The end of the Apache Wars in 1886 marked a sad day for Native Americans, but also signaled the beginning of a new era.
After the Apache wars, Geronimo’s Apaches came to a sad day of parting. The war had been going on for years and finally ended in 1886. Read more in detail here: historynet.
In September 1996, a regal, silver-haired Mildred Cleghorn enthusiastically welcomed a newspaper reporter to her Apache, Oklahoma, home to discuss her illustrious life. Cleghorn, then 85, reminisced on her 18-year tenure as chairwoman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, as well as her family’s unique history, with elegance and candor.
Cleghorn remembered traveling in the family’s horse-drawn wagon from the Fort Sill Military Reservation to their 40-acre government allotment near Apache when she was three years old in 1914. She didn’t realize it till later that they were some of her first moments of independence. On December 11, 1910, she was born a prisoner of war at Fort Sill.
Mildred Cleghorn was a toddler when “the Parting” happened. (Photo courtesy of Ron J. Jackson Jr.)
Her tale was far from unique among the Chiricahua Apaches of Cleghorn’s age, who were dubbed “Geronimo’s band” for better or worse. Their collective imprisonment started in September 1886, when Geronimo surrendered to US forces, and ended in 1913, when Congress passed an Act of Congress. The folly of their prolonged incarceration had already been exposed in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere at that time.
In a 1912 essay for The North American Review literary journal, one humanitarian worker claimed that “their few survivors and their far more numerous descendants—their children and their children’s children—are still ‘prisoners of war.” “Among the band, there are full-grown men and women who were born into that situation and have grown to adulthood without knowing anything else.”
On April 2, 1913, a bittersweet day in their history known as “the Parting,” the Chiricahuas realized the full severity of their 27 years of captivity.
That spring day, tears of joy and sorrow poured in tandem with the sobering awareness that, although the Apaches were no longer prisoners of war, their liberation had come at a terrible cost. Their number had decreased from 506 individuals to the ultimate count of 257 (138 males and 119 females) enumerated by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson after almost three decades of captivity. The rapid deterioration mirrored the illness and suffering that had followed them from mosquito-infested prison camps in Florida and Alabama to Fort Sill on the southwest Oklahoma plains in October 1894.
As the Chiricahuas assembled at the Rock Island Railroad yard in early April 1913, one final heartbreaking deed remained between them and freedom. 190 of the remaining 257 inmates decided to return to a part of their ancestral homeland in New Mexico, where they hoped to start new lives among their “cousins” on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. They would also have to say goodbye to the 67 other Chiricahuas who decided to stay in Fort Sill and await promised allotments as a result of their fatal choice.
Recently freed Chiricahuas wait to board the westbound train to New Mexico on that melancholy day in April 1913. (Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society)
The Parting was nevertheless a sledgehammer for a people that had grown used to hardship and suffering. Raymond Loco, Chief Loco’s grandson and another POW at birth, stated, “The day of separation was a tremendous day of grief.” “There was sobbing and crying…. They were perplexed when they boarded the train [to New Mexico]. “What will happen to us?” says the narrator. “They were not happy—they were disturbed,” Loco observed of his fellow Apaches. Blossom Haozous, Chiricahua interpreter and loyalist George Wratten’s half-blood daughter, described the event as “intense emotion.” “The Mescalero-bound Apaches were leaving behind family and friends and faced an uncertain future once more,” she said.
Naiche, Chief (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)
They also left their deceased behind, which was probably the most difficult aspect of all. At Fort Sill’s Apache prisoner of war cemetery on Beef Creek, Naiche, the Chiricahuas’ last hereditary leader, buried two wives and eight children. On March 16, 1919, six years after his arrival in Mescalero, the chief died of influenza and was buried more than 400 kilometers away from his loved ones. The group also included Eugene Chihuahua, the son of Chief Chihuahua, who died in captivity in 1901, and his wife. They left six children’s graves at Fort Sill.
(Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society)
In those last hours, the graveyard tormented every Apache family. Asa Daklugie, then about 40 years old and one of those who had championed the migration to New Mexico, said, “The worst of all was leaving our dear dead.” “In silence, we paid our respects to our ancestors’ last resting places. We had a feeling they were waiting for us at the Happy Place. We knew they were aware of our situation and had given their approval to our departure.”
The 190 leaving Apaches, together with many of their beloved dogs, were greeted by five passenger trains, eight stock cars, and two luggage cars. The Rock Island crew showed compassion and looked the other way when authorities informed the released convicts that dogs would be absolutely prohibited on the 36-hour journey to the Mescalero reserve. One onlooker was amused when dogs “just ‘boiled out’ of the carriages” as the train arrived in New Mexico.
On their way west, the Chiricahuas sparked curiosity, particularly among New Mexicans who were bracing for a revolt by Geronimo’s band. A group of schoolteachers from Tucumcari arrived at the train station with their pupils to ogle at the “wild Injuns,” according to the local newspaper. They were dismayed to discover a quiet, tired group of tourists, including a few old ladies who were “munching away on huge quids of Star Plug.” “The Apaches did not seem half as ferocious as they are portrayed in the dime novel,” the reporter sarcastically summarized the visit. In fact, several of them seemed to be law-abiding citizens.”
Despite the fact that Geronimo had died in 1909, his legend followed those Apaches who chose to stay in New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society)
The transfer of the Chiricahuas to New Mexico has sparked concerns due to incendiary statements from New Mexican politicians and notable cattlemen in recent months. Despite the fact that Geronimo had died in 1909, his reputation as a ferocious warrior continued to inspire terror in the area, and critics exploited those concerns. Senator Thomas B. Cantron of New Mexico expressed his strong opposition to the Apache relocation to his colleagues on Aug. 19, 1912. He described the Indians as “the worst bunch of Indians that has ever lived on the American continent.” “They were the most warlike; they were the most desperate, the most ruthless, and murderous people that have ever lived.” Over such concerns, Congress passed the Indian Appropriation Act five days later, allowing the Chiricahua captives to be released and relocated.
Senator Albert B. Fall of New Mexico, Cantron’s colleague, was even more vocal about the Apache removal. He stood in the Senate floor five days before their official release to make one last impassioned statement on the subject. He brazenly resurrected old anxieties in it, recalling his first visit in New Mexico Territory in Silver City decades before, when he saw “an American holding in his palm the bleeding scalp of a lady who had been murdered by one of these Fort Sill Apaches.” “Is it conceivable that there isn’t enough land in all these vast United States to take these Indians and keep them without forcing them back to live among the people whose relatives they murdered?” Fall said dramatically.
Fall remained tight-lipped about why he didn’t want the Chiricahua Apaches to reside on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. J.W. Prude, a Tularosa, N.M., businessman who operated a trade company in Mescalero, had publicly chastised Fall on the subject months before. Prude stated he was unaware of any white descendants of Apache victims residing in the region, as recounted by the senator in such a vivid way. He went on to say that anybody who spoke “such trash” did it “for a cold-blooded selfish purpose,” and that Fall was one of them. Fall rented huge areas of grazing property on the reserve for his sheep herds, according to the merchant, and he didn’t want anybody intruding on his profitable business. Prude, for one, acknowledged that the Apache move will help his Mescalero trade company.
Before the Parting, Chiricahuas pose at Fort Sill. (The Apache Tribe of Fort Sill)
Whether they were guilty or not, the Chiricahuas of Fall’s rhetoric were mostly forgotten by 1913. For starters, the terrifying Geronimo was no longer among us. He died of pneumonia at the age of 79 on Feb. 17, 1909, after falling intoxicated from his horse and lying in a puddle overnight. Secretary of War Stimson had prepared a list for the Senate prior to the release of the remaining prisoners that showed a different reality. Only 30 of the men on the list had been in combat decades before, and all but one were in their mid-40s or older. Only six warriors remained alive after surrendering with Geronimo in 1886.
