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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.

"Operation Geronimo," the one that unfolded in Pakistan, was criticized as being insensitive to Native Americans for relating the Apache to bin Laden. Understandably, Native Americans, especially those who have proudly served in the US military, would rather not be viewed as in league as with an avowed enemy of the US. Witness New Mexico's own Navajo Code Talkers who were vital in the Pacific theatre in World War II.

But you cannot ignore the historical significance that Geronimo had locally and nationally. Thousands of soldiers, both American and Mexican, were put on the ground in his pursuit. Hundreds of people died in the Geronimo campaign and other notable conflicts with Apache men, both his contemporaries, and in the years before him: Ulzana, Chihuahua, Victorio, Nana, Cochise, Mangas. Civilians, soldiers and Apaches were victims of the violence.

Geronimo was not only an enemy to the US military; he was an enemy of some of his own Apache people. Companies of enlisted Apaches, led by US Army officers, chased after Geronimo; some of these men were stationed in Hillsboro. Geronimo murdered and kidnapped Anglo, Hispanic and Apache men, women and young children. He kidnapped Chief Loco's band and ensured that eventually all of the Chiricahua Apaches would be treated as prisoners of war, removed to Florida and eventually Oklahoma by way of a stay in Alabama. (The condition of the then-imprisoned Apaches at Fort Sill, Okla., is surveyed in the recently published book, Chief Loco: Apache Peacemaker, written by a descendant of the Apache leader.) Geronimo lamented late in life that he had no friends among his own people. Though the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway slices through Kingston and Hillsboro, perhaps the man's most significant presence was made near Lake Valley.

 

On Sept. 10, 1885, Geronimo's band moved over Macho Canyon and shot rancher Brady Pollock twice, then crushed his head with a boulder. Onward the Apaches went, north to McKnight Ranch on Berrenda Creek where they stole horses. Lore has it that ranch hand Jake Hollage was killed on the Parks Ranch. Geronimo made it over the Mimbres Mountains to the west, probably going over the pass at the head of today's Pollock Canyon and down Gavilan Canyon (the site of a battle with Nana and Buffalo Soldiers in 1881).

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These Hillsboro residents appear to be holding newspapers, perhaps reading the wire reports of the national news made in their midst when Apaches attacked nearby ranches. Dispatches from Hillsboro made the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times. This building is on the site of the present Hillsboro fire station.
(Black Range Museum)

On Sept. 11, more would die. By noon, Avaristo Abeyta, George Horn and 17-year-old Martin McKinn were dead, just over the Black Range from Kingston. The teenager's younger brother, nine-year-old Santiago "Jimmy" McKinn, witnessed Geronimo crush his brother's head and then don his brother's jacket. (See "The Captive," November 2006.) Taking little Jimmy McKinn, Geronimo headed into the Black Range, chased by cavalry and a militia from Hillsboro, headed by Nicholas Galles and Frank W. Parker, the latter a future state supreme court justice.

As a testament to endurance and just plain pluck, Geronimo evaded capture. He surrendered a year later, the last to give in to the concentration policies of the US government. The McKinn boy remarkably survived and was returned to his parents when Geronimo surrendered.

The original "operation Geronimo" came to a close in September 1886. Many lives lost, many lives ruined.

 

 

Craig Springer is the co-author of Around Hillsboro and a member of the Hillsboro Historical Society. His Hillsboro home was built by brothers Nicholas and Peter Galles, a property formerly owned by Justice Frank W. Parker. To learn more about the area's history, visit the Black Range Museum in Hillsboro. If you have information on the Jaralosa or Hollage killings, email craig@lobo.net.

 

 



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