Life among the Apaches/Chapter 27
Ignorance of Indian Character Discussed.—Political Indian Agencies.—How the Indian Affairs Should be Managed.—Necessity of Force.—Absurd System in Vogue.—Crushing Out Advised.—How the Apaches Should be Fought.—Proper Method of Campaigning.—Suggestions.—Culpable Neglect of Congress.—General Deductions.—Californian Troops.—Conclusion.
The romantic wanderings of Catlin, Schoolcraft and some others among the Indian tribes of North America; the delightful tales of Cooper, as developed in his "Trapper," "Last of the Mohicans," etc.; the stirring adventures of Captain John Smith, Daniel Boone, Chamberlin, Carson, Hays and a host of noted pioneers, have invested our Indian races with rare and absorbing interest. But they have also tended to convey false and erroneous impressions of Indian character, and have contributed to misguide our legislation on this subject to such an extent as to become a most serious public burden.
Since the foundation of our Government, Indian wars have cost the American people nearly four hundred millions of dollars, and the stream of expenditure continues with unabated volume. When the whites were few and the savages many, the cost of keeping them in subjection was measurably less than it has been since the reversal of our respective numerical conditions. Whence arises this anomaly? Simply because of our strange ignorance of Indian character as it really exists, and not as we have been taught to understand it by writers of attractive fiction, or the chroniclers of heroic deeds and romantic adventures. This sweeping assertion may be met with one more plausible and popular, because more suggestive, and having the merit of being sanctioned by time. "Is it possible," exclaims the old school debater, "that we have been for more than two centuries and a half fighting, treating, and dealing with our Indian tribes without acquiring a positive knoweldge of their character!" Such an exclamation certainly seems to be staggering. It appears to possess the vital force of reason and unanswerable argument; nevertheless, it is exactly true that, as a people, we know little or nothing about this very important matter. Unfortunately, those who have been the best able, from long and careful personal experience, to give the requisite information, have also been, for the most part, deficient in educational attainments and the capacity to impart their knowledge; while others have given no evidence of entertaining a just value of its public importance. Satisfied with their own acquirements, they have not sought to publish them for the benefit of others.
The white races of the American people boast European origin, mainly that of English lineage; but how much did the British really know of Americans, even at the period of our Revolution? Is not the history of that struggle indisputable evidence of the most lamentable and inexplicable ignorance on the part of the mother country? But, worse still; after the Revolution, after we had been in strict and closest commercial and political relations with Great Britain for over sixty years, after a second and sanguinary contest with that country, we have only to read the works of some of their travelers to arrive at the superficial and wonderfully erroneous idea of American character possessed by intelligent Britons.
When the two leading commercial nations of the globe, each claiming the highest civilization, speaking identically the same language, and governed by the same general laws, contrive to pass two centuries and a half of close intercourse with such unsatisfactory interknowledgable results, is it strange that a like ignorance should exist between the American people and the nomadic races of this continent?
Causes similar to those which operated as a bar to English knowledge of the American character have interposed against our acquisition of precise information relative to the leading traits of Indian nature. Without being captious, it is assumed that British tourists have, for the most part, approached us with something of an intolerant and pre-occupied spirit. They came prepared to encounter ill-bred, semi-educated, uncouth and braggart provincials, rendered more unendurable by their democratic form of government, and political hostility to the time honored institutions of their own country. Reference can as emphatically be made to the course pursued by the British in India, the Spaniards in Mexico and Peru, the French in Africa and Cochin China. The conquering race seldom care to inform themselves minutely about the condition and characteristics of the conquered, and the results have been renewed sanguinary struggles and immensely increased expenditures. Our own dealings with the nomads of North America have been but so many chapters of the same record. What has our Government ever done, in a concerted, intelligent and liberal spirit, to acquire a definite knowledge of Indian character, as it exists among the tribes which wander over more than one-half the public domain?
