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
Massai, Chiricahua Apache

One of the Indians arrested after the Geronimo war and sent east by railroad was Massai, a Chiricahua Apache. The photo below shows the Apaches about to board the train which would remove them from Arizona. Geronimo is in the first row, third from the right. His son is sitting next to him. One of the Indians, called Massai, escaped from the train and traveled back west. This journey took him more than a year, during which time he avoided all human contact with either whites or Indians.

Apaches enroute to Florida, NARA photo

Massai's brutal predations became legendary in Old Mexico, New Mexico, and Arizona where he was sought for years but never re-captured. "Massai manifested himself like the dust-storm, or the morning mist--a shiver in the air, and gone."

In "Massai's Crooked Trail" Frederic Remington tells the story of Massai as he heard it from the chief of scouts.

Massai's Crooked Trail
Written and Illustrated by Frederic Remington
Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 96, Issue 572 (January, 1898)

It is a bold person who will dare to say that a wilder savage ever lived than an Apache Indian. and in this respect no Apache can rival Massai.

Apache Indian by Frederic RemingtonHe was a bronco Chiricahua whose tequa tracks were so long and devious that all of them can never be accounted for. Three regiments of cavalry, all the scouts--both white and black--and Mexicans galore had their hack, but the ghostly presence appeared and disappeared from the Colorado to the Yaqui. No one can tell how Massai's face looks, or looked, though hundreds know the shape of his footprint. The Seventh made some little killings, but they fear that Massai was not among the game. There surely is or was such a person as Massai. He developed himself slowly, as I will show by the Sherlock Holmes methods of the chief of scouts, though even he only got so far, after all. Massai manifested himself like the dust-storm or the morning mist--a shiver in the air, and gone. The chief walked his horse slowly back on the lost trail in disgust, while the scouts bobbed along behind perplexed. It was always so. Time has passed, and Massai, indeed, seems gone, since he appears no more. The hope in the breasts of countless men is nearly blighted; they no longer expect to see Massai's head brought into camp done up in an old shirt and dropped triumphantly on the ground in front of the chief of scout's tent, so it is time to preserve what trail we can. Three troops of the Tenth had gone into camp for the night, and the ghostly Montana landscape hummed with the murmur of many men. Supper was over, and I got the old Apache chief of scouts behind his own ducking, and demanded what he knew of an Apache Indian down in Arizona named Massai. He knew all or nearly all that any white man will ever know.

"All right," said the chief, as he lit a cigar and tipped his sombrero over his left eye, "but let me get it straight. Massai's trail was so crooked, I had to study nights to keep it arranged in my head. He didn't leave much more trail than a buzzard, anyhow, and it took years to unravel it. But I am anticipating.

"I was chief of scouts at Apache in the fall of 1890, when word was brought in that an Indian girl named Natastale had disappeared, and that her mother was found under a walnut-tree with a bullet through her body. I immediately sent Indian scouts to take the trail. They found the tracks of a mare and colt going by the spot, and thinking it would bring them to the girl, they followed it. Shortly they found a moccasin track where a man had dismounted from the mare, and without paying more attention to the horse track, they followed it. They ran down one of my own scouts in a tiswin camp [enjoying an intoxicating beverage made from corn], where he was carousing with other drinkers. They sprang on him, got him by the hair, disarmed and bound him. Then they asked him what he had done with the girl and why he had killed the mother, to which he replied that "he did not know."

The Arrest of the Scout by Frederic Remington

The Arrest of the Scout by Frederic Remington

When he was brought to me, about dark, there was intense excitement among the Indians, who crowded around demanding Indian justice on the head of the murderer and ravisher of the women. In order to save his life I took him from the Indians and lodged him in the post guard-house. On the following morning, in order to satisfy myself positively that this man had committed the murder, I sent my first sergeant, the famous Mickey Free, with a picked party of trailers, back to the walnut-tree, with orders to go carefully over the trail and run down the mare and colt, or find the girl, dead or alive, wherever they might.

"In two hours word was sent to me that the trail was running to the north. They had found the body of the colt with its throat cut, and were following the mare. The trail showed that a man afoot was driving the mare, and the scouts thought the girl was on the mare. This proved that we had the wrong man in custody. I therefore turned him loose, telling him he was all right. In return he told me that he owned the mare and colt, and that when he passed the tree the girl was up in its branches, shaking down nuts which her old mother was gathering. He had ridden along, and about an hour afterwards had heard a shot. He turned his mare loose, and proceeded on foot to the tiswin camp, where he heard later that the old woman had been shot and the girl "lifted." When arrested, he knew that the other scouts had trailed him from the walnut-tree; he saw the circumstances against him, and was afraid.

