The Genocide of the Chiricahua Indian Tribe United States history is taught in public schools when we are old enough to understand its importance. Teachings of honorable plights by our forefathers to establish this great nation are common. However, specific details of this establishment seem to slip through the cracks of our educational curriculum. Genocide by definition is the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group. The Chiricahua Indian Tribe of the American southwest and northern Mexico suffered almost complete annihilation at the hands of the American policy makers of the late nineteenth century, policy makers that chose to justify their means by ignoring their own tyrannical ways.
It has been discovered that Apaches in the late 1800s were reported to exist in four separate bands, or clusters of rancherias, although how far back in time the division occurs is unknown (Griffen 5). The native name for the easternmost band was the Chihene, or “red painted people”; they were also known as Victorio, Mangas Coloradas, and Loco Apaches after the Spanish names of important leaders. To the south and west were the Chokonen or “Rising Sun People”. These people were often called Central Chiricahua, True Chiricahua, and Cochise Apaches. North and west of the Chokonen were the Bedonkohe, “In Front at the End People” sometimes called the Geronimo Apaches. The southernmost Chiricahua band was the Ndeinda, “enemy people”. They were also called the Nedni and Nednai, Southern Chiricahua, Pinery, and Bronco Apaches (Cole 10). These names differ among some scholars, but the majority of them can agree consistently on at least four bands, even if the names are different. Apache history is rich in custom, tradition, and worship of an all-powerful supernatural force known as “The Power”. Although accounts are different, after the creation of the world, Ussen created “White Painted Woman”. This supernatural female was the most important figure in Chiricahua religious belief. She was at once the progenitor of the Chiricahua people, the symbol of female activity and life, and the sponsor of all that was peaceful and gentle in human relationships. According to Chiricahuas, it was White Painted Woman who befriended the G’an, thus winning the sponsorship of the Apaches in a world filled with dangerous forces. White painted woman also bought forth two sons who survived infancy. One was Killer of Enemies, conceived from the sun. The other, Child of the Water, was the conception of lightning (Cole 14-15). It were these mythical characters that provided the basis for basic understandings of nature as well as the beings who were venerated in various ceremonies among the Apaches. It is important to understand the importance of the aforementioned “Power” and its idea that nothing could be accomplished without it. Raiding and war were common aspects of Chiricahua behavior. Far more productive than agriculture was the practice of raiding (Cole 48). Usually raiding communities of Northern Mexico called Fronteras; equipment and supplies were obtained through these activities. It was not unusual for the Chiricahua to raid neighboring bands or rancherias as well. War on the other hand was normally an act of revenge, an ethical commitment to retaliate for the deaths of murdered relatives, a religious act that bound a man to the larger complex of Apache values and ideals (Griffen 11). The leaders of the bands were usually chosen at the time and planning capabilities of each raid or war. Successful raids could mean a higher position or more respect among the band, while failure could bring the tag or a loss of “Power” to the warrior. The older, more respected warriors normally did planning. After raids Apaches celebrated their victories with ritual and religious symbolism, large quantities of food, tiswin (a mild fermented alcoholic beverage), singing, dancing and distribution of the booty taken on the raid (Griffen 13). Training was an essential endeavor for the young Apache because raiding and war were normal ways of life and a means of survival. Ideally, boys trained rigorously and practiced running long distances, mounting horses, shooting with the bow, parrying with the lance, jumping into cold water and similar activities to toughen themselves and perfect fighting skills. The young man was taken under the wing of an older, more experienced warrior where he was basically a servant. For his services, he was given knowledge about the animals and their tendencies, as well as skills in hunting for food. He learned to be truthful, to listen respectfully, to remain silent until spoken to, to avoid activities that would jeopardize the safety of the group, and to endure hardships without complaint (Griffen 13). Women on the other hand, were given training with regards to domestic affairs. Cooking, gathering, treating hides, and other essential daily requirements were taught at a fairly young age, usually by the grandparents. Since roles of both male and females were held with high regards to each other, a mutual respect between them was present. Americans appeared in the southwest in the closing years of the Spanish Empire. They were unofficial representatives of United States interests, usually trappers seeking the abundant amount of beaver in the waters of the area. The