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Friday, 8 August 2008


The history of the American West is a mixture of half remembered facts and downright lies. The West as defined by the public perception is largely a myth, having more in common with ancient fables than historical fact.

To the Easterners of the time the West was seen as a Garden of Eden waiting to be colonised but this would change when the grim reality was faced. The West was a dangerous place and the Indians, far from being the savages depicted at the time, were an honourable and courageous people who would fight to keep their hold on lands that were theirs by birthright.

The first outsiders to land in America were the Vikings in 10000 AD but the country was properly discovered by Columbus over 500 years later, and claimed for the KING OF SPAIN. Columbus thought he was in India and named the indigenous people, Indios from which the term Indian developed.

In 1607 the first English speaking settlement was built at Jamestown. The Indians the settlers discovered were hunter gathers or farmers and because they lived in primitive conditions and could not speak any European language, they were considered uncultured savages.

Initially there was peace with the Indians but as immigration grew and the white race came in greater and greater numbers there was conflict.

These days the general opinion is to blame all of the conflict between early settlers and the Indians as being caused by white man aggression and although there were plenty of instances of this it is too simplistic a view. At times there was barbaric cruelty performed by both the whites and the Indians. Whatever your view of this period in history the one thing that is certain is that the actors in the great historic performance were of their time with attitudes formed by their time, both whites and Indians.

1848 - California Gold Rush (in his excellent pocket essential on the Indian Wars, author Howard Hughes treats this incident as the true start of the Indian wars, calling it year zero, even if there were many conflicts before this period. I tend to agree with the author as the ere we think of as having the greatest and most costly battles follow this one event which brought settlers in their droves into the lands of the Indians. Anyone wanting to seriously study the subject could also do worse than read Dee Brown's Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides and Crazy Horse and Custer by Stephen E. Ambrose.

1851- treaty of Laramie. A massive gathering of Indians at Fort Laramie were offered $50.000 a year plus guns for hunting if they refrained from attacking the 49'ers. The Indians were told they must stay in their own designated areas (this was before they were called reservations). The Indians agreed but soon broke the treaty. They were a free roaming people and expecting them to be confined to one area was folly. In 1853 a similar treaty was made with the Northern Plains Tribes.

1862- American Civil War begins. The years of bloody conflict that followed took many scores of men to the battlefields of the East and tied the army up. The Indians took advantage of the situation and started killing settlers, driving off cattle in a bid to take back some of the lands that they considered theirs by birthright. They had a good argument in the fact that they were here first. Indian raiding became more and more common and this year also saw the Minnesota Massacre.

MINNESOTA MASSACRE: follows QUOTE from Minnesota History page:

On August 17 1862, four braves made history when they were pillaging a hen's nest near the cabin of Robinson Jones at Acton in Meeker County. One of the braves objected to stealing a white man's property and the other three called the first a coward. To prove his courage, the first brave declared that he would approach the cabin and kill its white owner. The Jones family saw the braves approaching and fled to the house of their son-in-law, Howard Baker. The braves followed and killed Baker, Jones and three others, two of them women. Then the braves stole horses and rode to Chief Shakopee's camp and reported what they had done. Chief Shakopee immediately took them to Chief Little Crow.

A war council was held. The braves all wanted to attack the whites, but Little Crow was a good friend of the whites. Although the white trader Andrew J. Myrick had insulted his people by saying that they "should eat grass or dung", Little Crow didn't think war was the answer. One of the chiefs called him a coward.

So Little Crow would lead the warriors to war. On August 18, he and his warriors attacked the Redwood agency without warning. They killed several white men and took some women prisoner. Then went on to attack New Ulm and Fort Ridgely.
The governor of Minnesota sent an army of 1500 men, led by General Henry H. Sibley to put down the revolt.

News had traveled quickly and frightened settlers had fled to New Ulm for safety. Other settlers fled to Mankato, which had organized a makeshift militia to hold off the expected attack.
The first attack on New Ulm occurred on August 19th, 1862. The afternoon before, Sheriff Roos had issued an order placing the local militia under arms. By noon on the 19th, only 42 men had been found sufficiently well armed to be assigned to the defense of the city. These 42 were organized into companies and assigned areas to guard. The rest of the men were "reserves", armed only with pitchforks and other crude weapons to be used in the event that the Indians broke through the fortifications. 16 men from Nicollet and Courtland and 12 horsemen from St. Peter also arrived in time to fight in the first battle. Around five o'clock the first night, a company of hastily assembled businessmen arrived from St. Peter just as the Indians were preparing to give up the struggle.

On Saturday August 23 1862, the day of the second attack, the total had reached a total of well over eight hundred men, according to rosters furnished by company commanders. That day, the Dakota attacked a second time. Little Crow led 650 braves to battle. Although most of the town was burned, the settlers managed to hold them off. Help arrived in the form of The town got help from Judge Charles E. Flandreau and his Indian veterans, who hated the Dakota. Demoralized, the Dakota fled, but they had done plenty of damage. Many settlers were dead or wounded and the town of New Ulm had been reduced to a smoking rubble. The only area of the town still standing at the end of the battle was the two block area the settlers had fortified.

Ironically enough, it were Santee Dakota families who settled at the bend in the Big Sioux River in South Dakota, close to the Minnesota border, later called Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation, next to the town of Flandreau.