For the Apaches, incarceration had marked a significant departure from their ancestors’ nomadic lifestyle. The shift to a cash economy was facilitated by the sale of cattle, excess crops, hay, and well-drilling contracts, the profits of which were placed in a trust for the benefit of everyone. By 1913, they had established themselves as wealthy cattlemen, accumulating almost 6,000 high-grade Herefords, which they sold for $228,800 to a Texas buyer and split the proceeds. The Chiricahuas were successful in many areas of contemporary life, and they even had a successful baseball club. Geronimo took advantage of his celebrity by accepting invitations to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis and to participate in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration procession in Washington, D.C. in 1905. Geronimo paid 10 cents for a signature and up to $2 for a photograph in St. Louis, leading one client to famously remark, “The old guy is fairly expensive priced, but then he is the only Geronimo.”
Those who traveled west to the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation first lived in tents. (Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society)
Even in death, Geronimo’s reputation as a ruthless warrior loomed over his people like an eclipse. Over the course of their almost three decades in prison, stories of the Chiricahuas’ fighting skill lingered. Though the Apaches even had to acknowledge that some of the fanciful tales were based in fact, dime novels and yellow journalism served to resurrect the old reputation for a new generation of Americans.
When Warm Springs Apache elder Sam Haozous sat down in front of a tape recorder to capture his reminiscences for his family weeks before his death in 1957, he shed light on that terrible history. Haozous, 88, recounted his family’s forced relocation from Ojo Caliente, New Mexico’s holy Warm Springs, to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona Territory when he was eight years old. On May 20, 1877, Haozous and the others arrived at San Carlos, carrying a chained Geronimo and other imprisoned leaders.
Geronimo had fled the reservation for Mexico the next spring, setting in motion nine years of unfulfilled promises, breakouts, and murderous resistance. When Haozous was a child, his family was forced to flee San Carlos, and he saw directly the horrors of the situation. They fled because of the difficult circumstances and the belief that they had been wrongfully evicted from Ojo Caliente. Haozous’ 1957 tape, which is housed at the University of Oklahoma’s Western History Collection, provides a vivid description of the difficulties and violence his family faced as fugitives with Geronimo.
Haozous, who was in his eighties at the time, imagined a post-apocalyptic world in which death was always only a heartbeat away. In 1882, Mexican troops assaulted his group along a dry stream bed on the Janos Plains, which he described as a shocking event. He saw a woman choke her infant to death during the battle, boldly declaring, “I don’t want my kid to be a slave to these Mexicans.”
During fights, Haozous and other young Apaches ran ammo to the warriors, which helped them survive. He was astounded at how a single Apache warrior could fight off as many as 150 enemies by maneuvering between different mountain fortifications. He also mentioned how the gang survived by eating rats or boiling animal bones to extract the marrow for soup.
Geronimo instilled in his followers a ruthless attitude. Haozous remarked of the merciless commander, “It’s no surprise they call him a renowned fighter.” “I’ve seen what he’s capable of. He kills people…and he doesn’t care whether it’s a lady, a white woman, or a Mexican woman—he kills everyone. It doesn’t seem to make a difference. Even the little one. When the battle broke out, he gave his troops the command, “Don’t rescue any of them.” Even a newborn should not be saved. ‘Just murder them all,’ says the narrator. Total war is a term used by historians in the modern period to describe such no-holds-barred warfare.
At Fort Sill, where he died in captivity and was buried, Geronimo poses with his family in a melon patch. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Geronimo’s biggest battle, in the end, was for his freedom. He petitioned authorities for decades after his surrender to be released and returned to his birthplace on the upper Gila River in Arizona Territory. On March 9, 1905, four days after riding in Roosevelt’s inauguration procession, he finally had a meeting with him. Geronimo, overcome by the emotions of the moment, exclaimed with remarkable eloquence: “Great Father, my hands are bound like rope.” My heart is no longer a problem for me. I’ll inform my people that only the Great White Chief should be obeyed. I beg you to remove the ties that bind me and set me free. Allow me to die in my own country as an elderly man who has served his time and is now free.”
