Life among the Apaches/Chapter 3
To the Copper Mines.—Encounter with Cuchillo Negro.—Fearful massacre of Apaches.—Their Terrible Revenge.—Apache Method of Hunting Ducks and Geese.—Apaches Hunting Antelopes.—Mangas Colorado.—My Camp.
In the latter part of January, 1850, Mr. Bartlett took advantage of the march of Col. Craig, commanding the military escort of the Boundary Commission, to order Dr. Webb, Mr. Thurber and myself to the Copper Mines of Santa Rita, as Col. Craig had determined to make that place his head-quarters until the extended operations of the Commission should demand a more advanced post. Dr. Webb, Secretary of the Commission, and Mr. Thurber, Botanist, rode in Mr. Bartlett's carriage, which he had loaned them for the trip, but I preferred to take the saddle, being mounted on an uncommonly fine horse I had bought from Capt. A. Buford, First United States Dragoons. In order not to be distressed by the slow, painful and tiresome marches of the infantry, Dr. Webb invariably ordered Wells, the carriage driver, to hurry forward to the next camping ground, and we generally arrived three or four hours in advance of the troops, my horse keeping up with the carriage, for I would not leave my party in so dangerous an Indian country as the one we were then penetrating. Sometimes, when the road was rough and difficult for the carriage, I was accustomed to ride ahead in search of game, being always armed to the teeth with two belt and two holster six-shooters, a Sharp's carbine and a large bowie knife. On the fourth day of our march, I advanced about three miles ahead of the carriage, which was detained in making the passage through Cooke's canon, a rough, rocky and very dangerous defile, about forty miles east of the Mimbres river, and having observed some antelope tracks, looked around in hope of seeing the animals, when I perceived myself surrounded by a band of about twenty-five Indians, who advanced upon me from, all sides, led by a savage who rode several yards ahead of all others. At that time I could have broken through the circle and rejoined my party with but little risk, as my horse was infinitely superior in strength and speed to their ponies, but as I felt convinced that the carriage would heave in sight within a short time, my resolution was immediately taken to adopt another policy. By this time their leader was from twenty-five to thirty yards in advance of his followers, and about the same distance from me, perceiving which I drew a heavy holster pistol with my right hand and putting spurs to my horse, met him in a bound or two, when I addressed him to the following effect, in Spanish:
"Keep off or I will shoot you."
To this he replied: "Who are you, and whence do you come?"
Observing that his warriors were closing upon me, I said: "See here, Indian, you have plenty of warriors against one man, but I have got you; your people may kill me, but I will kill you, so tell them to hold back at once."
Involuntarily the Apache waved his hand, and his warriors halted about forty yards off. Not liking so short a distance, I again urged the chief to let his warriors fall back still further, at the same time giving a significant shake of my pistol. This, too, was done, and the Apaches increased their distance to about one hundred and fifty yards. The chief, whom I afterwards found to be Cuchillo Negro, or the "Black Knife," then endeavored to gain my left side, but I foiled his attempt by keeping my horse's head in his direction wherever he moved. He then said, "Good-by," and started to rejoin his comrades, but I again brought him to a sense of his position, by telling him I would not permit it, and he must stay with me until my friends came up. This excited considerable surprise, for he evidently labored under the idea that I was alone, or nearly so. The following dialogue then took place:
Cuchillo Negro.—"What do you want in my country?"
American.—"I came here because my chief has sent me. He is coming soon with a large force, and will pass through this country, but does not intend to remain or do any harm to his Apache brethren. We come in peace, and will always act peaceably, unless you compel us to adopt other measures; if you do, the consequences will do you great harm."
Cuchillo Negro.—"I do not believe your words. You are alone. My people have been on the watch, and have seen no forces coming this way. If any such had been on the road, we would have known it. You are in my power. What more have you to say?"
American.—"Indian, you are foolish. Long security has made you careless. A company of soldiers is close behind me; but your young men have been asleep. The squaws have retained them in camp, when they should have been on the lookout. I am not in your power, but you, personally, are in mine. Your people can kill me, but not until I have put a ball through your body. Any signal you may make to them, or any forward movement on their part, will also be signal for your death. If you do not believe me, wait a few moments, and you will see my friends come round the point of yonder hill. They are many, and intend to remain several moons in your country. If you treat them well you will grow rich and get many presents, but if you treat them badly they will search you out among the rocks and hills of your country, will take possession of your watering places, will destroy your plantations and kill your warriors. Now choose."
