Open main menu

CHAPTER XVII.


Satisfaction of the Apaches.—Policy.—Beneficial Results to my Men.—Individual Responsibility.—Short Allowance.—The Apache Rations Continued.—Gen. Carleton's Visit.—Bishop Lamy.—Supplies Received.—Apaches Elect a Governor.—Juan Cojo.—Commence Learning the Apache Language.—Compile a Vocabulary.—Gradually gain Apache Confidence.—Renew Acquaintance with Old Enemies.—Altered Relations.—Former Events Recalled.—Instruction thrown Away.—Apache Ideas of Warfare.—Their Horror of Work.—Influence of their Women.—Mescal.—Its Intoxicating Qualities.


The successful result of our hunting expedition put the Apaches in high spirits. They understood that they were not to be treated as prisoners of war, in the strict sense of that phrase, but were to be allowed the privilege of wide and extensive hunting grounds, teeming with game; were not interrupted in their social relations, only in so far as a rigid police of their camp was required to prevent disease, and could live almost as unrestrained as in their native wilds, provided they were all present or duly accounted for at the stated roll-call, which took place every evening at sunset.

Feeling that many of these privileges had been obtained through my instrumentality, they sought my tent daily in great numbers, and seemed inclined to regard me as their protector and best friend. As it was well known that they were in constant correspondence with those of their race who had not surrendered, and as the members of my company were always detailed for military couriers between Fort Sumner, Fort Mason, Fort Stanton, Santa Fé, and other points, I judged it prudent to gain the confidence and good will of the Apaches to the greatest possible extent, knowing that their kindness for me would extend itself to the men of my company, and this belief was afterward fully justified when roving parties of Indians happened to meet my couriers. This occurred on several occasions, when the savages were so numerous as to make resistence out of the question. They would ride up, examine the soldier attentively, find out that he belonged to my company at Fort Sumner, bid him good-by in their best manner, and ride off, without attempting to do him harm or deprive him of horse or weapons.

About six months afterward, Gian-nah-tah, commonly called Cadete by the Mexicans, told me confidentially that neither myself nor my men would be harmed by the Apaches so long as we remained in the country, as those in camp felt that they were greatly indebted to us for many little kindnesses. This promise was carried out to the letter, and convinced me that gratitude for services rendered is by no means a strange emotion in the Apache character. I, however, doubt much if any other white man ever had the opportunity, or, having it, ever did take so much pains to win the respect and confidence of those strange and suspicious people. It will be observed that I use the word "those" in the foregoing sentence, instead of "that," and simply because each is so perfectly independent in all his belongings from all other tribes that they cannot be justly classified as a conjoint or co-operative race except for purposes of plunder and mutual defense when attacked. When summoned to prosecute hostilities, unless against some marauding party of Comanches, Navajoes, or other tribes, each individual is free to join or not as he may see fit. Should the enterprise promise plenty of plunder with but little personal risk, no trouble will be found to engage all the warriors needed; but, no matter how greatly superior their force may be, no precaution for safety is neglected, and no means ignored which promises to secure their object without loss of life. It is only when prompt and immediate action is necessary that they resign their personal independence wholly to the guidance of some well known and selected warrior, but the occasion passed, that same leader falls back to his original individuality, the same as the President of the United States resumes his plain citizenship after the expiration of his term of office.