Apache Scouts by Frederic Remington

Apache Scouts by Frederic Remington

"On the night of the second day Mickey Free's party returned, having run the trail to within a few hundred yards of the camp of Alcashay in the Forestdale country, between whose band and the band to which the girl belonged there was a blood feud. They concluded that the murderer belonged to Alcashay's camp, and were afraid to engage him. I sent for Alcashay to come in immediately, which he did, and I demanded that he trail the man and deliver him up to me, or I would take my scout corps, go to his camp, and arrest all suspicious characters. He stoutly denied that the man was in his camp, promised to do as I directed, and, to further allay any suspicions, he asked for my picked trailers to help run the trail. With this body of men he proceeded on the track, and they found that it ran right around his camp, then turned sharply to the east, ran within two hundred yards of a stage-ranch, thence into some rough mountain country, where it twisted and turned for forty miles. At this point they found the first camp the man had made. He had tied the girl to a tree by the feet, which permitted her to sleep on her back; the mare had been killed, some steaks taken out, and some meat jerked. From thence on they could find no trail which they could follow. At long intervals they found his moccasin mark between rocks, but after circling for miles they gave it up. In this camp they found and brought to me a fire-stick--the first and only one I had ever seen--and they told me that the fire-stick had not been used by Apaches for many years. There were only a few old men in my camp who were familiar with its use, though one managed to light his cigarette with it. They reasoned from this that the man was a bronco Indian who had been so long out that he could not procure matches, and also that he was a much wilder one than any of the Indians then known to be outlawed.

"In about a week there was another Indian girl stolen from one of my hay-camps, and many scouts thought it was the same Indian, who they decided was one of the well-known outlaws; but older and better men did not agree with them; so there the matter rested for some months. In the spring the first missing girl rode into Fort Apache on a fine horse, which was loaded down with buckskins and other Indian finery. Two cowboys followed her shortly and claimed the pony, which bore a "C C C" brand, and I gave it up to them. I took the girl into my office, for she was so tired that she could hardly stand up, while she was haggard and worn to the last degree. When she had sufficiently recovered she told me her story.

"She said she was up in the walnut-tree when an Indian shot her mother, and coming up, forced her to go with him. He trailed and picked up the mare, bound her on its back, and drove it along. The colt whinnied, whereupon he cut its throat. He made straight for Alcashay's camp, which he circled, and then turned sharply to the east, where he made the big twisting through the mountains which my scouts found. After going all night and the next day, he made the first camp. After killing and cooking the mare, he gave her something to eat, tied her up by the feet, and standing over her, told her that he was getting to be an old man, was tired of making his own fires, and wanted a woman. If she was a good girl he would not kill her, but would treat her well and always have venison hanging up. He continued that he was going away for a few hours, and would come back and kill her if she tried to undo the cords; but she fell asleep while he was talking. After daylight he returned, untied her, made her climb on his back, and thus carried her for a long distance. Occasionally he made her alight where the ground was hard, telling her if she made any sign he would kill her, which made her careful of her steps.

"After some miles of this blinding of the trail they came upon a white horse that was tied to a tree. They mounted double, and rode all day as fast as he could lash the pony, until, near nightfall, it fell from exhaustion, whereupon he killed it and cooked some of the carcass. The bronco Indian took himself off for a couple of hours, and when he returned, brought another horse, which they mounted, and sped onward through the moonlight all night long. On that morning they were in the high mountains, the poor pony suffering the same fate as the others.

"They stayed here two days, he tying her up whenever he went hunting, she being so exhausted after the long flight that she lay comatose in her bonds. From thence they journeyed south slowly, keeping to the high mountains, and only once did he speak, when he told her that a certain mountain pass was the home of the Chiricahuas. From the girl's account she must have gone far south into the Sierra Madre of Old Mexico, though of course she was long since lost.

Natastale by Frederic Remington

Natastale, White Mountain Apache woman by Frederic Remington

"He killed game easily, she tanned the hides, and they lived as man and wife. Day by day they threaded their way through the deep canyons and over the Blue Mountain ranges. By this time he had become fond of the White Mountain girl, and told her that he was Massai, a Chiricahua warrior; that he had been arrested after the Geronimo war and sent East on the railroad over two years since, but had escaped one night from the train, and had made his way alone back to his native deserts. Since then it is known that an Indian did turn up missing, but it was a big band of prisoners, and some births had occurred, which made the checking off come straight. He was not missed at the time. From what the girl said, he must have got off east of Kansas City and traveled south and then west, till at last he came to the lands of the Mescalero Apaches, where he stayed for some time. He was over a year making this journey, and told the girl that no human eye ever saw him once in that time. This is all he ever told the girl Natastale, and she was afraid to ask him more. Beyond these mere facts, it is still a midnight prowl of a human coyote through a settled country for twelve hundred miles, the hardihood of the undertaking being equaled only by the instinct which took him home.