One of the most severe battles was fought on September 2 and 3 at Birch Coulee.
The Dakota killed many horses, but
General Sibley's reinforcements were too strong and the Dakota retrieved.

700 warriors attacked the Lake Wood army camp on September 23, but they were again outnumbered by Sibley's troops. The Dakota fled to Canada, or were captured and put in prison at Fort Snelling.

The defeat at Wood Lake ended all organized Indian resistance and Little Crow fled, leaving his white captives with friendly Indians. Within a few days the 107 white captives and 162 mixed blood captives were turned over to Sibley at a place near the present-day city of Montevideo. Sibley named the place Camp Release and a 51-foot granite shaft was placed there as a monument to the end of the Dakota Uprising.

307 of the Dakota prisoners were sentenced to death, but President Lincoln read the trail reports and pardoned most of them.

"Only" 38 were to be hung on the charge of murder and rape on December 26 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota.

These are the names of the 38 executed Dakota Warriors:

~Ptan Du-ta (Scarlet Otter)
~O-ya'-te Ta-wa (His people)
~Hin-han'-sun-ko-yag-ma-ni (One who Walks Clothed in Owl Feathers)
~Ma-za Bo-mdu (Iron Blower)

~Wa-hi'na (possibly meaning I Came)
~Sna Ma-hi (Tinkling Water)
~Hda In-yan-ka (Rattling Water)
~He-pan (Second born child, this was given to the second boy)
~Tun-kan' I-ca'hda Ma-ni (One Who Walks by His Grandfather)
~Ka-mde'-ca (Broken to Pieces)
~He In'-kpa (The Tip of the Horn)
~Na-pe'-sni (Fearless)
~Ma-za Ku-te Ma-ni (One Who Shoots As He Walks)
~A-i'-ca-ge (To Grow Upon)
~Ho-i'-tan-in Ku (Returning Clear Voice)
~Ce-tan' Hun-ka' (Elder Hawk)
~Can-ka-hda (Near the Woods)
~Hda'-hin-hde (Sudden Rattle)
~O-ya'-te A-ku' (He Brings the People)
~Ma-hu'-we-hi (He Comes for Me)
~Ti-hdo'-ni-ca (One Who Jealousy Guards His Home)
~Wa-kan Tan-ka (Great Mystery or Great Spirit)
~Cas-ke'-da (First Born Child. this was given to the first boy)
~Do-wan'-s'a (Sings a lot or Singer)
~Ta-te' Ka-ga (Wind Maker)
~Sun-ka Ska (White Dog)
~Wa-kin'-yan-na (Little Thunder)
~Baptiste Campbell (a mixed blood)
~Wa-hpe Du-ta (Scarlet Leaf)
~Wa-si'-cun (White Man)
~I-te' Du-ta (Scarlet Face)
~Ma-ka'-ta I-na' (One Who Stands on Earth)
~Hypolite Auge (a mixed blood)

~Ma-hpi'-ya A-i'-na-zin (One who Stands on a Cloud, a.k.a. Cut Nose)
~Tun-kan' Ko-yag I-na'-zin (One Who Stands Cloaked in Stone)
~Ta-te' Hdi-da (Wind Comes Home)
~Ta-te Hmi-hma (Round Wing)

Quote ends.

Other infamous battles from that year was the Battle for Apache Pass

The Battle of Apache Pass


Captain Thomas L. Roberts, First Infantry California Volunteers, with 126 men, was ordered to march east from Tucson to San Simon (about 175 miles) to set up a supply depot for the Column from California. Captain John Cremony was in charge of the cavalry escort and the wagon train consisting of 21 wagons and 242 animals--both mules and horses. The following is Cremony's description of the battle of Apache pass, as found in his 1868 book, Life among the Apaches.

Remington, Cavalry Charge

[The Column from California advances to Apache Pass--July, 1862]

In consequence of the report made by Lieut.-Col. E. A. Rigg, Gen. Carleton again ordered me in advance, with Capt. Thomas Roberts, Co. E, First California Infantry. Arriving at the San Pedro river, it became necessary to learn whether Dragoon Springs, some twenty-eight miles further on, could supply both companies, at a time, with water, or whether we would be obliged to break into detachments. Capt. Roberts took the advance with his infantry and three wagons, having also selected seven of my best mounted men to serve as scouts and couriers. I remained behind with fifteen of my cavalry and ten of Roberts' company, including the detachment left as a garrison at the river, where a tolerable adobe building, erected by the Overland Mail Stage Company, afforded decent shelter, and a defensible position.

[July 14, 1862] The night after Roberts left was one of the most stormy I ever witnessed. The rain descended in floods. Earth and sky appeared thunder riven; blazing lightnings leaped from the inky clouds, and absorbed the Cimmerian darkness with their blinding flashes. The San Pedro roared and foamed, the animals quailed and bent before the storm, and all nature seemed convulsed. I was in charge of sixteen wagons with their mules and precious freight, and my chief attention was elicited to secure their safety. Experience had taught me that the Apaches would select exactly such a time to make a bold attempt, and I doubled my sentries. Throwing myself on the earthen floor, without removing my side arms or any portion of my clothing, I endeavored to obtain some repose. About two o'clock a.m., I was aroused by the Sergeant of the guard, who informed me that strange lights were visible coming down the hills on the west, north, and south sides. A hasty survey showed me four lights, as of large burning brands, on three different sides of the compass, and apparently approaching the station. I felt convinced from this open demonstration, that no attack was meditated, for, in that case, the greatest secrecy and caution would have been observed by the Apaches. Nevertheless, the garrison was summoned and disposed to the best advantage. All fires were extinguished, and all lights shrouded from observation. In the course of a few minutes seven or eight more lights made their appearance and seemed to be carried by persons walking at a rapid pace. Some of them approached within, what I considered, two hundred yards of the station, and at one time I felt greatly inclined to try the effect of a chance shot from my rifle, but gave up the idea from the conviction that no Apache would carry a torch within that distance, and maintain an erect position, while my fire might expose the persons of my men and draw a more effective return. After an hour and a half of anxious watch, the lights gradually united and faded away toward the east.

