Skip to main content

     This image is the earliest known photograph of Tucson, Arizona. An itinerant photographer took a picture of participants in the Camp Grant Massacre trial in front of Pima County's adobe courthouse in December of 1871. It was a Federal trial, the first time in Territorial history that

        Pima County Court House, Tucson, Arizona Territory, Dec. 1871
a non-Apache was prosecuted for the killing of an Apache. Over one-hundred forty men had taken part in the massacre. Ninety-six were arraigned and all pled Not Guilty. It was agreed that only one man, Sidney DeLong, would actually be tried and the verdict in his case would be applied to all defendants. DeLong was a prominent citizen who had just been elected Mayor of Tucson. Testimony lasted five days. The Judge's instructions to the jury hinted at self-defense as justification and it took them only 19 minutes to return with a verdict of Not Guilty. There had been one-hundred forty-four victims, all but eight of them women and children. The Camp Grant Massacre was not a military action, it was not perpetrated by the U.S. Army. It was vigilantism. If you want to find out how such a thing could happen, read on ...

     The first modern people in what is now Southern Arizona were the O'odham, the people. There are two main branches, the Akimel O'odham, or River People, and the Tohono O'odham, the Desert People. They were not nomadic. They were farmers who settled along rivers, raised crops and lived in small villages. The Akimel O'odham settled along the Gila and diverted water from the river with irrigation ditches like their ancestors, the Hohokam. The Tohono O'odham and their immediate ancestors, the Sobaipuri, had settlements along the San Pedro and Santa Cruz rivers, which flow north from Mexico into Arizona. O'odham villages along the Santa Cruz included Tubac, Bac and Chuk Son. The Athapascan peoples, now known as Navajo and Apache, were relative newcomers who migrated into Arizona sometime in the 15th century, just a hundred years or so before the arrival of the Spanish.

      Spanish adventurers showed up on the east coast of Mexico in 1519. After conquering the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, in 1520 they expanded the conquered territories, pushing to the north and south. Spanish explorers arrived in Arizona around 1540. Eventually they would lay claim to most of the North American continent, calling it New Spain. Of course, there was more to it than name it and claim it. To have legitimate possession of the land requires that it be populated and controlled and in this the would-be Spanish rulers fell short. After it became clear that the Russians were interested in Alta California and were creeping down from Alaska, the Spanish set up a chain of missions and presidios along the California coast to solidify their claims there. In what is now New Mexico they followed the Rio Grande north and had a fairly robust presence there with a capital at Santa Fé. They had a strong presence in Texas too, for a while. In Arizona it was a different story. The farthest north they ever got was the O'odham village of Chuk Son, which they called Tucson.

      If the Crowned Heads of Europe recognized Spain's absurd land claims in the western hemisphere, the people who already lived here did not. There were periodic revolts among the native peoples who, reasonably enough, objected to enslavement. The most significant of these was the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Although the Indians of the Rio Grande pueblos only managed to keep the Spanish out for a mere twenty years, the Pueblo Revolt had far-reaching consequences that would alter the political geography of the entire continent. In their rush to skeedadle, the Spaniards left a herd of horses.

      Horses, and the horse culture acquired by Spanish-trained Indian grooms, spread rapidly over native trading networks. The Great Plains grasslands which sustained vast herds of buffalo also provided forage for newly acquired horses. Almost overnight, powerful Native Empires of mounted warriors began to emerge. On the northern plains there was the Sioux/Cheyenne confederation, in the south it was the Comanches and Kiowas and to the west of them, the Apaches. These southern tribes had nearly succeeded in pushing the Mexicans out of what is now the U.S. by the time of the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846. But that's for another diary.

      It was in the first decade of the 1700s, less than twenty-five years after the Pueblo Revolt, that Spanish authorities began to get complaints from the O'odham about Apaches stealing their stock. Apache raiding was becoming a problem. At first, the Apaches may have seen horses as just another form of wildlife and not subject to ownership at all. But eventually, stealing horses from "enemies," both to replenish their herds and to sell for cash, became a way of life for some Apaches, especially the Chiricahuas. They looked down on the agricultural O'odham as "bean-eaters" and would sometimes taunt them, saying, "take good care of our horses, we'll come back for them later." The two tribes were mortal enemies. Of course, the Apaches also raided Spanish farms, ranches and mines.

