to fight but not too old to be trained as warriors.

Right and wrong, the competing claims to the land in present-day southern New Mexico and Arizona were irrelevant by 1885. Though the Apache had roamed the deserts and mountains of this region for hundreds of years, and claimed the land, the newcomers saw them as a pain in the ass. Many felt it was simpler to kill them all, no mercy. Assuming every bit of land here was theirs, the Apache were equally merciless with Mexicans who were captured or, worse, surrendered.

It seems that many such victims were killed instantly. But there were credible reports of Mexicans being tied to wagon wheels upside-down and burned alive, or stabbed or lanced up to 100 times before death overtook them.

As a child, I'd read about the Apache. The day I got shot in Vietnam, I was prepared to save a grenade for myself. Being tortured to death by VC didn't sound like the way I wanted to go.

 

By the time Geronimo and his men and women were run down into Mexico, in the Sierra Madres, in January 1886, everyone was worn out. Certainly the Apaches, not numbering more than 150 total, were worn down. The entire US Army in southern Arizona and New Mexico—approximately 5,000 men—was out on the chase, at water holes, in the field and even into Mexico. Several thousand Mexicans were out, too. Blood or scalps.

Gen. Crook's description of what an actual Apache chase through this country consisted of is crystal clear: Only the most rigorous could stand the pace, and possess the endurance and stamina necessary to bring the Apaches to a place where they'd want to talk. Here are some of Crook's own words.

Fort Bowie, Arizona Territory, Jan.11, 1886: "Sir: I have the honor to report that, after the conclusion of movements against the hostile Chiricahua Apache. . . the trail of a considerable number led into Mexico by our Apache scouts and. . . scouting parties have been continuously in the field since May, marching more than 1,500 miles. . . .

"The hostile Chiricahuas, knowing that the water holes were guarded, changed their tactics to the extent of avoiding them and made a passage in the most difficult points of the Mountains. They are not dependent upon the water holes for water, but can go 100 miles without halting, carrying such water as they need for themselves in the entrails of cattle or horses killed by the way, and, abandoning the animals they ride when these drop exhausted by thirst or fatigue."

Then, of course, there was the problem of transportation: "The soldiers in pursuit have each but one horse. When any of their horses or pack mules give out, from any cause, the command is [not only] weakened by such loss, but. . . extra work is imposed upon the poor beasts which are still able to stagger on their feet.

"The Chiricahuas secure a remount at ranches on their route, and at the end of a march of 100 miles, are possibly in possession of fresher and better animals than when they started."

One Apache practice would be for two men to split off from the main group, each heading in a different direction, only to meet later, at a pre-established rendevous point. "No human wisdom or foresight can predict exactly where that is to be; it may be in the original direction of their line of march, on one or both flanks, or they may whip around and appear far in the rear of their pursuers," Crook lamented.

"To follow them only one thing can be done: the trail must be struck and never lost, if possible. The Apache may retard pursuit or baffle it completely in either one of the ways indicated, and, it has happened that during the present campaign, that our faithful Apache scouts have slowly and patiently led the troops for 20 miles over rocky stretches where a white man could not detect the faintest indication of a trail, until upon reaching more favorable ground, the unnerving sagacity of the scouts was attested.

"This was the state of the case with the band of raiders here spoken of [Ulzana's raid]. They succeeded in eluding our troops and in passing the line, but word of their incoming was telegraphed . . . all the more dangerous, as it rendered it so much more the difficult for people to know they were in any particular vicinity until they had surrounded a ranch or ambushed some unwary traveler and in their next flight had left no more trail than so many birds."

Crook added that "many of the persons killed were on roads, or trails, at a distance from points of communication. Every possible means were taken to give warning and afford protection, but even had the whole army been employed for the purpose, it would have been impossible to get word to every prospector farmer and teamster near their course.

"The Chiricahuas dashed through comparatively well-settled districts, murdering and plundering with grim impartiality, citizens, soldiers and friendly Indians, with no loss that can be positively stated beyond the one whom the friendly Apaches killed near Fort Apache." Only one man in Ulzana's raid was killed by pursuers and he was killed by a White Mountain Apache, not Americans or Mexicans, cowboy or soldier.

Crook continued, "They push across the valleys by night and remain hidden by day in the rocky places and high points of the mountains from which they can watch the surrounding country, note the approach of pursuers, and lie in ambush for them."

