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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 protect them.

Eskiminzin
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 General Stoneman.

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 too late.

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, survivors returned.

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.


2 comments:

  1. Excellent job of outlining this event, Kristie. I never heard of the Massacre at Camp Grant. Heartbreaking. So sad this sort of cruelty still goes on in the world.

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    Replies
    1. Patti,
      It is heartbreaking and I find this type of research difficult. We, as writers, need to understand the forces at play in these types of situations. Thanks for stopping by. It's much appreciated.

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