The Indian Bureau, with its army of political camp-followers, bent upon improving their short and presarious official positions to "turn an honest penny," can scarcely be quoted as evidence of our search for the needed information. Tales of violence and wrong, of outrage and devilish malignity, committed by Indians, are rife all along our frontiers; but who ever hears the other side? Who chronicles the inciting causes, the long, unbroken series of injuries perpetrated by the semi-civilized white savages who, like Cain, fled from the retributive justice of outraged humanity, and sought refuge among the copper-colored savages of the woods and the plains? Naturally ferocious, warlike, revengeful and treacherous as were the aborigines of America, we have educated them to a pitch of refinement in cruelty, deceit and villainy far beyond their normal standard. If the white man has come to be regarded as his natural enemy, it may be set down as the result of long and murderous schooling. The inherent disposition of the American nomad inclined him to hospitality; but that inclination has been completely blotted out, and its opposite engrafted on his nature. Legends and traditions of white men's ingratitude have been handed down through so many generations, and the experiences of the living have been in such direct accordance with them, that they have become prime articles of their creed. Keenly alive to a sense of the inferiority of their armament, incapable of subsisting large bodies of men for any considerable period, and perpetually engaged in the work of exterminating each other, the several tribes have been reduced to the necessity of employing deceit against force, cunning against courage, artifice against honesty.
One of the most serious obstacles in the way of a settled and satisfactory arrangement with our Indian tribes results from our own form of government, which requires a change of the whole working department of the Indian Bureau whenever a change of administration takes place. Nor can this evil be remedied so long as the Indian Bureau continues to be a political machine. The savages cannot comprehend why it is that every few years imposes upon their acceptance new and untried Agents to regulate matters between them and their "Great Father" at Washington, nor why the new Agents should institute a policy different from that of their predecessors. Time, patience, zeal, great experience and conscientious discharge of duty are indispensably requisite for the proper and just management of our Indian relations, and even then they will be found delicate and difficult under peculiar circumstances which are constantly presenting themselves. The first great object should be a total and sweeping reform in this respect. The Department of Indian Affairs, as it is now organized, should be abolished as a costly and unnecessary adjunct to a Government already overburdened with political patronage. We have a large number of meritorious and highly educated officers of the army on the retired list. Many of them have acquired considerable insight into Indian character during the course of their campaigns in our Territories and on our frontiers. They are drawing pay from the Government without rendering effective service. Their own high sense of honor makes many of them feel as if they had been laid upon the shelf as being no longer useful, and they would be but too happy to prove that their capacity to serve their country in this line is quite as great as it ever was in their former field of operations. By appointing such men, and merging the Indian Bureau into the War Department, a regular, systematic policy would be pursued, upon which our savage tribes could place reliance, and which would ultimately gain their confidence and respect.
Why persist in maintaining a Department not only unnecessary, but which has always imposed enormous expenditures upon the people, and has frequently plunged us into costly Indian wars? What can a political camp-follower, who has done party service in our cities, and been appointed Indian Agent as reward for such services, possibly know of Indian character? And being profoundly ignorant of all that pertains to the people whose affairs he is about to manage, how can he conduct them with any degree of justice toward these people? It has been the writer's lot to be present at many meetings between Indian Agents and their constituencies; and he has always been shocked at the insolent, intolerant and supercilious manner of the Agents. It is as necessary to use common intelligence and prudence in our intercourse with savages as in the performance of any other act. If a man were required to move an object, his first business would be to ascertain the weight and character of that object, with a view to applying the proper motive power in a rational manner; but in our dealings with Indian tribes this common sense and practical style of operation is completely ignored. We have not even condescended to apply the rules of every day life to a subject of such extensive interest. Is the savage to be blamed because he becomes provoked at such intolerable folly? Is it to be wondered at that he should lose all confidence in people who, while claiming to be his superiors, display such despicable disregard of decency and good faith? And when he does evince anger and disgust, after his fashion—the only one he comprehends—straightway the worthy Agent shouts "stop thief," to conceal his own avarice and rascality, while he precipitates another costly conflict. Until this pernicious system be utterly swept away, and the management of Indian affairs confided to intelligent and educated men appointed for life, or during good behavior, from the ranks of our meritorious retired officers, we may hope in vain for any better condition of our relations with the tribes.
In the foregoing pages the attentive reader will have found some food for reflection. He will have perceived that the Apaches are not fools and idiots. He will have learned that they reflect, and argue with a great deal of logical acumen. He will have understood that there is much about them which can be studied with good results. He will have comprehended the impossibility of making a durable treaty with a tribe, each individual of which is sovereign in his own right, and disavows the authority of any one to treat for him. There can be but one policy pursued toward these Indians with any chance of satisfactory result. They must be subdued by force of arms, and after submission, they must be removed from their country. It will cost much to effect these objects, but the expense will be a mere "drop in the bucket," compared with that which must be disbursed to maintain the miserable little guerrilla warfare heretofore pursued, and which has only imbued them with contempt for our much vaunted power. It will require a force of seven or eight thousand men to effectually subdue the Apache race in Arizona and New Mexico; but with such a force, properly officered and appointed, the work can be done in less than one year.
