The Apache Wars were a series of armed conflicts between the United States Army and various Apache nations fought in the southwest between 1849 and 1886, though minor hostilities continued until as late as 1924. The United States inherited conflicts between American settlers and Apache groups when Mexico ceded territory after the Mexican–American War in 1846. These conflicts were continued as new United States citizens came into traditional Apache lands to raise livestock, crops and to mine minerals.
The United States Army established forts to control the Apache bands. Several reservations were created, some on and some out of the traditional areas occupied by the bands. In 1886 the US Army put over 5,000 men in the field to wear down and finally accept the surrender of Geronimo and 30 of his followers. This is generally considered the end of the Apache Wars, although conflicts continued between citizens and Apaches. The Confederate Army briefly participated in the wars during the early 1860s in Texas, before being diverted to action in the American Civil War in New Mexico and Arizona.
First conflictsHistorically, the Apache had raided enemy tribes and sometimes each other, for livestock, food or captives. They considered such raids different than warfare. They raided with small parties, for a specific purpose. The Apache only rarely united to gather armies of hundreds of men, using all tribal male members of warrior age, and by the 1880s such methods of warfare were ended as most of the Apache bands had agreed to a negotiated settlement with the US government. However, other sub-nations of the Apache, usually clans or specialized warrior societies, continued their warfare. In turn, this limited potential negotiated solutions as American responses failed to distinguish between Apache raiding parties and other groups. Consequently, American responses were sometimes heavy-handed, resulting in an escalation of the situation as other Apache were drawn into the conflict.
The first conflicts between the Apache and other people in the Southwest date to the earliest Spanish settlements, but the specific set of conflicts now known as the Apache Wars began during the Mexican–American War. The wars were sparked when American troops, in error, accused Cochise and his tribe of kidnapping a young boy during a raid. Cochise professed truthfully that his tribe had not kidnapped the boy, and offered to try and find him for the Americans, but the commander refused to believe him and instead took Cochise and his party hostage for the return of the boy. Cochise escaped, and a standoff developed as Cochise's tribe and allies surrounded the American forces, demanding the release of the rest of Cochise's party. After a standoff, during which 3 additional braves and a number of American soldiers and postmen were captured, the Apache retreated, believing they were being flanked, but in revenge for the continued holding of their people killed soldiers and postmen they had captured. The Americans in turn killed the 6 men they had captured, though allowed the women and children to go free. Unfortunately, three of the men killed were Cochise's brother and nephews, and Cochise gathered the Apache tribes and made war on the US for vengeance, sparking the century-long conflict.
The first United States Army campaigns specifically against the Apache began in 1849 and the last major battle ended with the surrender of Geronimo in 1886.
This final phase lasted from 1886 until as late as 1906, as small Apache bands continued their attacks on settlements and fought United States Cavalry expeditionary forces and local militia. The fighters were mostly warrior groups, with small numbers of noncombatants. US forces went on search and destroy missions against the small bands, using tactics including solar signaling, wire telegraph, joint American and Mexican intelligence sharing, allied Indian scouts, and local quick reaction posse groups. Nonetheless, not until 1906 were the last groups of Apache, who had evaded the US Army's border control of the tribal reservation, forced back on the reservation.
Apache leaders such as Mangas Coloradas of the Bedonkohe; Cochise of the Chokonen; Victorio of the Chihenne band; Juh of the Nednhi band; Delshay of the Tonto; and Geronimo of the Bedonkohe led raiding parties against non-Apache. Because they resisted the military's attempts, by force and persuasion, to relocate their people to various reservations they are usually regarded as national heroes by their own people.
Warsfrontier territories of Mexico in 1848, Mangas Coloradas signed a peace treaty, respecting the Americans as the conquerors of the Mexicans' land. However, as Tiller relates regarding the treaty signed at Santa Fe on April 2, 1851, "The Jicarillas were expected to comply with the terms of the treaty immediately, yet as far as the new Mexicans were concerned, their part of the bargain would go into effect only after Congress had ratified it." The United States Congress never did ratify the treaty. An uneasy peace between the Apache and the Americans persisted until an influx of gold miners into the Santa Rita Mountains of present-day Arizona led to conflict.
