Gatewood and Geronimoby Louis Kraft
The two pre-eminent warriors of the Apache Wars between 1878 and 1886, Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood of the Sixth United States Cavalry and Chiricahua leader Geronimo, respected one another in peace and feared one another in war. Within two years of his posting to Arizona in 1878, Gatewood became the armys premier "Apache man" as both a commander of Apache scouts
The two pre-eminent warriors of the Apache Wars between 1878 and 1886, Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood of the Sixth United States Cavalry and Chiricahua leader Geronimo, respected one another in peace and feared one another in war. Within two years of his posting to Arizona in 1878, Gatewood became the armys premier "Apache man" as both a commander of Apache scouts and a reservation administrator, but his equitable treatment of Indians aroused the enmity of civilian and military detractors, and the army shunned him. In the late 1870s Geronimo, a medicine man, emerged as a brilliant Chiricahua leader and fiercely resisted his people's incarceration on inhospitable federal reservations. His fight for freedom, often bloody, in New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico triggered the deployment of hundreds of United States and Mexican troops and Apache Scouts to hunt him and his people. In the end, the United States Army recalled Gatewood to Apache service, ordering him into the Sierra Madre of northern Mexico to locate Geronimo and negotiate his band's surrender. Showing the depravity and desperation of the Apache wars, Louis Kraft dramatically recreates Gatewood's final mission and poignantly recalls the United States government's betrayal of the Chiricahuas, Geronimo, and Gatewood at the campaign's end.
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Bay-chen-daysen and the Bedonkohe Warrior
By 1882 the last remaining opposition to white settlement of the Southwest, the Chiricahua Apaches, had been forced onto the San Carlos Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. At least most of them were there. A nomadic people perfectly suited to roaming the arid deserts and mountains of Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico, they were miserable with their confinement. As with any people whose entire lifeway faced cultural genocide, they sullenly accepted their fate. And though few white men made any attempt to know them, one, Bay-chen-daysen, as the Apaches called him, did. Yet he, like the Native Americans with whom he associated, did not willingly choose his station.
Tall, slender, and southern born, Second Lieutenant Charles Gatewood graduated from West Point in 1877. A veteran Indian campaigner since reporting for duty at Fort Apache, Arizona Territory, in 1878 , he found himself the most celebrated member of the Sixth U.S. Cavalry's mess. He did not seek this distinction. If anything, he had a jaded view of the "glorious life" an officer's commission offered. He had no dreams of glory. Four long years had destroyed his youthful illusions of advancement. Service in the Southwest offered hardship, deprivation, and little else. Gatewood had been given a duty to perform and he did itas well as he could.
Fellow officers considered him "cool, quiet, courageous; firm when convinced of right but intolerant of wrong; with a thorough knowledge of Apache character." Although hedid not court colorful descriptions of his capabilities, some reached print. The Mining Journal portrayed Gatewood as a paragon of heroism:
It means that for months at a time he lives with these savages, risking his life upon their faith.... The officer who commands these savages must possess some unusual and even remarkable qualities. He must have a thorough knowledge of the Indian character and tongue. He must be brave, or they would despise him, for if he flinched for a moment they would see it and his influence would vanish.
Gatewood had made a name for himself as an Apache man. He had achieved an enviable success as commander of Apache scouts. Bay-chen-daysen had led a company of Apache scouts from March 31, 1879, to June 30, 1880, and again from November 12, 1881, to the present time.
This success came about in spite of a major shortcoming. Taciturn, Gatewood did not like documenting his activities. His "personal reports of the most thrilling affairs were short, scanty and unsatisfactory; just a report of the ordinary day's work." Gatewood's knack of minimizing his accomplishments did not go unnoticed. "[His] wonderful success in the field was approved, but [his] meager reports as to when, where, and the attendant circumstances left much to be desired." This garnered for him a bad reputation within the Sixth. In spite of this, Gatewood found himself "very popular with the officers and men in military circles," as well as highly regarded: "he was one of the best Indian war soldiers, one of the truest friends and one of the tenderest [sic] souls that God ever let live on this earth."
