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Massacres of Apache

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                    


In less than one hundred years from this Gnadenhütten massacre an officer of the United States Army, stationed at Camp Grant, in Arizona Territory, writes to his commanding officer the following letter: "Camp Grant, Arizona Territory, May 17th, 1871.

"Dear Colonel,
Thanks for your kind letter of last week. If I could see you and have a long talk, and answer all your questions, I could come nearer giving you a clear idea of the history of the Indians at this post than by any written account. Having had them constantly under my observation for nearly three months, and the care of them constantly on my mind, certain things have become so much a matter of certainty to me that I am liable to forget the amount of evidence necessary to convince even the most unprejudiced mind that has not been brought in contact with them. I will, however, try and give you a connected account, and if it proves not sufficiently full in detail, you may be sure all its positive statements will be sustained by the testimony of all competent judges who have been at this post and cognizant of the facts.

"Sometime in February a party of five old women came in under a flag of truce, with a letter from Colonel Greene, saying they were in search of a boy, the son of one of the number taken prisoner near Salt River some months before. This boy had been well cared for, and had become attached to his new mode of life, and did not wish to return. The party were kindly treated, rationed while here, and after two days went away, asking permission to return. They came in about eight days, I think, with a still larger number, with some articles for sale, to purchase manta, as they were nearly naked. Before going away they said a young chief would like to come in with a party and have a talk. This I encouraged, and in a few days he came with about twenty-five of his band. He stated in brief that he was chief of a band of about one hundred and fifty of what were originally the Aravapa Apaches; that he wanted peace; that he and his people had no home, and could make none, as they were at all times apprehensive of the approach of the cavalry. I told him he should go to the White Mountains. He said, "that is not our country, neither are they our people. We are at peace with them, but never have mixed with them. Our fathers and their fathers before them have lived in these mountains, and have raised corn in this valley. We are taught to make mescal, our principal article of food, and in summer and winter here we have a never-failing supply. At the White Mountains there is none, and without it now we get sick. Some of our people have been in at Goodwin, and for a short time at the White Mountains; but they are not contented, and they all say, " Let us go to the Aravapa and make a final peace, and never break it."

"I told him I had no authority to make any treaty with him, or to promise him that he would be allowed a permanent home here, but that he could bring in his band, and I would feed them, and report his wishes to the Department commander. In the mean time runners had been in from two other small bands, asking the same privileges and giving the same reasons. I made the same reply to all, and by about the 11th of March I had over three hundred here. I wrote a detailed account of the whole matter, and sent it by express to Department Head-quarters, asking for instructions, having only the general policy of the Government in such cases for my guidance. After waiting more than six weeks my letter was returned to me without comment, except calling my attention to the fact that it was not briefed properly. At first I put them in camp, about half a mile from the post, and counted them, and issued their rations every second day. The number steadily increased until it reached the number of five hundred and ten.

"Knowing, as I did, that the responsibility of the whole movement rested with me, and that, in case of any loss to the Government coming of it, I should be the sufferer, I kept them continually under my observation till I came not only to know the faces of the men, but of the women and children. They were nearly naked, and needed everything in the way of clothing. I stopped the Indians from bringing hay, that I might buy of these. I arranged a system of tickets with which to pay them and encourage them; and to be sure that they were properly treated, I personally attended to the weighing. I also made inquiries as to the kind of goods sold them, and prices. This proved a perfect success; not only the women and children engaged in the work, but the men. The amount furnished by them in about two months was nearly 300,000 pounds.