Cuchillo Negro.—"For many years no white man has penetrated these regions, and we do not permit people to enter our country without knowing their purpose. If you had friends, as you say, you would not have left them and come on alone, for that is foolish. My young men have not been led away by the squaws, for there are none within two sun's march, and if you had a large party with you, they would have known it and given me notice. You have many guns, but I have many men, and you cannot escape if I give the signal."
American.—"Indian, I don't think you will give that signal so long as you and I are so close together. Wait a few moments, and see whether I tell the truth."
This proposition was finally agreed to by him, and we sat on our horses waiting the approach of the carriage. It is unnecessary to say what my feelings were during the next quarter of an hour, nor to explain the manœuvres each adopted to get or keep the advantage of his enemy. I feel incapable of doing justice to the occasion. At the expiration of the time mentioned, the carriage hove in sight, about a quarter of a mile off, rounding the point of the mountain, and it had been detained so much during the march through the rocky and terrible defile that the infantry had come up with it and presented a formidable array of glittering tubes immediately in its rear. At this unexpected sight, Cuchillo Negro gazed for a moment like one in a dream, but quickly collecting himself, he advanced directly toward me, extending his right hand and saying, "Jeunie, jeunie!" which means friendly, amicable, good. I refused to take his hand lest he might suddenly jerk me off my horse and stab me while falling, but contented myself by saying, "Estamos amigos"—we are friends. He then turned quickly and rode off at full speed, attended by his warriors. They disappeared in another rocky canon, about four hundred yards distant. It was subsequently my fate to meet this savage several other times, and I am satisfied that the remembrance of our interview on the occasion above narrated, did me no harm either with him or the balance of his tribe.
After leaving Doña Ana, our way led across the lower portion of the Jornada del Muerto until we arrived at what is known as the San Diego crossing of the Rio Grande, a mile or two below where Fort Thorne was subsequently built. As the Jornada del Muerto was the scene of another incident, its description is postponed for the present. The Rio Grande was crossed without much difficulty, and our camp formed near a large lagoon on the western bank of the river. This lagoon was infested by wild ducks and brant, and the Apaches took great numbers of them in the following manner.
In the early winter, when these birds commenced to arrive in great flocks, the Apaches took large numbers of gourds and set them adrift on the windward side of the lagoon, whence they were gradually propelled by the wind until they reached the opposite side, when they were recovered and again set adrift. At first, the ducks and geese exhibit dread and suspicion of these strange floating objects, but soon get used to them, and pay them no further attention. Having arrived at this stage, the Indians then fit these gourds upon their heads, having been furnished with holes for the eyes, nose and mouth, and, armed with a bag, they enter the water not over five feet deep in any part and exactly imitating the bobbing motion of the empty gourd upon the water, succeed in getting close enough to the birds, which are then caught by the feet, suddenly dragged under water, and stowed in the bag. The dexterity and naturalness with which this is done almost exceeds belief, yet it is a common thing among them.
About eighteen or twenty miles east of the Copper Mines of Santa Rita, is a hot spring, the waters of which exhibit a heat of 125 degrees Fahrenheit, and after having crossed the Mimbres, the whole party directed its course to this spring. After examining it thoroughly, and having the qualities of its water tested by Dr. Webb, we prosecuted our march; but my attention was soon after arrested by a number of antelopes feeding on the plain, not more than half a mile distant. Anxious to procure one, I left the party, and, galloping in the direction of the herd, arrived within five hundred yards of it, when I dismounted and tying my horse to a yucca bush, proceeded cautiously on foot, carbine in hand. Crawling from bush to bush, and hiding behind every stone which offered any shelter, I got within handsome range of a fine buck, and feeling sure that the animal could not escape me, I raised to fire, when, just as I was taking aim, I was astonished to see the animal raise erect upon its hind legs, and heard it cry out, in fair Spanish, "No tiras, no tiras!"—don't fire, don't fire! What I would have sworn was an antelope, proved to be a young Indian, the son of Ponce, a chief, who, having enveloped himself in an antelope's skin, with head, horns and all complete, had gradually crept up to the herd under his disguise, until his operations were brought to an untimely end by perceiving my aim directed at him. The Apaches frequently adopt this method of hunting, and imitate the actions of the antelopes so exactly as to completely mislead those animals with the belief that their deadliest enemy is one of their number.
