Monday, May 18, 2020

The Camp Grant Massacre 1871


As with police departments when there's a drop in the crime rate, and the military during peacetime, budgets get slashed and allocations are cut. That situation was what the people in Tucson, Arizona, saw happening when the reduction of Indian hostilities took place in that area in the early 1870s.

It was a region that feared an economic crisis because the Federal government saw the cessation of hostilities as a good reason to reduce funding for operations meant to pacify and control the Apaches. It's said that Tucson as a whole enjoyed a sense of prosperity as a result of the "blankets for peace" government program. The economy there was as dependent on war with the Indians as some cities today are dependent on automakers keeping their plants operating.

It's not a new story at all. It's a story that was played out in the Old West time and time again. When that which feeds the local economy stops being there, businesses fail, people lose their jobs, and ghost towns are all that's left. When the cattle drives dried up, so did several of the cowtowns that cheated and hated the drovers young and old. Of the ones that survived, it was usually due to people staying put and finding other means of industry. For example, when mines went bust so did mining towns. The town of Tombstone can thank Hollywood and tourist for keeping that town alive.

In early 1871, there were those in Arizona who saw it their civic duty to increase hostilities with the Indians -- just to stoke public fear and get the Federal government to increase federal funding to keep the troops there and the "blankets for peace" program intact. 

Fort Grant was established in August 1860 in the Arizona Territory as outpost named Fort Breckinridge. In 1871, Fort Grant, also known as Camp Grant, was a sun-scorched collection of assorted adobe buildings. Located about 50 miles Northeast of Tucson, it sat at the convergence of the San Pedro River and Aravaipa Creek. It was a place the Apache knew as their home long before their tribe had been driven away by American soldiers. The prelude to the massacre started in February of 1871 when five starving Aravaipa Apache women arrived at Camp Grant seeking sanctuary. 

Early in 1871, 37-year-old First Lieutenant Royal Emerson Whitman assumed command of Camp Grant. Lt. Royal Whitman was the officer in charge of the Post and he decided that they could settle at the Camp after meeting with them. In reality, he took them in as "prisoners of war. In that way they would be under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army. Of course, by his allowing them to settle at the camp, he and the U.S.Army became responsible for their protection and providing them with the food they needed.

Soon, over 500 more Aravaipas arrived at the fort. Led by Chief Eskiminzin, he requested that the Apaches be allowed to grow crops along the creek so they they could help feed their people. Lt. Whitman gave them permission to do so and even arranged for the Apaches to work as ranchhands for local ranchers -- all so that the Indians could earn money and assimilate into American society.

The Apaches saw this as an opportunity to lead happy peaceful live on their home territory beside the creek that had provided their water. This was a huge change for the Apache who knew that living near white settlers always brought problems. But since the U.S. Army in this situation was now their protector, they hoped this time would be different. Sadly, it wasn't.

By March, things started to erupt for the worse. A renegade band of Indians attacked a baggage train and two men were murdered. The renegades who some say were Yavapais Indians and not Apache Indians also stole 16 mules in the raid. Later that month, a rancher was killed and a Mexican woman from the south of Tucson was kidnapped. Soon old fears were inflamed and outraged residents of Tucson sent representatives to see U.S.Army Gen. George Stoneman for protection. 

Gen. Stoneman was responsible for all military policies in the Arizona Territory. He had stationed his 3rd Calvary northeast of Tucson. Though the people of Tucson saw this as his leaving them without military protection, Gen. Stoneman did not move his troops closer to Tucson.

A few weeks later in early April, another Indians again raid took place on ranch. This time 19 head of cattle were stolen. Word of the raid got to the people of Tucson and immediately the citizenry gathered. Even after realizing that the news of the attack was delivered by Papagos Indians who were the sworn enemy of the Apaches, a large posse was organized to go after any and all Arivaipa Apache Indians. 

By the end of the posse's first day out, they found and killed an old Indian man who was identified as being an Arivaipa Apache from Camp Grant. The posse was not as fortunate later in skirmishes with renegades. In those battles, three whites were killed about 30 miles from Camp Grant. They returned to Tucson with little to show for their efforts against the renegades. 

On April 30th, 1871, things would go horribly wrong for the Arivaipa Apache at Camp Grant. Two days before that on April 28th, 148 Arizonans, comprised of six Americans, 48 Mexicans, and 94 San Xavier Papagos Indians began to leave Tucson a few at a time to avoid suspicion. 

Their leader was an Americans by the name of William S. Oury. He organizer of the raid. Oury was known as an easily angered Virginian, and he had fought in the Texas war for independence including serving at the Alamo and in the Mexican War. The leader of the Mexicans was a skilled tracker by the name of Jesus Elias. Apaches had recently attacked the Elias homestead, killing two of Elias’ brothers. So yes, Jesus Elias had a score to settle -- and it didn't matter if the Indians that he would kill had anything to do with killing his brothers.

The 6 Americans and 48 Mexicans were joined by 94 San Xavier Papagos Indians led by their chief Francisco. They hated Apaches and welcomed the chance to rid the earth of them. It was an age old hatred that may have been around before the first Europeans stepped foot on North American soil.

The 148 Arizonan raiders were armed to the teeth and headed for Camp Grant to inflict as much death on the Arivaipa Apache as humanly possible. They were not after the raiding renegades. They simply wanted to exterminate Apache -- their being peaceful didn't matter.