"Once only while the girl was with him did they see sign of other Indians, and straightway Massai turned away, his wild nature shunning even the society of his kind.

"At times his heart was bad, and once he sat brooding for a whole day, finally telling her that he was going into a bad country to kill Mexicans, that women were a burden on a warrior, and that he had made up his mind to kill her. All through her narrative he seemed at times to be overcome with this blood-thirst, which took the form of a homicidal melancholia. She begged so hard for her life that he relented; so he left her in the wild tangle of mountains while he raided on the Mexican settlements. He came back with horses and powder and lead. This last was in Winchester bullets, which he melted up and recast into .50-calibre balls made in molds of cactus sticks. He did not tell how many murders he had committed during these raids, but doubtless many.

"They lived that winter through in the Sierras, and in the spring started north, crossing the railroad twice, which meant the Guaymas and the Southern Pacific. They sat all one day on a high mountain and watched the trains of cars go by; but his heart got bad at the sight of them, and again he concluded to kill the girl. Again she begged off, and they continued up the range of the Mogollons. He was unhappy in his mind during all this journey, saying men were scarce up here, that he must go back to Mexico and kill some one.

"He was tired of the woman, and did not want her to go back with him, so, after sitting all day on a rock while she besought him, the old wolf told her to go home in peace. But the girl was lost, and told him that either the Mexicans or Americans would kill her if she departed from him; so his mood softened, and telling her to come on, he began the homeward journey. They passed through a small American town in the middle of the night--he having previously taken off the Indian rawhide shoes from the ponies. They crossed the Gila near the Nau Taw Mountains. Here he stole two fresh horses, and loading one with all the buckskins, he put her on and headed her down the Eagle Trail to Black River. She now knew where she was, but was nearly dying from the exhaustion of his fly-by-night expeditions. He halted her, told her to tell the white officer that she was a pretty good girl, better than San Carlos woman, and that he would come again and get another. He struck her horse and was gone.

Chief of Scouts by Frederic Remington"Massai then became a problem to successive chiefs of scouts, a bugbear to the reservation Indians, and a terror to Arizona. If a man was killed or a woman missed, the Indians came galloping and the scouts lay on his trail. If he met a woman in the defiles, he stretched her dead if she did not please his errant fancy. He took pot-shots at the men plowing in their little fields, and knocked the Mexican bull-drivers on the head as they plodded through the blinding dust of the Globe Road. He even sat like a vulture on the rim rock and signaled the Indians to come out and talk. When two Indians thus accosted did go out, they found themselves looking down Massai's . 50-calibre, and were tempted to do his bidding. He sent one in for sugar and coffee, holding the brother, for such he happened to be, as a hostage till the sugar and coffee came. Then he told them that he was going behind a rock to lie down, cautioning them not to move for an hour. That was an unnecessary bluff, for they did not wink an eye till sundown. Later than this he stole a girl in broad daylight in the face of a San Carlos camp and dragged her up the rocks. Here he was attacked by fifteen or twenty bucks, whom he stood off until darkness. When they reached his lair in the morning, there lay the dead girl, but Massai was gone.

"I never saw Massai but once, and then it was only a piece of his G-string flickering in the brush. We had followed his trail half the night, and just at daylight, as we ascended a steep part of the mountains, I caught sight of a pony's head looking over a bush. We advanced rapidly, only to find the horse grunting from a stab wound in the belly, and the little camp scattered around about him. The shirt tail flickering in the brush was all of Massai. We followed on, but he had gone down a steep bluff. We went down too, thus exposing ourselves to draw his fire so that we could locate him, but he was not tempted.

"The late Lieutenant Clark had much the same view of this mountain outlaw, and since those days two young men of the Seventh Cavalry, Rice and Averill, have on separate occasions crawled on his camp at the break of day, only to see Massai go out of sight in the brush like a blue quail.

"Lieutenant Averill, after a forced march of eighty-six miles, reached a hostile camp near morning, after climbing his detachment, since midnight, up the almost inaccessible rocks, in hopes of surprising the camp. He divided his force into three parts, and tried, as well as possible, to close every avenue of escape, but as the camp was on a high rocky hill at the junction of four deep canyons, this was found impracticable. At daylight the savages came out together, running like deer, and making for the canyons. The soldiers fired, killing a buck and accidentally wounded a squaw, but Massai simply disappeared.

"That's the story of Massai. It is not as long as his trail," said the chief of scouts.

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Note: The highest peak at the Chiricahua National Monument is called Massai Point.