It was not until more than a year had elapsed that I learned the meaning of this occurrence. A celebrated leading man of the Mescalero Apaches, named Gian-nah-tah, or Always Ready, gave the desired information, which precisely tallied with succeeding events. He said that, as the Apaches are a dispersed and perpetually wandering race, it is impossible for one detachment to know where others might be at any time; but that when a great body of them was needed for any joint undertaking they made smoke signals of a certain character by day, and signals of fire by night. That, on the occasion of which I write, the nature of the country prohibited fire signals from being seen except from very short distances, and runners were hurried through the district, bearing torches, which would indicate that the aid of all within sight was required. In fine, it was the "speed, Malise, speed," of the Apache. This explanation will account for what followed.

Between three and four o'clock a.m., just after the lights had disappeared, the sound of horses advancing at a fast gallop was heard approaching the station. The sentinel challenged, and was immediately answered with the round Saxon response, "Friends." It proved to be two of my own company, who had been sent back by Captain Roberts with the information that there was abundance of water at Dragoon Springs, and instruction to join him with the train without delay. The poor fellows had ridden twenty-eight miles through that terrible storm, and in the heart of a country swarming with hostile and ever vigilant savages. Two days subsequently they had a splendid opportunity to test their gallantry, and most nobly did they respond to the appeal. In obedience to order, we set forward before daylight to join Captain Roberts, and reached Dragoon Springs, without incident, at three o'clock p.m. A long and fatiguing march of forty miles had to be made before reaching Apache Pass, where the next water was to be had, and as we were in doubt as to the quantity, it was agreed again that I should remain at Dragoon Springs until next morning, while Captain Roberts was to push ahead with his infantry and seven of my company, leaving the train under my charge. At half-past five o'clock p.m. he set out, and the strictest vigilance was maintained in camp the whole night. By daylight next morning we were again in the saddle, and the train duly straightened out for the long and dreary march. Had we not been encumbered with wagons my cavalry could have made the distance easily in seven hours; but we were compelled to keep pace with those indispensable transports of food, ammunition, clothing and medicine. A little before dark we arrived at Ewell's Station, fifteen miles west of [Apache] pass, and I determined to park the train, as the mules had almost given out, and were quite unable to accomplish the remainder of the march without some rest. Just as I had come to this conclusion we perceived several riders coming toward us with all speed, and they soon proved to be the detachment of my company which had been detailed to act with Captain Roberts. Two of them were mounted behind two others, and all had evidently ridden hard. Sergeant Mitchell approached, and saluting, said: "Captain Roberts has been attacked in Apache Pass by a very large body of Indians. We fought them for six hours, and finally compelled them to run. Captain Roberts then directed us to come back through the pass, and report to you with orders to park the train and take every precaution for its safety. He will join you tonight. On leaving the pass we were pursued by over fifty well armed and mounted Apaches, and we lost three horses, killed under us, and that one--pointing to a splendid gray--is mortally wounded. Sergeant Maynard, now present, has his right arm fractured at the elbow, with a rifle ball, and John Teal we believe to be killed, as we saw him cut off by a band of fifteen or twenty savages, while we were unable to render him any assistance."

The wagons were ordered to be parked; every man was supplied with ammunition and posted to the best advantage; proper attention was paid to my wounded sergeant, and the camp arranged in such a manner as to insure a warm reception to a large body of savages. We remained on the qui vive until one o'clock a.m., when to my extreme surprise and sincere gratification we were joined by John Teal, who was supposed to have been killed. He brought with him his saddle, blanket, saber and pistols, having lost his horse and spurs. His narrative is so full of interest, and so well illustrates a phase in Apache character, that it is worth recording.

"Soon after we left the pass," said he, "we opened upon a sort of hollow plain or vale, about a mile wide, across which we dashed with speed. I was about two hundred yards in the rear, and presently a body of about fifteen Indians got between me and my companions. I turned my horse's head southward and coursed along the plain, lengthwise, in the hope of outrunning them, but my horse had been too sorely tested, and could not get away. They came up and commenced firing, one ball passing through the body of my horse, just forward of his hindquarters. It was then about dark, and I immediately dismounted to fight it out to the bitter end. My horse fell, and as I approached him, he began to lick my hands. I then swore to kill at least one Apache. Lying down behind the body of my dying animal, I opened fire upon them with my carbine, which being a breech-loader, enabled me to keep up a lively fusillade. This repeated fire seemed to confuse the savages, and instead of advancing with a rush, they commenced to circle round me, firing occasional shots in my direction. They knew that I also had a six-shooter and a saber, and seemed unwilling to try close quarters. In this way the fight continued for over an hour, when I got a good chance at a prominent Indian and slipped a carbine ball into his breast. He must have been a man of some note, because soon after that they seemed to get away from me, and I could hear their voices growing fainter in the distance. I thought this a good time to make tracks, and divesting myself of my spurs, I took the saddle, bridle and blanket from my dead horse and started for camp. I have walked eight miles since then."

