Search This Blog


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Prize for Capturing Geronimo, Part II

It may have been winter in 1885-1886, but George Crook was hot under the collar. As the head of the Department of Arizona, the Apache had made life miserable for the renowned "Indian Hunter." He had placed Geronimo and many of his followers on several reservations at different times, but they never stayed around long enough to permit any sort of lasting peace. Geronimo's latest departure, spurred in part by the U.S. Army's inaction to a deliberately provocative act, was especially embarrassing for Crook, who was now being hounded by Washington thanks to the renewed violence of the Chiricahua Apaches. From May 17, 1885 through January 1886, the band of 35 men, 8 boys, and roughly 100 women and children would move almost at will through deserts, canyons, and land considered impassable by most. They would rob and kill settlers, miners, and ranchers as their needs permitted.  They would assault the towns of Alma, Silver City, Grafton, and Camp Vincent. In their 16 month span of freedom they would kill nearly 100 people in total, mostly civilians. Crook had to stop them, and soon.

Standing in his way was the terrain of the Southwest, an unimaginably difficult and desolate landscape. Not only were there burning sands, towers of rock that stretched into the clear desert sky, steep terrain that descended into canyons and rose into mountains, but also an unbearable heat. These difficulties were further magnified by the method of travel which placed stealth and reconnaissance at a premium over speed. Both the conditions and the methods of travel are best detailed in the journal of a Lieutenant Marion P Maus, First Infantry. He writes on the methods of travel:

"In marching the command it was interesting to notice the methods adopted by our Indians in scouting the country to gain information and prevent surprise. It illustrated to us very clearly what we must expect from the hostiles, who would employ the same methods...Their system of advance guards and flankers was perfect, and as soon as the command went into camp, outposts were at once put out, guarding every approach. All this was done noiselessly and in secret, and without giving a single order. As scouts for a command in time of war they would be ideal. Small of stature, and apparently no match physically for the white man, yet when it came to climbing mountains or making long marches, they were swift and tireless...Nothing escaped their watchful eyes as they marched silently in their moccasined feet. By day small fires were built of dry wood to avoid smoke, and at night they were made in hidden places so as to be invisible. If a high point was in view, you could be sure that a scout had crawled to the summit and, himself unseen, with a glass or his keen eyes had searched the ground around."

To read the first-hand accounts of these men is to understand the importance of the Native American scouts and the clever methods utilized by the Apache to remain at large and undetected. The Apache had thought of everything: limiting campfires, locations of campfires, limiting smoke from said campfires, making camp with excellent observation points, ensuring escape routes, placing lookouts, and so on. Maus details the steps taken:

"The march was now conducted mostly by night. We suffered much from the cold, and the one blanket to each man used when we slept was scanty covering. Often it was impossible to sleep at all. At times we made our coffee and cooked our food in the daytime, choosing points where the light could not be seen, and using dry wood to avoid smoke. Our moccasins were thin and the rocks were hard on the feet. Shoes had been abandoned, as the noise made by them could be heard a long distance. The advance scouts kept far ahead. Several abandoned camps of the hostiles were found, the selection of which showed their constant care. They were placed on high points, to which the hostiles ascended in such a way that it was impossible for them to be seen; while in descending any pursuing party would have to appear in full view of the lookout they always kept in the rear. The labor of the Indian women in bringing the water and wood to these points was no apparent objection."

These conditions, documented as harsh to both the white soldiers and their Native American scouts, seemed to pose no trouble to the fugitive Apaches. They hid in the canyons, using them both as concealment and roadways. They fought only when they were at an advantage and by June, they had made their way to the Sierra Madre in Mexico. Crook formed two parties, led by Captain Emmet Crawford and Captain Wirt Davis, and sent them after the renegades that summer. The two groups of men separately chased Geronimo and his band into the autumn. The unbearable heat reached 120 degrees at times, and the sparseness of water and grass made pursuit impossible if not for the supply trains and pack mules. Assistant-Surgeon Leonard Wood, a member of the military detachment, is quoted as saying,

"During the latter part of June and July it was my good fortune to command the infantry. In the detachment of Companies D and K, 8th Infantry, were men who had served in India and South Africa, and, in their opinion, this was by far the hardest and roughest service they had ever seen. Infantry on this expedition marched in drawers and undershirts. I do not remember seeing a pair of blue trousers put on after once wearing the lighter articles mentioned above."

By September, Geronimo had again headed north toward the U.S. border and reports of murderous raiding parties sent shockwaves of fear through the area. Death and stolen livestock were regular occurrences in both New Mexico and Arizona. One Apache band had been stealing horses and mules at will, ending with over 200 animals at the expense of 38 civilian lives. Apaches back on U.S. soil was not something the Federal Government could abide, and the pressure came down even harder on an already frustrated Crook who again sent out Crawford and Davis. Crawford's party would locate them on January 9, 1886. His Lieutenant, Maus, wrote of the  event,

