Letters from Exile
What became of the Chiricahua after they finally surrendered and were taken far from Apacheria?
Story and photos by Jerry Eagan
By fall 1886, approximately 500 Apache Indians from the desert Southwest, including fewer than 100 men who were full or apprentice warriors, were imprisoned in St. Augustine, Florida. The warrior Chihuahua, his men and a few others, who'd actually surrendered in March 1886, were at Fort Marion, Florida. They surrendered to General Crook, as promised, but Geronimo and his bunch had bolted at the last minute, prolonging the inevitable until September 1886.
The remnants of Fort Bowie, whose garrison monitored the
Southern Chiricahua of Cochise.
The women, children and young boys not old enough to become warriors were also incarcerated at Fort Marion. In an act of treachery that epitomized the contempt and fear many in the government held for all Apaches, the scouts who'd helped find Geronimo and his holdouts had been arrested and shipped east, too.
Geronimo's group detrained in San Antonio, Texas, while President Grover Cleveland fumed and tried to untie himself from commitments General Nelson Miles had made, which implied that the captives would not suffer consequences beyond exile in Florida. Cleveland wanted to hang Geronimo and his crew. From some perspectives, given the number of Americans killed by the Apache in 1885 and 1886 alone, it was amazing that powerful Arizona and New Mexican politicians, aligned with Cleveland, hadn't gotten that group strung up. Even though almost every agreement made between the government and Apaches previously had somehow been chiseled away, however, Cleveland finally kept Miles' agreement for exile, not execution.
Other Apache groups, such as the Jicarilla, Mescalero, San Carlos and White Mountain, who'd either capitulated or were subdued earlier in their histories, had been rewarded with reservations somewhat closer to their homelands. The price? Earlier subjugation. But the Chiricahua, Chihenne and Nednai of southwestern New Mexico, southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico fought to the bitter end. Had these Apache actually been given the lands of several reservations that were not only proposed for them, but in several cases, officially established for them, we might not be living in Silver City or in Grant or Sierra Counties of New Mexico.
In 1873, General Oliver O. Howard, known as "the Christian General" after losing an arm during the Civil War and finding religion, made an agreement with Cochise, head of the Western Chiricahua. That deal set aside a large chunk of land in the southwestern corner of Arizona: roughly the area today bounded by I-10 on the north, at Benson, east to the Arizona-New Mexico border, down to the Bootheel and Chiricahuas, then back west roughly along a line slightly east of a Sierra Vista-Benson line. The proposed reservation generally represented the homeland of Cochise and the Western Chiricahua. Cochise, who wanted more, settled for that space. So far as Howard was concerned, it was an honorable deal that others later voided.
Efforts were also made to establish a reservation open to all Chihenne and even Chiricahua Apaches at Ojo Caliente (also known as the Warm Springs Reservation or Ca_ada Alamosa), in present-day Sierra County. The nearby small town of Monticello, northwest of Truth or Consequences, was an old Mexican village where Warm Springs Apaches had traded goods with the locals, and with whom they'd maintained a fairly reliable peace. While that reservation would have satisfied the Chihenne and others, miners and ranchers badgered Congress and the president into reneging again.
Another "reservation" was established near present-day Aragon, NM, along with tenuously built Fort Tularosa. The reservation would have encompassed a large area bordered by the Tularosa and Datil Mountains, probably incorporating parts of the Mogollons as well.
Each of these three proposed or actual reservations was within 100 miles of Silver City. Prior to the Civil War, Dr. Michael Steck, one of the finest individuals who ever worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tried to establish a reservation just 15 miles west of Silver City, in the Burro Mountains and north to Buckhorn. An old map shows the "camp" of Mangas Coloradas, the great Apache leader, in this same area — where Hwy. 180 West runs today past aptly named Mangas Springs. Fort West, above the Gila River, near present-day Cliff, would have probably been the garrison that monitored the Apache, had the Mangas Reservation ever been established.