"During this time many small parties had been out with passes for a certain number of days to burn mescal. These parties were always mostly women, and I made myself sure by noting the size of the party, and from the amount of mescal brought in, that no treachery was intended. From the first I was determined to know not only all they did, but their hopes and intentions. For this purpose I spent hours each clay with them in explaining to them the relations they should sustain to the Government, and their prospects for the future in case of either obedience or disobedience. I got from them in return much of their habits of thought and rules of action. I made it a point to tell them all they wished to know, and in the plainest and most positive manner. They were readily obedient, and remarkably quick of comprehension. They were happy and contented, and took every opportunity to show it. They had sent out runners to two other bands which were connected with them by intermarriages, and had received promises from them that they would come in and join them. I am confident, from all I have been able to learn, that but for this unlooked-for butchery, by this time we would have had one thousand persons, and at least two hundred and fifty able-bodied men. As their number increased and the weather grew warmer, they asked and obtained permission to move farther up the Aravapa to higher ground and plenty of water, and opposite to the ground they were proposing to plant. They were rationed every third day. Captain Stanwood arrived about the first of April, and took command of the post. He had received, while en route, verbal instructions from General Stoneman to recognize and feed any Indians he might find at the post as prisoners of war. After he had carefully inspected all things pertaining to their conduct and treatment, he concluded to make no changes, but had become so well satisfied of the integrity of their intentions that he left on the 24th with his whole troop for a long scout in the lower part of the Territory. The ranchmen in this vicinity were friendly and kind to them, and felt perfectly secure, and had agreed with me to employ them at a fair rate of pay to harvest their barley. The Indians seemed to have lost their characteristic anxiety to purchase ammunition, and had, in many instances, sold their best bows and arrows. I made frequent visits to their camp, and if any were absent from count, made it my business to know why.

" Such was the condition of things up to the morning of the 30th of April. They had so won on me that, from my first idea of treating them justly and honestly, as an officer of the army, I had come to feel a strong personal interest in helping to show them the way to a higher civilization. I had come to feel respect for men who, ignorant and naked, were still ashamed to lie or steal; and for women who would work cheerfully like slaves to clothe themselves and children, but, untaught, held their virtue above price. Aware of the lies industriously circulated by the puerile press of the country, I was content to know I had positive proof they were so.

"I had ceased to have any fears of their leaving here, and only dreaded for them that they might be at any time ordered to do so. They frequently expressed anxiety to hear from the general, that they might have confidence to build for themselves better houses; but would always say, 'You know what we want, and if you can't see him you can write, and do for us what you can.' It is possible that, during this time, individuals from here had visited other bands; but that any number had ever been out to assist in any marauding expedition I know is false. On the morning of April 30th I was at breakfast at 7.30 o'clock, when a dispatch was brought to me by a sergeant of Company P, 21st Infantry, from Captain Penn, commanding Camp Lowell, informing me that a large party had left Tucson on the 28th with the avowed purpose of killing all the Indians at this post. I immediately sent the two interpreters, mounted, to the Indian camp, with orders to tell the chiefs the exact state of things, and for them to bring their entire party inside the post. As I had no cavalry, and but about fifty infantry (all recruits), and no other officer, I could not leave the post to go to their defense. My messengers returned in about an hour with intelligence that they could find no living Indians.

"Their camp was burning, and the ground strewed with their dead and mutilated women and children. I immediately mounted a party of about twenty soldiers and citizens, and sent them with the post surgeon with a wagon to bring in the wounded, if any could be found. The party returned late in the afternoon, having found no wounded, and without having been able to communicate with any of the survivors. Early the next morning I took a similar party with spades and shovels, and went out and buried the dead immediately in and about the camp. I had, the day before, offered the interpreters, or any one who would do so, $100 to go to the mountains and communicate with them, and convince them that no officer or soldier of the United States Government had been concerned in the vile transaction; and, failing in this, I thought the act of caring for their dead would be an evidence to them of our sympathy, at least, and the conjecture proved correct; for while we were at the work, many of them came to the spot and indulged in expressions of grief too wild and terrible to be described.

"That evening they began to come in from all directions, singly and in small parties, so changed as hardly to be recognizable in the forty-eight hours during which they had neither eaten nor slept. Many of the men, whose families had all been killed, when I spoke to them and expressed sympathy for them, were obliged to turn away, unable to speak, and too proud to show their grief. The women whose children had been killed or stolen were convulsed with grief, and looked to me appealingly, as if I were their last hope on earth. Children, who two days before had been full of frolic, kept at a distance, expressing wondering horror.

"I did what I could: I fed them, talked to them, and listened patiently to their accounts. I sent horses to the mountains to bring in two badly wounded women, one shot through the left leg, one with an arm shattered. These were attended to, and are doing well, and will recover.