Geronimo, March 27, 1886. Cropped photo of C.S. Fly's original
"The trail was about six days old, and as we passed over it, here and there, the bodies of dead cattle, only partially used, were found...The difficulties of marching over a country like this by night, where it was necessary to climb over rocks and to descend into deep and dark canyons, can hardly be imagined. When we halted, which we sometimes not until midnight, we were sore and tired. We could never move until late in the day, as it was necessary to examine the country a long distance ahead before we started. At last, after a weary march, at sunset on the 9th of January, 1886, Noche, our Indian sergeant-major and guide, sent word that the hostile camp was located twelve miles away. The command was halted, and as the hostiles were reported camped on a high point, well protected and apparently showing great caution on their part, it was decided to make a night march and attack them at daylight... I cannot easily forget that night's march. All night long we toiled on, feeling our way. It was a dark and moonless night. For much of the distance the way led over solid rock, over mountains, down canyons so dark they seemed bottomless. It was a wonder the scouts could find the trail. Sometimes the descent became so steep that we could not go forward, but would have to wearily climb back and find another way. I marched by poor Captain Crawford, who was badly worn out; often he stopped and leaned heavily on his rifle for support, and again he used it for a cane to assist him. He had, however, an unconquerable will, and kept slowly on...We had marched continuously eighteen hours over a country so difficult that when we reached their camp Geronimo said he felt that he had no longer a place where the white man would not pursue him."

Crawford's company attacked at dawn after an exhausting night march. They might have had the element of surprise were it not for some braying burros that the Apaches allegedly used like guard dogs, and that Maus said, "These watchdogs of an Indian camp are better than were the geese of Rome." Then began a short firefight that echoed through the canyons and resulted in the escape of many of the Apache, however in their haste they had left many of their supplies behind, including meat from both deer and ponies. Shortly after, a Native American woman came to the newly claimed camp to arrange a meeting with Geronimo and Natchez, and to beg for food. They agreed to a meeting the next morning by a river about a mile distant.

After a cold sleepless night, the camp awoke to the alarm calls from the scouts. Maus, Lieutenant Shipp, and Tom Horn all ran to see what had caused ruckus, but all they could see were shapes moving about in the fog.  They thought it might be the scouts from Davis' party, but all at once the camp found itself embroiled in another firefight. Crawford's men hesitated to return fire thinking it might be their own men, and so Crawford frantically yelled for the firing to stop. After 15 minutes or so it was over, and it was discovered that the assailants were Mexicans who thought they were attacking the Apache camp. As the commanders of the Americans and Mexicans approached one another to discuss further action, the Americans noticed their own scouts loading weapons and hiding behind rocks.  This was not lost on the Mexicans whose scouts had also taken a nearby ravine to covertly move to a nearby high point that flanked the Americans. Crawford immediately told the scouts to not fire, as did Major Corredor, the Mexican commander. The tension was palpable, life and death hanging heavily by a gossamer thread.

A crack of a single gun shot rang out, and immediately the surrounding rocks exhaled their smoke as .50 cal Sharps carbines and .44 caliber Remington rifles went about their deadly work. The Mexican Major was felled immediately, and his lieutenant was struck 13 times. Two others hid behind a small tree and were killed when the tree was cut down by gunfire. Maus found shelter immediately behind some rocks, but upon doing so, found Crawford "lying with his head pierced by a ball. His brain was running down his face and some of it lay on the rocks." Struck with grief, Maus still gave orders to scouts to prevent the U.S. troops from being flanked. They eventually repelled the Mexicans, and after two tense meetings the two sides traded aid and stock, and went about their way. Despite his grave wounds, Crawford would not pass away for several more days. With his death, Maus was in command and he met with Geronimo 20 miles into Mexican territory on March 25-27, 1886.

Maus, Horn, an interpreter, and five scouts went unarmed into their meeting per Geronimo's conditions. The next day their chiefs arrived with a few men, fully armed, and within minutes of the meeting, Geronimo asked Maus, "Why did you come here?" Maus answered, "I came to capture or destroy you and your band." Geronimo then rose, slowly walked to Maus, and shook his hand, saying that he could trust the man. After some negotiating, Maus arranged for Geronimo to meet Crook to discuss the terms of surrender. The discussion would take place in Cañon de los Embudos (Skeleton Canyon) in the Sierra Madre. Geronimo eventually surrendered with these exasperated words, "Do with me what you please.  Once I moved about like the wind. Now I surrender to you, and that is all." It was during these negotiations that photographer C.S. (Camillus Sidney) Fly would take 15 photographs of the Apache men. Using 8x10 inch glass negatives, they are the only photographs of Geronimo's surrender and the only known photographs taken of Native Americans while still at war with the United States.

C.S. Fly's photo of the well-armed Chiricahuan men captioned, "Scene in Geronimo's camp before surrender to General Crook, March 27, 1886: Group in Natches' camp; boys with rifles."

A photo of Fly's captioned "Geronimo poses with members of his tribe and General George Crook's staff during peace negotiations on March 27, 1886."
Captioned: "Geronimo, Yanozha (Geronimos´s brother-in-law), Chappo (Geronimo´s son by his second wife), and Fun (Yanozha´s half brother) (right to left) in 1886." Photo by C. S. Fly
Captioned: ""Scene in Geronimo's camp...before surrender to General Crook, March 27, 1886: group of 18 men, women and children." Photo by C. S. Fly

Women and children in Geronimo's camp during late March 1886. Shown in the photo is 11-year old Jimmy McKinn, who was abducted by the band. He had been kidnapped in September 1885, and "fiercely resisted" returning to his parents despite the fact that the same Apaches had killed his brother. It was reported in more than one newspaper that he had been "fully Indianized."

