Shadows at Dawn: A Borderland Massacre and the Violence of History

At dawn on April 30, 1871, armed vigilantes quietly invaded a camp of sleeping Apache Indians near Fort Grant in Arizona: “They succeeded…in killing perhaps as many as a hundred and forty-four , almost all of them sleeping women and children,” writes Brown University historian Jacoby in this in-depth and multi-dimensional examination of the largely forgotten Fort Grant Massacre. Jacoby skillfully explores the deadly events from the point of view of all involved, including the whites, Mexicans, and Pima Indians who did the killing as well as the Apaches who were the victims of the terrorism. Instead of placing the massacre into a triumphalist narrative or using it merely as evidence of Anglo genocide against American Indians, Jacoby works from the bottom up, meticulously examining the backgrounds and motivations of all involved. The Mexicans, for example, joined in the massacre because of Apache raids on their cattle; Pima and whites used similar justifications of self-defense in a climate of scarce resources. Yet Mexican and American expansionism seriously threatened the Apaches’ nomadic way of life. Federal policy wanted to place Indians on reservations, but many Arizona whites (and Mexicans) followed a de facto policy of extermination. The breadth and depth of Jacoby’s historical recounting casts new light on this dark episode, yet he cautions, “A multitude of narratives flow into and out of the events of April 30, 1871,” and no single “meaning” emerges as definitive.