Manataka® American Indian Council
"I heard the hinges of the door creak and on looking up saw the form of an Indian as he noiselessly entered the room, gun in hand. My revolver was on the bed beside me and I covered him with it" said Lieutenant Britton Davis, officer in charge of the Apaches’ San Carlos Reservation in southeastern Arizona that night of March 30, 1883.
Davis could feel the anxiety boring into his chest. He had scarcely slept for days. Tensions crackled across San Carlos. Renegade Chiricahua Apache Indians, led by the legendary Geronimo, Juh, Naiche, Chato, Chihuahua and Bonito had sent a party of warriors north, from Mexico’s Sierra Madre range, into Arizona to raid for desperately needed ammunition. Almost certainly under Chato, infamous for his savagery, the Apaches had cut a murderous swath across southeastern Arizona. They had massacred a respected frontier judge, H. C. McComas, and his wife, and had abducted their six-year old son, Charlie, in an attack in southwestern New Mexico. The murders and kidnapping would horrify the entire nation.
Chato’s party now headed west to attack the agency at the reservation, Brigadier General George Crook, commanding officer of the Army’s Department of Arizona, believed, and the renegades would surely try to persuade more reservation Apaches to join the bands in Mexico. Crook telegraphed Davis to prepare for a fight.
"The massacre of all the whites at the Agency was not at all improbable," Davis said. He demanded to know who had entered his room silently in the dark of night, gun in hand. "Tar-gar-de-chuse," the figure whispered, with a sense of urgency. He was an Apache informer, to Davis’ relief. "Chiricahua come." He told Davis that Chato’s warriors had arrived at a White Mountain Apache camp up the San Carlos River, about twelve or fourteen miles from the Agency. He did not know how many.
Davis shot out of his bunk as if he had been launched. Within thirty minutes, he had assembled some three dozen armed Apache volunteers, a force big enough, he hoped, to significantly outnumber Chato’s warriors. Davis and his company marched all night, up the San Carlos River to the encampment. They surrounded it. They waited for dawn.
As the sun rose, Davis’ first sergeant called to the camp. A voice answered in the Apache tongue. Davis’ Apache volunteers quickly closed, like a noose, on the encampment. They captured – not all of Chato’s warriors – but "— one lone Chiricahua," said a disappointed Davis. "And he was not a Chiricahua. He was, however, one of the hostiles; a handsome young fellow about twenty-three or twenty-four years of age, known to the Indians as Tzoe [pronounced "So"], but called Peaches by the whites on account of his peach-like complexion."
Far from hostile now, Peaches "…seemed little disturbed by his capture and smiled faintly when I took his knife and cartridge belt off of him. My scouts had his rifle," said Davis. In fact, Peaches, a Cibecue Apache (a band closely associated with the White Mountain Apaches), felt a sense of relief.
Like most of the Apaches in southeastern Arizona, he had not wanted to join the Chiricahua Apache renegades. He had not wanted to leave his Cibecue Apache family, especially his mother. He had not wanted to bolt the reservation. He had not wanted to go to war in Mexico and the American Southwest. The renegades, however, had forced his hand. They shanghaied him.
At the time, Peaches lived with the Warm Springs Chiricahua band, following his marriage to two Warm Springs women. (He had fathered a child by one of the women.) The band, led by Chief Loco, had refused to join the renegades – seventy five warriors and three hundred women and children – when they bolted the reservation on September 30, 1881.
Six months later, however, Chief Loco and his Warm Springs Chiricahuas had no choice. Geronimo and Juh and a party of warriors stormed onto the reservation. They abducted Chief Loco and his band, more than two hundred people including Peaches and his family, at gun point. They drove them out of the reservation, south toward Mexico, leaving most of the band’s horses, weapons and supplies behind.
"Servile things," Juh’s son called them, contemptuously.
"We were filled with gloom and despair," said Warm Springs Apache Jason Betzinez. As they fled, Peaches and his family marching with them, the poorly armed fugitives came under attack by U. S. troopers twice, once just north of Mexico, near the Arizona/New Mexico border, and again (illegally) twenty miles deep into Mexico. Nineteen Apaches, nearly all women and children, died.
The fugitives came under attack yet again, this time by Mexican troopers, just west of the village of Janos in northwestern Chihuahua. Seventy five Apaches died, including Peaches’ two wives and his child. Twenty two women and children fell captive, probably to be sold as slaves. Peaches himself suffered severe gunshot wounds.
