The Apache War on the Mexican Border

This excerpt explains the importance of accord and cooperation between the governments of the United States and Mexico in controlling crime and predation on both sides of the border at the time of the Apache Wars.

from "Outlawry on the Mexican Border" by James E. Pilcher
Scribner's magazine, Volume 1, Issue 1, July 1891

The topography of New Mexico and Arizona in the United States, and Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico, singularly adapts them to Indian warfare. The country is seamed in its entire length and breadth with mountain-ridges from one or two to nine or ten thousand feet in height, and abounds in magnificent canyons, chasms of tremendous depth, and inaccessible precipices. The sterile rocks and crags provide nourishment for neither plants nor animals. On old maps the central part of this region bears the name of Apacheria, indicating the impression upon old geographers made by the numbers of the Apache tribe and its affiliations. Always at war with the whites, their facility in concealing themselves in the fastnesses of their native hills rendered them almost unconquerable.

The wonderful endurance of these savages was shown in the campaigns against Victorio and his Apaches in 1879 and 1880, when they defied the United States and Mexican armies for two years, until Victorio himself was slain in Chihuahua by a detachment of volunteers raised under the authority of that State. During this time the Indians met our troops in more than twenty engagements, killing a hundred or more of their pursuers and losing even more of their own number. Constantly recruited by the disaffected of the various Apache tribes, losses in number affected neither their energy nor force. Even after the death of the chief, his place was assumed by Nana, who whirled through Texas and New Mexico, leaving a trail of smoke and blood behind him, and during the following two years terrorized the settlements until, by a fortuitous combination of the United States and Mexican troops, the band was dispersed and nearly annihilated.

For many years the Mexican authorities persistently objected to the entrance of United States troops into their territory, even in pursuit of hostile Indians whose presence was a menace to both nations. Mackenzie's dash into Mexico, in chase of the Kickapoos and Lipans under Costilietos, whom he surprised in camp near Remolina, created much excitement and was the subject of extensive comment by the Mexican press, which affected to believe that it was the opening wedge to an invasion of their country. As a more enlightened disposition was developed in the Mexican authorities it became possible to adopt from year to year mutual agreements by which the forces of either country were permitted to enter the territory of the other in pursuit of hostile Indians. Recently this agreement has been made permanent.

Without such an international understanding it would have been absolutely impossible to have brought to a successful termination the campaign against Geronimo and his Chiricahua Apaches in 1886. The savages had been pressed hard on all sides by Crook's forces, so that they fled into Mexico, taking refuge in their old haunts in the Sierra Madres. They were hotly pursued, however, by Captain Emmet Crawford's* company of Indian scouts, who overtook them at Teopa, in Mexico. Nightfall ending the fight, the tired campaigners lay down to rest, and slept as only men can sleep after twenty-four hours of fighting and riding without food or rest. The officers' slumbers were disturbed just before daybreak the following morning by cries from the scouts, followed by firing, and they discovered that they were attacked by Mexican troops. In spite of all efforts to assure the Mexicans that they were soldados Americanos, and not enemies, they continued firing, a shot in the brain during the rnelee ending the career of the gallant Crawford.

Death of Captain Crawford from Miles' autobiography

"The Death of Captain Crawford" by Frederic Remington

The command now devolved upon Lieutenant Maus, who, with consummate judgment, made peace with the Mexicans and persuaded Geronimo to return across the Rio Grande, there to surrender to Crook. After their interview with the General, however, the leaders became suspicious, and again fled to the mountains.

Cavalry Officer by Frederic RemingtonAbout this time General Crook was relieved by General Miles, who once more drew around the savages a cordon so close that they were again driven across the boundary, whither they were closely followed by a battalion of cavalry under Major Lawton, who pressed them hard through the mountains for nearly three months. In this remarkable campaign the endurance of the troops met with a test of the utmost severity. Picking their way over mountain peaks nine and ten thousand feet in altitude, creeping down their sides into canyons so deep that not a breeze ever entered to agitate the tropical air, suffering the pangs of hunger and thirst for days at a time, worn and sore from incessant climbing over beetling crags and shifting sands, they clung patiently to the trail. At times it apparently ended the savages practiced their usual resort for mystifying their pursuers when hard pressed, and separated, each man proceeding alone to a preconcerted rendezvous; the pursuit became slower, for the trail of a single galloping pony could be followed only by the closest scrutiny, but the trailers rarely faltered and a plain path again rewarded their search. The Indians were surprised in camp on the Yaqui River, in the district of Moctezuma; they escaped, but their camp was destroyed. Committing many depredations and several murders in the districts of Ures, Arizpe, and Moctezuma, the savages hurriedly made off to the North by a march of nearly three hundred miles, and were finally run to cover at Skeleton Canyon, formerly a favorite resort of the Indians, and, as remarked by General Miles, singularly suited by name and tradition to witness the closing scenes of such an Indian war.

If credit be given to the troops for the courage and endurance which animated them during this campaign, what can be said of their foes? For more than a year they made a running fight through the most rugged and barren portions of the Sierras, without subsistence of any kind except what they could rapidly snatch from the valleys as they swept from mountain to mountain, alternately scorched by the midsummer sun and chilled by the frost of snowclad peaks. At last, broken in spirit and worn in body, they buried the hatchet at the feet of their gallant pursuers. If the strategical skill and physical force manifested against the government by these outlaws can be directed to its advantage, no portion of our military establishment could be more efficient.

The halcyon days of outlawry upon the Mexican border have passed. A new and more prosperous era has dawned in the history of our next-door neighbor. Under the hand of wise and strong leaders, her most distant districts can be held in restraint. Numerous lines of telegraph connect the outlying States with the capital, so that an alarm can reach the chief executive in a few moments, and frequent railways ramify in various directions, so that the means of suppressing an uprising can be commanded within a few hours. The same influences have co-operated to secure tranquillity on the American bank of the Rio Grande. Justice on both sides of the border is swifter and surer, and the lawless exploits of the present day may be regarded as the fitful glimmer of an expiring flame.

*For a complete account of this expedition see A Campaign in the Sierra Madre, 1885-1886, a narrative by Lieutenant Marion P. Maus, First Infantry, U.S. Army,with illustrations by Frederic Remington

The Struggle for Apacheria
The Struggle for Apacheria by
Peter Cozzens
Volume I of the Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars series
1865-1890
The American West in the 19th Century
The American West
in the 19th Century
by John Grafton