Saturday, October 13, 2018

When Did The American Indian Wars End?

Ute and Paiute Indians involved in the Posey War

Dear Friends, 

First, I'm sorry for not posting as offend as I usually have. It seems that getting ready for Winter, finishing my book which is a collection of my Old West stories, and fighting a couple of medical problems, I haven't been able to sit and finish a post for you. Frankly, I really feel bad about that since I appreciate that you like my work and don't want to disappoint you.

If you've been a reader for a while, then you know that I've disagreed with some who have said that the Old West period went from 1865 to 1895. For me, I've always believed that the Old West was still wild and woolly up into the 1920s well after World War One. So what do I base this one? Well, the last events that were in fact connected to the Old West and the American Indian Wars where the participants acted no differently than others in the same situations in the 1800s.

The Battle of Kelley Creek, 1911

For example, in January of 1911, a small band of Shoshone and Bannock Indians killed four Range Detectives at a ranch after they trailed the Indians. They followed them in an effort to arrest them for stealing cattle. Their deaths is contributed to the Battle of Kelley Creek, which is also known as the Last Massacre. That even is often considered to be one of the last known massacres carried out between Native American tribes and the United States at the end of the American Indian Wars.

After the Range Detectives were found murdered, lawmen formed a posse of local citizens and set out to track down the Indians responsible for what took place. They were the Indians camped at Kelley Creek near Winnemucca, Nevada.

In what is considered a one-sided engagement on February 25th, 1911 with nine Indians being killed. One American was wounded. At the time the incident was sensationalized as a Native American revolt of some sort, when in reality it had to do with cattle thieves in a shootout with law enforcement.

The Battle of Bear Valley, 1918

The Battle of Bear Valley was a small engagement which took place in January of 1918 between a band of Yaqui Indians and the U.S. Army. It started on January 9th of that year when elements of 10th Cavalry Regiment encountered 30 or more armed Yaqui Indians in Bear Valley, Arizona. 

It's said that in 1918, the Yaqui people were still at war with Mexico. They had been several years over the Yaqui wanting to establish an independent state in Sonora, Mexico. Their war bled into the United States because a large number of Yaqui were driven north and had crossed into Arizona. 

In reality, many of them went to work on the farms in the citrus groves of in Tucson. They worked and got paid for their work the same as everyone else. But the Yaqui were known to spend their wages on guns and ammunition, which they would send to their tribe in Mexico to carry on the fight with the Mexican government. 

Yes, a hundred years ago, the Yaqui Indians were buying guns and ammo in Arizona and smuggling them across the border. The Mexican government complained to the United States and requested help in dealing with what they considered was a huge problem. 

If this sounds a lot like the situation with the Mexican Drug Cartels today, here's something that also hasn't changed in a hundred years. Arizona ranchers reported large numbers of cattle being stolen and butchered, as well as a many clashes with armed Yaqui from Mexico who were moving across the border freely.

The United States Border Patrol had not yet been established, and the job of protecting Americans along the border was part of the mission of the United States Army since the Constitution states that our Federal government is responsible for protecting our borders. 

The troops out of Fort Huachuca commanded the Nogales, Arizona, sub-district. At the time, it was home of the U.S. Army 35th Infantry. The Army orders increased patrols of the area where the attacks on American ranchers were increasing. The 35th Infantry Regiment stationed at Camp Stephen D. Little in Nogales was joined by the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers who were assigned to protect American towns on and near our Southern border. 

A unit of roughly 30 combat soldiers, accompanied by their service and support contingent, maintained a camp at Atascosa Canyon in Bear Valley because that are was seen as "strategic natural crossing" into Mexico. U.S. Army Captain Ryder was in command.  

On January 8th, local rancher Philip C. Clarke who owned the Ruby Mercantile, rode into their camp to report that his neighbor found a cow butchered for its hide in the mountains. While the meat was left and not used, it was very evident that its hide was used by the Yaqui to make sandals. Captain Ryder sent First Lieutenant William Scott and a detail to check out the situation and watch the trails for any Yaqui activity in the area.

According to reports, about the middle of the afternoon Lieutenant Scott had First Sgt. Samuel H. Alexander alert the troops to a long column of Yaqui crossing the border on a ridge. Within a few minutes, it's said the troops were mounted and left to pursue the Yagui.

During their search for the Yaqui, the soldiers came across the Yaqui who opened fire from positions which offered cover in a rocky area. The troops returned fire and "a typical Indian war skirmish began."

