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Chronicle of the Old West
“This is a haunting story. . . . A good one to add to your Apache Wars reading collection.”—Chronicle of the Old West
Lt. Charles B. Gatewood (1853–1896), an educated Virginian, served in the Sixth U.S. Cavalry as the commander of Indian scouts. Gatewood was largely accepted by the Native peoples with whom he worked because of his efforts to understand their cultures. It was this connection that Gatewood formed with the Indians, and with Geronimo and Naiche in particular, that led to his involvement in the last Apache war and his work for Indian rights.
Realizing that he had more experience dealing with Native peoples than other lieutenants serving on the frontier, Gatewood decided to record his experiences. Although he died before he completed his project, the work he left behind remains an important firsthand account of his life as a commander of Apache scouts and as a military commandant of the White Mountain Indian Reservation. Louis Kraft presents Gatewood’s previously unpublished account, punctuating it with an introduction, additional text that fills in the gaps in Gatewood’s narrative, detailed notes, and an epilogue. Kraft’s work offers new background information on Gatewood and discusses the manuscript as a fresh account of how Gatewood viewed the events in which he took part.
“This is a haunting story. . . . A good one to add to your Apache Wars reading collection.”—Chronicle of the Old West
“Gatewood was an excellent writer with narrative skill and his memoir makes interesting reading.”—Roundup Magazine
"A treasture trove of information on the Apache Wars."—New Mexico Magazine
“The memoir is a fascinating read. To fill in missing details, Kraft has provided excellent commentary and footnotes. Readers will find invaluable Lt. Gatewood’s accounts of his service as chief of Apache scouts, commander of the White Mountain Apache Reservation, and later aide-de-camp to General Nelson Miles. . . . A welcome addition to the literature of the frontier army and Apache relations. . . . The book should provide students of military history and Native American studies a valuable primary source and fascinating chronicle of Apache life in the early reservation era.”—Mark Edwin Miller, Western Historical Quarterly
— Mark Edwin Miller
This chapter is probably the earliest of Gatewood's attempts at recording his Indian experience. Actually, he does not speak of his experiences here; instead, he delivers a discourse on Apache treatment by the U.S. government. Undoubtedly his disgust and frustration at yet another Apache outbreak-an outbreak he felt should not have occurred-prompted him to vent his feelings on the mismanagement and mistreatment of the Apache people.
It is easy to date this draft, as Gatewood gives two references that cannot be mistaken: he refers to Crook's 1883 invasion of Mexico as "since my return from Mexico with the hostile Apaches two years ago," and the Chiricahua outbreak of 1885 as "the present outbreak." Immediately following Geronimo and Naiche's break for freedom on May 17, 1885, Gatewood spent the next month and a half either in the field or recruiting Indian scouts. It is reasonable to assume that the frenzied activity at the beginning of what would become the last Apache war demanded all his waking hours, making it safe to state that Gatewood did not start to write until sometime after July 1, 1885.
As the summer of 1885 wore on, two things became very obvious in Gatewood's life: both his relationship with the White Mountain Apaches and his relationship with Gen. George Crookwere nearing an end. He had been military commandant of the White Mountain Indian Reservation since the fall of 1882, and he had reported directly to Crook and worked closely with his wards since his appointment. By this time, Gatewood had become an expert on the subject of Apaches and their management. He had played a major role in their lives, seen all the ills heaped upon them by the white man, and not only known of their discontent but also sympathized with it. The problems he discusses at the beginning of this chapter he saw firsthand as military agent on the reservation. He immersed himself in what follows during his tenure at White Mountain. The Indians saw this and knew that in Gatewood they had a real friend-someone who would risk everything for them. This is not a small feat. Nor is it one that can be ignored, for it is the key to Gatewood's relationship with Geronimo. They did not have much contact prior to their historic meeting in Mexico in 1886, and yet the old warrior knew that he could trust Gatewood. Why? Because he had heard from the White Mountains and the Chiricahuas, who were lucky enough to come under his control, that here was a man who did not lie. When Gatewood's two native scouts announced that he wanted to meet to discuss ending the war, Geronimo knew that when Gatewood said something, he meant it.
Although Gatewood probably did not intend to write a book about his experiences at the time he drafted these words, his words present a good introduction to one.
The control of the Indians and the management of their affairs are fields so fruitful of discussion, that it may be thought little new can be advanced in regard to the subjects. It would seem, however, that the theories presented are more pronounced, the further their authors are removed from their application and from acquaintance with the character of their subjects. Of those who are in proximity to Indian reservations, some who are moved by apprehensions of danger from their depredations, and most who are influenced by greed for what is invaluable of their possessions are convinced that confinement to the most remote and barren localities, with capital punishment for every discontent, is the only means of safety, while that far distant theorist presents a prompt and happy solution in acts of Congress and the donation of a one hundred and sixty acre farm. From some considerable experience with them, I am convinced that Indians are no different from other persons in that they are governed, actuated, and influenced by self-interest-self-interest as they see it, not as their covetous neighbor or their far distant adviser may see it for them, but as it presents itself to the instincts, tastes, and habits with which they are endowed.