Instead, the late-surrendering Apache were exiled to Florida. Forts Marion and Pickens there had served earlier as prisons for warriors of other Indian tribes subdued between 1865 and 1886. Both prisons were dank, dark, barely hospitable. There was never any doubt that transferring 500 Apaches from Arizona and New Mexico was hardly the optimum way to handle prisoners of war. I haven't found any official documents stating it was deliberate US policy to hope the Apaches would die off in Florida's humid climate. But after two years, even the most virulent Indian haters believed the Apaches might not survive exile. Consequently all the Apache were moved to Mount Vernon Barracks, near Mobile, Alabama.
By then, some of the youngest had already been removed to Pennsylvania. In April 1887, Captain Richard H. Pratt, superintendent of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, came to Florida seeking "volunteers" for his educational enterprise. Pratt chose 49 boys and girls including Jason Betzinez, who later wrote the book, I Fought With Geronimo and who, at age 27, was hardly a schoolboy. Off they all went to school, whether they wanted to or not.
The rest of the Apache went to Mount Vernon Barracks, which proved even more of a death trap than Florida. They died of malaria and other diseases, or got tuberculosis. One member of an Indian-sympathizer group reported 246 deaths at Mount Vernon.
Conditions were no better at the Indian school in Pennsylvania. One Army physician wrote: "The practice, which prevails at the Carlisle School, of retaining students there until in an advanced state of pulmonary disease, and then sending them back to their people is a bad one. If these cases could be returned to the open air life and dry atmosphere of the western country, in the first stage of this disease, many of them would recover. As it is, they return when there is no hope of recovery, only to become sources of infection to their people. I have seen a boy from Carlisle, dying from phthisis, compelled to travel in a day car until unconscious, and then 28 miles in a stage, in an effort to get him on his reservation before death — which was accomplished by a few hours. If this school cannot be removed to a climate suitable and natural to the Indian, the students should be given a chance for life by a prompt return to the western country."
Ironically, the "western country" of Silver City and Grant County would soon become renowned as the site of sanitariums where Americans sick with tuberculosis came to restore their health.
As the Apache struggled through their exile at Mount Vernon, an ugly incident occurred there that would have, I think, been grossly unacceptable in the days when the Apache policed themselves, not by laws, but by cultural taboos and mores. According to the Adjutant General's report, "Commanding Officer reports the kidnapping, on April 7, 1888, of a Chiricahua Indian girl (Be-ke-ya), aged 11 years by an Apache prisoner of war named Zes-cloya (ordinarily called Louie). Armed detachments were sent out as soon as their absence was noticed and on April 13, '88 (at 2 p.m.) the fugitives were captured. Louie was placed in confinement and the girl was returned to her parents. During their flight Louis entered the houses of two or three colored men and stole a musket, some ammunition, a pair of shoes, soft hat and butcher knife. . . . The Post Surgeon states that an examination of the girl shows that she was raped by Louie and suffered other permanent injuries."
Another tragic consequence of long-term incarceration among strangers in a strange land was described by Henrietta H. Stockel in her history of the Apache prisoners during their 24 years of captivity, Shame and Endurance: "The climate, the clothing and the unrelenting sickness conspired physically and psychologically against the prisoners, and for the first time in Apache cultural memory, two suicides resulted. The first, Geronimo's warrior relative named Fun, fled two miles out of the camp to the river, sat under a tree, and shot himself during a fit of jealousy over his wife's activities. . . . Two years later, another self-inflicted death occurred when Seeltoe, assigned to guard duty at the jail, shot his wife and her companion as she tried to escape from the guardhouse." He then turned the weapon on himself, dying instantly.