Crook sent the following message:

"Camp el Canon de los Embudos, 20 miles SE of San Bernardino, Mexico
March 26, 1886

Lieutenant-General P.H. Sheridan, Washington DC

I met the hostiles yesterday at Lieut. Maus' camp, they being located about five hundred yards distant. I found them very independent, and fierce as so many tigers. Knowing what pitiless brutes they are themselves, they mistrust everyone else. After my talk with them it seemed as if it would be impossible to get any hold on them, except on condition that they be allowed to return to their reservation on their old status.

Today things look more favorable.

George E. Crook, Brigadier General

The following day he sent another message, the first half of which is shown here:

"Camp el Canon de los Embudos
March 27, 1886

Lieutenant-General P.H. Sheridan, Washington DC, Confidential

In conference with Geronimo and the other Chiricahuas I told them they must decide at once on unconditional surrender or to fight it out. That in the latter event hostilities should be resumed at once, and the last one of them killed if it took fifty years. I told them to reflect on what they were to do before giving me their answer. The only propositions they would entertain were these three: That they should be sent east for not exceeding two years, taking with them such of their families as so desired, leaving at Apache Nana who is seventy years old and superannuated; or that they should all return to the reservation upon their old status; or else return to the war-path with its attendant horrors.

As I had to act at once I have today accepted their surrender upon the first proposition. Kaetena, the young chief who less than two years ago was the worst Chiricahua of the whole lot, is now perfectly subdued. He is thoroughly reconstructed, has rendered me valuable assistance, and will be of great service in helping to control these Indians in the future..."

George Crook, Brigadier General

It was only days later that Crook would find out just how unacceptable these terms were back in Washington.  Sheridan wrote:

Washington DC, March 30, 1886

General George Crook, Fort Bowie, Arizona

You are confidentially informed that your telegram of March 29th is received. The President cannot assent to the surrender of the hostiles on the terms that their imprisonment last for two years, with the understanding of their return to the reservation. He instructs you to enter into negotiations on the terms of their unconditional surrender, only sparing their lives; in the meantime, and on the receipt of this order, you are directed to take every precaution against the escape of the hostiles, which must not be allowed under any circumstances. You must make at once such disposition of your troops as will insure against further hostilities by completing the destruction of the hostiles unless these terms are accepted.

P.H. Sheridan, Lieut.-Gen.

In other words, "You already have them. If they do not comply, kill them all." What happens next is not exactly known to history, but two theories pervade.

1. Liquor. It is known that on the night two parties agreed to the terms of surrender, there was drinking by the Apache. They caused such a ruckus that Maus heard them and the echoing as they fired their guns into the air. The next day, 28 March, everyone moved camp en route to satisfy the terms of the surrender. That afternoon Maus went into their camp and found more drunken behavior and that Natchez (future chief and 2nd son of Chief Cochise) had shot his wife. With that, Crook had all the nearby mescal available for sale destroyed. There were a few more disturbances, but ultimately things settled down. That night Geronimo, Natchez, and 35-38 others had escaped again and headed for Mexico. All of this is documented in Maus's journal.

The rumor is that a soldier (or rancher) who had sold them the mescal (or whiskey) had told them that they would all be slaughtered the minute they crossed the border. The Chiricahua Apache, already supremely wary, needed no further convincing to escape with their lives.

2. "Take your job and..." Crook had obtained surrender yet again on the 27th, but heard back quickly from President Cleveland and General Sheridan in the telegram shown above that the terms were unacceptable. The answering telegram from Crook reads,

Fort Bowie, A.T., March 30, 1886
Lieut.-Gen. P.H. Sheridan, Washington, DC

A courier just in from Lieut. Maus reports that during last night Geronimo and Natchez with twenty men and thirteen women left his camp, taking no stock. He states that there was no apparent cause for their leaving. Two dispatches received from him this morning reported everything going on well and the Chiricahuas in good spirits. Chihuahua and twelve men remained behind. Lieut. Maus with his scouts, except enough to take the other prisoners to Bowie, have gone in pursuit.

Geo. Crook, Brigadier-General

Did Crook "lose" the Apache because of the response from back East? Crook would never commit treason, but he was well-known to be an advocate for the Native Americans and their fair treatment. Was he refusing to renege on their agreed upon surrender? Was he finally giving the finger to his bosses in Washington? Or was it the really the alcohol and threat of annihilation that sent the Apaches packing?  A follow-up telegram from Sheridan seems to indicate which theory they believed.

Washington, DC, March 31, 1886
General George Crook, Fort Bowie, A.T.

Your dispatch of yesterday received. It has occasioned great disappointment. It seems strange that Geronimo and party could have escaped without the knowledge of the scouts.