It should be remembered that these people discontinued labor at the building of the tower of Babel, and they still maintain most of their aboriginal customs and loyalty to their nomadic habits. Nothing can be more mistaken than to endeavor to crowd upon them in quick succession the customs of civilization and coerce them to their observance. It is as unreasonable to expect them to realize all at once the benefits of law and order and industrial pursuits, as to be satisfied with the absorption by an alien of whatever is valuable of their bands, and the best fruits of such industries as they may be induced to engage in.
None other than the slowest, most patient, fair, and open processes can succeed in creating them desirable citizens. As promoting to this result some incentives other than legislation and advice are necessary. Grist mills where they can procure flour & the grain they raise themselves in place of its purchase from the sole trader permitted upon the reservation, whose prices are limited only by his conscience; the licensing of more traders, that competition may secure them better prices for their products and less prices for their purchases; the exclusion of intruders from their lands and no special permits to speculators of any description; supplies furnished them to be in quantities as agreed upon and of wholesome quality; the employers furnished to be qualified for their employment and required to engage for the interest of the Indians and not for themselves; schools with intelligent and competent teachers; agents of character who will reside with their constituency and interest themselves faithfully in their welfare. No people more fully understand what belongs to them than Indians, and being equally prompt to resent trespass, trifling matters often lead to most important results. Suspicious, secretive, and averse to experiments, they form conclusions from their own standpoint in every regard to motives and results of varying regulations affecting them, and are quick to retaliate, equally against what is objectionable to them and what they do not comprehend.
The present outbreak  of a small party of Chiricahuas illustrates their aversion to changed methods of administration. By an act of Congress approved the 3rd of March last, the jurisdiction of certain crimes committed by Indians upon their reservations was transferred to the civil courts. Heretofore among these Apaches, this jurisdiction had been exercised by the Indians themselves according to their tribal customs. About the latter part of March or first of April-before it was known to me or to anyone at my headquarters that such an act had passed-I was informed in a private letter from their reservation that the Chiricahuas had learned and were discussing it, and that it was likely to occasion trouble. On April 18th the officer in charge of the police control of the reservation wrote me, inquiring the scope of the act and how it applied to his charge. A newspaper copy had just been received and from it he was informed April 30th-his letter having been delayed by the mail-that the law was operative according to its tenor, from date of approval, and that the Indians should be "thoroughly advised of the law, its operation and its consequences, and that it would be complied with to the letter: that they should be carefully instructed what offences subjected them to arrest and delivery to civil authority for trial, and that for all offences not specified in the law, they would be subject to trial and punishment as heretofore."
These instructions were mailed to the officer on the day of their date, and were communicated to the Indians as directed, and on May 17th, Geronimo and his band left the reservation. There is [no] doubt in my mind that this act of Congress was the moving cause of their doing so.
Simplicity of administration is quite as important as uniformity and fairness. The authority to administer at once upon any matter which may arise, and their confidence in the power and the justice of the one exercising that authority, are the prime elements of their control, and it is the conflicts of authority, delays of redress and the accumulation of small things, undetermined and unsatisfactory, which leads to outbreaks and ultimate disaster. They cannot understand the transfer of their matters from one tribunal to another, the distribution of their affairs into various departments of government, or their reference to higher authority than that charged with their immediate direction. To still further extend this by giving their criminal jurisdiction to the local authorities cannot but occasion such vague ideas of where and to whom they are responsible and how many agencies have a hand in their management. [This] lead[s] to restlessness and disturbance. With them, as with all other people, the possession of property is a potent restraint against disorder; not so much the possession of land, in which they do not as yet realize proprietorship, but movable property, something tangible, stock and goods for comfort and convenience, and everything which will encourage them in its acquirement and afford them opportunity to accumulate, is more than anything else in the direction of their civilization.
Since my return from Mexico with the hostile Apaches two years ago, every effort has been made to procure the erection of mills upon their reservation, to dispossess old intruders [from the reservation] and to exclude new ones, to have more traders licensed among them and discontinue the monopoly by one, to see that healthy and suitable stock was furnished, and to give them a ready cash market for all their surplus produce. Except in the last respect, which was immediately within my own control, my efforts have not been attended with [a desired] success.
It may be claimed with confidence, as showing the effect of even one adjunct to the accumulation of property, that the encouragement of having a ready market for their products restrained those who had planted from engaging in the recent outbreak, and that a chief so noted among them as Geronimo was able to muster less than fifty men to leave their occupations and engage in their native employment of marauding and pillage. Should the other facilities to their self-support be furnished them and they be permitted to manage their internal affairs their own way, under proper restrictions as to the rights of others, I am satisfied that the Apaches in this territory will be in the future as peaceable and progressive as any other Indians in the country.
Excerpted from Lt. Charles Gatewood and His Apache Wars Memoir by Charles B. Gatewood Copyright © 2005 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted August 21, 2011