Chiricahua were not hostile to Americans initially, unless they were mistaken for Spaniards or Mexicans. Events occurring in Mexican provinces such as Chihuahua and Hermosillo led to the eventual gaining of enemy status by the trappers. The Mexicans at one hundred dollars offered a warrior, fifty for a woman, and twenty-five for a child’s scalp scalps of Chiricahua as bounty a warrior, fifty for a woman, and twenty-five for a child’s scalp. One party led by a man named John Johnson was encouraged by the Mexican concessionaires at Santa Rita to attack the Chihene in the region. Playing upon the credulity of the Chihene leader, Juan Jose, Johnson lured the Apaches to a fiesta ambush. As Indians scrambled for gifts in the plaza, they were shot down, and clubbed by Mexicans and Americans. Many of the Apaches were killed and the rest fled (Cole 72-73). Needless to say, the trappers of the region had now obtained official “enemy status”. Following the massacre at Santa Rita, the Johnson massacre, and other events caused increased Apache hostilities. Kinsmen of the slain, apparently relatives of an important chief of the Chihene, Mangas Coloradas attempted to avenge their deaths (Griffen 174). Together with Chokonen, Bedenkohe, and Nednai, the mountains were swept clear of trappers. In retaliation, more scalping activities against the Apache were executed. Large numbers of Chiricahuas were killed in such diverse areas such as Janos, the headwaters of Yaqui, and near Casas Grandes, Arizona. Some local groups were entirely destroyed. No longer did Chiricahuas gather in large encampments for winter for fear of attack. As a result of these bloody encounters, many of the Apache bands began campaigns of scalping as well. No longer were prisoners taken and they were always put to death in slow painful ways (Cole 74-75). The Mexican War of 1846-1848 brought United States military forces into the southwest. Americans entered the region with pre-conceived ideas of the savage Apache. Following the Mexican War, and in accordance with the treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo Article XI, Americans were to compensate any raids into Mexico from the new borderlines established. Attempts at stopping the raiding from Unites States geographical Apaches proved to be an agitation for officials of the region (Cole 77). Subsequently, the Gadsden Purchase Treaty of 1854, which abrogated Article XI, increased the amount of land claimed by the United States. Since the Chiricahuas did not recognize the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo, they refused to agree to the Gadsden Purchase. They held the belief that Mexicans could not cede land or sell Apache lands they had never controlled (Cole 78). In my research I have discovered that one of the most respected and highly regarded Chief among the Chiricahua Tribe was Cochise, usually referred to as “Oak” by his people. As 1861 dawned, Cochise had already spent more than three-quarters of his life had in relative obscurity as far as the non-Chiricahua world was concerned. He was approaching fifty and had two wives, the first of whom bore him two sons, and the second one son (Sweeney 142). It was said that Cochise possessed remarkable skills in tribal diplomacy as well as encounters with white generals and politicians (Sweeney 1). He was the leader who was present at the incident that opened hostilities between the Chiricahuas and the Americans: The Bascom Affair at Apache Pass, known by the Indians as “Cut the Tent” a reference to Cochise’s means of escape (Sweeney 144). The Bascom affair started on January 27, 1861, by two parties of Apaches who raided the ranch of John Ward eleven miles south of Fort Buchanan. They stole a reported twenty head of cattle and kidnapped a twelve year old boy named Felix. Detachments of soldiers from Fort Buchanan were dispatched led by First Lieutenant George Nicholas Bascom, a brave young officer with no Indian experience. While investigating the matter, tracks led toward the San Pedro River into Chokonen country, therefore implicating Cochise’s people. Public opinion supported the belief, although historically it is believed that the raiders were probably White Mountain Apaches (Sweeney 146). Bascom’s command element, headed by a man named Colonel Morrison, issued orders to retrieve the boy and the stock by any means necessary and to punish those responsible (Sweeney 146). Cochise meanwhile may have sent messengers to inquire about the Ward boy from his neighbors to the west. Bascom’s men had marched directly into Apache Pass and had set camp near there about one mile from the stage station. I feel that it is important to point out that the Chokonen or Cochise’s people were well received by the people of this area; they were not enemies so to speak. Bascom reportedly waited impatiently for the arrival of Cochise who was probably awaiting word from his runners in the west (Sweeney 149). Then it is difficult to account for what happened next because of different accounts, but I will go with the most popular story. Apparently Cochise arrived with several members of his family, including his brother, two or three warriors believed to be his nephews, his wife and two of his children. This exemplified that Cochise may have gone to talk on a friendly basis to the soldiers. Cochise