P.H. Sheridan, Lieut.-General

A brief exchange occurred where Crook explained the situation and Sheridan writes back a very backhanded communication giving Crook some very unnecessarily basic strategies to follow and including guilt-inducing phrases like "Geronimo will undoubtedly enter upon other raids of murder and robbery..." It was no secret that Sheridan, at odds with most military minds on the matter, did not approve of Crook's use of Native American scouts, and so Crook, clearly agitated, in a final telegraph after defending his actions yet again, wrote the following:

Fort Bowie, A.T., April 1, 1886

Lieut.-General P.H. Sheridan, Washington DC

"...That the operations of the scouts in Mexico have not proven as successful as was hoped, is due to the enormous difficulties they have been compelled to encounter from the nature of the Indians they have been hunting, and the character of the country in which they have operated, and of which persons not thoroughly conversant with both can have no conception. I believe that the plan upon which I have conducted operations is the one most likely to prove successful in the end. It may be, however, that I am too much wedded to my own views in this matter, and as I have spent nearly eight years of the hardest work in my life in this department, I respectfully request that I may now be relieved from its command.

George Crook, Brigadier-General

Nelson Appleton Miles during his Civil War service
Sheridan was only too happy to oblige, sending word the very next day to General N.A. Miles that he would be relieving Crook as commander of the Department of Arizona, very much a surprise to Miles. Even though Crook had just quit his job, he still wrote Sheridan in reference to allowing the 80 or so Apache that remained to continue on to their reservation. Sheridan would have none of it. He reasoned that since Geronimo had broken the terms of surrender, he was under no obligation to do anything except to treat the Apache as prisoners and send them to Fort Marion (known today as Castillo de San Marcos in Ft. Lauderdale, FL). Crook was out and Miles was in.  His orders: capture or kill.

Miles had long been in contention with Crook as the country's top Indian Fighter. He had a stellar service record in the Civil War, being wounded three times and earning a Medal of Honor. He was flamboyant, earned the name "Old Bear Coat" because of his fur-trimmed overcoat, and had high aspirations. He even married well, politically speaking, to the daughter of Gen. William T. Sherman, and undoubtedly saw the task before him as another rung in the ladder of promotions that he strove to climb. Miles personally selected Captain Henry Ware Lawton to lead the primary chase, a man imposing in height, a handsome appearance, and who Miles described as "...a man of great energy and endurance." He would need every last bit of it for the task ahead. Lawton was paired with assistant surgeon Leonard Wood and the two became quick friends.

Lawton in the late 1870's.
Miles immediately ordered troops to guard every waterhole and pass known to be used by the Apaches. In a spiteful act, he sent the scouts who had fought so effectively with Crook along with the surrendered Apaches to be exiled in Florida. It had the intended effect; Crook never forgave the man. Miles also set to work the mountains and unrelenting sun that had opposed the pursuing troops for so long by setting up a heliograph system. From the Greek words for "sun" and "write," Heliographs consisted of a system of mirrors mounted on surveying equipment that were then positioned on geographic high points that could flash signals to one another. The messages would then be forwarded on to subsequent outposts and a message could travel a great distance very quickly. One message was recorded to have traveled approximately 700 miles in four hours, and 30 such stations were positioned throughout Arizona and northern Sonora. Whether the Apaches knew their significance or assumed they were some sort of spirit or magic is unknown, but the fact they they avoided those flashing mountain tops is well documented.

Perhaps the most effective tactic used by Miles was the sheer number of men used. Crook had spared no expense, but Miles went overboard. 5,000 troops were summoned, over double the amount used by Crook, 100 mules, 30 packers, and a number of new Native American scouts that sources cite anywhere between 20 and 600 scouts (again supervised by Chief of Scouts Tom Horn). Regardless the exact numbers, it mattered little. Geronimo and his 35-38 Apaches were raiding, killing, and moving unabated. Arizona was in a panic. Like a bad children's game of "telephone" the numbers of his band and the death toll rose each time the stories were retold. By July he had returned to the depths of the Sierra Madre to recuperate, where pursuit would be more difficult.

That whole time Lawton and his men had been in a fruitless chase. Scouting and marching were exhausting in the desert heat, but they soldiered on and seldom gave their quarry a worthwhile rest. Lawton himself lost 40 pounds reducing his robust frame to a slender 190 pounds. Despite the tremendous hardship that lay at the feet of the soldiers, Lawton remained popular with his men. One soldier, Alfred Sims, wrote, "To his men a kinder officer never lived, and the one thing that made him so popular was that he would never send any one to a place where he would not go himself." Several skirmishes between the two forces are recorded in the firsthand account of Major G. W. Baird. He describes the chase as follows,

"The trail was taken up in succession, by twenty-five different commands or detachments, representing four regiments... This vigorous pursuit and the five encounters with different commands convinced the Indians that Arizona afforded them no place of security, and they hurried from its borders to the supposed inaccessible fastnesses of the Sierra Madre in Mexico. Though the contests of forces so small may not merit the name of battle, yet in no battle have the participants incurred greater risks or evinced a higher degree of heroism... Through such a region and with such drafts upon the strength and fortitude of the men this force kept up the pursuit during the intolerable heat of that summer of ‘86, and with such steadfastness and skill that no craft or device of the savages could throw them off the trail or secure to the pursued an hour’s respite. "

In July Lawton's men surprised Geronimo's camp, but only recovered their horses and supplies. Not long after the Apache returned the surprise and killed 5 soldiers in the process. Miles' vision of a quick victory was evaporating in the Arizona sun. To that end, he decided a change in tactic was necessary. His previous command had been, "Commanding officers are expected to continue a pursuit until capture or until they are assured a fresh command is on the trail.” Now he decided that perhaps Crook's tactics had some validity to them after all. On July 13, 1886 he sent 1st Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood to accompany Lawton and obtain Geronimo's surrender. Gatewood had been an aide to Crook, whose experience included West Point and time with the 6th Cavalry. More importantly he spoke some Apache, valued their customs, and was already known to Geronimo, having met with the leader on several prior occasions. This shift from "pursue and capture" to "obtain surrender" initially miffed Lawton who knew the immense efforts he and his men had undertaken, but he eventually accepted the new tactic, perhaps realizing it as the best way to complete the mission at hand.