A major contributor to his success in the field was the equality with which he treated his Indian scouts. Gatewood was a rarity on the frontier. He did not view the Apaches as subhumans to be robbed and stamped out. "I am convinced," he once wrote, "that Indians are no different from other persons ..." His view allowed him to accept the natives as coworkers. This did not mean that he was not careful. He was extremely cautious when it came to recruiting scouts. His reasoning was simple: "The Apache respects nothing, believes in nothing, & bows to nothing, but Force." This understanding allowed him to accept a constant reality: "It therefore happened that the scouts of one year would be turning the Territory topsy-turvy the next, & the officer commanding a company of scouts would be pursuing a party of ex-scouts with an assortment of ex-hostiles." Bay-chen-daysen excelled in his risky business. Time and again, he was able to ride out on a scout with men whom he had hunted just a short time before. Perhaps the main reason Gatewood had achieved so much success by 1882 is that he willingly included the Indians he worked with in his decisions. When on patrol, Gatewood always discussed the next day's line of march with his Apache scouts. He invited their participation and considered their suggestions and concerns. He paid particular attention to anything that worried the scouts. He set great store by their opinions. The Indians could see Gatewood's trust, respect, and lack of fear, and, in turn, they reciprocated.
The Apache people naturally resented the white invasion of their land. As mountain and desert people, they were well prepared to resist the encroachments of the White Eyes.
[The Apache's] mode of warfare was peculiarly his own. He saw no reason for fighting unless there was something tangible and immediate to be gained.... His creed was "fight and run away, live to fight another day." Corner him, however, and you would find him as desperate and dangerous as a wounded wolf.
Only when cornered, or to delay pursuit of his women and children, would he engage a force anywhere near the strength of his own. To fight soldiers merely in defense of his country, he considered the height of folly; and he never committed that folly if he could avoid it.
Years of contact with the Apaches gave Gatewood a thorough understanding of their mode of operations:
Contact with others meant war, for war was his business.... He assembled his warriors near an unsuspecting, or unprotected, settlement, or lay in ambush for a traveling party, and then, at the most propitious moment, a surprise, a rapid & furious attack, women & children carried into captivity, property destroyed or spirited away, & the dead left horribly mutilated & unburied. These wily guerrillas always took good care to have accurate information as to the numbers of their intended victims & their means for defending themselves, so that whenever they attacked, success was pretty well assured.
The Apache nation consisted of four tribes: the Lipan, the Jicarilla, the Mescalero, and the Chiricahua. Each of the tribes was made up of a number of bands. The bands, in turn, were also broken into smaller groups or clans, which could be as small as two families. These bloodlines and family ties, although strong, could not prevent the Apaches from returning again and again to their calling. "Even when they were on their reservations," Gatewood wrote, "they were not peaceable. The most bitter feuds existed between families, bands, tribes & clans, & were handed down from one generation to the other."
The Chiricahuas, the fiercest of the tribes, consisted of three bands (or four bands, depending upon the source). The northern- and eastern-most band ranged westward from the Rio Grande in New Mexico Territory almost all the way to Arizona Territory. The Chiricahua called them Chihenne (cíhéné, Chi-hen-ne, Chihinne), meaning Red Paint People. This band included the Warm Springs (Ojo Caliente), Membreños, Coppermine, and Mogollones Apaches; war chieftains Mangas Coloradas, Victorio, Nana, and Loco came from this band. The central band ranged from southwestern New Mexico through southeastern Arizona territories. Called the Chokonen (cókánén, Cho-kon-en) by the Chiricahuas, they were the first band to have the term Chiricahua applied to them. The band has also been called the Cochise Apaches, after their famous leader; Naiche belonged to this band. The southern band ranged mostly through the northern portions of the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua and the southern tip of New Mexico Territory. They called themselves Bedonkohe (Be-don-ko-he, Bedonkohes, sup.n]dé'[ìndà·í), meaning Enemy People; Geronimo, who was also known as Hieronymo (the actual pronunciation of his name) and Goyahkla, Goyankla, or Goyathlay (all of which mean One Who Yawns), belonged to this band. The fourth band called themselves Nednhi (Netdahe, Nednai). They ranged through the Sierra Madre in Mexico; Juh belonged to this band.