The Jicarilla War began in 1849 when a group of settlers were attacked and killed by a force of Jicarillas and Utes in northeastern New Mexico. A second massacre occurred in 1850, in which several mail carriers were massacred. It wasn't until 1853 that the army became involved. The army went on to fight at the Battle of Cieneguilla, a significant Apache victory, and later the Battle of Ojo Caliente Canyon, an American victory.
Chiricahua WarsIn 1851, near the Piños Altos mining camp, Coloradas was attacked by a group of miners; they tied him to a tree and severely beat him. Similar incidents continued in violation of the treaty, leading to Apache reprisals against European Americans. In December 1860, thirty miners launched a surprise attack on an encampment of Bedonkohe on the west bank of the Mimbres River in retaliation for the theft of numerous livestock. According to the historian Edwin R. Sweeney, the miners "...killed four Indians, wounded others, and captured thirteen women and children." The Apache quickly retaliated with raids against U.S. citizens and property.
In early February 1861, a group of Coyotero Apaches stole cattle and kidnapped the stepson of the rancher John Ward near Sonoita, Arizona. Ward sought redress from the nearby American army. Lieutenant George N. Bascom was dispatched and Ward accompanied the detail. Bascom set out to meet with Cochise near Apache Pass and the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach station to secure the cattle and Ward's son. Bascom started on the wrong foot by lying to Cochise about his purposes and intents, something that was detested by Apaches, who did not tolerate liars. Cochise was unaware of the incident, but he offered to seek those responsible.
Dissatisfied, Bascom accused Cochise of having been involved. He took Cochise and his group of family members, including his wife and children, under arrest while under a white flag in the negotiating tent. Angered, Cochise slashed his way from the tent and escaped. After further failed negotiations, Cochise took a member of the stage coach station hostage after an exchange of gunfire.
With Bascom unwilling to exchange prisoners, Cochise and his party killed the members of a passing Mexican wagon train. The Apache killed and ritually mutilated nine Mexicans, and took three whites captive, but killed them later. They were unsuccessful in attempting an ambush of a Butterfield Overland stagecoach. With negotiations between Cochise and Bascom at an impasse, Bascom sent for reinforcements. Cochise killed the remaining four captives from the Butterfield Station and abandoned negotiations. Upon the advice of military surgeon, Dr. Bernard Irwin, Bascom hanged the Apache hostages in his custody. The retaliatory executions became known as the Bascom Affair; they initiated another eleven years of open warfare between the varying groups of Apache and the United States settlers, the U.S. Army and the Confederate Army.
as viewed from Fort Bowie
After the American Civil War began in April 1861, Mangas Coloradas and Cochise, his son-in-law, struck an alliance, agreeing to drive all Americans and Mexicans out of Apache territory. Their campaigns against the Confederates were the battles of Tubac, Cookes Canyon, Florida Mountains, Pinos Altos and Dragoon Springs. Other Apache bands fought the Rebels as well; Mescalero Apache attacked and captured a herd of livestock at Fort Davis on August 9, 1861, with the Apache killing two guards in the process. The Army sent out a patrol to try to retrieve the livestock, and the Apache killed them all. Mangas Coloradas and Cochise were joined in their campaign by the chief Juh and the notable warrior Geronimo. They thought that they had achieved some success when the Americans closed the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach and Army troops departed, but those actions were related to the beginning of the American Civil War.
The United States military leadership decided to move against the Arizona Confederates in what the Union considered part of the New Mexico Territory by dispatching a column of Californian volunteers under Colonel James Henry Carleton. The California Column, as it was known, followed the old Butterfield Overland Trail east. In 1862 the troops encountered Mangas Coloradas and Cochise's followers near the site of the spring in Apache Pass. In the Battle of Apache Pass, soldiers shot and wounded Mangas Coloradas in the chest. While recuperating, he met with an intermediary to call for peace with the United States.
