In 1860, because of complaints about Navajo raids on mining camps and ranches in New Mexico, Col. Kit Carson was called in to U.S. Army Headquarters by General James Henry Carleton. It was Carleton’s shortsighted wish to put all the Navajos on a reservation and teach them the benefits of becoming more like the white man. He wanted them to learn to grow crops, become Christianized and civilized to fit into the white man’s society. Kit Carson, having made friends with the Navajos, feared it would not be an easy task. Nor was it. He finally resorted to a “scorched earth” policy where he burned out villages, farm plots, peach orchards, killed livestock or took them for his army, and literally drove 7,000 Navajos south to a barren piece of land called the Bosque Redondo. At least 200 died during the 18-day, 300-mile (500-km) trek on the Pecos River. Eventually the Navajos would call this march “The Long Walk.”
Mexicans called them Apaches—Enemy. They called themselves The People—Tinde'.
As long as anyone could remember, first the Spaniards, then the Mexicans had been at war with the Apaches. Neither side had any desire to change things. It was kill or be killed, steal or be stolen from, burn or be burned out, whenever they met. Wrongs on both sides ran too deep. It was a fight to extinction.
In 1853, the Mexican Government placed a bounty on Apache scalps. They paid twenty-five dollars for a child’s scalp, fifty for an Apache woman’s, and one hundred for an adult male’s. But who could tell from a scalp lock of long black hair the sex or age of the Indian scalped, or whether the scalp might even be that of a Mexican peon. Apaches knew that to the bounty hunter, anyone—young or old, male or female—was fair game.
Then a new breed called Americans came into the West. They came in all sizes and colors, some good, some bad. At first they merely passed through the Arizona Territory in 1849 on their way to the California gold fields. They didn’t scare as easily as the Mexicans. Many could hunt and live off the land like an Apache. They trapped and traded, prospected and homestead, and looked like they planned to stay.
In the beginning, the Americans were too few in number to be considered a threat, and the Apache tried to get along with them. At one point, the Apaches had even hoped the Pindo-Lik-O-Yes or White Eyes would help them in their fight with the Mexicans.
Instead, the United States made peace with Mexico, and the two countries changed their boundaries. The Bartlett Commission of 1851 went through the New Mexico and Arizona Territory to draw the new line across the sands. Though they looked for it, the Apaches could never find this line. What was once Mexico’s had now become the property of the United States; but those to whom the land truly belonged were never given a thought. No one asked their permission to hunt on their lands, kill their game, to plunder the earth’s bounty for ore or to ruin their way of life. They just did it.
Aided by the very nature of their terrain, the Apaches resisted the whites’ advance longer than did any other Indian nation. The years between 1861 and 1874 became known as the Cochise War. Other names became dreaded household words as well: Mangus Coloradas, Victorio, and Geronimo.
With only a few hundred warriors, the Apaches still held off five Civil War generals, five thousand trained troops and scouts, and cost the United States millions of dollars in men and material.