About this time Gen. Carleton instituted rigid inquiries as to the quantity of provision on hand in the subsistence departments of New Mexico and Arizona, and from the reports made to him, came to the conclusion that there would be somewhat of a scarcity before supplies could be received. Nearly three thousand Californian troops had been thrown into the two Territories, nine thousand Indians—Apaches and Navajoes—had succumbed to our arms, the country had been overrun and devastated by Sibley's column from Texas, no industrial nor agricultural pursuits had been re-commenced, and absolute want stared everybody in the face. Orders were immediately given to shorten the rations, and that for the Indians on the Fort Sumner Reservation were to be cut down largely. The order was issued to Capt. Updegraff, Fifth United States Infantry, commanding Fort Sumner, to take effect at a fixed date. Capt. Updegraff notified Mr. Labadie, the Indian Agent, of the order; Mr. Labadie communicated the fact to me, and I immediately waited upon Capt. Updegraff and requested him to communicate with the General commanding, and state the following arguments: There were nearly nine thousand Indians on that one Reservation. They had been subdued by the Californian troops after great exertions, and the Territory rendered comparatively free from those terrible Indian raids that for so many years had laid it waste from one end to the other; that so long as those raids continued the industry of the people would be suppressed and crushed out, and that the best guaranty which could be given the inhabitants would be to retain the savages on the Reservation. This could be done so long as they had sufficient to eat. There were large numbers of women and children who could neither hunt nor obtain their livelihoods by any means except through the Government rations, so long as they remained in semi-captivity; that the Reservation farm was not yet in a condition to yield the requisite support, and that if their rations were diminished, a spirit of intense dissatisfaction would display itself in the escape of thousands whom it would be impossible to restrain with our very limited force, and that the escaping parties would immediately betake themselves to plunder, assassination and destructive inroads. I, therefore, begged Capt. Updegraff to represent these and other cogent arguments to the General, with a view of having the full ration continued to the Indians.

These arguments had weight with the Post Commander, and were by him urged on the attention of the General, who immediately perceived their truthfulness, and ordered the full ration continued until such time as he could make personal investigation. Fortunately an opportunity soon occurred, and the General visited Fort Sumner with several officers and the Rt. Rev. Bishop Lamy, Bishop of New Mexico.

Next day Capt. Updegraff candidly informed the General that I had prompted his letter, and I was summoned to the interview which followed. After a careful inquiry and examination of several days, Gen. Carleton arrived at the same opinion with myself, and the full ration was ordered to be given as before. Six weeks subsequently the several Commissaries in the two Territories made official returns of their supplies, and it was found that their former estimates were far short of the mark. At the same time subsistence stores began to arrive from the East, and the new crops were being harvested, in peace, for the first time for many years. Upon these representations, orders were issued to restore full rations to all the troops, and abundance once more gladdened our tables. Whether right or wrong, the savages were taught by Mr. Labadie to believe that I was the person whose agency had preserved them from half rations, and the reader can well suppose how much I rose in their estimation. I was appointed grand director of their camps, with power to decide all differences and settle all quarrels between parties. Every grievance, real or imagined, was submitted for my jurisdiction; and, I am proud to add, that my administration was regarded with affectionate reverence. Those wild and untamed sons and daughters of the forests, the plains and the mountains, would throng my casita from reveille until tattoo, asking a thousand questions and always receiving proper attention. Among them was a Mexican, about forty years old, who had been a captive to their "bow and spear" for twenty odd years. He was taken at the age of eleven and did not obtain his release until he was past thirty-three. That man, Juan Cojo, spoke their language as fluently as themselves, and had been engaged as interpreter. Juan and I soon became good friends, although I must confess that his Apache education had somewhat unfitted him to be the most moral character of my acquaintance. Nevertheless, his services were indispensable, and I induced Gen. Carleton to appropriate fifty dollars per month additional pay to Juan, to teach me the Apache language. The fellow worked faithfully with me for nearly three months, during which time I compiled the only vocabulary of the Apache language in existence, and forwarded the result of my labors to Gen. Carleton, with the view of having it published for general use at the different posts in New Mexico and Arizona. The General sent the manuscript to the Smithsonian Institution, and it was placed in the hands of Prof. George Gibbs for publication in an exhaustive work on Ethnology, to be issued under the auspices of the Institution. I have waited several years for its appearance, but have not yet seen anything of the kind. Perhaps it will some day come to light. In the meantime, I received from the Institution an acknowledgment of my labors, the chief credit being given to Gen. Carleton—probably because he was General, and I only a Captain, subject to his orders. Let that be as it may, I felt both pride and pleasure in acquiring a language never before spoken by a white man, and I took much pains to systematize it as far as practicable, or my abilities could go. In order to be certain about the reliability of my novel acquirement, I every day submitted what I had learned the day previous to the criticism of the leading warriors of the tribe. They expressed much delight at my desire to learn and communicate with them in their own tongue, and manifested zeal in putting me right on all occasions. Nothing was committed to final record until it had been fully tested four or five times, and I believe the work to be as nearly perfect as could be got up under the circumstances.