"Their camp was surrounded and attacked at daybreak. So sudden and unexpected was it that I found a number of women shot while asleep beside their bundles of hay, which they had collected to bring in on that morning. The wounded who were unable to get away had their brains beaten out with clubs or stones, while some were shot full of arrows after having been mortally wounded by gunshots. The bodies were all stripped. Of the number buried, one was an old man, and one was a well-grown boy; all the rest women and children. Of the whole number killed and missing-about one hundred and twenty-five only eight were men, It has been said that the men were not there: they were all there. On the 28th we counted one hundred and twenty-eight men, a small number being absent for mescal, all of whom have since been in. I have spent a good deal of time with them since the affair, and have been astonished at their continued unshaken faith in me, and their perfectly clear understanding of their misfortune. They say, "We know there are a great many white men and Mexicans who do not wish us to live at peace. We know that the Papago would never have come out against us at this time unless they had been persuaded to do so.' Whatthey do not understand is, while they are at peace and are conscious of no wrong intent, that they should be murdered.

"One of the chiefs said: I no longer want to live; my women and children have been killed before my face, and I have been unable to defend them. Most Indians in my place would take a knife and cut their throats; but I will live to show these people that all they have done, and all they can do, shall not make me break faith with you so long as you will stand by us and defend us, in a language we know nothing of, to a great governor we never have and never shall see.

"About their captives they say: Get them back for us. Our little boys will grow up slaves, and our girls, as soon as they are large enough, will be diseased prostitutes, to get money for whoever owns them. Our women work hard, and are good women, and they and our children have no diseases. Our dead you cannot bring to life; but those that are living we gave to you, and we look to you, who can write and talk and have soldiers, to get them back.

"I assure you it is no easy task to convince them of my zeal when they see so little being done. I have pledged my word to them that I never would rest, day or night, until they should have justice, and just now I would as soon leave the army as to be ordered away from them, or be obliged to order them away from here. But you well know the difficulties in the way. You know that parties who would engage in murder like this could and would make statements and multiply affidavits without end in their justification. I know you will use your influence on the right side. I believe, with them, this may be made either a means of making good citizens of them and their children, or of driving them out to a hopeless war of extermination. They ask to be allowed to live here in their old homes, where nature supplies nearly all their wants. They ask for a fair and impartial trial of their faith, and they ask that all their captive children may be returned to them. Is their demand unreasonable."

This letter was written to Colonel T. G. C. Lee, U.S.A., by Lieut. Royal E. Whitman, 3d U.S. Cavalry. It is published in the Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners for 1871. There is appended to it the following affidavit of the post surgeon at Camp Grant:

"On this 16th day of September, 1871, personally appeared Conant B. Brierley, who, being duly sworn according to law, deposeth and saith: I am acting-assistant surgeon, U.S.A., at Camp Grant, Arizona, where I arrived April 25th, 1871, and reported to the commanding officer for duty as medical officer. Sonic four hundred Apache Indians were at that time held as prisoners of war by the military stationed at Camp Grant, and during the period intervening between April 25th and 30th I saw the Indians every day. They seemed very well contented, and were busily employed in bringing in hay, which they sold for manta and such little articles, as they desired outside the Government ration. April 29th Chiquita and some of the other chiefs were at the post, and asked for seeds and for some times, stating that they had ground cleared and ready for planting. They were told that the garden-seeds had been sent for, and would be up from Tucson in a few days. They then left, and I saw nothing more of them until after the killing.

"Sunday morning I heard a rumor that the Indians had been attacked, and learned from Lieutenant Whitman that he had sent the two interpreters to the Indian camp to warn the Indians, and bring them down where they could be protected, if possible. The interpreters returned and stated that the attack had already been made and the Indians dispersed, and that the attacking party were returning.