      The Spanish erected a series of forts, or presidios, in the northern provinces of Sonora and Chihuahua in order to protect the citizenry, who were often killed during raids, from the Apaches. In Arizona the first presidio was at Tubac on the Santa Cruz. In 1775 another was built farther north at Tucson. In 1786 the Crown, having had little luck with warfare against the Indians, instituted a new policy, the Gálvez Plan. Apaches who stopped raiding could get weekly rations, grain, meat, sugar and tobacco, at the presidios. This plan worked and soon there were villages of Apaches mansos, or tame Apaches, at each of the northern outposts and there was much less raiding. Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821 and the new government was bankrupt from the start. The Mexicans could no longer afford to be so generous with food rations and in 1832 the rations stopped completely. What could they do? The Apaches went back to raiding. In response, the Mexicans adopted a brutal policy of extermination. Massacres became common. Mexicans would sneak up on a sleeping Apache camp at dawn and slaughter everyone there, or they would invite Apaches to trade, get them all drunk on mescal and kill them while they slept it off. The governments of Sonora and Chihuahua paid bounties for Apache scalps. The cold-blooded murder of Apache men, women and children was celebrated in northern Mexico.

      In 1853, the Mexican government under General Santa Anna sold to the U.S. a strip of land south of the Gila River. The Gadsden Purchase fixed the U.S.-Mexico border where it is today. The town of Tucson, population 600, was now part of the United States. Not much changed at first. There was a different flag, and the Mexican soldiers were replaced by the U.S. Army in 1856, but it was still a Mexican town. More and more Anglos moved in and by 1870 the population was over 3,000. Some Apaches had settled down. The White Mountain band, for example, was farming peacefully up north around Fort Apache, but the Chiricahuas were still raiding. For them, the new border opened opportunities. There was a market in the U.S. for cattle stolen in Mexico, and vice versa, and buyers didn't ask a lot of questions. They were now spending as much time in Mexico's Sierra Madre as in the Chiricahuas and Dragoons in Arizona and they often traveled between the two countries on a trail that ran through the San Pedro Valley.

     The protection of the lives and property of the citizenry was now the responsibility of the U.S.Army and they sent up several bases in Arizona to deal with the Apaches. Camp Lowell was an hour or so north-west of Tucson, it's now a park within city limits, and Camp Grant, named after the sitting President, was located where Aravaipa Creek meets the San Pedro. There was an Apache band who considered the area around Camp Grant to be their ancestral homeland. This was a point of contention between the O'odham and the Aravaipa Apaches because the Sobaipuris, a tribe related to the O'odham, had once lived in Aravaipa Canyon. They had been forced out of the canyon by Apaches in the 1760s. Survivors joined the O'odham village at Bac, south of Tucson, and in 1871 there were still people living there who knew the oral history.

      Arivaipa Canyon is a beautiful place with year-round water. In 1871 the Chief of the Aravaipa Apaches, Ezkiminzin, wanted to settle down and farm. His people had always been more settled than the Chiricahua and he was tired of being hunted. In February of 1871,

                    Aravaipa Canyon
after some preliminary overtures by some women, several groups of Aravaipa Apaches, led by chiefs Ezkiminzin and Chiquito, went to Camp Grant to talk with the commander, Lieutenant Whitman. They explained that they didn't want to go to the White Mountains because mescal did not grow there and that they wanted simply to farm the land in peace, saying that, "Our father and their fathers before them have lived in these mountains and have raised corn in this valley." Whitman, though he wasn't really authorized to set up a reservation by himself, agreed to the proposal. He also agreed to issue food rations until the Indians' crops came in and to allow Apache women to cut hay for the soldiers' horses. They would be paid with scrip that they could use to buy cloth and household goods. Things went well for a month or so and in late April the band decided to hold a big dance to celebrate the new arrangement.

