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Sept. 11 was a memorable date back in 1879 and 1885

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Looking Backwards

Hillsboro's Other 9/11s

For one New Mexico mining town, Sept. 11 was a memorable date
back in 1879 and 1885

by Craig Springer

 

 

The date Sept. 11 is seared in American memory for the events of 2001. It was a date perhaps not forgotten, either, by those who lived in and around Hillsboro from 1879 through the mid-1880s.

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Animas Peak juts above the mesa at Hillsboro. Camp Hillsboro, later changed to Camp Boyd, lies in the bottom below a string of cavalry on patrol. Geronimo skirted the Black Range west of Hillsboro on Sept. 11, 1885. (Black Range Museum)

In August 1879, the Apache leader Victorio launched a rampage that made its mark in history. Victorio, followed by tens if not hundreds of disenchanted Apaches, raided ranches and isolated military outposts in southern New Mexico, west Texas and northern Chihuahua. On Sept. 11, 1879, a posse of armed citizens from Hillsboro — led by town pioneers Joe Yankie and Nicholas Galles — confronted Apaches at H.D. McEver's ranch 15 miles south of Hillsboro. McEver's ranch would shortly become the first townsite of Lake Valley (not the current site), following a significant silver strike.

Estimates of the number of Hillsboro men engaged in the battle vary, as do counts of the number killed, depending upon which report you read. The event has been referred to as the Hillsboro Massacre, perhaps owing to the fact no other towns existed then, Hillsboro being only two years old itself, and that all of the deceased lived in the nascent community. A review of the literature reveals that anywhere from a half-dozen to 15 men were killed in action.

The 1880 Secretary of War's report to Congress offers some insight as to the geographic extent of the Apache depredations. As for those known to have been killed at McEver's in September 1879, the report recognized: "Steve Hanlon, Thomas Hughes, Thorton, Preissier, Green, Dr. William, killed in action at McEver's Ranch. Refugia Arvies and Jose Morena, killed in action at [nearby] Arroyo Seco; I. Chaves also killed in action at McEver's Ranch." The number of Indians killed, if any, is not documented.

Apache historians of renown, Dan Thrapp, Edwin Sweeney and Joseph Stout, make mention of an entire ranch family murdered and mutilated on Jaralosa Creek a mere mile or two from McEver's ranch that same day. The names of those victims are not reported.

McEver's would see more action a week or so later with a heated battle with the Ninth Cavalry, the famous Buffalo Soldiers, led by Major A.P. Morrow. In a brief Sept. 18 New York Times account, you can sense the frustration that dogged the military in the Victorio campaign that lasted until late 1880: "Just received the following from McEvers near Hillsboro: ‘We had a five-hours' fight with all of 100 Indians. We have 10 killed and several wounded. All our stock is gone.'"

The following month, the Apaches attacked McEver's ranch yet again, and burned down its buildings. Because of its location, central to Fort Cummings to the south and Camp French located in Hillsboro the summer of 1880, and then Camp Hillsboro/Camp Boyd in 1885-86, McEver's ranch site would be occupied by the US Army for much of the Victorio and the Geronimo campaigns. The beleaguered site found on period maps is today a pleasant ranch on a small open plain along Hwy. 27 — on private property, mind you.

 

As coincidence would have it, Sept. 11, 1885, would be another dark day.

Unless you live a hermit's life, you no doubt heard that Navy Seals evoked the name of Geronimo in their designs to kill Osama bin Laden. "Operation Geronimo" was the tag given to the enterprise. The original "operation Geromino" went down in southern New Mexico 127 years ago, with there being significant US Army and Apache activity in our area. The threat of loss of life and property by Apaches around Hillsboro was significant on a number of occasions from 1877 until 1886, such that commerce and travel were conducted at great risk. Observers at the time commented that Apache depredations prostrated the mining industry at Hillsboro.

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One Who Yawns, otherwise known as Geronimo, wreaked havoc on southern New Mexico, attended by Naiche, the son of Cochise in 1885-86. (Library of Congress)

The Apache named Goyakla, or "One Who Yawns," was nicknamed "Geronimo" by the Mexican military when he escaped injury in gun fire, the Mexican soldiers evoking the name of St. Jerome for the Apache's remarkable luck in cheating death. "Geronimo!" became an American war cry during World War II, adopted by parachute troopers at Fort Benning, Ga., after seeing the movie Geronimo (1939) with Andy Devine and Gene Lockhart before a big jump.

The US Army put considerable resources on the ground to capture or kill the Apache paladin and his lieutenant, so to speak — Naiche, the son of Cochise. Geromino's last outbreak from the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation occurred in 1885 and lasted until his surrender in the fall of 1886. Some of those US Army resources were at Camp Hillsboro (the name later changed to Camp Boyd to honor fallen officer Orsemus Boyd). The camp was located about a mile north of today's Hillsboro post office, and is now a private ranch. Companies of infantry and cavalry were stationed for about a year — mid-1885 until September 1886 — at Camp Hillsboro.

 
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