 

The Apaches were Spartans indeed. I was a rifleman in South Korea from the fall of 1965 until I volunteered to go to Vietnam in July 1966. I carried a rifle both places, climbed hills and mountains, slogged through swamps and rivers, slept in rain and snow. In Korea, temperatures dropped as low as minus-50, and I got a tiny nip of frostbite on two of my fingers, when we played war games as low as 30-below. By the time I got to Vietnam, at age 19, I was in superb condition. I'd marched and run, at least three miles, six days a week, and was able to stay with the other grunts who'd been in Vietnam. It was a matter of great pride to me. It wasn't an Ironman competition, but for me, it was a peak, sublime experience to march 20 miles with full gear, and still break into a trot for the last mile.

I'm certain these Apaches felt the sublimity of their conquest of nature and country. And yet, my achievements were nothing compared to the average Apache warrior. Running and fighting, regardless of weather and distance, the Apache always stayed ahead of the Americans.

The Apache also knew well how to use the guns that had come to their country with their enemies, as Crook described: "The country contains many rough places where a dozen men, armed, as the Chiricahuas are, with breech loading guns, could hold a brigade in check. When night comes the command must halt and wait. . . . In the meantime the raiders have put miles between themselves and the soldiers."

Crook further reported: "Our camps must be established where there's water. The Chiricahuas know this and. . . avoid all places. . . troops are likely to be stationed. The country is so rough and the distance from water to water so great that the hostiles have no trouble slipping between us, trusting for water to the small supply they carry with them or to that which may be found in tanks in the rocks."

In the last few months, exploring a possible Apache haunt in the Floridas, I came upon a number of clearly ground-out holes in the bedrock. I'd often been told that these holes, typically oval in shape, were "mortar in bedrock"—that is, grinding holes. But I've since learned these holes would hold round- or oval-bottom pots. And, in the case of the ephemeral Apache, I've since seen with my own eyes how much water these holes could contain, either from snow melt or summer rains. Grinding these holes out hundreds of years ago, the Apache created water from rock. They knew where water collected at certain times of the year—but the Americans did not.

 

But running, camping, raiding and hiding eventually took a toll on the Apache, and they sent word to their American pursuers that they wanted to talk surrender. Having thus been alerted by Lieutenant Marion P. Maus, then chief of the Apache scouts, Gen. Crook agreed to meet all Apaches who wished to surrender, at Cañon de los Embudos (the Funnels) in Sonora, in the latter part of March 1886.

And so they did. A surrender dialogue between Geronimo, Naiche, Chihuahua and General Crook and two Apache scouts began on March 25. Among the interpreters present was Tom Horn, who would be hanged in 1899 in Wyoming for assassinating a young man and for serving as a "regulator"—a killer hired by ranchers who wanted sod-busters and squatters off prime cattle ranching land; Steve McQueen would one day play him in a movie titled Tom Horn.

Geronimo began by launching into a long-winded monologue about why he'd broken from the reservation, run into Mexico and resisted surrender.

Crook asked him, "Why did you kill innocent people? What did those innocent people do to you that you should kill them, steal their horses, and slip around in the rocks like coyotes?"

"There is not a week that you don't hear foolish stories in your own camp, but you are no child, you don't have to believe them," the general went on. "You promised me in the Sierra Madres [in 1883] that peace should last and you have lied about that. All the Americans saw that you were lying when I brought you up there to the reservation and I've had a constant fight since with my own people to protect you from them. And the white people say that I am responsible for everyone of those people who have been killed."

Crook was aware of his low "public approval rating" among his own people. He was despised by many throughout Arizona and New Mexico for the actions of those who were called, derisively, "Crook's pets." In the end, Crook's pacifying tactics and attempts to treat the Apache humanely would cost him his job.

Geronimo replied, "That's why I want to ask — who it was who said that I should be arrested."

"That's all bosh," Crook said. "There is no use for you to try to talk nonsense. You must make up your mind whether you will stay out on the warpath or surrender unconditionally. If you stay out I'll come after you and kill the last one, if it takes me 50 years." Furious with this latest breakout, Crook accused Geronimo, several times, in front of his followers, of being a liar.

Even though it was only spring, and the conference had settled under various deciduous trees, the reporter of the conference, Captain John Bourke, noted that Geronimo fidgeted and that sweat poured profusely from his forehead at the barrage of charges General Crook laid on him, in front of so many people.

Several hours were devoted to the conference on the first day. All the participants apparently were tired and needed a rest, in the growing heat of the day and the general taxing process of hammering at each other with words designed to gain advantage somewhere, in the final negotiation. As the conference broke, the parties headed in separate directions. As they did so, a Tombstone photographer, Camillus Fly, who had brought his photographic equipment all the way into Mexico, rough ride that it was, took some of the most famous pictures of the Apache ever produced.

Many speculate that the Apache were keenly aware what the newspapers said about them could determine their fate. They must have also felt it was in their interest to have themselves photographed.

