Descriptions of life in Arizona during the late 1700s and the mid-1850s were all written by white settlers who moved into the territory from the eastern states of America.  It was natural, I suppose, that the new occupants of the western lands feared the Native Americans they encountered.  In Arizona, descriptions of “Indians” almost always centered on the Apache tribe as the quintessential stereotype.

            Here was a well-organized community of fiercely dedicated people – especially when it came to protecting their homelands, peoples and way of life.  Thus, to the invaders of the land, the Apache were feared and even hated for their strong stance.  It was their fierceness in defense that bothered the white man.

            The natives had learned to be wary of people of lighter skin.  They had seen what the Spanish conquistadors and padres had done when they came in the 1600s.  They had fought the invaders and finally came to an agreement to accept tribute of food, other rations, and pensions to allow the new-comers to stay.  In many ways, they were like the feudal robber-barons along the rivers and mountain passes of medieval Europe – holding strategic locales and charging fees to pass through or settle in them.

            But in 1830 a new brand of emigrants was streaming into their desert lands. The Spaniards had vanished and the Mexicans were retreating.  The Americans were more insistent and better armed.  James S. Calhoun, the first United States Indian agent in New Mexico recommended a firmer attitude toward the Indians saying “… a vast majority of the Apaches and Comanches live chiefly by depredations; they look upon the cultivation of the soil with contempt as inferior beings … they do not believe we have the power to chastise them …” The Mountain Men began harassing the natives and finally set a bounty on Apache scalps.

            One of the leading Americans, who had been quite friendly with the Apaches, gathered a party of other Mountain Men and arranged a meeting with Juan Jose the leader of a band of Apaches in 1837.  In the middle of what was supposed to be a friendly trading gathering, Juan Jose was treacherously murdered. 

            The Apaches took revenge not only upon other Mountain Men, but turned their ferocity on any non-native settlers they could find.  They attacked the Mexican copper mines of Santa Rita and drove the miners south over their old pack trails into Chihuahua.  Here they overtook the Mexicans and massacred them almost to a man – taking the women and children into brutal captivity.

Mangas Coloradas

The new leader of the Apache was Mangas Coloradas who succeeded Juan Jose.

 When the American military entered the area that would eventually become southern Arizona they confronted an angry, wary tribe of Apaches.  Relationships with these Native Americans never seemed to be stable until the Americans came to realize that this land was first and foremost the homeland of the natives who resided here for many centuries before these new settlers came.  Through many years of bumpy relationships, wars, massacres, and negotiations the conflicts continued, but the end was inevitable, the United States would spread from coast to coast and the native tribes would be included in a great nation.  (Source: Stephen G. Hyslop, The Old West, p. 134)

Copyright Harold Hickman, 2022 All rights reserve

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