Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Apache Wars II

Charles T. Whipple
aka Chuck Tyrell

The Pinda Lick-o-yi Come

Word of war came to Mangus Colorado from Gian-na-tah, the man known as Always Ready, who was chief of the Mescalero Apaches. From the Mimbreno country, a man must travel east to reach the Mescaleros. Gian-na-tah said the Mexicans had fought the white man, and the white man won. Now soldiers of the victorious Pinda Lick-o-yi—the White Eyes—marched upon Apacheria.

Mangus Colorado was troubled. The defeat of the Mexicans was no surprise, had he not defeated them time and again? He had no respect for the Nakaye. But he had also come up against white men. Trappers. Miners. Ranchers. And they were tougher men than any of the Mexicans. Surprise attacks did not panic them. Rather, they moved with surety, deliberately, and with deadly purpose.

Phillip Kearny
In the autumn of 1846, General Kearny marched his column of soldiers toward New Mexico, and Apache scouts paralleled him every step of the way. The general’s conquest of Santa Fe was almost bloodless, and he was headed for California. On the way, he stopped briefly at the Copper Mines, where he met with Mangus Colorado and some of his leaders at San Lucia Springs.

Actually, the Apaches were quite happy that the Americans went to war with the Mexicans. One chief said, “You have taken New Mexico and will soon take California; go, then, take Chihuahua, Durango, Sonora. We will help you . . . the Mexicans are rascals; we hate and kill them all.”

Kearny bought some horses and mules and moved on. The first American invasion was bloodless.

But not for long

On February 9, 1848, the little daughter of the overseer of a gristmill in California brought him a “pretty stone” she had found in the millrace. Her father, whose name was Marshal, immediately recognized it as a gold nugget. The mill belonged to Captain John A. Sutter, and it sat next to the American River, which flowed into the Sacramento. Sutter and Marshal tried to keep the matter under cover, but news of gold could not be suppressed. By May, the whole nation knew. Gold, in fabulous quantities, was for the taking in California.

Sutter's Mill
So started the hysterical stampede called the California Gold Rush. Perils awaited the gold rushers—cold, heat, hunger, and more. None served to stop the gold seekers. They trampled their way westward, thrusting Indians out of their way, slaughtering, driving them off their lands, so that overnight, the lives of Indians changed. They found themselves in the path of a crazed typhoon of humanity, charging desperately west, deaf to any consideration except the desire to get to the coast and dig for gold—gold—gold.

And what effect did the discovery of gold have on the Indians? It was fraught with greater evil for them than any other single event in the history of America, except for the “discovery” of America itself. (J.P. Dunn, Massacres of the Mountains)

The Indians fought back. They attacked wagon trains. And lurid tails came from those days where emigrants fought for their lives on the way to California.

Olive Oatman
For example, the famous Oatman massacre, which received so much attention from writers of Southwestern history, was typical. On April 18, 1854, the Oatman family was attacked by 19 Tonto Apaches as it was crossing the Gila River at what is now called Oatman Flat. The father, mother, two sons, and one daughter were killed. One more son, Lorenzo, was left for dead. With the loot from the wagons and two surviving Oatman girls, Olive and Mary Ann, the Apaches left. Pima Indians rescued Lorenzo, and nursed him back to health. He then began a search for his sisters. It took him five years to uncover the strange and fascinating story of Olive. Mary Ann died of hardships and exposure during her captivity.

The gold rush did not directly affect the Mimbrenos because their country was out of the line of travel for gold seekers. But once the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed and ratified, the border between the United States and Mexico had to be surveyed, and J.R. Bartlett headed the American Surveying Commission, which reached Santa Rita in 1851.

John C. Cremony
The Americans with their large military guard and retinue, surprised the Apaches. Cuchillo Negro (Black Knife) noticed a lone white man riding along, and ambushed him in a grove of trees. The rider, Captain John C. Cremony, suddenly found himself surrounded by Apaches. Cremony was the translator for the Bartlett expedition. He should have been scared out of his wits, but he spurred his horse over next to the chief, drew his pistol, and stuck it in Cuchillo Negro’s face. The chief signaled his men to hold off.

Holding his pistol close to the chief’s face, Cremony jeered Cuchillo Negro. Saying he was such a great chief that he’d let a big party of white men come into his country without noticing. “I’m out front of the column,” he said.