 

On March 27, skipping a day, the final surrender discussions were held, with all those present the first day present again. After Geronimo broached several comments, Chihuahua spoke. Chihuahua, whose Apache name was Kla-esch, led a band called Chokonens, which in turn had a subgroup named the Bedonkohes, which produced Geronimo. They also had their homeland in the Arizona/New Mexico country of the Upper Mogollon Mountains. Chihuahua knew Crook and he spoke most forcefully:

"I'm very glad to see you and have this talk with you. It is as you say, we are always in danger out here. I hope from this day on we may live better with our families and not do any harm to anybody. I am anxious to behave. I think the sun is looking down upon us and the Earth is listening. . . . It seems to me that I have seen the one who makes the Rain and sends the Winds; or he must have sent you to this place.

"I surrender myself to you because I believe in you and you do not deceive us. You must be our God. I am satisfied with all that you do. You must be the one who makes the green pastures, who sends the rain, who commands the winds. You must be the one who sends the fresh fruit that appear on the trees every year."

In the verbatim notes of the discussion, it may seem that the words were taken as if all part of a fluid discussion. It must be remembered, however, that every word spoken was most likely translated at least twice. First, when Crook spoke, from English to Spanish to Apache. Then, from Chiricahuan Apache (there are several dialects of Apache), into Spanish, into English. Interpreters were available. Besides the later-infamous Horn, among the most famous of these were George Wratten, who had grown up on the San Carlos Reservation and spoke fluent Chiricahuan Apache, and Merijildo Grijalva, who had been abducted by Cochise's group as a child and escaped as a teen.

"I want you to have pity on me," Chihuahua went on. "Do with me as you please. I shake your hands. I have roamed these mountains from water to water. . . . Now, I surrender to you and go with you. When we are traveling together on the road or anywhere else, I hope you'll talk to me once in a while."

"After awhile," Crook replied. Crook, nicknamed "Nantan Lupan" (Gray Wolf Chief), was a subdued man who held his game close. For better or worse, as I first read these words, the image of Gene Hackman, who played Crook in Geronimo: An American Legend, was burned in my brain. (The 1993 film also starred Wes Studi as Geronimo, Robert Duvall, Matt Damon and Jason Patric.)

Another Apache spoke on this day for the first time. He was Naiche, the second son of Cochise. The first son, Taza, had been groomed for leadership, but had died at an early age from illness contracted when he was on a visit to Washington, DC, after Cochise had surrendered. Naiche was a less dominant figure than Taza, but was the real chief among these Apaches; Geronimo was a war leader and medicine man.

"What Chihuahua says, I say. I surrender first the same as he did," Naiche said. "I give you my word, I give you my body. I surrender. I have nothing more to say than that. When I was free, I gave orders but now I surrender to you. I throw myself at your feet. You may order and I stay." He shook the general's hand. "Now that I have surrendered I am glad. I'll not have to hide behind rocks and mountains. I'll go across the open plains. I'll now sleep well, eat contentedly, and be satisfied and so will my people.

"I surrender to you and hope you will be kind to us, as you have always been a good friend of the Indians and tried to do what was right for them. I surrender to you and place myself in your hands."

"Don't worry about that," Crook replied. "I am going back to [Fort] Bowie tomorrow as I have much work to do there. . . . The scouts will stay with you and take you over to Bowie." Crook knew that the Apaches could be intercepted and lynched by furious vigilantes from Tombstone. He also certainly had to know that if the Apaches were attacked, the vigilantes would do most of the dying.

Geronimo then said, "Two or three words are enough. I have little to say. I surrender myself to you." He shook hands with Crook. "We are all comrades, all one family, all one band. What the others say, I say also. I give myself up to you. Do with me what you please. I surrender. Once I moved about like the wind. Now I surrender to you and that is all." They shook hands again. "I don't want any one to say any wrong thing about me in any way. I surrender to you and want to be just as if I were in your pocket. My heart is yours and I hope yours will be in mine.

"I was very far away from here. Almost nobody could go to that place. But I sent you word. I wanted to come in here and here I am. I have no lies in my heart. Whatever you tell me now is true; we are all satisfied of that. I hope the day may come when my word shall be as strong with you as yours is with me."

 

There were other requests. The Apaches were told they'd go to Florida for two years. They wanted their families to accompany them. Crook assured them their families would join them. He too believed the Apaches would be sent to Florida for only two years; he was to learn the harsh reality very quickly, though. His commander, General Phil Sheridan, the secretary of war and President Grover Cleveland all had different plans. Ultimately, Geronimo would spend eight years imprisoned in forts in Florida and 15 years at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where he died in 1909.