In January 1863, Coloradas agreed to meet with U.S. military leaders at Fort McLane, near present-day Hurley in southwestern New Mexico. Coloradas arrived under a white flag of truce to meet with Brigadier General Joseph Rodman West, an officer of the California militia. Again the Americans violated the neutrality of the white flag. The armed soldiers took him into custody, and West is reported to ordered the sentries to execute the Apache leader. That night Mangas was tortured, shot and murdered, as he was "trying to escape." The following day, soldiers cut off his head, boiled it and sent the skull to the Smithsonian Institution. The mutilation of Coloradas' body increased the hostility of the Apache toward the United States.
Carleton then decided to move the Navajo and Apache to reservations. Initially he intended to make the Rio Grande valley safer for settlement and end the raids on travelers. He began by forcing various bands of Mescalero and Navajo onto the reservation at Fort Sumner. He enlisted Kit Carson, one-time friend of the Navajo, to round them up by destroying their crops and livestock, and forcing them on The Long Walk to Fort Sumner. Carleton later fought the First Battle of Adobe Walls, the largest Indian War battle of the Great Plains.
Sometime in 1862 Yavapai County, Arizona, Theodore Boggs fought a small engagement with Apaches at Big Bug, Arizona. He was a son of the Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs.
Texas Indian WarsOn November 25, 1864, the Plains Apache fought in one of the largest battles of the American Indian Wars at the First Battle of Adobe Walls. Kit Carson led an army of 400 soldiers and Ute scouts to the Texas panhandle and captured an encampment from which the inhabitants had fled. More than one thousand Comanche, Kiowa and Plains Apache attacked him. Carson took a position in an abandoned adobe building on top of a hill and repulsed several attacks. After a day of fighting, Carson retreated and the Indians permitted him to leave without opposition. Iron Shirt, a Plains Apache chief, was killed in the battle. Six soldiers were killed; the army estimated that the Indians suffered 60 killed and wounded.
Yavapai WarThe Yavapai Wars, or the Tonto Wars, were a series of armed conflicts between the Yavapai and Tonto tribes against the United States in Arizona. The period began no later than 1861, with the arrival of American settlers on Yavapai and Tonto land. At the time, the Yavapai were considered a band of the Western Apache people due to their close relationship with tribes such as the Tonto and Pinal. The war culminated with the Yavapai's removal from the Camp Verde Reservation to San Carlos on February 27, 1875, an event now known as Exodus Day.
In 1871, a group of six white Americans, forty-eight Mexicans and almost 100 Papago warriors attacked Camp Grant. They massacred about 150 Apache men, women, and children. The incident came to be known as the Camp Grant Massacre.
Campaigning against the Apache continued in the mid-1870s. The battles of Salt River Canyon and Turret Peak are prime examples of the violence in the Arizona region. Soldiers and civilians, especially from Tucson, frequently pursued various Apache bands, trying to end their raids.
Victorio's WarIn 1879, the veteran Chiricahua war chief, Victorio, and his followers were facing forcible removal from their homeland and reservation at Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, north of present-day Monticello, and transfer to San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. On August 21, 1879, Victorio, 80 warriors, and their women and children fled the reservation. Victorio was joined by other Apache, especially Mescalero, and his force may have reached a maximum of 200 warriors, an unusually large force of Apache.
For 14 months, Victorio led a guerrilla war against the U.S. army and white settlers in southern New Mexico, western Texas, and northern Mexico. He fought more than a dozen battles and skirmishes with the U.S. army and raided several civilian settlements. Several thousand American and Mexican soldiers and Indian scouts pursued him, as he fled from one stronghold to another. Victorio and many of his followers met their end on October 14, 1880 when they were surrounded and killed by Mexican soldiers at the Battle of Tres Castillos, about southeast of El Paso, Texas.
A lieutenant of Victorio's, Nana, continued the war. With fewer than 40 warriors Nana raided extensively in New Mexico from June to August 1881. Nana survived the raid and died of old age in 1896.