Cuchillo Negro said he lied. Where were the many soldiers? Wasn’t he all alone? Wasn’t he foolish to wander in Membreno country alone? Then glints from the barrels of rifles showed through the trees, and the Apache chief decided discression was indeed the better part of valor.

Mangus Colorado visited the white man’s camp when Bartlett’s party set up their tents near the ruins of Santa Rita. Bartlett assured him that the Americans were only passing through.

Peace lasted for a period.

White Law Cometh

While Bartlett’s party was at Santa Rita, three Mexican traders approached the Copper Mines, something they would never have attempted without the protection of the Americans. They had a lovely 15-year-old Mexican girl named Inez Gonzales. The traders bought her from Pinal Apaches and were taking her to Santa Fe. They would sell her there, or just keep her for their own pleasures. Bartlett took her from them and returned her to her family some weeks later. Inez later became the wife of the alcalde of Santa Cruz. No one held her captivity against her, it seems.

Apaches saw what Bartlett did, but had no idea it would affect them. Well, it seems the Mimbrenos held two Mexican boys captive, and they also saw what happened to Inez. So they availed themselves of the same opportunity. One evening they went into Cremony’s tent and told the captain their story. He took them to Bartlett.

Mangus Colorado
The Apaches came to Bartlett and demanded their property be returned. Mangus Colorado spoke: “You came to our country. You were well received. Your lives, your property, your animals were safe. You passed by ones, by twos, by threes through our country. You went and came in peace. Your strayed animals were always brought home to you again. Our wives, our women came here and visited your houses. We were friends—we were brothers! Believing this, we came among you and brought our captives, relying on it that we were brothers and that you would feel as we feel. We concealed nothing. We came not secretly nor in the night; we came in open day, and before your faces, and showed our captives to you. We believed your assurances of friendship, and we trusted you. Why did you take our captives from us?

Logic was on the side of the Apaches. Americans owned slaves across the south and in the north. Bartlett did his best to explain the attitude of the United States on slavery—as practiced by someone else. In desperation, he offered to pay for the boys.

“The one who owns these captives does not want to sell. He has had one of these boys for six years. He grew up under him. His heart strings are bound around him. He is as a son in his old age . . . . Money cannot buy affection. His heart cannot be sold. He taught him to string the bow and wield the lance. He loves the boy and cannot sell him.”

But with the treaty ending the Mexican-American War, the United States promised to return all Mexican prisoners and stop the trafficking in them. At long last, he bought the boys with two hundred dollars worth of trade goods. The Indians were upset, but not hostile.

For months, peace prevailed. Mangus Colorado and his band of 300 Mimbreno warriors camped on high ground four miles from the Copper Mines. Delgadito and his band were at Warm Springs. Navajos came to Gila Valley, just 28 miles away. But white men could hunt in twos and threes and not be molested.

Then a Mexican worker shot an Apache without provocation. Everyone saw it. The Apaches fled, remembering what had happened in Santa Rita before. Bartlett arrested the Mexican and sent word to the Apaches that he had done so.

The Apaches cautiously returned. When they saw that Bartlett truly held the Mexican, they demanded his death. Bartlett could only promise a trial in Santa Fe and execution there.

Apaches had different ideas

50-years war
Ponce said, “The Apaches know you are their friends. They know you do not speak with two tongues. They know you will do what you say. But they will not be satisfied to hear that the murderer has been punished in Santa Fe. They want to see him punished here, at the Copper Mines, where the band of the dead brace may see him put to death—where all Apaches may see him put to death.”

Bartlett proposed this alternative and that, but none satisfied the Apaches. So in the end, he had to refuse their demands. The Indians, sullen, left.

Soon after, Bartlett’s party moved on. 

To Mangus Colorado and his chiefs, there could only be one reason for the departure: The Apache had driven the White Eyes away.

Search for Real Lee across the Tonto Basin
This information is found mostly in the book Death in the Desert, by Paul I. Wellman. University of Nebraska Press


  1. Charlie, you know entirely too much about this subject. Please tell me you are available for an occasional brain-pickin'. Good to know what makes those Apaches tick!

  2. Fascinating post, Charlie. Very informative and stimulating.

  3. Interaction between different cultures is a fascinating study. Enjoyed this post and appreciate the knowledge you have shared. Doris