|Part of the American Indian Wars|
Geronimo and his warriors at camp on March 27, 1886
| United States
|Commanders and leaders|
| John Davidson
James Henry Carleton
Philip St. George Cooke
John G. Walker
Granville Henderson Oury
Thomas J. Mastin†
Eugene Asa Carr
Nelson A. Miles
James W. Watson
Na tio tish†
Little Wolf (Mescalero)
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. Its origins started a year before the first conflict when a fraction of Mexico became part of the United States in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. Therefore the Native Mexicans had become Native Americans for the series of conflicts where a significant part of the Westward Expansion Trails in the American frontier. The Confederate Army 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.
Historically, the Apache had raided enemy tribes and sometimes each other, for horses, food or captives. They considered such raids different than warfare. They raided with small parties, for a specific purpose. While the Apache sometimes waged war with large armies, using all tribal male members of warrior age, 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 (who call themselves T`Inde, Inde, N`dee, N`ne, meaning the "people") 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 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.
At the start of the Mexican-American War in 1846, many Apache bands promised American soldiers safe passage through their land, though other tribes fought in defense of Mexico and against the influx of new settlers to New Mexico. When the United States claimed the frontier 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.
In 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 unidentified Indians stole cattle and kidnapped the stepson of the rancher John Ward near Sonoita, Arizona, 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. 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 under arrest 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.
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. 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 killed, 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.
Texas Indian Wars
On 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.
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 raiding and in retaliation.
In 1879, an Apache army under the war chief Victorio launched a campaign against the American settlers in and around Alma, New Mexico. Beginning with the Alma Massacre, the Apache campaign concluded with their siege of Fort Tularosa. The United States Army fought them off and defeated Victorio's forces.
A year later in August 1881, George Jordan was among those who fought at the Battle of Carrizo Canyon in New Mexico territory. After the victory, Sergeant Jordan was given a Medal of Honor for his actions.
Just 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 Apache were led back to Mexico.
In the spring of 1883, General George Crook was put in charge of the Arizona and New Mexico reservations. With 200 Apache, he journeyed to Mexico, found Geronimo’s camp, and with Tom Horn 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 to the Apache. They 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 War Department 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 against Geronimo and his 24 warriors. Lt. Charles B. Gatewood and his Apache scouts found Geronimo in September 1886 and persuaded them to surrender to Miles.
An 1887 letter from Charles Winters, Troop D of the 6th Cavalry, describes a soldier's experiences during the Apache Wars in New Mexico:
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(sic) 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(sic) 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
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 Apache scouts locally, 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.
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 Institute, a historically black college. Many Apache died in the prisons. Later, Apache children were taken to the 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.
Despite 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. A Private Rowdy, Troop A, of the Indian Scouts, was also decorated for "faithfulness, zeal, and great tenacity, making it possible to encounter the Apache renegades." The native warriors continued to resist by maintaining dozens of holdouts until the Battle of Bear Valley in 1918 but hostilities continued for several more years. The last Apache raid into the United States occurred as late as 1924 when a band of natives stole some horses from Arizonan settlers who were caught and arrested. This is considered to be the end of the American Indian Wars, but the neighbouring Mexican Indian Wars were still going on for another nine years.
- Apache-Mexico Wars
- Arizona War
- Apache scouts
- Indian Campaign Medal
- Navajo Wars
- Navajo Scouts
- Buffalo Soldiers
- George Crook
- Albert Sieber
- Emmet Crawford
- King Woolsey
- United States Army Indian Scouts
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- Tiller, Veronica E. Velarde, ‘’The Jicarilla Apache Tribe: A History, 1846-1970’’, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1983 p. 37
- The US Government and The Apache Indians, 1871-1876: A Case Study of Counterinsurgency-p. 30
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- Bigelow, John Lt "On the Bloody Trail of Geronimo" New York: Tower Books 1958
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- 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 (edited by Barrett) "Geronimo, His Own Story" New York: Ballantine Books 1971
- Kaywaykla, James (edited Eve Ball) "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.
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- 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