Although bathed in blood since the coming of the Spaniards, the tribe never came together to meet the continual onslaught by invaders. Struggling against very unfavorable odds, they usually prevailed because they could thrive in their rugged homeland, while other races could not. Finally subdued in the 1870s, the Chiricahuas (except for a portion of the tribe that remained free in Mexico) found themselves banished to a reservation in eastern Arizona. In 1875, all the Arizona reservation Apaches were removed to the White Mountains. Their new homewhich mixed Apache tribes unfriendly with each otherwould eventually be called San Carlos. The Chiricahuas did not understand why all this had come about.
They kept asking what or whom it was that gave [white] men the right to act in such a way. Had their God told them to behave so? If that were the case, they certainly wanted nothing to do with Him! ... The Whites plundered their land, stole their horses, killed their people, and destroyed their villages; why then did the Whites find it so strange when the destitute Apache raided in return? Finally, the Whites said they would give them reservations. Yet how could they give the Apache that which already belonged to them in the first place?
By 1882 Cochise and Mangas Coloradas were dead; and so was Victorio, killed by Mexican treachery. Juh, the Nednhi chieftain, became the dominant war leader. Also known as Ju, Ho, Whoa, and sometimes Who, he stood over six feet and weighed 225 pounds.
Two others, Geronimo and Naiche, would play prominent roles in the last Apache wars. Geronimo, an aging Bedonkohe warrior (approaching his sixtieth birthday) and sometime mystic, burned with a desire to be free. His heart also burned for vengeance. There were not many who dared to cross him. His ferocity in battle was well known, but there was much more to him than merely blood lust.
Some twelve years before, about 1870, he traveled at great risk to Juh's camp in southeastern Arizona, to be with his favorite sister, Ishton, as she gave birth to Juh's son, Daklugie. After Ishton suffered for four days without delivering her child, Geronimo, who officiated as medicine man, feared his sister would die. Distraught, he went off by himself into the Chiricahua Mountains to pray to UssenGod, the Creator of Life. Daklugie, who as a boy saw much of the horror of the final years of his peoples' freedom, retold the story as he heard it:
As Geronimo stood with arms and eyes upraised, as our people do, Ussen spoke. Geronimo heard His voice clearly, ... Ussen told Geronimo that his sister [would] live, and he promised my uncle that he would never be killed but would live to a ripe old age and would die a natural death.
Continuing, Daklugie offered an insight that may be very close to the mark:
Ussen's promise is what gave Geronimo his wonderful courage. He was by nature already a brave person; but if one knows that he will never be killed, why be afraid?
During this time, Geronimo and a small group of Bedonkohesmostly his relativeswho followed his lead although he never was elected chieftain, frequently found themselves living near Juh's Nednhis.
The other Chiricahua who would soon be pressed into the limelight was indeed a chieftain. As Cochise's son, the twenty-six-year-old Naiche (Natchez, Nachite) was both an elected and a hereditary Chokonen chieftain. Tall, slender, good-looking, he performed well on the warpath, but his hatred for the White Eyes did not begin to match Geronimo's. Even though they were different in temperament, Geronimo and Naiche would become partners in the final fight to save their culture and their lives.
Officers who drew Apache duty found it to be very demanding. Although still a young man, Gatewood had already begun to feel the consequences of his continued exposure. Patrol duty often lasted for months, and he found the harsh rigors of living in the field increasingly difficult. Shortly after recruiting a company of Apache scouts (in April 1880) to watch Juh and Geronimo, who had come in to San Carlos, Gatewood became ill with inflammatory rheumatism and reported to Camp Thomas for medical treatment. His condition worsened and he was relieved of command.