As the separation of children and families increased to years, Apaches asked several translators, such as Sam Bowman and George Wratten (who accompanied the Apache into exile voluntarily), to write not only to their children at Carlisle School, but to relatives back in Arizona. This was sent to the San Carlos Agency, Arizona Territory, on May 3, 1888:
"My dear son, Go-kliz
"I send you your Brother's picture. I would like to have you come. I feel sorry every day, that I have not seen you for a long time, and want you to come back as soon as you can. I have never done anything wrong, since I was a little girl, and have tried to live like white people all the time. I think if you ask, you can come home.
"If the Govt. tells you to come home, then just come home with your wife. You have promised me to come back soon, but I have been looking for you on the road for 2 years. You told me that your boy died. Let me know when you are going.
"Your Mother, Oh-n€hle"
On June 28, 1888, Go-kliz penned a request to be returned to Arizona: "In 1886, my wife, who is a Chiricahua was removed to St. Augustine, Fla., with my children, and not caring to be separated from them, I voluntarily came along with them from Arizona.
"My children being now all dead, I have no ties to bind me to this place and I would like to return to the San Carlos reservation, where I have a farm, and where my mother and other relatives are now living.
"I am a San Carlos Indian, and have never been identified with any hostile party, and my conduct while at this place, has been good, as the Commanding Officer knows. Mr. George Wratten, Interpreter, will answer for the verity of my statements.
"I earnestly beg that my request may be favorably considered."
Various groups sympathetic to the plight of the Apache began to raise an alarm, and military medical officials sent disturbing reports to Washington, DC. In response, several officers who'd had direct contact with the Apache during the war years visited them in exile. Captain John Bourke, a former aide to General George Crook, reported on the Apaches' dire conditions. Later, Captain Marion P. Maus, who'd led Apache scouts against Geronimo, visited and interviewed some of the fiercest Apache warriors of all time. Maus provided details on their character and adjustment to captivity, along with recommendations on where the Apache might be sent.
In his 1894 report, Maus wrote: "In order to obtain an expression of their wishes, I held a conference with some of the principal men. They are all anxious for a change; they pray they may go where they can cultivate the soil and follow the foot steps of the white men. They do not care where, but want to go anywhere they can have their children around them, and bring them up as white men and women; where they can get the shade of the trees and cool water. . . . I could not help comparing a conference I had with these same men, years ago in the mountains of Mexico , where they were in their wild state. The fierce savage spirit seems broken; the muscles which then stood out like bands on the legs, never wearying of climbing the mountains, have evidently gone. Their fierce look is there no more."
In a section on "Discipline," Maus added, "These men give very little trouble. Are very respectful and faithful in the performance of their duties. . . take pride in their profession. At guard mount the members of the detail could not be distinguished from the white men, except by the color of their skin. . . . The other Indians, called prisoners, live in a village near by, composed of 74 little frame houses of two rooms each. They are well built and kept very clean and neat. The women cook, wash, iron, sew, etc., for their families, and present a respectable and industrious appearance. . . . As to cleanliness, I believe their houses much better kept than the poor whites who live in similar abodes."
He tallied 349 Indians then at Mount Vernon — 67 men, 282 women and children. Under "Mortality," Maus noted that 262 had died since coming east, "which death rate is very high." While reporting 170 births in the same period, he cautioned, "The decrease however is nearly 100 more than the increase. There seems to be a tendency to pulmonary disease, and if kept there in their discontentment, they will probably all eventually become diseased and die."
Many of the Apache leaders took hope from Captain Maus' visit, believing he could prevail upon the authorities to move them west. "I want to go away somewhere where we can get a farm, cattle and cool water," Geronimo told Maus, in a conversation that was transcribed. "I have done my best to keep peace and good order. . . to sweep my house clean. God hears both of us and what he hears must be the truth. We are very thankful to you — these poor people who have nothing to look forward to — what you say makes my head and whole body feel cool. We all want to see things growing around our houses, corn and flowers — we all want it.