Geronimo's WarJust days after the Carrizo Canyon fight, at the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona Territory, a force of soldiers was sent to investigate recent reports of Apache unrest and to detain the medicine man, Nochaydelklinne. The arrest of Nochaydelklinne by three native scouts was peaceful until they made their way back to camp. Upon arrival the camp had already been surrounded by Nochaydelklinne's followers. The Battle of Cibecue Creek began. The following day, the native army attacked Fort Apache in reprisal for the death of Nochaydelklinne, who was killed during the fighting at Cibecue Creek.
In the spring of 1882, the warrior Na-tio-tisha began to lead a party of about 60 White Mountain Apache warriors. In early July they ambushed and killed four San Carlos policemen, including the police chief. After the ambush, Na-tio-tisha led his band of warriors northwest through the Tonto Basin. Local Arizona settlers were greatly alarmed and demanded protection from the U.S. Army. It sent out fourteen companies of US cavalry from forts across the region.
In the middle of July, Na-tio-tisha led his band up Cherry Creek to the Mogollon Rim, intending to reach General Springs, a well-known water hole on the Crook Trail. Noticing they were being trailed by a single troop of cavalry, the Apache lay an ambush seven miles north of General Springs, where a fork of East Clear Creek cuts a gorge into the Mogollon Rim. The Apaches hid on the far side and waited.
The cavalry company was led by Captain Adna R. Chaffee. The chief scout, Al Sieber, discovered the Apache trap and warned the troops. During the night, Chaffee's lone company was reinforced by four more from Fort Apache under the command of Major A. W. Evans. Then they were ready to begin the Battle of Big Dry Wash.
Geronimo is probably the most notable Apache warrior of that time period, but he was not alone. He belonged to a Chiricahua Apache band. After two decades of guerrilla warfare, Cochise, one of the leaders of the Chiricahua band, chose to make peace with the US. He agreed to relocate his people to a reservation in the Chiricahua Mountains. Soon afterward in 1874, Cochise died. In a change of policy, the U.S. government decided to move the Chiricahua to the San Carlos reservation in 1876. Half complied and the other half, led by Geronimo, escaped to Mexico.
In the spring of 1877, the U.S. captured Geronimo and brought him to the San Carlos reservation. He stayed there until September 1881. As soldiers gathered near the reservation, he feared being imprisoned for previous activities. He fled the reservation with 700 Apache and went to Mexico again.
On April 19, 1882, another Chiricahua chief named Juh attacked the San Carlos reservation and forced Chief Loco to break out. During the hostilities, Juh's warriors killed the Chief of Police Albert D. Sterling, along with Sagotal, an Apache policeman. Juh led Loco and up to 700 other Apaches back to Mexico.
In the spring of 1883, General was put in charge of the Arizona and New Mexico . With 200 Apache, he journeyed to Mexico, found Geronimo's camp, and with as his interpreter, persuaded Geronimo and his people to return to the San Carlos reservation. Chiefs Bonito, Loco, and Nana came with Crook at the time. Juh remained in Mexico where he died accidentally in November. Geronimo did not come until February 1884. Crook instituted several reforms on the reservation, but local newspapers criticized him for being too lenient with the Apache. Newspapers of the time demonized Geronimo and on May 17, 1885, he escaped again to Mexico.
In the spring of 1886, Crook went after Geronimo and caught up with him just over the Mexico border in March. Geronimo and his group fled, and Crook could not catch them. The reprimanded Crook for the failure, and he resigned. He was replaced by Brigadier General Nelson Miles in April 1886. Miles deployed over two dozen heliograph points to coordinate 5,000 soldiers, 500 Apache scouts, 100 Navajo scouts, and thousands of civilian militia men against Geronimo and his 24 warriors. Lt. Charles B. Gatewood and his Apache scouts found Geronimo in Skeleton Canyon in September 1886 and persuaded them to surrender to Miles.
An 1887 letter from Charles Winters from Troop D of the 6th Cavalry describes a soldier's experiences during the Apache Wars in New Mexico:
Dear Friend!Geronimo and his party had killed dozens of people during the Bear Valley Raid and similar attacks. The Army imprisoned Geronimo and many other Apache men, including some of the local Apache scouts, then they transported them to the East as prisoners of war. They held them at Fort Pickens in Florida. Some of the warriors and families were imprisoned at Fort Marion, also in Florida.