Even though he recovered, his rheumatism never left him. On May 1, 1881, Bay-chen-daysen furnished his superiors with a certificate, signed by Dr. Basil Norris, that stated "he had rheumatism of knee, ankle, hip and shoulder, the result of exposure in line of duty in Arizona." Based on this report, Gatewood drew leave from May 5 to July 5. Aches and pains aside, he had a much more important reason for wanting time off. His health be damned; he was in love. In June, he traveled east to Frostburg, Maryland, where he married his sweetheart, Georgia McCulloh, on June 23. Whenever he found himself in the field, he always came back to this memoryespecially during the month of June. Although they would have many separations in the years to come, Georgia happily braved life on the various barren military postssometimes living in garrisons other than those where Gatewood was stationed.
July 5, 1881, came and went. Gatewood did not report back to Fort Apache or return to duty. Perhaps he needed more time to recover his health. Maybe he did not want his honeymoon to end. Probably it was a mixture of these two reasons, combined with government inefficiency that caused a request for extended leave to be lost. For several months his idyll continued, uninterrupted. Suddenly, on September 5, Gatewood found himself absent without leave. He was informed that the General of the Army desired an explanation. The AWOL lieutenant hastily returned to active duty that September.
Duty as a soldier kept him in the field for long intervals, and during these extended absences Gatewood's concern for Georgia deeply troubled him. His letters to her often spoke of his worry over her well-being and of his love for her and their children to be.
Five hundred Chiricahua recalcitrants remained in Mexico's Sierra Madre, where Mexicans did not welcome their presence any more than the Americans. Blood was often spilled, only to be followed by a time of peace. This usually happened when the Apaches needed supplies, rest, or wanted to go on a drunk. Unlike the situation in the United States, they could make peace with individual Mexican towns.
There was another need that drove the militant Chiricahuas: their diminishing numbers threatened their survival. In order to prosper in the wild, a unique division of labor had to be observed. Women played an essential role in Apache society, and when there were too few females, more had to be recruited. By April 1882, Geronimo knew they needed more people to join them in the Sierra Madre. Along with Juh, Naiche, and Chatto (a Chiricahua war leader), he led a group across the international boundary and headed north to the San Carlos Reservation.
The raiders chose Loco's Chihenne band to merge with them. It did not matter that most of Loco's people wanted to remain at peace on the reservation; Geronimo forced the old chieftain's peopleit was said at rifle pointto leave their homes between the Gila and San Carlos rivers. None dared disobey; they saw their abductors kill chief of police Albert Sterling and one of his Indian scouts. When some of the reservation Apaches resisted, one of Geronimo's warriors shouted: "Take them all! No one is to be left in camp. Shoot down anyone who refuses to go with us!"
During the flight for freedom, Geronimo led everyone southeast, doing everything he could to avoid contact with the white troops he knew hounded his trail. Traveling at night, he skirted the mountains that paralleled the San Simon River. By this time, his raiders had killed more than fifty people.
Geronimo's captives were exhausted when he reached a spring in the Stein's Peak Range, some forty miles due east of Fort Grant, Arizona. During the break, his warriors discovered Indian scouts from the soldiers closing in and killed four of them. Then the soldiers attacked, and one warrior died in the engagement. Geronimo held his ground; his position was good and the soldiers left. Even so, the White Eyes were too close, and Geronimo had to move again. That night he moved out onto the wide San Simon Valley.
When he was on the warpath, Geronimo fixed it so that morning wouldn't come too soon. He did it by singing. Once we were going to a certain place, and Geronimo didn't want it to become light before he reached it. He saw the enemy while they were in a level place, and he didn't want them to spy on us. He wanted morning to break after we had climbed over a mountain, so that the enemy couldn't see us. So Geronimo sang, and the night remained for two or three hours longer. I saw this myself.
By morning Geronimo and his people reached an assembly point in the Chiricahua Mountains. The old warrior rested everyone during the day. Traveling again at night, he reached Mexican soil without further trouble. But outdistancing the threat of American bullets did not staunch the possibility of bloodshed, for the Mexicans also tried hard to kill Apaches. Yet Geronimo felt safe. Apaches usually handled the Mexicans easily, and he knew the white soldiers could not follow him across the Mexican border. He knew he was safe.
