Kristy McCaffrey writes contemporary and award-winning historical western romances. She likes the peculiar, the fascinating, and the scientific; animals and the outdoors; her husband and children; history, symbols, and mythology. Grab a cup of tea and hang out by the fireside. Let's travel together.
Monday, April 25, 2016
Massacre At Camp Grant
By Kristy McCaffrey
Camp Grant in 1870
In the 1860’s and 1870’s, the state of unrest in the
southern Arizona Territory varied widely. At times, depredations by Apache
Indians was severe and led to an increased military presence in the area.
There existed, however, little unity among the tribes, and some of the more
peaceful bands suffered. The massacre at Camp Grant is one such example.
On April 30, 1871, a group of Pinal and Arivaipa Apache
Indians were slaughtered at Camp Grant, a crucial garrison located at the
outlet of Arivaipa Creek where it meets the San Pedro River, about sixty miles
northeast of Tucson.
Royal Emerson Whitman
Several months prior, First Lieutenant Royal Emerson Whitman
assumed command of Camp Grant. A respected officer from the northern side of
the Civil War, he likely viewed his new commission as reaching the end of the
earth. Camp Grant was nothing more than a rectangle of filthy adobe buildings
around a dusty parade ground.
In February 1871, five old Indian women from a band of
Arivaipa Apaches came to the post under a white flag, searching for a boy they
believed was held prisoner. Whitman treated the women kindly, and they stayed
for two days. When they left, they asked if they could return with more of
their people. Whitman agreed. Eight days later they came with more Indians,
along with goods to sell. Whitman again treated them well. The Apache said that
many of their band wanted to come in, and Whitman promised that he would
A few days later, more Apache arrived, represented by their
chief, Eskiminzin. Also present was a Pinal chief known to the whites as Capitán Chiquito, and a chief
called Santo. Whitman found Eskiminzin to be friendly. His people were weary of
the constant danger from the troops and wanted to settle down in their
ancestral territory along Arivaipa Creek. They wanted peace and asked Whitman
to give them tools and issue rations until a harvest was ready. This was a
common promise given to Indians at the time so the request wasn’t out of line.
Unfortunately, Whitman had no authority to make this peace
and explained this to Eskiminzin. He suggested they go to a reservation in the
White Mountains. But not all Apache got along, and Eskiminzin refused. Whitman
decided to take a chance with the thought that if he could pacify this band
then others might follow. He agreed for them to come in and that he would issue
a pound of beef and a pound of corn or flour per day per adult. He would also
allow them to gather mescal as needed. In the meantime, he would write his
commander to gain the required permission. He immediately sent word to
Department Commander George Stoneman at Drum Barracks, California.
At the beginning of March, Eskiminzin returned with his
entire band of Arivaipa Apaches—about 150 people. Soon, that number doubled,
and finally over 500 Indians had come in. Whitman could see that the Indians
were desperately poor so he made arrangements for the Arivaipa’s to gather hay
for the fort, at the rate of one penny a pound. In two months, over 150 tons was
brought in, worth $3000, which made the Apache wealthy. Before long, it wasn’t
just the women and children submitting to labor, but the warriors as well.
Whitman was firm but fair with the Indians. After a time, he
relaxed restrictions on them, and relations were good with nearby ranchers, who
even hired on some of the Apache. By all accounts, his unofficial reservation
was flourishing. But by the end of March, Whitman had still not heard from
Whitman kept an eye out for treachery, but he could discover
no wrongdoing when it came to the Indians. They were happy and content. Other
soldiers at the post, civilian employees of the army, and even veteran Indian
haters all agreed that something profound was occurring here. The Indians trusted
Whitman. Only once did he overstep himself when he asked if they would provide
Apache scouts to help fight other, more hostile, Apache bands. Eskiminzin said
no, stating that they were not at war with those other bands.
Around the beginning of April, a new commander arrived to
take over Camp Grant. Whitman briefed Captain Frank Standwood on the situation.
Standwood approved and instructed him to carry on. In mid-April, Whitman
received word that his request to General Stoneman had been misfiled and therefore
not approved. It’s been theorized that Stoneman did read the letter, but
refused to act one way or another regarding it. Politics were delicate when it
came to providing a feeding-station to Indians who might then go out and
pillage and raid.
On April 30, only Whitman and a small garrison of fifty men
were in residence at Camp Grant because Captain Standwood had left on an
extensive scouting mission days earlier. Word came that a large force of armed
citizens from Tucson were on the loose and were believed to be headed to Camp
Grant and the Apache rancheria. Word would have reached Whitman sooner, but the
leaders of the Tucson mob—the influential Oury family on the white part and the
Elias family on the Mexican side—had set sentries and sealed the road to insure
their success. Reacting quickly, Whitman sent word to the Indians but he was
The massacre was ruthless. The mob consisted of six whites,
forty-eight Mexicans, and ninety-four Papago Indians. Men, women, and dogs were
clubbed. Those that escaped were shot. The assault was over in thirty minutes.
Whitman did what he could. He tried to contact survivors
who’d managed to escape. He sent the post surgeon to help any who lived, but
unfortunately there were none. The scene was grisly. Skulls had been crushed,
women sexually assaulted and mutilated. Infants had been shot. Whitman took on
the task of burying the 125 dead, of which only eight were men. Slowly,
Amazingly, the surviving Pinal and Arivaipa Apache continued
to express their confidence in Whitman. Eskiminzin, deeply grieved over losing
his family, nevertheless remained steadfast in his determination not to
retaliate with war. Some believe it is a testament to the goodwill that Whitman
had extended to them, a policy that had been strikingly effective, even in the
face of this unspeakable tragedy.
As a side note: Twenty-nine Apache children went missing
that day. The mothers implored Whitman to get them back. Two of the children
managed to escape. Five were later recovered from Arizona citizens. The
remaining twenty-two were taken to Sonora, Mexico and sold. Also, because this
was labeled a massacre by the military, President Grant told Arizona
Territorial Governor A.P.K. Safford that if the perpetrators weren’t brought to
justice then he would place the area under martial law. In October 1871, 100
assailants were indicted under Tucson law, but because the ensuing trial
focused solely on Apache depredations, all of the men were found not guilty.