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About the cover


  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  February 2011

Hiking the Peloncillos

Page: 3

The photos I've taken simply show a massif that extends five or six miles in length and rises to at least 6,000 feet. Within that bulging jumble of rock, the Apaches had come, time and again, to a rancheria that provided them not only with clean, fresh, consistent water from springs, but also many of the plants they harvested throughout the year.

loco 4
Prickly pear and Spanish bayonet make hiking a challenge.

On April 23, 1882, the forces of the US Cavalry and the Warm Springs Apache clashed in one of the canyons I've hiked in. In I Fought with Geronimo, Jason Betzinez described the firefight as vividly as one can:

"Those of us who were watching the skirmishing from high up on the mountainside grew restless. When the soldiers had reached a point about a mile from our hiding place our warriors stripped off their shirts and prepared for action. I heard the leaders calling all able-bodied men to assemble for battle. Of course, the way the Indians fought was all voluntary. The chiefs were not able to order any man to fight, as the officers could do the soldiers. But the Indians would go into battle to keep from being shamed and to protect their families.

"Soon we saw our warriors moving down toward a steep U-shaped ravine. The soldiers were approaching up the caon while our men were on the rim. The fighting began. Three of our men who were wounded were carried back up the mountainside. Maybe some were killed but I did not see any. The fighting grew very heavy, almost continuous. The soldiers fired ferocious volleys. Those of us who were watching were shivered with excitement as our men slowly withdrew under this fire."

The US forces were parched. Forsyth chose to withdraw sometime around 4 p.m., to Richmond, again, where his men and horses could slake their enormous thirst. The Apaches, on the other hand, prepared to exfiltrate the area, empty after dark of all soldiers. Moving as only Apaches could, under cover of darkness but a full moon, they traveled for 36 hours, until they went through the southern end of the Peloncillos, exiting on the eastern side, above Cloverdale. Utilizing a commonly used rancheria, the men rested, and, thinking they'd outwitted and outrun the Americans, danced. The women, on the other hand, went into action, as they saw that their most important staple, the "mescal sheets of the agave, were growing green." It was time to harvest and, tired or not, the Apache women harvested and began roasting the mescal hearts.

The hubris of the Apaches cost them dearly, however. Rather than having fled to safety, they were battered first by the pursuing Americans, then ambushed and slaughtered by Mexicans along the border. In the next few days, to the end of April, Loco lost 40% of his band. Within two days, the Americans and Mexicans killed, wounded or captured as many as 145 men, women and children.



The tragedy of this "outbreak," in later years, was blamed on Geronimo, who had come up from his own departure from the San Carlos Reservation and forced the Chihene N'de to come with him — under pain, he warned, of death. To this day, Chihene N'de blame Geronimo for the many lost lives of their loved ones.

The years 1882 and 1883 would be among the costliest in the history of the Chiricahua Apaches. By this time, also, Geronimo was the primary culprit who insisted that they not change their lifestyle; they continued to raid, kill, plunder and pillage both in Arizona and New Mexico, as well as Mexico.

Say what you might about the injustices (and they were countless) that the Americans perpetrated upon the Apaches, leaders like Geronimo, Naiche, Juh, Chihuahua and Ulzana just would not surrender to the reality of their day.

For me, I treasure beyond words the silence, and beauty and tathata (essence) of these places. I cannot alter history, and perhaps everyone involved simply did what they did with the outcomes they got. But I can sit silently and practically hear the Apaches in happier times — calling across the canyon to one another with joy, happiness and reverence for what nature gave them as they "moved like the wind."

 

 



To read previous "Hiking Apacheria" stories, visit www.desertexposure.com/apacheria Jerry Eagan's website, www.hikingapacheria.com has a blog and also, through the assistance of his web designer, Teri Matelson, has a slide show that features several hundred photos of where he's "hiked Apacheria," in 2010-2011. If you're interested in fully developed photos of "Apacheria," write Jerry at skyminder.eagan805@gmail.com



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