It was late August when Gatewood, accompanied by two scouts and 25 men, began probing the edges of the Sierra Madre for information on the whereabouts of the Apache. It didn't take long for word to reach him about Apache women being sent into the small Mexican town of Frontéras to buy mescal. The Mexicans were hoping to use the situation to their advantage to trick the band into coming into town to massacre them, but Gatewood had other plans. He, his scouts, and half his men followed one of the Apache women as she returned to their camp. The scouts, far ahead of the rest of the group, were seen and met by a brave to permit them passage. One scout was kept for assurances and the other was sent back saying that Geronimo would meet, but with no troops. Taking the small loophole available, Gatewood proceeded to the meeting but brought along his remaining scout.

Gatewood had brought a healthy supply of tobacco in his saddle bags and before long he was sitting and smoking in part of a large semi-circle that had found itself near the bank of the Bavispe River. Several sources cite Geronimo as setting his rifle down 20 feet away from Gatewood before shaking his hand and sitting in part of the circle. However, he sat so close that Gatewood could easily feel the revolver in Geronimo's coat pocket pressing into his hip. Geronimo, an apt spokesman though not the chief, stated that they were ready for the message from Miles. Gatewood got right to brass tacks.

"Surrender, and you will be sent with your families to Florida, there to await the decision of the President as to your future disposition.  Accept these terms or fight it out to the bitter end."

The Apache were silent a while, and then expressed their desire to be placed back on the reservation and to receive an exemption from further punishment.  Otherwise, Geronimo said, they would continue to fight. Gatewood, being an honest ambassador, said that he could offer nothing more than Miles' proposal and to do so would only serve to worsen the situation. They continued to talk, with Gatewood continuing for impress on the Apache the consequences for each of their potential options. Fighting would bring death. Running now and surrendering later would bring harsher terms. By then it was noon and the meeting stopped for the midday meal. After eating, Geronimo seemingly on the edge of fury, demanded of Gatewood, "Take us to the reservation - or fight!" Nachez calmed the situation, and Gatewood relayed one final piece of news: all the other Chiricahua Apaches had already been moved to Florida.

The effect of the news was immediate. They were shocked,  and had assumed they could still join their families at the reservation. Now there was no hope for such a reunion. Even if they went back to the reservation, they would be with other Apache tribes with whom they were not on good terms. Their fighting spirit deflated, the Chiricahuas spoke privately for a moment, before Geronimo asked him quite earnestly, "We want your advice. Consider yourself not a white man, but one of us; remember all that has been said today and tell us what we should do." Gatewood replied, "Trust General Miles and surrender to him." By then evening had fallen and the Chiricahuas agreed to meet in the morning with their final decision. The news was exactly what Lawton had been hoping to hear. With several stipulations to ensure their safety along the way, Geronimo's band agreed to meet with Miles to discuss surrender. The date was August 25, 1886, and they all left together that day, headed for the U.S. border.

Despite the great importance to all parties involved the meeting almost never happened. The Apaches remained armed, citing the need to protect themselves from Mexican troops until they were safely in the U.S., and from the U.S. troops until a surrender was peaceably reached. The very first day, those concerns were proven well founded when the Apache and their escort were approached by the Mexican commander located in Frontéras and 200 infantry soldiers who were claiming rights to capture the Apache. Lawton spoke with them, while Gatewood took the Apache some 10 miles North to await the results of the matter. After several Mexican demands were declined by both the Apache and the U.S. troops, the Mexicans had to settle to send along a single soldier with the group to ensure that Geronimo was indeed surrendering to the Americans. This was a bold and honorable move on Lawton's part. His men were outnumbered, outgunned, and they were on Mexican soil, but he had given his word as an officer to protect the Apache and he intended to see it through. They traveled through Guadalupe Canyon to the San Bernadino Valley until they reached Skeleton Canyon

That encounter set the tone for a extremely tense trip. Much weighed on the men in charge of this mission. If they failed, the reaction from Washington would be anything but favorable. If they succeeded, certainly promotions and fame awaited. So many before them had failed, how would they succeed?  The end of their journey was so close, but the Apache remained fully armed and had a nasty penchant for escaping into the nearly inaccessible Sierra Madre.  Exacerbating the tension, Miles refused to meet at the appointed time and place for nine days. The Apache grew even more suspicious and wary than usual. Lawton and Gatewood pleaded with them and soothed them over and over again. On several occasions the Chiricahua Apaches asked Gatewood if he would run away with them (sources differ on whether this was to resume a life of raiding, or to continue on toward Ft. Bowie to meet with Miles themselves). Lawton wrote his anxious letters to his wife of his predicament. A rumor reached Geronimo that he would be killed, and they took off, but they were not gone long before Gatewood reached them and assured them of their safety. Finally on September 3, 1886 Miles arrived, only after having been sent Geronimo's brother as a hostage, and met with Gatewood and Lawton.