It is needless to add how gratified I was to receive this brave and loyal soldier again, and find him free from wound or scar. We subsequently ascertained that the man he shot was no less an individual than the celebrated Mangas Colorado, but, I regret to add, the rascal survived his wound to cause us more trouble.

About an hour after Teal had come in, I was joined by Captain Roberts with thirty men, and then got a full description of the fight. I omitted to mention that two twelve-pounder mountain howitzers were with our little force, and to these guns the victory is probably attributable. It seems that about one hundred and thirty or forty miners had located themselves at the Pino Alto gold mines, or the same mines mentioned in a former portion of this work as the scene where Mr. Hay and his family were attacked and their cattle stolen by the Apaches, and also where Delgadito got badly scored by Wells. This was the great stronghold of Mangas and his band, and finding himself unable to dislodge the unwelcome intruders without help, he had dispatched messengers to Cheis [Cochise] the principal warrior of the Chiricahui Apaches, to assist him in expelling the miners. Cheis was too much occupied by the advancing column of American troops to give heed to this call, and failed to attend. Such want of faith was inexplicable to Mangas, who knew nothing of our approach, and at the head of two hundred warriors he visited Cheis, to inquire the reason for his apparent defection from the Apache cause. In reply Cheis took Mangas to the top of the Chiricahui and showed him the dust made my our advance guard, and told him that it was his first duty to defend himself, and that if Mangas would join in the affair, they could whip the "white eyes," and make themselves masters of the spoil. This arrangement was immediately agreed to by Mangas, and their united forces, amounting to nearly seven hundred warriors, so disposed as to take Roberts by surprise and insure his defeat. But "the best laid plans of men and mice, aft gang aglee," and these finely fixed schemes were doomed to be terribly overthrown.

[The Battle of Apache Pass, July 15, 1862, about noon]
Roberts, unsuspecting any attack, entered the pass with the ordinary precautions. He had penetrated two-thirds of the way, when from both sides of that battlemented gorge a fearful rain of fire and lead was poured upon his troops, within a range of from thirty to eighty yards. On either hand the rocks afforded natural and almost unassailable defenses. Every tree concealed an armed warrior, and each warrior boasted his rifle, six-shooter and knife. A better armed host could scarcely be imagined. From behind every species of shelter came the angry and hissing missles, and not a soul to be seen. Quickly, vigorously, and bravely did his men respond, but to what effect? They were expending ammunition to no purpose; their foes were invisible; there was no way to escalade those impregnable natural fortresses; the howitzers were useless, and the men doubtful how to attack the foe. In such strait, Roberts determined to fall back, reform and renew the contest. The orders were given and obeyed with perfect discipline. Reaching the entrance to the pass the troops were reorganized; skirmishers were thrown out over the hills so as to command the road; the howitzers were loaded, and belched forth their shells whenever found necessary. In this manner the troops again marched forward. Water was indispensable for the continuance of life. Unless they could reach the springs they must perish. A march of forty miles under an Arizonian sun, and over wide alkaline plains, with their blinding dust and thirst-provoking effects, had already been effected, and it would be impossible to march back again without serious loss of life, and untold suffering, without taking into account the seeming disgrace of being defeated by seven times their force of Apaches. What would it avail those brave men to know that the Indians were as well armed as they; that they possessed all the advantages; that they outnumbered them seven to one, when the outside and carping world would be so ready to taunt them with defeat, and adduce so many specious reasons why they should have annihilated the savages?

Apache warriorsForward, steadily forward, under a continuous and galling fire, did those gallant companies advance until they reached the old station house in the pass, about six hundred yards from the springs. The house was built of stone, and afforded ample shelter; but still they had no water, and eighteen hours, with a march of forty miles, including six hours of sharp fighting, had been passed without a drop. Men and officers were faint, worn-out with fatigue, want of sleep and intense privation and excitement; still Roberts urged them on, and led the way. His person was always the most exposed; his voice ever cheering and encouraging. Immediately commanding the springs were two hills, both high and difficult of ascent. One is to the east, and the other overlooks them from the south. On these heights the Apaches had built rude but efficient breastworks by piling rocks one upon the other so as to form crenelle holes between the interstices. From these fortifications they kept up a rapid and scathing fire, which could not be returned with effect by musketry from three to four hundred feet below. The howitzers were got into position, but one of them was so badly managed that the gunners wee brought immediately under the fire from the hills without being able to make even a decent response. In a few moments it was overturned by some unaccountable piece of stupidity, and the artillerists driven off by the sharp fire of the Apaches. At that juncture, Sergeant Mitchell with his six associates of my company made a rush to bring off the howitzer and place it in a better position. Upon reaching the guns, they determined not to turn it down the hill, but up, so as to keep their fronts to the fire. While performing this gallant act, they were assailed with a storm of balls, but escaped untouched; after having righted the gun, brought it away, and placed it in a position best calculated to perform effective service. So soon as this feat had been happily accomplished, the exact range was obtained and shell after shell hurled upon the hills, bursting just when they should. The Apaches, wholly unused to such formidable engines, precipitately abandoned their rock works and fled in all directions. It was nearly night. To remain under those death-dealing heights during the night, when campfires would afford the enemy the best kind of advantage, was not true policy, and Captain Roberts ordered each man to take a drink from the precious and hardly-earned springs, and fill his canteen, after which the troops retired within the shelter afforded by the stone station house [see photo below], the proper guards and pickets being posted.