One report stated, "the fighting developed into an old kind of Indian engagement with both sides using all the natural cover of boulders and brush to full advantage. The Yaquis kept falling back, dodging from boulder to boulder and firing rapidly. They offered only a fleeting target, seemingly just a disappearing shadow. The officer saw one of them running for another cover, then stumble and thereby expose himself. A corporal alongside of the captain had a good chance for an open shot. At the report of the Springfield, a flash of fire enveloped the Indian's body for an instant, but he kept on to the rock."

What became known as Battle of Bear Valley resulted in the death of the Yaqui commander and the capture of nine others. Some consider the skirmish, the last time the U.S. Army engaged a Native American tribe in combat. 

Was this the final battle of the American Indian Wars? No.

The Posey War, 1923

I really believe that dubious honor goes to what is known as the Posey War that took place in March of 1923. Yes, March of 1923. While not completely never heard of, unlike previous engagements during the Indian Wars, it's said that lawmen and their possess took the lead. The U.S. Army offered support, but it was not used. 

For 40 years, between 1881 and 1921, that Paiute and Ute Indian band of Bluff, Utah, fought in several engagements against the U.S. Army, local militia, lawmen, Mormon settlers, as well as other Indian tribes. The band was nomadic and liked to roam. They also didn't get along with other Indians on their Reservation.

By the 1920s, the band was very well known for their assortment of conflicts over the years. Their leader was Chief Posey who was not a purebred Paiute, and was actually half Mexican. He married into the Ute Mountain tribe. By 1923, he was in his sixties when he and about 90 Paiute and Ute men, women and children, left their lands and went into the mountains after helping two Ute young men escape the local authorities. 

In February of 1923, a couple of young men of the Posey band attacked a sheepranch at Cahone Mesa. Besides robbing and beating the rancher, it's said that they killed some of his livestock and destroyed his property -- which supposedly included setting a bridge on his property ablaze. The two perpetrators were identified and County Sheriff William Oliver was notified. Knowing that the law was after them, the two surrendered to Sheriff Oliver in Blanding. While in custody, the young men are said to have gotten food poisoning. After receiving medical attention, the two were allowed to go home, with the agreement that they would return for trial. 

When the trial began on March 20, Chief Posey and a few of his men attended the trial. When the court adjourned at noon, Sheriff Oliver took the two young men to lunch. That's when things turned sour. 

Sheriff George A. Hurst was present at the trial and made the following statement of what happened next:

"Joe Bishop's boy was walking upon a large stick as though he were crippled or incapacitated.... After hearing evidence presented for and against the accused, Joe Bishop's boy was found guilty and at 12:00 noon he was placed in the hands of Sheriff Oliver, to have lunch. He was to reappear at 3:00 p.m. for sentencing. Immediately upon the adjournment of court, all the white men left and went home for lunch, leaving no one there but the sheriff, George A. Hurst, Jr., a few school children, and a band of angry Utes.... After quite a while trying to persuade the Indian boy to go without any avail, Sheriff Oliver got on his horse, rode up to Joe Bishop's boy...and insisted that he come along without any further trouble and get their lunch. Whereupon, the young Ute threw away the big stick that he had been walking on, grabbed the reins of the horse the sheriff was riding, and jerking with all his might. At this point, Sheriff Oliver whipped out his gun and attempted to shoot the Indian, but the gun spiked, and would not fire. Joe Bishop's boy grabbed the horn of the saddle with one hand, the other seizing the gun that Oliver held. He wrenched the gun from the sheriff's hand and with one leap, sprang into the saddle of Jess Posey's [Chief Posey's son] race horse with Jess, stood holding and headed north. As he started off he tried to get the gun to work. He had only gone about 200 yards when he succeeded and over his shoulder he shot the sheriff's horse in the neck."

So Chief Posey and his Ute and Piute followers helped the two young braves escape the Blanding authorities. As they attempted to flee the area, right behind them was a quickly gathering posse. The few men in the posse all tried to jump into a Model T Ford automobile to chase after Posey and his band. At one point, Posey is said to have stopped and turned around.

At that point, the old Chief used a .30-06 rifle to shoot the Motor T Ford in the radiator. Thus ending the chase for a while. The lawmen had to regroup. As for Chief Posey and his band? They were now wanted, so they headed north to the desert around of Navajo Mountain. 

If you think fake news is just a recent problem, keep in mind that it's always been around. The difference today is that it's on the mainstream media on television, radio, in magazines, and the newspapers. Following the bands exit from their lands, newspapers at the time accused Chief Posey and his band of being involved in a number of rapes and murders in the area. Though all were lies, the reports had the effect they wanted and incited hate for the Posey band.