denied any involvement in the matter, and was even willing to help in retrieval of the boy, but Bascom was not convinced. Cochise and his people were to be detained until Bascom that prompted Cochise to escape immediately by slitting his way through the tent and running away returned the boy, a move. Men had surrounded the tent, by order of Bascom, and Cochise was shot twice before his escape. His family was not so fortunate, all were captured and at least one warrior was killed. Cochise vowed revenge. (Sweeney 151). On February 5, several days later, a mutual meeting ground for the two leaders was proposed and the two met under a white flag of truce. Cochise pleaded for the release of his family, but Bascom held firm saying that they would be freed just as soon as the boy was restored; again Cochise denied having the boy. Three civilians entered into the matter under protest of Bascom and they entered into a ravine and were seized. Cochise broke for cover and the Apaches opened fire on Bascom’s unarmed party wounding two. Bascom estimated the strength of Cochise at five hundred, and fires and war cries could be heard throughout the night. The fact that both sides had prisoners could have averted anymore bloodshed, but the taking of Cochise’s family hurt Americans chances of ever gaining his trust back (Sweeney 153). Cochise was desperate for more whites to trade for his people. He laid siege on the stage trail awaiting shipments through to Las Cruces, New Mexico. The driver of the stage however was able to avert the attack and made it through without death. Cochise left a note for Bascom for a final attempt to trade for his people. He left the letter in a place that was supposed to be seen by whites in a short time. The letter was never seen and Cochise took this as a refusal to trade. Cochise planned an attack together with Mangas Coloradas and Francisco, chiefs of neighboring bands. The plan was to cut the stock off while they were watering near a spring prompting Bascom to engage near the spring. This would allow for Cochise and the majority of his party to sweep the stage station and free his people. A well thought out plan that did not work. Bascom repelled the Indians by quick decision and counter-attack. This was the last attempt at freeing his people. The white prisoners were killed and mutilated so that the white people would find them; Cochise lost his brother and two nephews (Sweeney 160). The Apache Wars resumed throughout the decade of the 1860’s and into the early 1870’s with Cochise being one of the main Apache belligerents. However deeply rooted his hatred for the Americans, he knew that it was impossible to win a war against them. In 1871, General Oliver Otis Howard arrived in Arizona with orders to desist All-American military campaigns against the Apaches. He was taken to Tularosa, New Mexico where a camp of nearly one thousand Chiricahuas were staying. With the aid of an Indian scout, Howard met with Cochise to discuss a peace agreement and an inevitable placement of the Chiricahua on a reservation, preferably along the Rio Grande somewhere in New Mexico. Cochise disagreed, and proposed a reservation along the Eastern Arizona border, to include the Chiricahua Mountains and land larger enough for hunting. On October 13, 1872, final ceremonies concluded an agreement for peace, thus ending a war which had lasted for a dozen years (Cole 113). Thomas Jeffords, Indian agent appointed to the Cochise Reservation, dealt with several problems that were beyond his control. Subsequent raiding was common practice although they had promised for it not to continue. The idea that a form of centralized control, even with the influence of Cochise, was ludicrous and not the Apache way. Logistics was a thorn in the side of Jeffords, because he knew that when the supplies were low, the raiding would increase. After the death of Cochise, Jeffords, although highly respected among the Chiricahua, was unable to maintain any form of control among raiding bands from the reservation. The reduction of supplies in 1876 led Jeffords to let loose the Chiricahua to hunt, which meant that they would have to leave the reservation to pursue game. These hunting parties were almost immediately caught up in conflict, and this was to be the beginning of the end for the Cochise reservation in Arizona (Cole 156). In the early months of 1877, after the official closing of the Cochise reservation, the Chiricahua were sent to San Carlos, including Geronimo and his bands, while others were sent to the Mascelero reservation to be integrated with other Apache factions. Misappropriation of supplies, small pox and malaria caused some 350 people to leave the Mascelero reservation and head towards Mexico or the Sierra Madres. Much of the same situation resurfaced from the 1960’s. Apache raids would continue and military action would follow, which would lead to more raids, all with increasing loss of life on both sides (Cole 163). During the next five years, the pattern of raid and search repeated in the Southwest. More and more frequently, leadership of Apache warriors was ascribed to Geronimo, whose capture became the prime concern of the United States authorities (Cole 164). By 1886 the general public was thoroughly alarmed by the fearsome reputation of the Chiricahuas