Remains of the stone Overland Stage station house at Apache Pass,
Fort Bowie National Historic Site, photo courtesy National Park Service

In this fight Roberts had two men killed and three wounded, and I afterwards learned from a prominent Apache who was present in the engagement, that sixty-three warriors were killed outright by the shells, while only three perished from musketry fire. He added--"We would have done well enough if you had not fired wagons at us." The howitzers being on wheels, were deemed a species of wagon by the Apaches, wholly inexperienced in that sort of warfare.

[Some students of Apache warfare have questioned Cremony's claim of a total of sixty-six Apaches dead in this battle, but several factors need to be considered: 1) Cremony does not claim first-hand knowledge but is reporting what an Indian told him later; 2) the Indian force consisted of warriors of both Cochise and Mangas Colorado and as such was probably more numerous and, perhaps, less coordinated than usual; 3) these Indians were trying their hand for the first time (that we know of) at fighting from behind a stationary breastwork of rocks; and 4) probably most important, this was the first time that these warriors were vulnerable to the fire of the mountain howitzers. Thus the number of dead was probably less than sixty-six, but still considerably larger than what the Apaches were accustomed to. Find out more about the mountain howitzer here.]

Captain Roberts suffered his men to recruit their wasted energies with supper, and then taking one-half his company, the remainder being left under command of Lieutenant Thompson, marched back to Ewell's Station, fifteen miles, to assure the safety of the train under my command, and escort it through the pass. As before stated, he reached my camp a little after two o'clock a.m., where the men rested until five, when the march toward the pass was resumed. Several alarms were given before his arrival, and we heard the Apaches careering around us; but they made no attack, and kept out of sight. At five o'clock a.m., the train was straightened out with half my effective cavalry force three hundred yards in the advance, and the other half about as far in the rear, while the wagons were flanked on either side by the infantry. In this order we entered that most formidable of gorges, when the bugles blew a halt. A considerable body of the infantry were then thrown out on either side as skirmishers, with a small reserve as the rallying point, while the cavalry were ordered to guard the train, and make occasional dashes into the side canyons. "Up hill and down dale" went the skirmishers, plunging into dark and forbidding defiles, and climbing steep, rocky and difficult acclivities, while the cavalry made frequent sorties from the main body to the distance of several hundred yards. Being without a subaltern, General Carleton had assigned Lieutenant Muller, of the First California Volunteers, to service with my command. This officer soon gave sufficient proof of his gallantry and zeal, for which I now gratefully return thanks.

In this manner we progressed through that great stronghold of the Apaches and dangerous defile, until we joined the detachment under Lieutenant Thompson, at the stone station house, where we quartered for the remainder of that day. Let it be borne in mind that Captain Roberts company of Californian infantry had marched forty miles without food or water, had fought for six hours with desperation against six times their numbers of splendidly armed Apaches, ensconced behind their own natural ramparts, and with every possible advantage in their favor; had driven that force before them, occupied their defiles, taken their strongholds, and, after only one draught of water and a hasty meal, had made another march of thirty milesl, almost absolutely without rest. I doubt much if any record exists to show where infantry have made a march of seventy miles, fought one terrible battle of six hours' duration, and achieved a decided victory under such circumstances.

The shrill fife, the rattling drum and the mellow bugles sounded the reveille before dawn of the next day. The campfires were soon throwing up their lively jets of flame and smoke, while the grateful odors of frying bacon and browning flapjacks saluted the appreciative nostrils of the hungry troops. But we had no water, and without water we could have no coffee, that most coveted of all rations. There was reason to believe that the Apaches intended to put our metal to another trial. They had again occupied the heights above the springs, and also the water sources, which were thickly sheltered by trees and willow underbrush. Roberts again made plans to dislodge the savages, and ordered his howitzers into the most favorable positions. Just then I saluted him and said, "Captain, you have done your share of this fight; I now respectfully ask for my chance. If you will throw your shells on the heights above the springs, I will charge the latter with my men, and clean out the Apaches in a very few moments. I certainly think this concession due me."

Roberts reflected a few moments, and replied--"I am truly sorry that your wish cannot be granted. Yours is the only cavalry I have, and their safety is indispensable to ourts. We are going to the San Simon river, where I am ordered to establish a depot and await the arrival of other troops with supplies. You are to take back this train for those supplies, and you will have enough to do in your proper turn. I cannot, under the circumstances, grant your request."

To this I replied: "Your objections appear cogent, but I cannot perceive why all these things cannot be accomplished, and still permit my men, who are burning with anxiety, to charge those springs and disperse that wretched horde of savages. They are already cowed, and will immediately flee before a vigorous assault."

Captain Roberts replied: "You have had my answer, Captain, and it should be enough. I do not intend to jeopard my own men, but will shell the heights and springs, and effect a bloodless vidtory, in so far as we are concerned."

