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It took five thousand American troopers a year and a half to run down the great Apache raider and his lethal band. They did it by tough persistence and skill—or was it guile?
June 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 4
She was right. She herself was sent out as an emissary with the bad tidings that the Chiricahuas’ stronghold was no longer impregnable, and within twentyfour hours smoke signals from a nearby peak indicated that some of the hostiles were coming in to surrender. At first only old men, women, and children appeared, but .on May 18 a small band of warriors came cautiously into the American camp. Leading them was Chihuahua; and on May 20 Geronimo, Chato, and thirty-six other first-class fighters arrived, back from their raid and full of consternation at what they found awaiting them.
During the next few days, as more renegades continued to give themselves up, Crook began a close acquaintance with Geronimo that was to continue off and on for seven years, with little admiration on either side. Unlike many of the Apache leaders, in whom an easy candor and ingenuousness offset courage and ferocity, Geronimo struck the General as deceitful, arrogant, and vindictive—”a human tiger,” Crook said later. The Apache headman was a windy talker, and he now gave a long discourse on how badly misunderstood he and his people had been, and how anxious they were to live on the American reservation and work peacefully—if only they could be guaranteed good treatment. Crook, as usual, said little, but made it clear that fair treatment could be reasonably expected if they returned with him, while the alternative, which he was perfectly willing to undertake, was relentless warfare against any Chiricahuas who did not care to come in. After much further talk, mostly from the Apache, it was agreed that Geronimo, Chato, and some of their followers would be allowed a respite of “two moons” in which to gather up the elements of the Chiricahua bands still scattered in the Sierra Madres. They then would make their way to the United States, where General Crook would have preceded them with the Indians already in hand, and all would go onto reservations.
The remarkable thing was that Geronimo kept his part of the agreement, though admittedly several months later than he had promised. Crook brought over 300 Apaches back from Mexico in June, 1883—an amazing achievement—but nearly 200 remained in the Sierra Madres. In October, with territorial newspapers snarling at Crook’s “folly” for not having destroyed them all when he had the chance, Lieutenant Britton Davis was sent to the border to see if he could discover what was going on in Old Mexico. After a wait of about a month, he was rewarded by the arrival of several bands, including those of Naiche and Chato. Geronimo, these Indians assured Davis, was on the way—but it was spring of 1884 before the famous outlaw rode into Davis’ camp, leading approximately eighty Chiricahuas.
It was Davis’ first encounter with the man who a year later was to give him so much trouble at Turkey Creek, and it occurred in a manner that the Lieutenant found highly expressive of Geronimo’s character. As the Indians approached his camp, Davis sent Apache scouts to meet them and explain that the American soldiers were there purely as an escort. The human tiger did not appreciate this courtesy. “Riding up to me and checking his pony only when its shoulder had bumped the shoulder of my mule,” Davis wrote, “his first words were an angry demand to know why there was need of an escort. … He had made peace with the Americans, why then was there danger of their attacking him?”
Davis explained that certain members of Arizona’s civilian population, often fortified by whiskey, were ranging the border area looking for Apaches to shoot or hang, and that the Army’s role was to conduct the Indians safely to San Carlos. This might not be easy, especially since Geronimo, a do-it-yourself prodigal, had brought with him a herd of 350 fatted cattle—stolen from Mexican ranches to trade to his tribesmen when he reached the American reservation. It meant slower travelling, and more chance of interference.
Sure enough, when the whole party was camping one night near a ranch house, there appeared on the scene two men in civilian clothes—who identified themselves, however, as a U.S. marshal and a collector of customs. The marshal handed Davis a subpoena and announced that they were there to take Geronimo’s band under arrest to Tucson, to stand trial for smuggling and murder. If Davis failed to help them, they would organize a posse in a nearby town, and the Lieutenant could take the consequences.
Davis was amicable, but underneath he had no intention of giving up his charges before they got to San Carlos. That evening he entertained the marshal and the collector with such generosity that both of them went to bed in the ranch house numb with whiskey. Then Davis told Geronimo that at sunrise the marshal was planning to take all of his cattle away from him, and that a sneak departure toward San Carlos was advisable. Geronimo, at first irascibly unwilling, was moved to action by a gibe from Davis that the feat might be too much for even Chiricahuas to pull off. Ho! said the chief. When the marshal and the collector came sleepily out of the ranch house the next morning, they found only Britton Davis, sitting patiently beside his mule, waiting to explain that Geronimo and the Apache scouts had unexpectedly decided to leave in the middle of the night. He was not quite sure, he said, where they had gone. The marshal told Davis he could go to hell, and the Lieutenant then rode off to catch up with Geronimo and the scouts.