This zeal on my part enhanced the favorable opinion the Apaches already held toward me, and rendered them unusually communicative. So soon as they found that I was anxious to converse with them in their own language, and had labored to acquire it, their confidence and regard increased in geometrical progression. It was not unusual with them, when asking a favor, another officer being present, to address me in Apache, and their little secrets were never betrayed. The reader will have no difficulty to comprehend how, under such circumstances, the writer should have gained an ascendancy over this most untamable and intensely suspicious of all our Indian tribes. It was not the work of a month nor of a year, but the experience of several years, aided by events which may never happen again. Many of them had seen and known me while interpreter of the Boundary Commission under the Hon. John R. Bartlett. Some of them were present and took part in that terrific chase along the Jornada del Muerto, and they reminded me of the event, after they became convinced that I was their best friend and harbored no vindictive feelings against the parties. While conversing on this matter one day, a warrior led to me an old squaw, her two daughters and one son, all grown up, the oldest being about twenty-two, and informed me that they were the wife and children of the man who led the chase against me thirteen years before. I received them kindly, and asked if they did not think it better for them that I should be alive to do them kindness then, than to have been murdered by their relatives in 1850. They replied by saying, "Yes, much better," laughing and asking me to give them some vermilion—a color very highly prized by the Apaches.

On the Reservation were one or two who happened to be at the Copper Mines at the time that Inez Gonzales and the two Mexican boys were rescued, as related in preceding chapters, but they never could be made to comprehend the justice of those rescues, until I asked them "You took those people captive by force, did you not?"

"Yes; we took them because we were stronger and more expert than they."

"Well, I took them from you for the same reasons. We were stronger and more expert than you, and we deprived you of your spoil. Suppose you were to meet a small band of Comanches with two or three hundred horses which they had stolen from Mexican owners, and your party were the stronger of the two, would you not take their spoil?"

"Certainly, because they would do so to us under like circumstances."

"Very well; you would have taken two American lads and an American girl, if you had met them unprotected, I know, because you have done it; and we took not your people, but those you had reduced to captivity, and restored them to their relatives. We did not keep them for our servants and slaves; but, they being our friends, we released them from your grasp when we found them in distress. The same rule you apply to the Comanches and all other peoples we applied to you; were we not right?"

The justice and pertinence of these remarks were admitted with reluctance, for the untutored Apache mind, like that of what is called high civilization and refinement, is eminently selfish and obtuse to moral conviction. Extremes meet.

It was, nevertheless, pleasant to recall the many times I had escaped their well-laid plans to deprive me and my associates of life or property, and the as many occasions in which they had been foiled in their benevolent intentions. The sanguinary deaths of Mangas Colorado, of Cuchillo Negro, of Ponce, of Delgadito, of Amarillo, and other renowned warriors, were cited in proof of the futility of their efforts to combat successfully against the white men. Their then dependence, as prisoners of war, their defenseless condition on the Reservation, their rapidly decreasing numbers, their disintegrating forces, and other like examples, were also pointed out and emphasized, and had momentary effect; but the next day, after admitting the severe lessons of history, they would resume their hauteur and exclaim, "that if they possessed as good weapons as ours, they could whip us out of the country they claimed as exclusively their own."

The teachings of experience are lost upon the Apache. He believes himself the superior being, and frequent adversities are accounted for in so many and plausible ways that his self-love and inordinate vanity are always appeased. He has shown himself more than a match for other barbarous tribes, and for the semi-civilized natives of New Mexico and Arizona. He infers that because we inhabit the houses of the last mentioned, and consort with them freely, in the absence of other society, that we are of the same general stamp and character. He admits the superior gallantry and prowess of the American race, but attributes them to our confidence in the superiority of our weapons. The result is that he uses more precaution in approaching the American than the Mexican; but this renders his attacks more to be dreaded and guarded against, although he never loses sight of subtlety and careful consideration in all his movements, no matter against whom directed. This is a distinguishing feature of the Apache. If fifty of them were to approach a single armed traveler they would do so with caution.