"We want you to talk for us to General Miles in the same way that you have talked to us," Geronimo went on. "Young men, old men, women and children all want to get away from here. It is too hot and wet — too many of us die here. I remember what I told General Miles — I told him that I have but one tongue and that it is not a false one. I told him that I wanted to be a good man as long as I live and I have done it so far. I stood up on my feet and held up my hands to God to witness what I said was true. I feel good about what you say and it will make all the other Indians feel good. Every one of us have got children, at school and we will behave ourselves on account of these children and we want them to learn.
"I do not consider that I am an Indian any more. I am a white man and would like to go around and see different places. . . . I consider that all white men are my brothers and all white women are now my sisters. That is all I want to say."
Chihuahua, another Apache chief, told Maus: "I want to follow in your footsteps. [If] you want me to have a wife and to have children put me in a good place where there are trees, good grass and water."
Chihuahua also spoke of the Apache children, away at school. "I went to Carlisle and saw them and it made my heart feel good to see them on the white man's road and that is why I want a piece of it," he said. "I want to have things growing. I want the wind to blow on me just as it blows on everybody else. I want the sun to shine on me and the moon just as on everybody else. I want you to look at me and see that I am not what I was when you saw me before."
Naiche, another leader, recalled seeing General Miles eight years earlier: "Then I had long hair and it was not very good but when I touched his hands I decided that I would try and follow in the footsteps of the white man and I have been doing that ever since. I told him that day that I thought that it would be good to follow in the footsteps of the white people; to walk with their legs, to think with their minds and to eat their food and I have found it to be good. My wives and children think in just that way. We live just like white people, have house and stoves just like them and we want to have a farm just like other white people. We have been here a long time and have not seen any of us have a farm yet."
One of the fiercest warriors, Nana, by then in his upper 80s, told the captain, "I am older than when I saw you. . . . I remember coming up from Mexico with you to Fort Bowie and I wasn't hungry all the way up. I don't go around much among the others here and do not talk much because I do not want to tell a lie tomorrow. I want to see all the young men have a farm and I could go around and talk with them and get something. . . but I am too old to work." He concluded, "If I was a young man I could talk to you until you told me to stop, but I am too old now."
The scouts for the Army, Chatto, Martine and Kay e tah, had all been promised farms near fresh, clean water, good grass and timber, by General Miles. Eight years later, as Chatto pointed out to Captain Maus, they were still waiting. "I want to go where the farms are," Chatto said. "I want you to tell General Miles to get them away from here in a hurry. When I went to Washington, General Miles talked to me and called me his brother. I remember that very well. None of us like this country. . . . There are lots of trees but there is nothing else."
The reports from Maus and Bourke, along with political pressure, led the government to relocate the Apaches to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in October 1894, a few months after Maus' visit. In Oklahoma, the Comanches, once deadly enemies of the Apache, welcomed them and all were able to live peacefully thereafter.
En route to Fort Sill, however, four boxcar loads of goods for the Apache were sidelined in New Orleans, where they mysteriously caught fire. There was no great rush to investigate the possible arson. Had the Apache been in their own southwestern element, they would have cached necessary goods all across their roaming land. As prisoners of war, however, they were totally dependent on the government.
From October 1894 until October 1911, the various groups of Apache remained at Fort Sill. They built villages founded upon their various bands, each named for a leader such as Geronimo, Naiche or Chihuahua. Each group settled near water, timber and good grass, as they would have, had they still been roaming.
Nonetheless, often pushed by Geronimo, the Apache continued to seek return to Arizona and New Mexico. Correctly, as history has shown, they felt Crook and Miles had promised or implied, respectively, such a return upon their surrender. The impetus grew until then-Secretary of War William Howard Taft visited them at Fort Sill (possibly to head off a visit from the Apache to Washington, DC) in October 1906. They expressed to Taft the uncertainty they felt about their position at Fort Sill, and their concern about the reservation being opened to settlement by anyone, as the Flathead Reservation in Montana had been.