* * *
Geronimo was wrong. Captains Tullius C. Tupper and William A. Rafferty, with two companies of Sixth U.S. Cavalry and two of Indian scouts, reached the international boundary. Although they had no authority to cross the line, Tupper, who outranked Rafferty because of his seniority, decided to risk his career and illegally continued the hunt.
Further north, Gatewood's Apache scouts were dispersed in an irregular line, moving "at a rough, shambling walk ... with no semblance of regularity; individual fancy alone governed [their advance]." They typically wore a calico shirt, cotton trousers, and moccasins that were highly prized and never abandoned. Each scout also wore a scarlet headband.
Gatewood and his scouts accompanied Captain Charles G. Gordon's (Sixth U.S. Cavalry) pursuit of the Chiricahuas, pounding down the southbound trail. On the morning of April 24 they came upon Lieutenant Colonel George A. (Sandy) Forsyth's command of six companies of Fourth U.S. Cavalry, and outranked, Gatewood and Gordon joined Forsyth.
Under a blazing sun, men and livestock suffered from thirst as the combined command continued to track the fleeing Indians. Forsyth's command rested at Horse Shoe Canyon, where everyone drank a pint of water; then they pushed on to Stein's Pass. At noon the next day, scouts found Geronimo's trail six miles to the west. The signs remained easy to follow, until at 6:30 P.M. the trail abruptly ended. The Chiricahuas had scattered in all directions. But tired as they were, Forsyth's command pressed onward and did not make camp until 10:00 P.M. Half an hour later, Captain Adna Chaffee (Sixth U.S. Cavalry), with a troop, and Lieutenant Frank West (Sixth U.S. Cavalry), with Indian scouts, found the camp.
Next day the hunt continued without Chaffee. When scouts again found the Indians' trail, the tracks showed clearly that they were heading for the Mexican border. First their trail hugged the foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains, then ventured out onto the San Simon Valley. After another long day, the march ended at 9:30 P.M. They had covered forty miles and had not drunk any water since ten in the morning.
At daylight, everyone was back in the saddle. Suddenly the trail ended; the fleeing people had scattered once again. Gatewood and everyone else knew it was unlikely they would catch the Indians before they reached the border. But now there was something even more importantwater. The chase halted until good water was found at Cloverdale Ciénagas, then it continued on to the border. As expected, the Chiricahuas had won the race to the international line. Forsyth had orders not to cross into Mexico, but after seeing evidence that Tupper and Rafferty had already done so, he decided to follow their lead.
* * *
Geronimo moved southeastward. Now in Chihuahua, but still far from his destination, he continued to travel at night. He camped at a spring at the base of the Sierra Enmedio, a small mountain range. Since freeing Loco's people, Geronimo had lost one in battle, along with a few of Loco's band who refused to go to Mexico and had slipped away under the cover of darkness.
Both Geronimo and Juhwho, Geronimo once said, "was like a brother to me"liked to party. They had pulled off a pretty big coup, and it was time to celebrate. The people cooked mescal, ate, and drank long into the night. Just before dawn, a man and three women left camp looking for more mescal and walked right into a company of Indian scouts, who opened fire; all four died. Although not ready to attack, soldiers fired into the camp from a hill on the opposite side of the valley. The camp sprang to life as soldiers' bullets slammed into it from above.
Apaches returned the soldiers' fire, with Geronimo, Juh, and their brothers holding their ground. However, most of their shots went high as they fired at the soldiers above them. The fight did not go well for the Chiricahuas. Too many people had fallen, including a woman who thought her son was fighting with the attacking Indian scouts. Loco was wounded in the leg. Then, as the sun neared its zenith, the soldiers unexpectedly pulled away. Geronimo knew they had been hit by Americans. This was not a good sign. American soldiers had followed him into Mexico.
Some eight hours after the fight, Forsyth pounded into Tupper and Rafferty's camp; Gatewood, Gordon, and West rode with him. Everyone realized that had they gotten there sooner, they could have dealt the Apaches a crippling blow. Forsythwhom the Apaches called Always Too Late to Fightvented his fury at missing an opportunity to crush the recalcitrant Indians.
