Monday, March 23, 2015

The Apache Wars I

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It all started with the Spanish

The Spanish government of Mexico never held that Indians had any rights, regardless of the fact that they were on the land first. To the Spanish, Indians were due no respect at all. And from that, says Vincent Colyer in his report to the Board of Indian Commissioners in 1871, is the policy that caused the unceasing war with the Apaches.

In 1801, the Spanish governor of Santa Fe declared that every Apache, man woman and child, was to be killed. The government set up a garrison at Janos, just across the border into Mexico. One of the officers, Lieutenant Colonel Jose Manuel Carrasco, took a troop of cavalry out on patrol and ran into a group of Mimbrenos, which were almost all killed. Carrasco let one man go, and received a copper arrowhead as a good luck talisman. The Apache said the copper came from Pinos Alto, from a place known today as Ben Moore Mountain. He felt he’d make a lot more dinero in copper mining than as an officer in the Mexican army. He resigned, along with 25 troopers, scrambled for backing, and went to find copper in the land grant he and his backer got from the Spanish government. The miners they hired called their camp Santa Rita del Cobre. And it was in the heart of Apache country.

Mine encroaching
 on the town of Santa Rita
Furthermore, they sank their shafts into what had been council rocks for the Apaches for untold generations. They were a canker on the soul of every Apache in the area.

The Mexicans raised a fort; a three-cornered stockade with turrent-like towers overlooking the jumble of shacks spread out across the plaza. What’s more, the Mimbreno chief, Juan Jose, gave permission for the settlement, paid for by cloth, weapons, horses, and most of all, ardent spirits. Now, Juan Jose had been schooled by the padres in Mexico. He could both read and right Spanish. He was able to intercept military missives and escape any movements against him and his people.

Then half the Mimbrenos broke away from Juan Jose and established a camp at Ojo Caliente. From then on, they became the Warm Springs Apaches. Juan Jose’s were the Copper Mines Indians.

Under Black Knife, the Warm Springs Apaches raided into Mexico, bringing back ponies and plunder and captives. The Warm Springs Apaches were lean and stringy, but the followers of Juan Jose became round and fat and indolent. They began to speak Spanish. The young women swayed their hips like senoritas. The boys swaggered like insolent Mexicans. The time had come for change.

Mangus Colorado

This is supposedly Mangus Colorado
This time for change was 1837, fifteen years after the copper mines opened. A new man began to hold the attention of Juan Jose’s Copper Mine Band. His name was Mangus Colorado.

Mangus Colorado was a giant. Some say six-foot-six or seven. Bow-legged and barrel-chested, with a head large enough to fill a cask, they say. Eyes sunk deep under prodigious brows, a great beak of a nose over a thin-lipped slash of a mouth. And he’d already killed two men, brothers of his two Apache wives who objected when he made a Mexican captive equal to them in his lodge.

Mangus Colorado was great friends with Black Knife, the raider. Both hated Santa Rita del Cobre and the canker of Mexicans in Apache lands that it represented. Black Knife was a thorn in the side of Chihuahua Mexicans, and in 1837, the year of Mangus Colorado, the junta in Chihuahua set out on its Proyecto de Guerra—Project of War. The government placed bounties on Apaches, promising to pay $100 for warrior scalps, $50 for squaw scalps, and $25 for children’s scalps. It matched a law on the books in Sonora. And these laws seeded the bitter hatred of Apaches for the entire white race. Heretofore, that hatred had focused on Mexicans, not the few white trappers and traders in the area. Apaches in general, except for some stealing, let white men alone.

But one white man—there is some dispute on whether he was American or British—upset the apple cart. He was a Pinda Lick-o-yi, a White Eye, who would bring suffering to generations.

Johnson was the brain behind the great slaughter at Santa Rita. He had full cooperation from both the Mexican government and the town of Santa Rita, which also offered bounties. He and his partner Gleason, along with some Missouri trappers, were ready to cash in on the bounties.

The plan was simple.

A great feat was planned and all the Apaches were invited. All the food and drink they could hold. First to accept was Juan Jose the glutton. Then all the Copper Mine Apaches. And then women and children from Warm Springs.

Mexican comic book rendition
The party was all the Apaches could hope for. Roast steers, soccoro mush, mescal by the jug, and the Indians gorged. Mexicans brought out sacks of soccoro meal and piled them in the middle of the plaza. Johnson and his men hid behind a screen of branches and sacking, with a howitzer filled with bullets and nails and chain links and stones trained on the pile of meal sacks.

The Massacre

The alcalde offered the sacks of meal to the Apaches as gifts. Women and children and some of the men, including Juan Jose, gathered at the pile of loaded sacks, and Johnson touched off the howitzer. Followed by a screaming mob of trappers and Mexican soldiers from the presidio. Muskets, sabers, Bowie knives, weapons of all kinds took Apache lives. Apaches ran. But only the fleetest escaped. Juan Jose was dead. All turned to Mangus Colorado for leadership.

He organized for a war of vengeance, and chose men whose names would soon strike terror into the hearts of white men. Delgadito. Ponce. El Chico. Pedro Azul. Yellow Tail. Black Knife. And Victorio.

From that time forward, all Mimbrenos were called Warm Springs Apaches, and the great Apache Wars had begun.

Try my novel, A Man Called Breed, for some Cheyenne and Apache characters. 


  1. Excellent post, Charlie. I love learning this history of the Indian Wars. I didn't know about this. Thanks so much for such an informative, interesting post. I'll be looking forward to the others!

  2. Thank you for filling in some of the pieces that get missed in the history lessons that might get taught in school, if one is lucky. Doris

  3. Charlie:

    1) You're feeding my addiction to research books, you fiend.

    2) Thank you for all this great info about the Apache Wars! That was a fascinating -- and, ultimately, very sad -- era.

  4. When thoroughly researched the atrocities against Indian Tribes knows no boundaries. The story of theft, killings, betrayal, and genocide is horrific and recent unbiased research is telling how it really was.

    This is a well written article.

  5. You always come through with great information, Charlie. Thanks!

  6. Lots of legend and reality is this complicated tale of Johnson's Massacre, Charlie. Thanks for the history lesson.

  7. I think if some state put a bounty on scalps of our people, we'd tend to get upset and feisty, too. Maybe kill those the citizens of that state just because of who they were. Or kill people who even looked like they might be from that state. It's an interesting (and sad) period in the history of our nation.

  8. Excellent article, Charlie. Man's inhumanity to man yet again. Thank you for the information.

  9. Wow. How horrible for those women, children and their families. There's always the other side to the story! Thanks, Chuck!