I will now take and write to you a few lines, to let you know that I am yet alive, and doing well. I joint the Army in January, 86 and had a good fight with Geronimo and his Indians. I also had two hard fights, where i came very near getting killed, but i got true alright. I was made Corporal when i first enlisted, but have now got high enough to be in Charge of Troop D. 6th U.S. Cavalry and it requires a good man for to get that office, and that is more than i expected. Charley White from Cranbury came out with me and got in the same Troop with me, and I sent him with twenty more men out on a Scout after Indians and Charley was lucky enough to be shot down by Indians the first day, and only three of my men returned. I was very sorry but it could not be helped.
The Territory of New Mexico is a very nice place never no Winter and lots of Gold and Silver Mines all around but for all that it is a disagreeable place on account of so many Indians. I like it first rate and I think as soon as my five years are up I will go bak to Old New Jersey but not today. My name isn't Charley Winters no more since i shot that man at Jefferson Barracks when he tried to get away from me. My Captain at time told me to take the name of his son who died and so my name since then is Charles H. Wood. I will now close and hope that you will soon write and let me know how you are getting along. Give my best regards to all and to yourself and oblige.
My address is:
Charles H. Wood
Troop D. 6th Cavalry
Fort Stanton, New Mexico
Northerners vacationing in St. Augustine, where Fort Marion was located, included teachers and missionaries, who became interested in the Apache prisoners. Volunteers participated in teaching the Apache to speak and write English, about Christian religion and elements of American culture. Many citizens raised funds to send nearly 20 of the younger male prisoners to college after they were released from detainment. Most attended the Hampton College, a historically black college. Many Apache died in the prisons. Later, Apache children were taken to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School/Carlisle boarding school in Pennsylvania, where fifty of them died. Eventually, after 26 years, the Apache in Florida were released to return to the Southwest, but Geronimo was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Post 1887 PeriodDespite the surrender of Geronimo and his followers in 1886, Apache warriors continued warfare against Americans and Mexicans. The United States Cavalry had several expeditions against the Apache after 1886. During one of them, 10th Cavalry and 4th Cavalry forces under First Lieutenant James W. Watson pursued mounted Apache warriors north of Globe, Arizona, along the Salt River.
Sergeant James T. Daniels, Company L., 4th Cavalry and Sergeant William McBryar, Troop K., 10th Cavalry, are the last-known recipients of the Medal of Honor for actions during the Apache Wars. Both were cited for "extreme courage and heroism" while under attack by hostile Apaches, on March 7, 1890. Sergeant Y.B Rowdy, Troop A, of the Indian Scouts, was also decorated with the medal on the same date. The last Apache raid into the United States occurred as late as 1924 when a band of natives, who were later caught and arrested, stole some horses from Arizonan settlers. This is considered to be the end of the American Indian Wars. But the Mexican Indian Wars continued for another nine years, until the final holdouts were defeated in 1933.
- Bigelow, John Lt "On the Bloody Trail of Geronimo" New York: Tower Books 1958
- Cochise, Ciyé "The First Hundred Years of Nino Cochise" New York: Pyramid Books 1972
- Davis, Britton "The Truth about Geronimo" New Haven:Yale Press 1929
- Geronimo "Geronimo, His Own Story" New York: Ballantine Books 1971
- Kaywaykla, James "In the Days of Victorio: Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache" Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1970
- Lavender, David. The Rockies. Revised Edition. N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1975.
- Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1987.
- Smith, Duane A. Rocky Mountain West: Colorado, Wyoming, & Montana, 1859-1915. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.
- Williams, Albert N. Rocky Mountain Country. N.Y.: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1950.
- STEPHEN WATTS KEARNY: Soldier of the West. By Dwight L. Clarke
- Apache Chronicle by John Upton Terrell
- Curtis, Charles A. Army Life in the West. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, April 20, 2017..