The very next day, Geronimo and Nachez agreed on the terms of surrender, and by September 8, they were on an eastbound train headed for Florida. The reign in the West was at an end. It had taken over 5,000 white men, 3 years, and two generals, but finally Geronimo and his band of around three dozen had succumbed to the relentless waves of white men from the East crashing into his desert realm.

The Rifle

Lieut. George E. Albe
Upon the surrender, there was much rejoicing on both coasts of the country. The higher ups in Washington and the military had gotten their man and could finally silence those crying out for a resolution. The people of Arizona and New Mexico were also able to breathe a sigh of relief for their safety and the security of their livestock. The news traveled quickly across the country and it would not take long before it reached the ears of Lieutenant George E. Albee.  Lawton and Albee had served together in the Civil War and become life long personal friends, though while the former's service continued until mere days before the 20th century, the latter's ended in 1878 when he retired from the Army. After his duties there, Albee resumed his strong interest in firearms.  He went to work for Winchester Repeating Arms and became a man of some influence there, helping to develop the Hotchkiss rifle and receiving no less than two patents. He also developed a sizable firearms collection and, having been a crack shot since his service in the Civil War, went on to win many shooting competitions.

This dear and close friend of Lawton, presented Lawton with the lever action rifle shown throughout this story, Model 1886, serial number 1.

Perhaps telling that the gift is between two military men, the gun is not bathed in precious metals or covered with elaborate engraving. On the contrary, the gun remains quite handsome in its original configuration, and in near mint condition. The case hardening is vivid and is still abundant even on the buttplate.
Understated for such a historic event, the gun is marked in tribute only by a small inscription behind the rear sight on top of the octagon barrel that reads, "Albee to Lawton." It is a simple, but heartfelt gift for a man who struggled mightily for months, but never at the expense of his dignity, honor, nor duty.

In a letter dated November 1, 1886 and addressed to "My Dear Albee," Lawton speaks of a banquet in his honor in Albuquerque. He did not want to attend, but was ordered to do so by Miles. There Lawton was presented with what he calls, "a handsome and valuable pocket watch," shown below. It was made by E. Howard & Co. in Boston, and is engraved with a message from a grateful people that reads,

Presented to

Capt. H.W. Lawton
4th U.S. Cavalry
By the Cattlemen of Central New Mexico
as a token of their appreciation of his
gallant service in the capture of the 
Apache Indian Chief 
~ Geronimo ~
and his band.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
Sept. 27th, 1886

Lawton was also presented with a watch chain (shown above), every link of which is inscribed with the names of men who accompanied him during the chase of Geronimo. The rifle, the watch, and the chain are all to be sold in a single lot during Rock Island Auction Company's 2016 April Premiere Firearms Auction.

Appearing in the same auction, although in a different lot, is a regal Horstman & Son/Weyerberg sword presented to Lawton. As one can see in the photo above it is an Damascus bladed Officers sword covered in etchings and gold portraying patriotic and floral motifs. The scabbard and furniture are intricately sculpted to match. The center band of the scabbard is inscribed to Lawton and reads, "Lt. Col. Henry W. Lawton/From the Officers and men of the/30th Indiana Infantry Regt. Vol./ February 10, 1865." The tip and upper bands of the scabbard have been inscribed but instead document Lawton's extensive battle record beginning at Shiloh and continuing on through the battle of Nashville. It is another stunning testimony to a man who was clearly beloved by his men regardless of his rank or the conflict in which he fought. He was a man not without his flaws, he battled with alcoholism and his military performance is generally not considered stellar, however author Steven L Ossad best sums him up as such,

"In the end, however, his core strengths as a soldier and a man—a strong personal code of honor, unflinching loyalty to his comrades and they to him, cool personal courage under fire, extraordinary physical endurance, and good will towards his fellow man—overshadowed his flaws. In several notable instances, even those who were once his enemies came to regard him with respect."

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Capps, Benjamin. The Old West: The Great Chiefs. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life, 1981. Print.

Lockwood, Frank C. The Apache Indians. New York: MacMillan, 1938. Print.

Ossad, Steven L. "Henry Ware Lawton: Flawed Giant and Hero of Four Wars." Army History Winter 2007: 4-25. Web. <>

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Self-Made Cattle Baron

If there is one man that better symbolizes the American West and the American Dream simultaneously than A. B. Robertson, I have yet to read about them. From rags to riches, this man learned the ways of the cowboy before blazing a trail in Texas history as one of the preeminent cattlemen of the era. Yes, "Sug" Robertson, as he is more commonly called, lead a charmed and exciting life, but it didn't begin that way.

A. B. "Sug" Robertson
A.B. (Andrew Briggs) was born on January 14, 1855 as the sixth of eight children.  He was known to
his friends and family as "Sug" because as an infant that had yet to cut any teeth, he allegedly bore a close resemblance to a superannuated country doctor also lacking his pearly whites known as "Dr. Sug." His father, also named A.B., was a doctor who moved the family frequently, leaving A. B's birthplace of Indiana for Mississippi and eventually Arkansas just prior to the Civil War. A native Virginian, Dr. A.B. enlisted in 1863 as a Confederate surgeon in that great conflict.  Arkansas in the early 1860's saw a great deal of chaos as a slow-moving Union Army crossed the state foraging and requisitioning supplies along the way. A channel of devastation lay behind them that quickly filled with bushwackers, bandits, and citizens reeling from the total war policy implemented by the Union troops. In a time the state was already seeing a mass exodus of citizens, Dr. A. B. sent word to have his family moved to live with relatives in Texas until his return. Leaving their home yet again, the family traveled southwest in a covered spring wagon to Hood County, TX on the Brazos River.