Geronimo’s tomb is prominently displayed at Fort Sill. (CC BY-SA 2.0, Larry Smith)
Roosevelt sympathized with Geronimo, telling him that white settlers in Arizona were still enraged by the Chiricahuas, and that their return would only lead to “more conflict and carnage.” New Mexican officials would use the same logic in their later effort to prevent the former inmates from being relocated to their state. Geronimo had perished in captivity at Fort Sill by that time.
The Apaches’ imprisonment was characterized by one painful chapter after another, yet the fight for liberation only became stronger. The Rev. Walter C. Roe, who assisted in the establishment of a mission for the inmates, made an impassioned plea on their behalf in 1913. “If this situation continues on much longer, it will actually be true that the fathers’ sin is visited onto the children till the third and fourth generation,” he wrote. “Shall innocent infants be born captives, and innocent, smiling youngsters grow up in captivity because their grandfathers fought against or maybe for—think about it, potentially for—the US government?”
Chatto, a Chiricahua warrior who later became an Army scout, was one among many who relocated to New Mexico, but he remained an outcast. (Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society)
Roe’s comments might have been directed at Chatto, who had fought with Geronimo before joining the Army as an Apache scout. Chatto aided Brig. Gen. George Crook in his pursuit of Geronimo in Mexico’s Sierra Madre in March 1886, an act that permanently labeled the scout a traitor among his tribe’s Geronimo supporters. Four months later, Chatto traveled to Washington, D.C. with an Apache delegation, pleading with officials to enable them to stay on the reservation at Fort Apache, Arizona Territory. L.Q.C. Lamar, Secretary of the Interior, presented Chatto with a silver medal, while Secretary of War William Endicott presented him with an ornate diploma, leading the delegation to think their request had been granted. It hadn’t happened.
Soldiers at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, detained Chatto and his companions on the way back. The unfortunate delegates were apprehended and transported to Florida to join their Apache brothers as prisoners of war. Crook paid a visit to the inmates in Alabama’s Mount Vernon Barracks four years later. Chatto took the silver medal from his breast and presented it to Crook during the general’s visit. He wondered, “Why did they give me something to wear in the guardhouse?” “I expected something wonderful to happen when they handed it to me, but I’ve been in solitary confinement ever since.”
Unlike Geronimo, Chatto survived to witness his liberation. He decided to go to New Mexico on the Day of the Parting, while being an outcast in many circles. When Chatto chose to settle at Apache Summit, some 10 miles east of the main campsite, Daklugie, who had held Geronimo’s hand on his deathbed, was relieved. Daklugie said calmly, “He knew he was unwanted among us.”
Until his death in 1934, Chatto had to live with the sting of his turncoat reputation. When his Ford Model T drove off a reserve road and overturned outside Whitetail, New Mexico, it was the end. He died on the spot, maybe finally free.
Cleghorn and other tribe members made a trip to their ancestral home in Arizona 52 years later, on the centenary of Geronimo’s surrender in September 1986. Cleghorn’s uncle, Haozous, once told her about cave drawings he’d seen as a kid. The artworks were discovered just as Haozous had described.
They were all in awe of one other. They then began to cry. WW
Ron J. Jackson Jr. is a frequent contributor to Wild West and an award-winning novelist from Rocky, Oklahoma. He suggests Eve Ball’s Indeh, an Apache Odyssey, John Anthony Turcheneske Jr.’s The Chiricahua Apache Prisoners of War, H. Henrietta Stockel’s Survival of the Spirit, and Angie Debo’s Geronimo for additional reading. This story first appeared in the August 2023 issue of Wild West.
- the history network