We arrived at the Copper Mines, without further accident, one day in advance of our military escort, and had no sooner pitched our tent than we were visited by some eight or ten of the most villainous looking Apaches it is possible to conceive. Although the weather was exceedingly cold, with snow six inches deep on a level, and, in some places where it had drifted, as deep as three or four feet, the Indians were wholly nude, with the exception of a diminutive breech cloth. They bore no arms of any kind and pretended to be very friendly, having undoubtedly seen our train and escort crossing the plain from their various places of observation on the top of Ben Moore, which is eight thousand feet high. Our mules were hitched to the several wheels of the carriage and my horse in the rear, while one of our party kept constant and vigilant watch over the animals. When night fell Dr. Webb informed the Apaches, through me, that they must leave camp, which they did after receiving a few presents in the shape of tobacco, beads and some cotton cloth. A rousing fire was then made in front of the tent, and after a hearty supper our small party retired upon their arms, with one man on guard. It was afterwards discovered that among our visitors were the renowned warriors Delgadito, Ponce and Coletto Amarillo. These were their Mexican names their Indian appellations I never learned.
About 11 o'clock, a. m., next day, Col. Craig appeared with his command, and formally took possession of the Copper Mines, the great head-quarters of the redoubtable chief, Mangas Colorado, or the "Red Sleeves," beyond all comparison the most famous Apache warrior and statesman of the present century. The word statesman is used advisedly in his case, as will be made apparent to the reader in the course of his perusal. The term chief will also be found, hereafter, to have a very great modification, in so far as refers to the Apache race.
The Copper Mines of Santa Rita are located immediately at the foot of a huge and prominent mountain, named Ben Moore. These extensive mines had been abandoned for the space of eighty years, but were uncommonly rich and remunerative. They were formerly owned by a wealthy Mexican company, who sent the ore to Chihuahua, where a Government mint existed, and had the ore refined and struck into the copper coinage of the country. Although the distance was over three hundred miles, and every pound of ore had to be transported on pack mules, yet it proved a paying business, and mining was vigorously prosecuted for a space of some twenty years. Huge masses of ore, yielding from sixty to ninety per cent, of pure copper, are still visible all about the mine, and frequently considerable pieces of pure copper are met with by the visitor. The reason for its sudden and long abandonment was asked, and the following story related.
During the period that the Mexicans carried on operations at the mines, the Apaches appeared very friendly, receiving frequent presents, and visiting the houses of the miners without question. But every now and then the Mexicans lost a few mules, or had a man or two killed, and their suspicions were roused against the Apaches, who stoutly denied all knowledge of these acts and put on an air of offended pride. This state of affairs continued to grow worse and worse, until an English man, named Johnson, undertook to "settle matters," and to that end received carte blanche from his Mexican employers. Johnson ordered a fiesta, or feast, prepared, and invited all the Copper Mine Apaches to partake. The invitation was joyfully accepted, and between nine hundred and a thousand, including men, women and children, assembled to do justice to the hospitality of their entertainers. They were caused to sit grouped together as much as possible, while their host had prepared a six-pounder gun, loaded to the muzzle with slugs, musket balls, nails and pieces of glass, within one hundred yards of their main body. This cannon was concealed under a pile of pack saddles and other rubbish, but trained on the spot to be occupied by the Apaches. The time arrived; the feast was ready; the gun loaded and primed; Johnson stood ready with a lighted cigar to give the parting salute, and while all were eating as Apaches only can eat, the terrible storm of death was sped into their ranks, killing, wounding and maiming several hundred. This fearful volley was immediately followed up by a charge on the part of the Mexicans, who showed no pity to the wounded until nearly four hundred victims had been sacrificed at this feast of death. The survivors fled in dismay, and for several months the miners fancied they had forever got rid of the much hated Apaches. It was an ill-grounded hope, as the sequel proved.