The war would end two years later, and accounts vary on the fate of Dr. A. B. Some have him returning home and continuing his practice after the war before moving to Louisiana.  However, more reliable sources (and genealogical records) point to him never returning home from the Civil War. His family had not received word from him from several years, nor did they receive any notification that he had died in service. It was some time before Dr. A. B. would surface in Louisiana with a new wife and family.

Regardless of what happened to A.B. Sr, it still leaves Sug in Texas at the tender age of 10 by the end of the Civil War. Thousands of returning and displaced soldiers flowed into Texas and brought about the birth of the cattle industry in the state. The demand for beef had increased back East thanks to a growing economy - courtesy of an Industrial boom and the beginning of a huge influx of immigrants that would continue through the turn of the century. Until it busted in the 1880s cattle was king and it gave rise to much of the romantic imagery we have today of cowboys, cattle drives, and life on the prairie. Sug was at the heart of it when it all started.

He took his first job in 1865 as a cowhand for R.K. Wylie at a wage sources cite as anywhere from $7.50 to $10/month. He was given a cow pony and learned how to operate a ranch by seeing and doing it firsthand. The boy was a natural. Sug was no stranger to learning on his own volition. With only 6 months of school under his belt, he taught himself to read using newspapers by the light of the campfires, and practiced his writing on his own boots with only the ranch's bills of sale as models. It was a life that few grown men undertook, let alone a young man, but Sug was no ordinary boy and his life was full of adventure.

His aptitude was noticed quickly by Mr. Wylie and within a year Sug had been sent to neighboring Coleman county to assist in starting another ranch. With knowledge and skills that continued to grow, by 1873 at the age of 18, he was considered by many to be a "top hand." This reputation afforded him an opportunity to lead his own trail drive of 1,000 head from Coleman County up the Chisholm trail to Coffeyville, KS with a crew of eight men. The drive went off without a hitch and the young man's star continued to rise. Sources differ on the exact year, but give or take a year from his 18th birthday, Sug took his first step from cowhand to cattleman. He purchased a heard of 5,000 head of cattle from Wylie. The partnership lasted for five years before Sug would sell that ranch back to Wylie, and begin a long chain of acquisitions and sales, that by 1882 would result in the sale of the Robertson TX Ranch for $50,000. Just several years earlier he had married Emma Lenora Smith, and one can be certain that she was extremely pleased with her husband's business savvy.

The boldness he displayed in his business dealings were matched perhaps only by his exploits on the plains. As a hand, interactions with Native Americans were frequent, though his final  experiences with them date to 1875. One story states that he was out with an acquaintance hunting for bison. Now bison were an even larger problem than Native Americans for ranchers. While the Native Americans could steal horses and threaten lives, the bison could scatter an entire herd and destroy grazing lands for miles in any direction. Sug and his friend had hitched their horses in a creek bed, crept slowly up a ravine, and silently came within range of some bison grazing on a ridge. As they closed on their quarry, Sug looked back and saw five Native Americans beyond the creek bed riding on a beeline for their horses. Undetected, both the hunters rushed back to their mounts and charged the would-be horse thieves. The pursuit continued for two miles before the chased men dismounted their rides and escaped into a thicket. With that the two men took the newly riderless horses back to their ranch, found they had once belonged to their neighbors, and returned them.

Undoubtedly still stinging from their last experience, the Native Americans visited the ranch four or five days later and raided it of every last horse. In a risky and dangerous gamble, Sug and another hand set off on foot to track the band and recover their horses. It was only several miles before they encountered a pair of jaded horses that had been left behind. They snatched the unlikely opportunity, and now pursued the thieves on bare horseback. The culprits again eluded capture, but the two young men did come across five horses that had escaped and so led them back to the ranch. The bareback ride being quite uncomfortable, Sug had a mind to fix that situation as well. It wasn't long before the men and their regained horses came across a herd of bison. Sug dismounted, "hitched" his horse by standing on the end of a rope he had tied to it, and shot a bison. Right there the two skinned and dressed the beast and used its hide to improvise a saddle and saddle blanket that the two then used to return home.

Though perhaps both of those accounts pale in comparison to the way Sug dealt with cattle rustlers. White thieves were much more prevalent than the Native Americans, so in 1874 after Sug had purchased a herd of 3,000 at Horse Head Crossing of the Pecos, he quickly set in his mind to nip the problem in the bud. He set out on his own to confront the leader of the rustling ring that was the source of a headache for many a rancher in the territory. He would wait until nightfall to approach their camp, and the story is best recounted as such,

"Soon after arriving (at the ranch) he located the headquarters of the rustlers in a secluded spot in a bend of the Pecos River. Mounting his horse and armed with a rifle and revolver he rode into the camp (where) half a dozen of the ugliest men as one would meet in a year on the frontier, sprang to their feet and threw their rifles down on him."