On March 22nd, the Times-Independent is reported to have run an the article with the sensational title, "Piute Band Declares War on Whites in Blanding." The article is said to have described the situation as deadly and dire as "County Commissioners had requested permission from Utah Governor Charles Mabey to allow the use of a military scout plane to bomb and strafe the natives." 

At the same time this was going on, there were other newspapers reporting that there was a $100 reward on Posey's head by the state of Utah, supposedly "dead or alive." That wasn't true. 

The Salt Lake Tribune's editor C. F. Sloane was in Blanding when he wrote fake reports of what was taking place regard the Posey band. He stated that the town of Blanding was experiencing thirty-six hours of terrorism with Ute Indians in full war paint riding through the streets. Sloane claimed that Posey was putting together what Slaone called a "mobile squadron" to rob the San Juan State Bank. He lied about Posey having "sixty men skilled in the art of mountain warfare awaiting the call to service."

And just for the record, many of you my regular readers have heard me say that I use period newspapers as sources. It's newspapers like that, and others like The Tombstone Epitaph that I always take with a grain of salt. Many were just biased hate mongering rags. Many were filled with sensationalism to increase circulation and sell papers. 

Fake news over this incident was horrible. Of course, it didn't go unnoticed by locals in Blanding who knew what was really happening. It's said that a local resident actually took a news reporter to task at one point to ask why he wasn't reporting the truth? The reporter is said to have responded, "We're not ready to go home yet, and if we don't keep something going, we'll be getting a telegram to come home." 

With the help of the fake news of the time, gossip and rumors circulated to frighten the public in the area into believing that an Indian War was about to escalate. In 1923, there were a lot of people still young enough to remember what the full-scale Indian Wars were all about. There were many people there at the time who lived through such a war. Subsequently, folks in Blanding and Bluff reacted by organizing a posse. Their posse was mostly made up of the Mormon militia. They quickly mounted up and went after Chief Posey and his band to stop a full Indian War from starting. Fact is, it didn't take long for the posse to  immediately jumped on Posey's trail. 

The Battle of Comb Ridge

It was the next day that the posse caught up with Posey and his twenty miles from Blanding. Believing that the posse would kill all of them including their women and children, Chief Posey and his men took positions on Comb Ridge to hold off the posse while their women and children escaped. Right after the gunbattle, the band decided to surrendered rather than be killed. 

There were those later who spread the rumor that the old Chief was killed by flour that was supposedly poisoned by Mormons. There is no evidence that the Mormons ever poisoned flour. As far as I can see, that is a horribly false urban legend that got started to make Mormons look like genocidal killers. The truth about Chief Posey is that he died from an infection due to a gunshot wound that he received during the battle at Comb Ridge. And while it's said that posse member Bill Young shot Chief Posey and wounded him as his band was trying to get away, there is the belief that Posey was shot and died later after he killed one of the young men who beat and robbed that sheep rancher. 

The fake news jumped in and ran a number of different stories including how a  he died in flash flood after being washed away into a canyon. And since Chief Posey was his sixties at the time, there was a fake story going around that he died of a heart attack during the battle of Comb Ridge and he was buried where the Mormons couldn't find his body. 

The remaining members of the band were taken prisoners and placed into custody in Blanding. A few days later, they were all released when Chief Posey's body was found in Comb Wash. Blanding Marshal Jesse Ray Ward was summoned to officially identify the body and certify the chief's death. Marshal Ward had Posey's body buried in an unmarked grave in an attempt to stop people from digging it up for one reason or another. It's too bad that Marshal Ward's plan for the Chief's body didn't work. Later, we know that those who wanted to put the Chief on display got their way. Yes, it's true, the Chief's body was dug up at least twice by people there who wanted to have their picture taken with the corpse. Imagine that.

Some call it Chief Posey's War, and it ran from March 20th to the 23rd, 1923. It is the last of the American Indian Wars. When it was over, Chief Posey and Joe Bishop's son who beat and robbed that sheep rancher were the sole fatalities during the conflict. As for wounded or killed posse members? No one on the posse was killed or wounded. Fact is, for the authorities, the only casualty on the side of the posse was a horse which one of the Posey band shot and killed. 

As for the Model T Ford which took a .30-06 round to its radiator, it was repaired. 

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. It's kind of crazy to think that the American Indian Wars lasted until the 1920s. At that time, you had Hollywood cowboy actors such as William S. Hart, Tim McCoy, and Tom Mix acting out what was really going on out West. That was just one of the many times you might have heard your old pal say, "I'd take cover if I were you. Them ain't cap guns I hear". No kidding. Thanks for the article, Tom.


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