The Copper Mines were entirely dependent upon Chihuahua for all supplies, and large conductas, or trains with guards, were employed in the business of bringing in such supplies, and taking away the ore. So regular had been the arrival and departure of these trains, that no efforts were made to retain provisions enough on hand in the event of a failure to arrive. Besides, no molestation of any kind had been experienced since Johnson's experiment. At length three or four days passed beyond the proper time for the conducta's arrival; provision was becoming exceedingly scarce; ammunition had been expended freely; no thought for the morrow had taken possession of their minds, and everything went on in the hap-hazard way of thoughtless Mexicans. No attempt was made to send a party in quest of the lost train, nor was any economy exercised. Two or three days more passed, and they were on the verge of starvation. The surrounding forests of heavy pines still furnished bear and turkeys, and other game in abundance, but their ammunition was becoming exceedingly scarce. In this dilemma some of the miners climbed Ben Moore, which gave a distinct view of the extensive plain reaching to and beyond the Mimbres river, but no sign of the conducta was visible. It was then ordered that a well-armed party should set out and discover its fate, but those who were to be left behind resolved to go also, as they would otherwise be forced to remain without means of defence or provisions. On a given day every man, woman and child residing in the Copper Mines took their departure; but they never reached their place of destination. The relentless Apaches had foreseen all these troubles, and taken measures accordingly. The party left, but their bones, with the exception of only four or five, lie bleaching upon the wide expanse between the Copper Mines of Santa Rita and the town of Chihuahua. Such is the narrative given me by an intelligent Mexican, whom I afterward met in Sonora. From that time for more than eighty years, the Apache had remained the unmolested master of this his great stronghold. This long interval of quiescence was rudely interrupted by the advent of the military escort to the Boundary Commission, which immediately commenced repairing the half-ruined presidio, and rendering some fifty small adobe buildings habitable for the members of the Commission. These proceedings were watched with great interest and unfeigned anxiety by the Apaches, who frequently asked whether we intended to remain at the Copper Mines, and as frequently received a reply in the negative. The real object of our stay was explained to them; but they could not conceive that people should take so much pains to build houses and render them comfortable only for a short residence, to be again abandoned at the very period when men could live in the open air without disquietude.
Shortly afterward, the whole Commission, numbering some two hundred and fifty well-armed men, arrived, making a total force of over three hundred men. This odds was more than the Apaches could face, with any prospect of success, and they relapsed into the better part of valor, under the advice of Mangas Colorado and his leading warriors. The gentle nomads pitched their main camp about two miles from the Copper Mines, and made frequent visits to observe our movements and to practice their skill in begging.
Although the Copper Mine, or Mimbres Apaches, have signalized themselves by many of the boldest and most daring exploits, they are not physically comparable to the Mescalero, Jicarilla and Chiricahui branches of the same tribe. But what they lack in personal strength they make up in wiliness and endurance. No amount of cold, hunger or thirst seems to have any appreciable effect upon an Apache. Whatever his sufferings, no complaint or murmur is ever heard to escape his lips, and he is always ready to engage in any enterprise which promises a commensurate reward. Ten Apaches will undertake a venture which will stagger the courage and nerve of a hundred Yurnas, Pimos or Navajoes, although the last mentioned tribe is an undoubted branch of the Apache race, as will be shown in a subsequent chapter. The cunning of the Apache is only equaled by his skill and the audacity with which he executes his projects, and every success is chuckled over with undissembled gusto by the whole tribe, the actors only assuming an unconcerned air, as if wholly disconnected with the matter. Their conversation is always carried on in low tones, and only one person ever presumes to speak at a time. There is no interruption to the speaker's remarks; but when he ceases another takes the word, and either replies or indorses the opinions of his predecessor. During a general conversation on indifferent topics they separate into several small knots, and in each the above rules are strictly observed.
I had selected the most lovely spot in the valley for the site of my tent, which was some six hundred yards distant from the rest, and shut out from sight by an intervening hillock. At his place the stream widened into a handsome basin ten yards cross, and with a little labor I had built a sort of dam, which raised the water in the basin to the depth of about three and a half feet, and formed a delicious bathing pool, which was shaded by a very large and spreading cotton wood tree. At this place the Apaches frequently congregated in considerable numbers, maintaining a lively conversation, and enabling me to make many observations I could not otherwise have done. As I was the only member of the Commission with whom they could converse, my tent became their head-quarters during their visits, which were almost daily for several consecutive months, until our amicable relations were broken up by their irrepressible rascality and treachery.