After this rebuff I could make no further personal appeal, but instructed Lieutenant Muller to beseech Captain Roberts, and, if possible, induce him to change his mind. Muller argued for half an hour, until Roberts told him either to obey or be placed under arrest. This ended the colloquy. The howitzers then opened fire--the shells burst splendidly; large numbers of Apaches were observed to decamp from the heights in the most hurried manner; the springs also underwent a similar cleaning, and in less than twenty minutes the troops were permitted to advance and fill their canteens, while my cavalry, without awaiting further orders, made a rush after the retreating savages until the rapid rise and terribly broken nature of the ground checked their career. The hillsides were covered with fleeing Apaches, who seemed imbued with supernatural powers of locomotion. Upwards they sped with the celerity of Alpine goats, until they disappeared behind the crests of tall mountains and rugged hills. In peace and quiet we partook of the precious fountain. Our horses and mules, which had not tasted water for forty-eight hours, and were nearly famished from so dusty a road and so long a journey under the hottest of suns, drank as if they would never be satisfied. An hour later we moved through the pass, entered upon the wide plain which separates it from the San Simon river, and reached our camp on that creek, without further trouble, about four o'clock p.m.

Aftermath of the Battle of Apache pass

But short breathing space was afforded me at the San Simon. On the morning of the third day after our arrival, and the trying tests to which we had been subjected, I received orders from Captain Roberts to escort the train of twenty-six wagons back to the San Pedro in order to furnish the required transportation for the provision, ammunition, clothing and other supplies of the column. For this duty I was assigned fourteen of my troopers and seven men of Roberts' company. The intervening country had been well examined through fine field glasses, and on two occasions a thorough reconnissance had been made by the cavalry, which showed that a very excellent passage existed to the north of the Chiricahui range, over nearly a level plain, and that the distance would be only some seven miles longer. This route, with the approbation of Captain Roberts, was at once selected for our return, and for the following reasons: The safety of our train was of the very first importance, as upon it depended the success of the unprecedented march the "Column from California" was then attempting. In the next place, if the Apaches had given us such a strong and determined fight when we mustered one hundred and twenty-nine men and two mountain howitzers, what great chance would I have of safely conducting a train of twenty-six wagons with only twenty-one men, and without artillery, through such a terrific stronghold? In the third place, nature provided a passage nearly as short, much less laborious for men and animals, well supplied with water, wood and grass, and by its open character, affording the very best field for the operations of cavalry, and the widest range for our splendid breech-loading weapons of long reach. It was not a question whether we should again fight the Indians, but whether we could forward the main object of the expedition. Indeed, strict orders had been given to refrain from Indian broils as much as possible, to suffer some wrong rather than divert our time and attention from the great purpose contemplated, which was to liberate Arizona from Confederate rule and effect a junction with General Canby as soon as possible. Had we been exclusively on an Indian campaign, other means would have been adopted.

Having taken a final survey, I started in the evening just after sundown, to prevent the Apaches from seeing the dust raised by the column, and directed our course over the open plain, north of the Chiricahui range, and between it and the mountains from which it is divided some four miles by an open and elevated piece of clear land, without trees or rocks, and thickly covered with the finest grama grass. We traveled all night with the cavalry covering the front and rear, and the seven infantrymen sleeping in the empty wagons, with their weapons loaded and ready at a moment's warning. Every little while the cavalry were required to patrol the length of the column, to ward off any sudden and unforeseen attack. The infantry were allowed to sleep, in order that they might be fresh to keep guard throughout the day. In this manner we progressed until five a.m. next day, when I ordered a halt, had the wagons handsomely corralled nearly in a circle, with the animals and men all inside, except the guard, and the camp properly prepared against surprise. We were then exactly north of the Chiricahui mountains, and south of another range, each being about two miles distant. I could distinctly see large numbers of Apaches riding furiously up and down the steeps of those heights, and sometimes advancing on the plain, as if to attack. But experience had taught them that our carbines and Minnie rifles were deadly at nearly a mile of distance, and they did not approach within their reach. Our horses were tied to the picket rope which extended across the open end of the corral, and covered by a sufficient guard. Fidning that the Apaches did not care to make an onslaught, the cavalry and teamsters, all of whom were well armed, retired to rest, after partaking of a hearty meal. Next evening, at dark, we again hitched up and pursued our journey as before. I was in the advance with Sergeant Loring, when our horses suddenly jumped to one side and our ears were greeted by the spiteful warning of the rattlesnake, coiled up directly in our path. To avoid this malignant reptile the train diverged about twenty yards from the road, and after a little while entered it again. This sort of thing occurred many times during the night, until we again struck the regular highway nearly due west of Apache Pass. Our next halt was made six miles from Ewell's Station, and we had come seventy miles in two nights. That day we saw no Indians, although the same precautions were adopted as if we were surrounded by large numbers. Our next march was to the Ojo de los Hermanos, or the "Brothers' Springs," so as to avoid stopping to water at Dragoon Springs, which were two miles up a deep and dangerous canyon, where the enemy would possess every possible advantage, and where the animals would have to be led to water a mile or more from the wagons, with the delightful prospect of not finding anything like a sufficiency.