Let it be understood, however, that the troops will be required for constant, active and arduous service in the field, and not to build forts, which are abandoned a year or so after construction; nor to till the earth, nor cultivate fine gardens, nor spend their time in dress parades and burnishing weapons which are never used. The men selected for this service should be picked, and entirely reliable. The rations of coffee, sugar, tea, and everything but hard bread, the best of jerked beef, and tobacco, should be stopped while on duty in the field, and their pay should be increased in proportion. All the troops employed in active service must be cavalry, and their accoutrements should be simplified to the greatest possible extent. A trooper's horse should not be cumbered with a useless valise, holsters, and a ridiculous amount of harness for display. The soldier should be equipped with two Colt's belt pistols, a first-class Spencer carbine, and a large knife. All posts should be kept and guarded by the infantry, aided by a small detachment of cavalry to act as herders, and at each post there should not be less than from fifty to seventy-five good horses, which may be rendered immediately available by any scouting party whose animals are beginning to tire. At each post the Commissary should be required to keep constantly on hand and baled in raw-hide covers, packages of bread and meat of not more than sixty pounds in each bale, and enough in quantity to equal ten days' rations for fifty men. There should also be a sufficient number of pack mules and aparejos to pack this amount of provision, and no mule should be laden with more than two packs. With these precautions, a pursuing party could replenish their stores and receive fresh horses and mules without the unnecessary and vexatious delays which have proved so fatal to success in our Indian campaigns in the Territories named.
Three thousand men, divided into companies of fifty each, would place sixty such companies in the field at one time, and this force could sweep Arizona from end to end in six months. Extreme care should be taken to prevent the Apaches from escaping into Northern Mexico, and operations should commence from the southern and eastern frontiers. The same system should be applied to New Mexico at the same time, commencing at the northern and western frontiers. The men, while on scout, should take only one pair of socks, one shirt and one pair of drawers with them, in addition to those they wear. All blankets and other baggage should be conveyed by pack mules so lightly laden that they may be able to keep up with the horses. In winter the clothing should consist of thick buckskin pants and jacket, lined with flannel, and in summer of the usual cavalry dress, but without trimmings, except the chevrons for non-commissioned officers. Marching by day should be avoided as much as possible, unless when following a trail. No fires should be allowed for cooking purposes; and when the state of the weather required them, they should be concealed as much as the ground might permit. The rations of coffee and sugar should be allowed in winter. The course of operations in the field would suggest itself to each officer in command of a company, and he should be allowed discretionary power.
It will be perceived that, although these suggestions require some space for their explanation, yet they present a far more simple system than any ever put in practice, although susceptible of very great modifications and improvements, which must be suggested by the circumstances which may present themselves from time to time. It is, however, clear that a great change must be made in our mode of dealing with the Apache race. Twenty years of unceasing warfare, without any other result than the loss of many lives, much property, the expenditure of enormous sums; the devastation of a large extent of country; the unavailability of one of the richest mineral regions in the "Union, and the continuance of the perils to which immigrants are exposed while crossing it, should have sufficed to teach us that we have been suffering from an inadequate system of warfare. It is time that something more rigorous were tried. Matters can scarcely be worse than they have been and are.
Forty or fifty infantry at a post, which has its Commissary and Quarter-Master's establishments, with their various belongings; its hospital with its corps of nurses, cooks and attendants; its Adjutant's office with his clerks; the Commander's orderly, the company clerk, and other modes of occupying the troops, can scarcely be deemed a very effective force in an Apache country. Nevertheless, such is the style of warfare which has been carried on—occasionally varied by a small squad of cavalry making a scout with great lumbering army wagons, marching by day, and following the highways. Let no one imagine that these remarks are in any way intended to reflect on the officers and men doing duty in Arizona and New Mexico. All such idea is emphatically disavowed. They do the very best that can be done under the circumstances. No man can be expected to fight advantageously with both hands tied behind him. They can't help themselves; but are placed in an awkward and embarrassing position from which there seems to be no escape.