in general and of Geronimo in particular. His surrender to General Nelson Miles has many different accounts, but this was actually arranged by Apache scouts, mainly Chiricahua. It was written that Geronimo believed he was to be reunited with his family and they were to be given a reservation of their own. General Miles told him that they would be sent to Fort Marion, Florida and their fate would rest in the hands of the Great Father, the President of the United States. On September 5, the Chiricahuas at San Carlos were mustered for a headcount, surrounded by troops, and disarmed. Under heavy guard they were sent in ten rail cars to Fort Marion, a trip that lasted twelve days. Apache scouts who aided in the surrender of Geronimo were also placed on the train and ultimately 469 Chiricahua were displaced from their homelands and held as prisoners of war for the next 26 years at Fort Marion. Due partly to overcrowding at Fort Marion, Chiricahuas under the age of 22 were sent to Pennsylvania for education at a school specifically designed for this. In confinement however, a great deal of people died due to disease and poor treatment, mainly because of malnutrition although it was reported that health conditions were good there. A public outcry in the press brought pressure on the government to move the tribe to more favorable surroundings and by early 1887, the Apaches were moved to Mt. Vernon Barracks, Alabama. They remained there until 1893 during which time the Apache cause received a great deal of attention in the press. The Apaches had become a source of embarrassment to the U.S. Army and the administration. General Miles negotiated their placement under his command at Fort Sill, despite historical tensions among the tribes that resided there, the Comanches and Kiowas. After some difficulty with the post commander, the homeless Apaches were sent to Fort Sill, still prisoners of war (Cole 166). Rumors of an uprising never came to pass at Fort Sill, and the Chiricahuas were making progress along the “White man’s road.” Agriculture and farming were embraced and students from Pennsylvania eventually returned to their people, raising the level of literacy to almost fifty percent. Geronimo was allowed to parade the country and made appearances at the St. Louis World Fair, selling his autograph and buttons. Public pressure again mounted for the release of the prisoners, and in August of 1912, Congress authorized the release of the Apaches appropriating 200,000 dollars for their resettlement (Cole 167). Some families chose to stay at Fort Sill buying unused lots of land from the Comanches or Kiowa, while others chose to move to the Mascelero reservation in New Mexico where they remain today (Cole 168). In conclusion, I feel that it is important to note that the U.S. Government did not fully understand the ways of the Chiricahua. The reservations were set up to fail based upon the structures of the reservations themselves. The Apaches were raiders and warriors, not farmers or settlers. Their hierarchy was set up so that leaders were picked as a result of raids and war. Their system of economics was based almost entirely on raids, so there was almost no way for young warriors to gain the attention of possible wives. It was only a matter of time until conflict began. Also, I feel it is important to note that they were faced with insurmountable odds. The people of the Southwest were perfectly comfortable with the Chiricahuas complete extermination. They were up against the Mexican Army as well as the U.S. The white man allowed the Apache to become accustomed to his weapons because he knew that an Apache with his traditional bow and arrow was even more deadly. The American invention of the Howitzer cannon killed or turned away the bravest warriors by the hundreds. The diseases of the white man played a large part in the death of countless Apaches because their immune systems were not strong against them. History and some descendants of the original now only remember the proud Chiricahuas. Their pagan ways were converted into Christianity and their folklore lost, but not forgotten. I believe that their plights should be taught more widely in American public schools to better understand how the southwest was and how it became to be. Tyranny in American history would be too controversial for the majority of the population; easier dealt with by not addressing it. It is also true that accounts of what actually happened differ among many scholars. Since the Apaches do not like to speak of the dead, their side of the story is difficult to obtain, and many American officers of the Army are too quick to gain recognition for things they did concerning the Chiricahuas. Finally, it is important to point out that it was the white man that invaded the Indian Territory. The pride of the Chiricahuas would not allow this to happen, even though they knew their defeat was inevitable; it was Apache way.
Cole, D.C. The Chiricahua Apache 1846-1876: From War to Reservation. New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1988.
Griffen, William B. Apaches at War and Peace: The Janos Presidio 1750-1858. New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1988.
Sweeney, Edwin R. Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, Publishing Division of the University, 1991.