Amazingly, Geronimo then asked that one of the scouts, who had helped the Americans trail the Apache, be allowed to speak. Ka-e-a-tena and Alchisay were Chiricahua scouts. The former had been sent to Alcatraz years earlier, for offenses committed on the reservation. He'd been changed forever by being locked in a small concrete cell on a cold, moist, windy island. All the Apache knew of this fate, and dreaded it. Most would have never surrendered if they knew such a fate awaited any of them.

Ka-e-a-tena's voice was gone, however, so he suggested Alchisay speak.

"They have all surrendered. There is nothing more to be done, but I'll speak only a few words," Alchisay said. "I am mad with Captain Bourke because he is writing down what I say. I am not a captain but a small man, and what I say don't count." But he also said, "I am talking now for these Chiricahuas. They have surrendered. . . . They are all one family with me. . . . Now they have surrendered. . . . We hope to hear that you have treated them kindly. . . . A hen has many chickens; she goes ahead, the chickens follow."

"When you are dead, your children and your children's children can know what you have said," Crook replied. The general knew the complete transcript would be sent over the telegraph lines; when that happened, the entire world would know the words spoken at Cañon de los Embudos. If anything went wrong, the transcript would help preserve his reputation.

 

Something did go wrong. In spite of their eloquent, almost poetic words, an incident occurred that night that derailed much of what Geronimo and Naiche had said. With their followers, they later bolted.

The incident involved an unscrupulous merchant named Tribolett. A Swiss-born immigrant who often peddled wares from his wagon, never by invitation, Tribolett followed the Americans into Sonora—apparently without breaking his inventory of whiskey bottles on the rocky route. Tribolett also had a still he used to make whiskey on the spot. That night of March 27, 1886, he sold (or traded goods stolen from dead Mexicans) whiskey to Geronimo and Naiche.

Tribolett, like so many sleazy merchants across the Southwest, wanted the Apache war to go on. After all, he made plenty of money selling his wares, especially whiskey, not only to the soldiers, but the Apaches as well.

It was tragic, but the whiskey Tribolett sold or traded to the Apaches killed the deal for some. They got staggeringly drunk. In the midst of their drunkenness, Geronimo, Naiche and a few others who were mostly their relatives heard lurid stories Tribolett told them. He said the word was that as soon as the Apache got into Arizona, they'd be lynched.

Geronimo may have known that Crook's Apache policies of surrender and isolation were under attack as too lenient, and so believed Tribolett's stories. Both he and Naiche had witnessed the 1883 hanging of several Army Apache scouts who had turned on their American handlers. They dreaded hanging, since they believed they'd enter the next world with broken necks, forever unable to properly defend themselves against enemy spirits.

So, by the morning of March 28, Geronimo and his people were gone—back into the rugged Sierra Madres. While Geronimo's group had fled, Nana, Cutle, Chihuahua, Jolsany and the others had stayed and were escorted back to Fort Bowie. They arrived on April 1 and were sent rapidly, by train, to Forts Marion and Pickens, in Florida, where they were made prisoners of war, never allowed back in Arizona.

 

By August 1886, the few men, boys and women who had bolted back into Mexico with Geronimo and Naiche were completely exhausted. Gen. Crook, who was blasted by the president and Gen. Sheridan for allowing Geronimo and others to escape—again—asked to be relieved of his command. He was replaced by General Nelson Miles, whom many felt was a "kiss up, kick down" kind of guy, as we would have said in my Army days. Miles had suggested he replace Crook earlier, but Crook had outmaneuvered him. This time, Crook decided he'd had enough of the Apaches.

The Apache never seemed to understand the true consequences of their intermittent outbreaks. In retrospect, it was amazing these warriors weren't hanged upon the return to Fort Bowie, that men like Crook were able to protect them at all.

Geronimo's final surrender in Skeleton Canyon, Ariz., on Sept. 4, 1886, will be told in another article. The Apaches who surrendered and stayed to be sent away in March 1886 were fierce warriors who'd decided to give up the fight. Their strict Spartan war-style was over.

I believe their spirits have shown me how they survived. Now, when I walk, I ask my God: Where do you want me to go? I ask the Apache God, Ussen (YO-sen), Where do YOU want me to go?

I like to think their spirits lead me. I trust those "leadings," as we Quakers say. The experience of being led, to a place where holes have been clearly ground in the rock to collect water, or to a pointer rock that leads to a cave, a pictograph or petroglyph, has convinced me of this relationship.

I feel the wind. I see a Gamble's quail hen lead a line of chicks through soft desert grass. I look up, as I did the last day of March, and see a huge golden eagle soar a thousand feet above my head and the Florida Mountains. And I understand the eloquence of surrender.

 

This is the eighth 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.

 

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