He then dismounted his horse "with no haste whatsoever."

"Robertson was not long in making known the object of his call. He sat down on his haunches before the fire and delivered himself of two sentences:  'I'm telling you boys,' he said, 'that there'll be no mavericking of calves out of my herd. Anybody that cares to try, I'll guarantee will go to hell on a shutter, pronto.'

The astonished leader of the gang invited Robertson to stay the night and share some beef.  The invitation was accepted and in the morning when Robertson rode away he had a pledge that was never broken that his animals would be as safe as babes in cribs."

One may have questioned Sug's wisdom in such an action, but no one ever questioned his grit. Stories such as these surround the young man. He met John S. Chisholm in 1871, founder of the legendary Chisholm Trail, and once helped him prevent a disastrous stampede, forging a lifelong friendship. He has documented correspondence with Theodore Roosevelt.  By age 21 he was foreman of one of the largest ranches in Texas.  In 1882 he moved to Colorado City, and by 1889 he was the President of the bank there (and also a silent partner of the local saloon). Once there he continued to conduct business with cattle and shipping, with one source stating that, "within the last ten or twelve years has bought and shipped more cattle to Northern markets than any other man, in the same time, in Texas."

The move to Colorado City is far from the pinnacle of Robertson's career, in fact, it could be argued as the beginning of its next level. It was in that fine city that he met Mr. Winfield Scott of Fort Worth and the two became partners in many business ventures. Scott provided much of the capitol, especially in the earliest ventures, while Sug provided the knowledge and experience. Their first venture was a ranch in New Mexico renamed by them as the Hat Ranch due to its brand of a semicircle with a bar underneath it that closely resembled a bowler hat. It was 100,000 acres, employed nearly 100 men, spanned two states, and after several expansions and acquisitions, gave the Hat Ranch brand instant recognition in every significant cattle market in the country.

After the pair sold their interest in New Mexico, Sug bought 35,000 acres from the St. Louis Cattle Company in Yellow House Canyon. Known as the RH Ranch, Robertson again set his powers of reorganization to work, just as he had done at the Hat Ranch. He renamed it the "V" and stocked it with Hereford cattle, a breed he vigorously advocated. The ranch specialized in the breed and eventually the bloodlines from his ranch were considered a premium.  The ranch and his newly constructed 2-story brick house known as "Stockland" were run with the most up-to-date methods and modern conveniences.

Sug set up the V to be the land he would settle down on. After establishing it, it received almost his entire attention, though he did continue his work and lifelong friendship with Winfield Scott until Scott's passing in 1911. The two were so close that Sug was named to head his three million dollar estate without any bond.

Sug was the face and pioneer of the West Texas cattle industry. He was leader that served on the boards of numerous organizations including banks, the Texas Cattleman's Association, the Cattle Raisers Association of Texas, and even the National Livestock Association.  He was asked numerous times to run for public office such as the state senate and governor. The man was also an interesting personality. Characterized as: honest, quick to criticism & praise, a fantastic storyteller, shrewd, and generous. His forthright nature and strong will may have turned some people off, but largely the man was respected and admired.  He was not social outside of his family, but his reputation of generosity still lives.

"In one case a man bought a quarter section of land from him and could not make good on it, so instead of just reclaiming the land as was his legal right, Sug returned the man's $600 to help him get by until he could get situated elsewhere."

He had also donated to found a local church, donated land to developers to help build up his city of Slaton, and helped establish its first bank, literally helping found the town. The V Ranch would be the last home Sug would own. After falling ill in early 1921, doctors recommended he move to a "lower climate" so he moved to Abilene and continued to run his business. Unfortunately, one evening after dinner with his wife at one of his children's house, he moved to the parlor to sit and read the paper when he suffered an attack of "acute indigestion."  Medical staff were summoned, but by the time they arrived the pioneering cattleman had passed.

Sug Robertson lived the American Dream. He wrote his own story through hard work, determination, honed skill, bravery, a love for education, and a fire inside him that wouldn't be extinguished. From a 10-year old cowboy to a business mogul, he worked hard to get the results he wanted. He had chased Indians on foot his entire life. Both he and the industry experienced their early years, growth, and incredible success as if they were one and the same.

The photos of the revolver that have permeated this story are those of a Colt Single Action Army that once belonged to Sug. It was a single gun shipment in 1917, factory engraved by none other than Cuno Helfricht in a Colt's "Style 2." The master engraver's work remains crisp and deep. The revolver is in all original condition, including its 99% nickel finish. The pearl grips glow and glint attractive iridescent hues of pink and teal. It has only been fired during its factory test, and has remained in the family its entire life. They have lovingly referred to as the "Unicorn" thanks to its one-of-a-kind nature. The beauty of this Colt alone would be enough to send collectors scrambling, but its rich Texas history and direct provenance to one of the 19th century's most prominent cattleman only sweetens its appeal.

Sug would approve of the determination that will be required to own his stunning six shooter.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Cox, James. Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry and the Cattlemen of Texas and Adjacent Territory. Saint Louis: Woodward & Tiernan Print., 1895. Print.

Farber, James, Those, Texans, Unidentified Newspaper Clipping. Collection of Martha Robertson