In due course of time, we regained the San Pedro river, where General Carleton had arrived with a considerable body of troops. I turned over my train, and was ordered to advance once more with headquarters. Apache Pass was again entered and traversed; but it seemed as if no Indian had ever awakened its echoes with his war-whoop--as if it had ever been the abode of peace and silence. I rode beside Dr. McNulty for a while, and described to him the terrible conflict which had taken place there only eight days previous. That true soldier and soldiers' friend frequently exclaimed--"By George, I wish I had been here!" "What splendid natural breastworks are these, old fellow!"--a peculiar expression of his--"I am glad you came out of it all right!" Next day we emerged from the pass without molestation, or seeing an Indian sign; but, instead of directing our course toward the San Simon, diverged by another route toward the Cienega, a flat, marshy place, at the foot of the next easterly range of mountains [the Peloncillo mountains], of which Stein's Peak is the most prominent. The San Simon creek, as it is called, sinks about a mile south of the station bearing that name, and undoubtedly furnishes the supply of water which is to be had at the Cienega, located on the same plain, and about eight miles south of the spot where the creek disappears.

Source: John C. Cremony. Life among the Apaches available here as a free e-book.

Download the content of this page as an illustrated e-book: The Battle of Apache Pass


The most famous Indian battle was Custer's Last Stand at the Little Bighorn which shocked Americans - it had been unthinkable that that their famous hero could be brought down and defeated by the indians. This one event would lead to a bloody period in which all the great chiefs were hunted down and the Indian tribes destroyed or pacified.

General Custer was a flamboyant character, a celebrity. In the way he worked his celebrity he could almost be considered a movie star before the movies were invented. However the truth is that Custer was a self promoting braggart who was so desperate to carve out glory for himself that he led his men into certain death on a whim.

In late 1875, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians defiantly left their reservations, outraged over the continued intrusions of whites into their sacred lands in the Black Hills. They gathered in Montana with the great warrior Sitting Bull to fight for their lands. The following spring, two victories over the US Cavalry emboldened them to fight on in the summer of 1876.

George Armstrong Custer
To force the large Indian army back to the reservations, the Army dispatched three columns to attack in coordinated fashion, one of which contained Lt. Colonel George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry. Spotting the Sioux village about fifteen miles away along the Rosebud River on June 25, Custer also found a nearby group of about forty warriors. Ignoring orders to wait, he decided to attack before they could alert the main party. He did not realize that the number of warriors in the village numbered three times his strength. Dividing his forces in three, Custer sent troops under Captain Frederick Benteen to prevent their escape through the upper valley of the Little Bighorn River. Major Marcus Reno was to pursue the group, cross the river, and charge the Indian village in a coordinated effort with the remaining troops under his command. He hoped to strike the Indian encampment at the northern and southern ends simultaneously, but made this decision without knowing what kind of terrain he would have to cross before making his assault. He belatedly discovered that he would have to negotiate a maze of bluffs and ravines to attack.

Reno's squadron of 175 soldiers attacked the southern end. Quickly finding themselves in a desperate battle with little hope of any relief, Reno halted his charging men before they could be trapped, fought for ten minutes in dismounted formation, and then withdrew into the timber and brush along the river. When that position proved indefensible, they retreated uphill to the bluffs east of the river, pursued hotly by a mix of Cheyenne and Sioux.

Just as they finished driving the soldiers out, the Indians found roughly 210 of Custer's men coming towards the other end of the village, taking the pressure off of Reno's men. Cheyenne and Hunkpapa Sioux together crossed the river and slammed into the advancing soldiers, forcing them back to a long high ridge to the north. Meanwhile, another force, largely Oglala Sioux under Crazy Horse's command, swiftly moved downstream and then doubled back in a sweeping arc, enveloping Custer and his men in a pincer move. They began pouring in gunfire and arrows.

As the Indians closed in, Custer ordered his men to shoot their horses and stack the carcasses to form a wall, but they provided little protection against bullets. In less than an hour, Custer and his men were killed in the worst American military disaster ever. After another day's fighting, Reno and Benteen's now united forces escaped when the Indians broke off the fight. They had learned that the other two columns of soldiers were coming towards them, so they fled.

After the battle, the Indians came through and stripped the bodies and mutilated all the uniformed soldiers, believing that the soul of a mutilated body would be forced to walk the earth for all eternity and could not ascend to heaven. Inexplicably, they stripped Custer's body and cleaned it, but did not scalp or mutilate it. He had been wearing buckskins instead of a blue uniform, and some believe that the Indians thought he was not a soldier and so, thinking he was an innocent, left him alone. Because his hair was cut short for battle, others think that he did not have enough hair to allow for a very good scalping. Immediately after the battle, the myth emerged that they left him alone out of respect for his fighting ability, but few participating Indians knew who he was to have been so respectful. To this day, no one knows the real reason.

Sitting Bull
Little Bighorn was the pinnacle of the Indians' power. They had achieved their greatest victory yet, but soon their tenuous union fell apart in the face of the white onslaught. Outraged over the death of a popular Civil War hero on the eve of the Centennial, the nation demanded and received harsh retribution. The Black Hills dispute was quickly settled by redrawing the boundary lines, placing the Black Hills outside the reservation and open to white settlement. Within a year, the Sioux nation was defeated and broken. "Custer's Last Stand" was their last stand as well.

Carnage at the Little Bighorn
George Herendon served as a scout for the Seventh Cavalry - a civilian under contract with the army and attached to Major Reno's command. Herendon charged across the Little Bighorn River with Reno as the soldiers met an overwhelming force of Sioux streaming from their encampment. After the battle, Herendon told his story to a reporter from the New York Herald:

"Reno took a steady gallop down the creek bottom three miles where it emptied into the Little Horn, and found a natural ford across the Little Horn River. He started to cross, when the scouts came back and called out to him to hold on, that the Sioux were coming in large numbers to meet him. He crossed over, however, formed his companies on the prairie in line of battle, and moved forward at a trot but soon took a gallop.