After traveling for two days under the cover of darkness, the raiders arrived at Camp Grant. Hiram Stevens, a friend of Oury's stood guard at the intersection of the road to Camp Grant to prevent any early warning and detection, while the raiders gathered outside the camp where the Apaches slept. 

There, just before dawn of April 30, 1871, eight Arivaipa Apache men and 110 Arivaipa Apache women and children were brutally murdered in the brief span of 30 minutes. It's true, the Papagos Indians used clubs and lances while the Americans and Mexicans attackers used rifles and pistols to 118 Arivaipa Apache men, women and children in just 30 minutes. 

And besides the brutal attack, 28 Arivaipa Apache babies were kidnapped from the ghastly scene. Why steal the babies? To sale them in the child slave trade in Mexico. 

By the time Lt. Whitman got word that armed Arizonans intended to raid the Apaches at Camp Grant, it was simply too late to act. By that time, the Indians had already been slaughtered. And when the soldiers led by Lt. Whitman finnally arrived at the Apache encampment, it was half past seven that same morning. 

Whitman and his men which included their Post Surgeon Conant B. Briesly were met with corpses left to rot in the morning sun of Arivaipa Canyon. It was said to be a macabre sight that made most of the combat hardened troops sick to their stomachs. And among the dead, the troops found only one woman alive. Dr. Conant B. Briesly chronicled the sight in his log. Lt. Whitman made his report to Gen. Stoneman later.

Lt. Whitman had the bodies buried, and immediately sent interpreters into the mountains in an effort to locate the Apache men and assure them that his soldiers had not participated in the "vile transaction". Its said that because of Lt. Whitman efforts, the surviving Aravaipa Apache began returning to Camp Grantby the following day. Of course, after the massacre several groups of Apaches joined up with the Yavapais in the Tonto Basin. From there they waged a guerrilla warfare which lasted into the 1880s.

So yes, with the animosity at full boil on both sides, a boil that would not simmer down for years to come, the merchants of Tucson got their wish of extending the hostilities for their financial gain -- even if their gain came with the murder of 118 innocents and later the lives of American troops. 

If one wants to know what sort of darkness celebrates killing men, women, and children, those 148 Arizonans are it. It's said that by eight o'clock that morning, the 148 Arizonans responsible for that horrible act, for undertaking such an evil deed, were having breakfast and celebrating what they did in Tucson itself. Believe it or not, though their victims were defenseless and sleeping, those Arizonans saw what they did as a victory over the Apache. 

Leading up to this, we know that atrocities were committed by both the white man and the Indians. By the 1870s, American immigrants were moving into the Western Frontier by the thousands. As what took place in other regions where people flood into an area, they exhaust the native food and water resources. As with what took place during the California Gold Rush of 1849, local tribes that relied on game and native plants as their primary food source soon find they now go hungry because they now have competition for food. This alone has led tribes to steal livestock, mules, and horses. Tribes also had problems with new diseases introduced by whites, and saw them as uninvited guests.

As for the settlers, they were frustrated with government representatives who were unavailable to protect the white citizenry. Of course, it didn't matter to them that a major problem faced by the U.S. Army was they had too few soldiers for too vast an area of land. There was also the problem of troops deserting. And lastly, we should remember that in the 1870s and into the 1880s, there were also other Indian Wars taking place all over the West. So in reality the number of troops in the West were in fact stretched pretty thin.

There was another problem going on that some might not have realized taking place. Divided into four sub-tribes, the Tolkapaya (Western Yavapais), the Yavepe and the Wipukpaya (Northeastern Yavapais) and the Kewevkapaya (Southeastern Yavapais). The Yavapais ranged from the Colorado River to the Tonto Basin. They too killed and mutilated white settlers for all the same reasons as other tribes. While most reports at the time have the Apaches as the biggest problem, Yavapais Indians were often mistakenly identified as Apache. 

Like the Apache, the Yavapais were mobile. The Yavapais also used guerrilla warfare tactics. This made it extremely difficult for the U.S. Army to distinguish one tribe from another. And of course, there was the problem of a tribe like the San Xavier Papagos Indians using the whites to exterminate their lifelong enemies the Apache. 

In October, a Tucson grand jury indicted 104 of those who took place in the massacre. All toll, there were 108 counts of murder. By December, eight months after the massacre, 104 of those who took it upon themselves to slaughter those innocent people were indicted and brought to trial. The only reason they were brought to trail is because President Ulysses S. Grant demanded that the Territory of Arizona bring those individuals responsible for that heinous act to trial. President Grant actually threatening to put the whole Territory of Arizona under martial law if the Governor didn't do anything to bring those responsible to justice.

So yes, there was a trail. The trial focused solely on Apache atrocities and was 5 days long. The jury deliberated for only 19 minutes. Then all 104 men were found not guilty of killing Indians. The only thing the trial proved to all there was that no one was going to be found guilty of murdering innocent Apaches men, women, and children in the 1870s in the Arizona Territory. 

Lt. Whitman published letters on behalf of the Apache. Nothing came of that. And frankly, there's probably a reason that was the case. While to us today we certainly understand how that massacre wasn't right by any stretch of the imagination, believe it or not, many of the settlers in Arizona at the time considered the massacre simply a case of "justifiable homicide".

Imagine that.

Tom Correa

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