Under fire, the Apaches had to abandon their dead on the field where they lay. The survivors pressed on into the Sierra Madre.
Peaches, an involuntary fugitive
Peaches, an involuntary fugitive, wounded, his Warm Springs family dead, now faced the disdain of the renegades. They saw him as an accomplice of the contemptible Warm Springs band, which had to be forced to join them. Worse, they saw Peaches as a Cibecue, not a true Chiricahua. Any connection he might have had lay dead on the battlefield near Janos. "I was never allowed to go off anywhere by myself," Peaches said. "Someone was always with me.
They made me work for them. I had to cook their food and do things of that kind."
For nearly a year, Peaches, recovering from his own wounds, mourned the deaths of his wives and child. He fretted about his Cibecue family, especially his mother. He endured the humiliations inflicted by the renegades. He made few friends.
Under pressure, he had joined Chato’s war party to raid for ammunition in Arizona and New Mexico, and he promptly met more tragedy. His closest, perhaps his only, friend among the Chiricahuas was shot to death during an attack on a camp near Fort Huachuca, in southern Arizona. Peaches, carrying the burdens of family loss, battle scars, enforced raiding and abasement, felt devastated by the loss of his friend. He knew that he would be more isolated than ever.
Peaches stayed with Chato’s raiding party, riding hard, seventy five to one hundred miles a day, until it reached a hill just east of the reservation. Peaches could endure no more. "Friends," he said to Chato’s warriors, in spite of their contempt for him, "you know I have been with you all through this hard and dangerous raid. I have suffered when you suffered. I have been hungry when you were without food. Now I have lost my best friend. I cannot go on. I’m going to leave you and return to my old home country." The young Apache warrior cried, tears coursing down his cheeks.
It was a few days later when Britton Davis captured Peaches at the White Mountain Apache camp a few miles upstream from the agency. Chato’s warriors, after massacring McComas and his wife had fled south, back into Mexico, without attacking at San Carlos.
"I took [Peaches] to our headquarters…" said Davis, "and wired the General at Willcox [Arizona] of the capture."
By this point, General Crook had determined to break the back of the renegade Apaches in Mexico’s Sierra Madre. He meant to put an end to the trouble. He had assembled a fighting force of over three hundred men, including nearly two hundred reservation Apaches who opposed the renegades. He had negotiated a treaty with Mexico, allowing him to cross the border to pursue the Indians. He stood ready except for one problem. He had no guide who knew how to find the renegades, no one who knew their recent trails, no one who knew their favored campsites. "They roam around like coyotes," said Crook.
His eyes must have lit up when he saw Davis’ telegraph about Peaches. Would Peaches agree to guide the expedition? The answer could mean the difference between failure and success.
A month later, Crook led his force across the Arizona border, at San Bernardino Springs, into Mexico, headed through the Sonoran Desert for the western flanks of the Sierra Madre. Peaches rode at his side.
He guided the column past villages which had been terrorized by the renegades. He directed the force eastward, up a canyon, ascending a torturous path into the mountains. The troopers could see debris from past Apache raids scattered along the canyon floor.
The renegades, confident of their security in the Mexican mountain range, did not anticipate the approach of Crook’s force. They had no idea that Peaches would serve as a guide, no suspicion that reservation Apaches would lead an attack.
Peaches guided the expedition through campsites which had been recently abandoned. Finally, on May 15, he guided an advance column of scouts, under Captain Emmet Crawford, to the camp of Chato and Benito. Crawford and the scouts attacked, killing nine and taking five captives. Survivors scattered.
Little Charlie McComas, according to later reports, died in the attack. No one found the child’s body. No one ever saw him again.
As the news spread, the renegades were stunned. They could not believe that Peaches would guide Crook to their camps. They could not believe that fellow Apaches would attack them. Geronimo, Naiche, Chato, Chihuahua and Bonito – all but Juh – sued for peace. Juh retreated south with a small band which would continue raiding in Mexico for decades to come.
Crook turned his expedition north toward home, Peaches riding by his side at the head of the column, the renegades trailing slowly and irregularly at the end of the column. They passed the site, west of Janos, where the Mexicans had killed seventy five Apaches, including Peaches’ wives and child, the year before. They could still see the bones of their people, bleached white, lying where they fell on the desert sand.
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