With the addition of Rafferty and Tupper's force, Forsyth now commanded 450 men. Sensing victory within his grasp, Forsyth wanted to move out, but Rafferty and Tupper's men needed rest. Instead of dividing his force, Forsyth remained in camp. The next morning, Forsyth found the battle site deserted, and decided to press deeper into Mexico.
Geronimo and the people with him moved out onto the Janos Plains. Most were now afoot, many were wounded. When Geronimo called a halt, Naiche, Chatto, both of whom had horses, and about a dozen other warriors refused to stop. They continued on, oddly not remaining with the women and children.
After sleeping for a little over an hour, Geronimo and Juh had Loco's band once again on the move. They covered twenty-nine miles that night. East of Aliso Creek, they found themselves surrounded by small hills. They could see their destinationthe Sierra Madrein the distance, but first they had to cross the Janos River.
As they moved, Geronimo and most of the warriors who did not desert the women hung to the back of the strung-out line, guarding against another American attack. A few warriors who were in the lead of the line of march stopped to rest and smoke. Not tired, or perhaps anxious to reach the safety of the Sierra Madre, the women and children passed them. Suddenly, after only traveling a few hundred yards, shots rang out. They had walked into an ambush. Mexican soldiers charged into the long spindly line of refugees, shooting women and children as they ran. "People were falling and bleeding, and dying on all sides of us. Whole families were slaughtered on the spot, wholly unable to defend themselves."
Geronimo and the other warriors in the rear raced to their peoples' defense. Geronimo yelled for "the men to gather around him and make a stand to protect the women and children." Thirty-two warriors responded to his cry. Women dug a rifle pit in an arroyo. By now the Mexicans had surrounded the Apaches. The fight lasted until dark.
Someone set the grass on fire. Geronimo claimed the Apaches did it to hide their escape. Batsinas, an eleven-year-old Chihenne Apache who would later be known as Jason Betzinez, said the Mexicans torched the vegetation to force the Indians into the open.
Geronimo yelled: "If we leave the women and children we can escape."
Those within hearing of Geronimo could not believe what they heard. "What did you say?" Fun, Geronimo's half-brother, asked. "Repeat that."
"Come on!" Geronimo said. "Let's go."
Fun pointed his rifle at Geronimo. "Say that again and I'll shoot."
Geronimo did not bother to reply. He turned, climbed out of the rifle pit, and disappeared into the smoky darkness.
Knowing the infants' cries would alert the Mexicans, the warriors askedand received permissionto kill them. A harsh reality, but one that Chiricahuas accepted. Then, miraculously, they slipped beyond the Mexican lines and escaped. Seventy-eight Apaches died, most of whom were women and children. Another thirty-three women and children were captured.
Forsyth came upon Colonel Lorenzo García and the Sixth Mexican Infantry the day after the battle. Told by García to vacate Mexican soil, Forsyth stated that he was in pursuit of the fleeing Indians. The Mexican commander curtly showed the Americans the battle site, then repeated his demand, making it clear that if the Americans did not leave he would attack them. With García's formal complaint in hand, Forsyth returned to the United States.
Pleased that the Mexican government had not made more out of the illegal entry onto their soil by American soldiers, the U.S. Army brass turned its back on the excursion into Mexico. Reports were returned to officers who had written them. As far as the army was concerned, the expedition into Mexico had not occurred. The less known about the disobedience of orders, the better.
The pursuit most likely affected Gatewood's painful joints. Luckily, this time the malady did not require sick leave. Changes were about to take place in Arizona, and it was no time to be absent.
Although Geronimo had been at San Carlos in 1880, Gatewood had yet to meet him. Certainly he had no idea that the Bedonkohe Chiricahua's excursion that April of 1882 precipitated a multitude of events, ... events that would place him in a pivotal role and thrust both of them on a collision course that would put their lives at stake.
Meet the Author
Louis Kraft, an independent historian, lives in North Hollywood, California. He is the author of Custer and the Cheyennes: George Armstrong Custer’s Winter Campaign on the Southern Plains.
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