Monday, October 11, 2010

A Last Stand, Part I

October 11, 2010 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

You might say I enjoy recording historical events and also investigating them if they involve the Superstition Wilderness Area. I would like to tell you about a trip I made into the Superstition Wilderness in March, 1985, to check out a story about a military skirmish between the Army and the Apaches. An old friend told me about a small hill deep in the wilderness that once served as a refuge for a small band of Yavapai-Apache in May of 1866. This hill was located a short distance from another landmark known in military parlance as Dismal Valley.

Tom Kollenborn searching Feeder's Mesa.
Two Army infantry companies, the 14th and 32nd stationed at Fort McDowell, had cornered a small band of Apache-Yavapais, on a conical-shaped hill. None of the Native Americans planned to surrender a way of life they had known for generation e after generation. This was their "last stand." All of them fought to the death rather than become slaves of a culture foreign to their way of life. This is a inherit desire that is sometimes difficult for Anglo-Americans to understand about the first Americans.

For many years I had heard stories about the campaigns waged against the Apaches in the Superstition Mountains (Sierra Superstition).

I researched the topic, but failed to find much material. It wasn't until I met a gentleman named Joseph Crary that I was successful. Joe had done a considerable amount of research in and around Washington D.C. while in the U.S. Army. He found documentation involving military activities and campaigns in the Superstition Mountain and Salt River region. He found several military skirmish reports dating back to the mid-1860's.

Some of these reports revealed vivid descriptions of military action in the Superstition Mountain region by the U.S. Army against native Americans. Such places as Quail Camp, Dismal Valley, Picacho Butte, Coyote Tank and Fortress Hill were all disasters for the native Americans. The United States Army had only one soldier killed and three wounded in all of the Superstition Mountain skirmishes. The Yavapai-Apache fought these battles with bows, arrows, clubs, lances and a few outdated and primitive Mexican cap-lock muskets.

Some historians call this period between 1864-68 the Rancheria Campaign. The mission of the Army and Pima Scouts during this period was to search out and destroy the Yavapai-Apache villages. All men who resisted were to be killed and those who surrendered were to be placed on a reservation. The military reports indicated the body counts ranged from 11 to 53 dead at each of the Superstition villages that were raided.

The Army had destroyed the Apache-Yavapai villages in the Superstitions by 1868. Only raiding parties from San Carlos entered the Superstition area after 1868. The surrender of Geronimo in Skeleton Canyon near the Mexican border in 1886 ended the Indian Wars in Arizona Territory.

As I rode along a lonely trail toward Horse Camp Ridge I thought about the battles that once raged on the distant hilltops more than a hundred years ago. I wondered what kind of artifacts I might find if I could locate the place where a small band of Yavapai- Apache made a last stand in May of 1866. A place called Fortress Hill.

Read Part II here.