While Congress has been voting millions for various improvements, would it not have been wise to appropriate a small amount for the purification of two immensely rich and extensive Territories in the very heart of the country? If Alaska be worth seven millions, Arizona and New Mexico are worth one hundred. It has been suggested by one high, in authority, that an appropriation of three millions to assist the Sutro Tunnel project would be an act of wisdom, as it would enormously increase the yield of the Comstock lode; but it seems never to have suggested itself to the minds of our legislators, that the region withheld from our occupation by the Apache race contains more mineral wealth than twenty Comstock lodes. We are floundering under a great national debt, and financiers are puzzling their wits to determine how it shall be extinguished; but they never dream of the untold wealth buried in the mountains which form the stronghold of the Apaches. We have behaved with the most Christian spirit of forbearance toward that people. Every time they have smitten us on one cheek we have turned the other to receive an additional slap, which they were by no means loth to bestow. Is it not almost time to put our "Quaker" one side and perform what we have so long threatened? Is our Government aware that the people of those Territories could present a bill for over fifty millions of dollars for damages suffered at the hands of those Indians during the past twenty years?
It matters not by what process or method of schooling the Apache has become the most treacherous, blood thirsty, villainous and unmitigated rascal upon earth; it is quite sufficient that he is so, and that he is incapable of improvement. Kindness and generosity provoke his contempt, and he regards them as weaknesses. Chastisement does not procure his vengeance with any more certainty than want of caution. The man who deems it the highest achievement to become a dexterous robber is scarcely an object in whom to repose confidence. Whatever regard they exhibited toward myself was more induced by the conviction that I was serviceable to them, while their respect was enforced through their dread of my troopers. Nevertheless, when I was ordered home from Fort Sumner, they all mounted their horses and rode with us for two hours, and appeared quite sorry at our departure. This would seem to express some sense of gratitude, and so I imagined it, until subsequent intelligence disclosed the fact that they were never more elated.
From the time of their last conflict with the Navajoes, in which ninety of the latter were slain outright, within fifteen miles of the Reservation, where their dead bodies were seen by the other Navajoes under our charge, the two people had never lived comfortably together. Their camps were located four miles apart, but little feuds and disputes were constantly arising which occupied much of my time to arrange. At length the matter became unbearable to the Apaches, who were outnumbered nine to one, and they applied to Gen. Carleton to be placed on a separate Reservation. This was refused, and they resolved to leave by the first good opportunity. The only bar to this was the presence of my company, of which they entertained a most salutary dread, although constantly receiving little presents and kind treatment from all the men. The Apaches had frequently witnessed their target practice with carbine and pistol, in both of which arms they had acquired wonderful perfection, and they were also struck with the easy and bold riding of my troopers. Gian-nah-tah, being angry one day, told Capt. Updegraff, who had denied them a favor he had no right to grant—"You think we care for you and your men; not a bit of it, we are only restrained by those Californians." When they saw those Californians depart, they were actually delighted, and in less than two months afterward, the great body of them decamped to parts unknown.
As an example of the precision to which my men had arrived in the use of their fire-arms, the following incident will suffice. While passing the "Caves" on the road to the San Bernardino river, whither we had been to settle a little difficulty with the Piutes, we were passed by a fine antelope buck, about one hundred yards distant, and going at speed. There were fourteen men in single file behind me, and I cried out, "Fire at that antelope." At the word each man checked his horse, raised his carbine and fired. The animal fell, and upon examination, it was found that every ball had struck him.
The information which I received from Mr. Labadie relative to the Apache hegira from Fort Sumner, only added to my former conviction that they are incapable of any enduring sense of gratitude. Their intense selfishness precludes any hope from that quarter, while the long and close experience I had with them, established the conviction in my mind that their intensified proclivity to commit outrage can only be suppressed by force of arms, in a vigorous and not too merciful campaign, prosecuted with an overwhelming force, and brought to a sudden and decisive end by occupying many portions of their country at the same time, and keeping the forces in the field until the object be accomplished. In the foregoing work only such personal adventures have been recited as served to exemplify some trait of Indian character; and if any of my readers have received either pleasure or profit from its perusal, or if these experiences should serve in any way to modify or better our Indian policy, the author will not have written in vain.