Map of the Battle"The Valley was about three fourth of a mile wide, on the left a line of low, round hills, and on the right the river bottom covered with a growth of cottonwood trees and bushes. After scattering shots were fired from the hills and a few from the river bottom and Reno's skirmishers returned the shots.

"He advanced about a mile from the ford to a line of timber on the right and dismounted his men to fight on foot. The horses were sent into the timber, and the men forward on the prairie and advanced toward the Indians. The Indians, mounted on ponies, came across the prairie and opened a heavy fire on the soldiers. After skirmishing for a few minutes Reno fell back to his horses in the timber. The Indians moved to his left and rear, evidently with the intention of cutting him off from the ford.

"Reno ordered his men to mount and move through the timber, but as his men got into the saddle the Sioux, who had advanced in the timber, fired at close range and killed one soldier. Colonel Reno then commanded the men to dismount, and they did so, but he soon ordered them to mount again, and moved out on to the open prairie."

The command headed for the ford, pressed closely by Indians in large numbers, and at every moment the rate of speed was increased, until it became a dead run for the ford. The Sioux, mounted on their swift ponies, dashed up by the side of the soldiers and fired at them, killing both men and horses. Little resistance was offered, and it was complete rout to the ford. I did not see the men at the ford, and do not know what took place further than a good many were killed when the command left the timber.

"Just as I got out, my horse stumbled and fell and I was dismounted, the horse running away after Reno's command. I saw several soldiers who were dismounted, their horses having been killed or run away. There were also some soldiers mounted who had remained behind, I should think in all as many as thirteen soldiers, and seeing no chance of getting away, I called on them to come into the timber and we would stand off the Indians.

"Three of the soldiers were wounded, and two of them so badly they could not use their arms. The soldiers wanted to go out, but I said no, we can't get to the ford, and besides, we have wounded men and must stand by them. The Officers before the battlesoldiers still wanted to go, but I told them I was an old frontiers-
man, understood the Indians, and if they would do as I said I would get them out of the scrape which was no worse than scrapes I had been in before. About half of the men were mounted, and they wanted to keep their horses with them, but I told them to let the horses go and fight on foot.

"We stayed in the bush about three hours, and I could hear heavy firing below in the river, apparently about two miles distant. I did not know who it was, but knew the Indians were fighting some of our men, and learned afterward it was Custer's command. Nearly all the Indians in the upper part of the valley drew off down the river, and the fight with Custer lasted about one hour, when the heavy firing ceased. When the shooting below began to die away I said to the boys 'come, now is the time to get out.' Most of them did not go, but waited for night. I told them the Indians would come back and we had better be off at once. Eleven of the thirteen said they would go, but two stayed behind.

"I deployed the men as skirmishers and we moved forward on foot toward the river. When we had got nearly to the river we met five Indians on ponies, and they fired on us. I returned the fire and the Indians broke and we then forded the river, the water being heart deep. We finally got over, wounded men and all, and headed for Reno's command which I could see drawn up on the bluffs along the river about a mile off. We reached Reno in safety.

"We had not been with Reno more than fifteen minutes when I saw the Indians coming up the valley from Custer's fight. Reno was then moving his whole command down the ridge toward Custer. The Indians crossed the river below Reno and swarmed up the bluff on all sides. After skirmishing with them Reno went back to his old position which was on one of the highest fronts along the bluffs. It was now about five o'clock, and the fight lasted until it was too dark to see to shoot.

"As soon as it was dark Reno took the packs and saddles off the mules and horses and made breast works of them. He also dragged the dead horses and mules on the line and sheltered the men behind them. Some of the men dug rifle pits with their butcher knives and all slept on their arms.

The Battlefield"At the peep of day the Indians opened a heavy fire and a desperate fight ensued, lasting until 10 o'clock. The Indians charged our position three or four times, coming up close enough to hit our men with stones, which they threw by hand. Captain Benteen saw a large mass of Indians gathered on his front to charge, and ordered his men to charge on foot and scatter them.

"Benteen led the charge and was upon the Indians before they knew what they were about and killed a great many. They were evidently much surprised at this offensive movement, and I think in desperate fighting Benteen is one of the bravest men I ever saw in a fight. All the time he was going about through the bullets, encouraging the soldiers to stand up to their work and not let the Indians whip them; he went among the horses and pack mules and drove out the men who were skulking there, compelling them to go into the line and do their duty. He never sheltered his own person once during the battle, and I do not see how he escaped being killed. The desperate charging and fighting was over at about one o'clock, but firing was kept up on both sides until late in the afternoon."

Many battles followed and the coming years were full of bloodshed but the writing was on the wall and after Custer's defeat the army were ordered to subdue the Indians at all cost. in 1877 Crazy Horse was killed, in 1878 White Bear committed suicide while in prison by chanting a death prayer and diving from a window. Sitting Bull surrendered in 1881 and would later be killed in 1890. Geronimo surrendered earlier in 1876 and by 1891 the Indian Wars were officially over.


Danny-K said...

Hell of an effort you've put into this post Archavist.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Not really - culled a lot of good stuff from history site. Mind you I did credit any stuff that's not by myself. That's only fair - I don't mind anyone using my postings as long as they credit them and link them to the original.