Jason Betzinez, who'd pressed for permanent allotments at Fort Sill, was one of three Chiricahua spokesmen who met with Taft. Some of the Apache, he said, wanted to stay at Fort Sill and have those homes and lands guaranteed to them. The other spokesmen, Chatto and Toclanny, asked for homes "near the head of the Gila River in the vicinity of Silver City, New Mexico, somewhere near the Black Range."
In October 1911, Betzinez and others visited the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico and the Ca_ada Alamosa/Ojo Caliente lands near Monticello. That area had been opened to settlement and ranching in the late 1870s. Ojo Caliente [Warm Spring] itself had been severely damaged by cattle.
With Ojo Caliente ruled out, the Apache were given two choices: stay at Fort Sill or move to Mescalero. In January 1912, as authorized by Congress, the Apache were granted their freedom. Their long period of serving as prisoners of war was ended. On Dec. 2, 1912, 176 Apaches elected to go to Mescalero; 88, including Betzinez, stayed at Fort Sill. The Apache had moved with the seasons and weather for centuries. For those leaving for Mescalero, it must have not seemed such a burden to move once more. The longing in their hearts for the mountains and mesas of New Mexico could not be extinguished by distance, time or the death of so many from disease.
I've hiked Apacheria for five and a half years now. I've been fortunate enough to encounter dozens of "sites" and photographed pictographs, petroglyphs, old ruins, pit houses and several possible Apache rancheria, with broken arrow points and manos and metates. What a privilege!
In early October, my friend Pete and I visited a glorious pictograph site in the Burros. As we examined the artwork carefully, we found the remnants of more and more pictographs under dust and mud. They were mostly red and black, while several looked like they'd been painted in a purple grape pigment, perhaps from nearby canyon grapes. To reach these pictographs, it's necessary to climb a rough rocky ledge: it's not a place for those afraid of heights. Once there, it's also not easy getting down, and in fact, there are actually more pictographs even higher still, viewable only by climbing onto a tilted rock from which a fall would surely result in some broken bones for this 60-year-old. To photograph them, you have to hang onto the rock with one hand and manipulate the camera with the other.
These pictographs are within a few miles of Mangas Springs. We drove to the Audubon property located nearby. Water stood on the west side of the road, and seeped from the east side. Massive cottonwoods stand today that surely must have been there as far back as the 1860s, when Mangas Coloradas' village was located here until the miners and ranchers drove the Apache out. Mangas Springs flows at a good clip, clear and clean, as it heads towards the Gila River.
As we drove out of the marshland, Pete said, "I wonder, if there is a heaven, what it might be if you're bopping along and up comes Mangas Coloradas! I mean, would he be there, or would he be in Hell? (He was, after all, brutal and cruel to his enemies). But imagine if Heaven allows you to somehow interact with the people you've always wanted to talk to? What would you say to him?"
"I don't know. I think I'd ask him if he ever painted any of those pictographs at that site." I paused. "And what they meant."
"Yeah. Whoa. Maybe, if a person's done things that were 'bad,' like killing, there's still hope, if not done with an evil heart. Like, killing in war?"
"Yeah," Pete said.
"Saints and sinners. I have always preferred being with recovering sinners, to those who always seem to be posturing, as if they're saints." As a recovering alcoholic, addict and combat junkie, I've been with plenty of sinners in my day.
The big mystery. I'm closer to the end zone now than yesterday. I want to live every day as well as I can. I'm not interested in laying down any more bad karma.
Woody Allen, in Annie Hall, says he'd learned, much to his chagrin, that the universe is expanding. "How is that your business?" his mother asks.
If I believe it, I guess it's my business. The universe is expanding, teeming with plenty of dark matter, but also with plenty of stars — red ones, blue ones, brilliant orange ones, being born or found all the time.
Hand me the paintbrush, will you, Mangas?
This is the 10th in Jerry Eagan's series of "Hiking Apacheria" articles for Desert Exposure. Eagan is a retired civil servant and disabled combat infantry veteran of the Vietnam War who hikes Apacheria twice a week. He sells his photos upon request; email him at email@example.com.