"Lieutenant Whitman then ordered me to go to the Indian camp to render medical assistance, and bring down any wounded I might find. I took twelve men and a wagon, and proceeded without delay to the scene of the murder. On my arrival I found that I should have but little use for the wagon or medicine. The work had been too thoroughly done. The camp had been fired, and the dead bodies of twenty-one women and children were lying scattered over the ground; those who had been wounded in the first instance had their brains beaten out with stones. Two of the squaws had been first ravished, and then shot dead. One infant of some two months was shot twice, and one leg nearly hacked off. I know from my own personal observations that, during the time the Indians were in, after my arrival, they were rationed every three days, and Indians absent had to be accounted for; their faces soon became familiar to me, and I could at once tell when any strange Indian came in.

"And I furthermore state that I have been among nearly all the tribes on the Pacific coast, and that I have never seen any Indians who showed the intelligence, honesty, and desire to learn manifested by these Indians. I came among them greatly prejudiced against them; but, after being with them, I was compelled to admit that they were honest in their intentions, and really desired peace.

"Acting Assistant Surgeon, U.S.A.' "

This is not the only instance of cruel outrage committed by white men on the Apaches. In the Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners for 1871 is the following letter from one of the Arizona pioneers, Mr. J. H. Lyman, of Northampton, Mass. Mr. Lyman spent the years of 1840-'41 among the Apaches, and thus briefly relates an occurrence which took place at a time when they were friendly and cordial to all Americans going among them:
"The Indians were then, as now, hostile to the Mexicans of Sonora, and they were constantly making raids into the State and driving off the cattle. The Mexicans feared them, and were unable to meet them man-to-man. At that time American trappers found the beaver very abundant about the headwaters of the Gila River, among those rich mountain valleys where the Apaches had, and still have, their secure retreats. At the time I speak of there were two companies of trappers in that region. One of the companies, about seventeen men, was under a captain named Johnson. The other company consisted of thirty men, I think. I was trapping on another head of the Gila, several miles north. The valleys were full of Apaches, but all peaceful toward the white men, both Indians and whites visiting each other's camps constantly and fearlessly, with no thought of treachery or evil. Besides the Mexicans, the only enemies of the Apaches were the Piute and Navajo, in the north-west. But here in their fastnesses they felt safe from all foes.

"One day Johnson concluded to go down into Sonora on a spree, as was occasionally the way with mountain-men. He there saw the Governor of Sonora, who, knowing that he had the confidence of the Indians, offered him an ounce of gold for every Apache scalp he would bring him. The bargain was struck. Johnson procured a small mountain howitzer, and then, with supplies for his party, returned to his camp. Previous to entering it he loaded his howitzer with a quantity of bullets. On approaching the valley he was met by the Indians, who joyfully welcomed him back, and proceeded at once to prepare the usual feast. While they were boiling and roasting their venison and bear meat, and were gathered in a small group around the fire, laughing and chatting in anticipation of the pleasure they expected in entertaining their guests, Johnson told those of his party who had remained behind of the offer of the governor, and with such details of temptation as easily overcame any scruples such men might have.

"As they were all armed with rifles, which were always inhand day and night, together with pistols in belt, they needed no preparation. The howitzer, which the Indians might have supposed to be a small keg of whiskey, was placed on the ground and pointed at the group of warriors, squaws, and little children round the fire, watching the roasting meal.

"While they were thus engaged, with hearts full of kindly feelings toward their white friends, Johnson gave the signal. The howitzer was discharged, sending its load of bullets scattering and tearing through the mass of miserable human beings, and nearly all who were not stricken down were shot by the rifles. A very few succeeded in escaping into the ravine, and fled over the dividing ridge into the northern valleys, where they met others of their tribe, to whom they told the horrible story.

"The Apaches at once showed that they could imitate their more civilized brothers. Immediately a band of them went in search of the other company of trappers, who, of course, were utterly unconscious of Johnson's infernal work. They were attacked, unprepared, and nearly all killed; and then the story that the Apaches were treacherous and cruel went forth into all the land, but nothing of the wrongs they had received."
Is it to be wondered at that the Apaches became one of the most hostile and dangerous tribes on the Pacific coast?

These are but four massacres out of scores, whose history, if written, would prove as clearly as do these, that, in the long contest between white men and Indians, the Indian has not always been the aggressor, and that treachery and cruelty are by no means exclusively Indian traits.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

A Century of Dishonor, By Helen Hunt Jackson, New York, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1885

A Century of Dishonor


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