Like all other savages they highly prize physical strength and personal courage, but are severe critics in reference to the latter quality. When Lord Cardigan led the famous charge of the six hundred at Balaklava, it was carefully observed by the French Marshal, Pelissier, who exclaimed: "C'est beau, c'est grande, mais, c'est né pas de la guerre." In like manner, the Apache regards our reckless onsets as vain and foolish. He is in the habit of saying: "The Americans are brave, but they lack astuteness. They build a great fire which throws out so much heat that they cannot approach it to warm themselves, and when they hear a gun fired they are absurd enough to rush to the spot. But it is not so with us; we build small fires in secluded nooks which cannot be seen by persons unless close by, and we gather near to them so as to obtain the warmth, and when we hear a gun fired we get away as soon as possible to some place from which we can ascertain the cause." They regard our daring as folly, and think "discretion the better part of valor." I am not so sure but that they are correct in this idea, as well as in several others.

There is nothing which an Apache holds in greater detestation than labor or work of any kind. All occupations unconnected with war or plunder are esteemed altogether beneath his dignity and attention. He will patiently and industriously manufacture his bow and quiver full of arrows, his spear and other arms; but he disdains all other kinds of employment. He will suffer the pangs of hunger before engaging in the chase, and absolutely refuses to cultivate the ground, even at the cost of simply sowing the seed; but he is ever ready to take the war-path, and will undergo indescribable sufferings and hardships for the hope of a little plunder. Herein lies his credit and fame as a warrior; upon his success in such undertakings rests his whole celebrity and standing among the squaws whom he affects to treat with indifference, but whose smiles and favors are, after all, the greatest incentives to his acts. It is a grand mistake to suppose that because the Apaches are seemingly indifferent to the condition of their women that, because like other savage tribes, they force the burden of hard labor upon them, they are not elated by their praises or humbled by their censures. On the contrary, they are keenly alive to such sensations, and under the mask of apparent indifference and assumed superiority are quite as susceptible to the blandishments of the female sex, and to their opinions as regards merits, as the most civilized and enlightened of their fellow countrymen—white Americans. After a successful raid they are received with songs and rejoicings. Their deeds are rehearsed with many eulogiums, and they become great, in their own estimations, for a while. But if unsuccessful, they meet with jeers and insults. The women turn away from them with assumed indifference and contempt. They are upbraided as cowards, or for want of skill and tact, and are told that such men should not have wives, because they do not know how to provide for their wants. When so reproached, the warriors hang their heads and offer no excuse for failure. To do so would only subject them to more ridicule and objurgation; but, Indian-like, they bide their time, in the hope of finally making their peace by some successful raid. When it is understood that the Apaches neither sow nor plant, that they do not cultivate the ground, that they manufacture nothing except their arms, that they depend altogether upon their wars for plunder as a means of livelihood with the exceptional occasions of hunting, that their women collect all the mescal for food and intoxicating drink, that they dig all the roots, gather all the seeds, and make them into food, there will be no difficulty in perceiving that the women are their real supporters.

In some branches of the great tribe, residing on the head-waters of the Gila, and among the Mescaleros and Jicarillas, a very limited amount of planting is done, extending mainly to maize, pumpkins, squashes and beans. Their great dependence is on mescal, the roots of which are collected in quantity, and placed in a large hole dug in the ground and highly heated. The mescal roots, being deposited, are then covered with green leaves and grass, which is in turn overlaid with earth, and a steady fire kept burning on top for a whole day. After allowing the mass to remain in this impromptu oven for three days, it is unearthed, pared and eaten with great zest. It has a sweetish taste, not unlike the beet; but it is not so tender, and possesses remarkable anti-scorbutic properties. In order to make an intoxicating beverage of the mescal, the roasted root is macerated in a proportionable quantity of water, which is allowed to stand several days, when it ferments rapidly. The liquor is boiled down and produces a strongly intoxicating fluid.