      In Tucson that year the mood was not so peaceful. Some Apaches were still raiding after all. Ranchers were still having their stock run off and there was the odd bit of highway robbery. More Anglos were civic leaders now and they were typical American booster-types who wanted their town to be seen as a safe place for commerce. Newspapers did their best to stir up anti-Apache sentiment. There was plenty of outrage, chauvinism and outright racism. Said the Arizona Weekly Miner, "This is our country - not the Apache's. The American people cannot now do otherwise than to help us fight the great battle of civilization; to overthrow the barbarians and teach them that white supremacy, even in Arizona, is decreed of God." Another writer at the Miner said, " Extermination is our only hope and the sooner the better." A new paper had been founded in Tucson, the Arizona Citizen. Its editor, John Wasson,wrote an article in 1870 entitled Will the Indians Take the Country? As one scholar noted, Arizona's newspapers, "regularly portrayed Tucson itself as a town under siege, methodically misconstruing sporadic and unrelated Apache raids as a concerted campaign perpetrated by a unified tribal enemy." Old-timers in the Mexican community, remembering the olden days, chided the Anglo newcomers as being all talk no action. A "Committee of Public Safety" had been set up led by one William Oury. Finally an incident occurred that set the Camp Grant Massacre in motion.

      On March 20, Leslie B. Wooster, a settler from Connecticut, and his wife were killed on their ranch near Tubac. William Oury later explained that, "The work of death and destruction was kept up with an ever increasing force until the slaughter of Wooster and his wife in the Santa Cruz above Tubac so enflamed the people that an indignation meeting was held in Tucson ... and it was determined to raise a military company at once." At the meeting men pledged to join the company. Although the Wooster murder could not be tied to any of the Indians camped in Aravaipa Canyon, that was the nearest Apache camp and that was the one to be attacked. An emissary was sent to the O'odhan village at Bac and from there runners were sent out to surrounding villages. The Indians were told not to bring food or guns, those would be supplied. The company agreed to meet on the bank of the Rillito River north of Tucson on April 28. One-hundred forty-six men showed up. There were six Anglos, forty-eight Mexicans and ninety-two O'odham warriors. Sam Hughes, the adjutant general of the territory, met the company and distributed carbines from the Arizona armory. The vigilantes set out for the two-day ride east through Reddington Pass and then north along the San Pedro to Camp Grant.

      A soldier from Camp Lowell had been in town and heard about the expedition. He reported it to his superior and a messenger was dispatched to Camp Grant with orders to stop the attack. The mob anticipated this and had sent two men to intercept and delay the messenger for a couple of hours. The attackers crept around the fort at the entrance of the canyon and, in the pre-dawn, the Anglos and Mexicans positioned themselves along the top of canyon. The Apaches were sleeping soundly after the previous night's celebration, and as dawn broke, the massacre began. The O'odham preferred their traditional mesquite war clubs to firearms and they swarmed over the encampment bashing the heads of their victims and setting fire to their wickiups, while their more "civilized" comrades fired down into the canyon.

      After it was over, the participants swore an oath of secrecy and returned to Tucson. The Army messenger arrived at Camp Grant at 7:30 a.m. Lieutenant Whitman immediately sent his two interpreters up the canyon to warn the Indians but they arrived too late. They found only, "the camp... burning and the ground strewed with ... dead and mutilated women and children." A few of Ezkiminzin's band managed to escape, including the chief himself. They hid in the mountains all day and overnight before venturing down to their former home. Some children, mostly young girls were spared and taken in by families in Tucson as household help or sold into slavery in Mexico. Back in Tucson the participants boasted of their exploit.The Tucson Citizen's report, headlined Bloody Retaliation came out on May 6 and was picked up across the country. Eventually, as the Whitman's Army reports were made public and it became clear what actually happened, newspapers around the country changed the tone of their coverage and began to use the term "massacre." The Tucsonans who took part were defensive with many continuing to defend their actions for the rest of their lives. The Federal government demanded that the perpetrators be arrested and tried. It took six months of prodding by the Feds, including a threat to impose martial law in the territory before any legal action was taken.

Sources:

Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History, Karl Jacoby

Massacre at Camp Grant: Forgetting and Remembering Apache History, Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh

Wikipedia:
Camp Grant Massacre
Apache
Apache-Mexico Wars
Ezkiminzin
Gadsden Purchase
New Spain

Originally posted to Baja Arizona Kossacks on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 06:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks and Native American Netroots.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site