As Geronimo Plans Cross-Border Horse Thieving from San Carlos
From Life of Tom Horn (originally published in 1904)
BY TOM HORN
It was after dark when some one touched me, and I woke and found Micky standing there. “May we build a fire?” he asked. I told him yes, all the fire he wanted. He said all the scouts were there but six, and these would be in soon, sure. He said: “We are hungry, and some of our horses are tired.”
I told him to send all the horses to herd and make ready to stay there all night [before pursuing Apache Renegades], and as soon as they could get something to eat I would talk to them. And I told him to tell the rest of the men that I saw the signal fire of the Chiricahuas the night before on one of the Pillares.
Micky said: “Now, where were you when you saw them?”
I told him on the top of the Terras Mountains, and that I left the top of the mountains about midnight.
He went and gave orders to send out the herd and we soon had something to eat. We had just got through eating when up came the rest of my scouts. A strong sense of humor runs all through the Apache race. When these last Indian scouts reached camp the sergeant with them came up to me and saluted me, as he had seen the American soldiers do, in a very business-like way. Micky said to him : “Why do you salute your chief? He is no soldier. He is a citizen. I am the ranking soldier of this outfit, and if you want to salute, I am the one to be saluted.”
“I can’t salute you,” retorted the scout; “there is too much mixture in you for me to attempt it. You are part Mexican and part something else, and I don’t know what that part is. I know I never saw anyone else like you. I know only Americans, Mexicans and Apaches. You are none of these and you are all of them, and as I am only Apache I will have to balk.” This is the kind of talk and josh that you could always find in the Apache scouts’ camp.
Micky made them eat, turn out their horses, and then we had a talk to see how we could get a lick at the renegades [who the U.S. government wanted on the San Carlos Reservation but who had fled into Mexico]. I told them all I had seen, and Micky said the same as did all the rest that the signals I saw sent from the Pillares were to the effect that the ones at the Pillares would be joined by the others [Chiricahua Apaches] in two days. I told them that it was just about the same time the night be-fore that I saw the last of the signals. It was seventy-five miles to that place, so going there was out of the question for two reasons. We would not have time, and we could not go into Mexico. Now, the question was, what would we do and how would we be able to get a lick at them?
Just then one of the scouts on herd came in and said there were soldiers coming. I got on the scout’s pony and went to meet them. This was always customary, as wild Indians and tame scouts all look alike in the dark. The soldiers proved to be Lieutenant Wilder and twenty troopers of the Third, and he was glad to find me. General Crook had learned that I had gone towards the line with my scouts, and he was afraid I would invade Mexico again.
Wilder had dispatches to that effect for me from General Crook. Wilder, of course, went into camp there with me. General Crook’s dispatches to me said that Lieutenant Wilder would remain with me in command of the outfit, as it was necessary to have a commissioned officer in command of enlisted men, and that my scouts were all enlisted men. Wilder came over to my fire after he got his camp straightened out, and I told him what my dispatches contained. That I had an order from the adjutant general for him to take command. I then reported to him what I knew and what I had seen from the top of the Terras Mountains, and that I was sure the renegades would come up in two days, or three at most, and I wanted to try to get a lick at them.
Wilder was a trump. He called me Chief, and said he would do anything in the world I told him to. “Now, you want those Indians,” said he, “and nothing was said to me about Indians; but we will give them a little chase just for luck.”
We all concluded to go to bed and wait till morning. Wilder was all right, for he had two blankets, and he offered me one of them, as he said he had a piece of canvas besides his blankets. I would not take his blanket, and the next morning I saw his good piece of canvas was about four feet square!
Next morning we started to go to the southern end of the Chiricahua Mountains to pick out a place to take up a good position, that we might cover all the ground to the Mexican line. We were joined by six San Simon cow boys. Micky had met one of them the night before and told him that I was at Tex Spring; that I had just come up from Mexico, and was sure to have some knowledge of the renegades, as I had twenty-five scouts there on the line, and had just sent word for all of them to join me at Tex Spring, to get there before daylight, sure. The cow boys were always ready for anything, and so they came to help us out if they could. They were all well armed and well mounted.
Our force was all right now, if we could just make the correct guess and intercept the Indians. The boss of the cow boys said for me only to tell him what to do and he would do it. One of my scouts reported a band of men of some kind coming across the flat. They proved to be John Slaughter’s men, and I sent one of the cow boys to head them off and bring them directly to us. When they came up I found they had my two saddle horses that I had left at Slaughter’s Ranch.
The Slaughter men were five in number, and all were Mexicans except the boss, who was a Texan. They wanted some of the row if we could get them into it. They were armed, as Wilder said, like pirates and well mounted. I knew there were only twenty or twenty-one Indians in the bunch, and at least three and maybe five of those were women. So we all knew that if we could strike them, they were ours. The San Simon cattle boss wanted to get at them so bad that he could hardly be controlled. He said he wanted to get in a place where he could get right up on the edge of them. I just wanted a man or two like him, so I put him with Micky. We could not figure that the renegades could or would come any other way than by the mouth of the big open cañon called Dry Creek. They would come from the Pillares, where they would all get together, and Micky and I figured that they would come up in the Wild Bull Hills, as the Indians called them.
We calculated they would then try to make the southern point of the Chiricahuas Mountains from there in one night. It would be forty miles, but it was open country, and they would be bound to cross the Mexican line from where they were in the night. Then I knew they would have a good big lot of horses, and by crossing in the night, and in the neighborhood of the San Bernardino Ranch, the horses they had would not make so conspicuous a trail to be seen and followed by anyone, as there were hundreds of head of horses on the San Bernardino Ranch. I knew, also, that the renegades would figure on this same thing. It would also make the best route to the Reservation. Well, we camped there, and I put in the day figuring out the exact way the Indians would come. If we could make the right guess on the exact place they would come through, then we could get them easily. I took only Micky with me, as he and I were the only ones among the scouts that knew every foot of the country. We finally decided that the place the Indians would come would necessarily be the mouth of Dry Creek. That settled it, and we went to camp.
We kept a good watch during the day, thinking we might see something, but nothing showed up. That evening I placed all the men just where I wanted them and we waited and watched the best we could during the night, but not a sign did we see of the renegades. We put in the day eating and sleeping, and of course kept a good lookout. In the evening I took more precautions than on the previous evening, as I figured we would strike them about daylight next morning.
Next morning, when it got light, there were no Indians on hand, but we saw a big dust off to the south, and we knew it was the renegades with their stolen horses. They were fully ten miles away. At first we could only see the dust, and it was quite a while after sunup before we could distinguish the Indians. The herd of horses kicked up a great cloud of dust, and the Indians were enveloped in the cloud of dust, so we could only make out one once in a while. Instead of coming up into the mouth of the Dry Gulch, where we thought they would, they kept on around the foot of the mountains in the open.
As soon as I could determine for sure which way they were going, I arranged my men, and a fine opportunity we had. The renegades had no idea we were near, and as they got close to us, I could plainly hear them singing. I arranged for Lieutenant Wilder and his troops to strike them in the lead, and the cow boys, led by Micky, were to take them in the rear. I would keep my Indian scouts with me, as I had misgivings about the wild soldiers and about the cow boys, wilder still; and as it was to be a fight on horseback, I knew everybody would be more or less excited.
The San Simon cow boys were led by a wild kind of fellow, and he asked me if the man I was putting with him was anyways timid. “If he is,” said he, “you keep him and let us cow boys go it alone.”
I told him that if Micky acted timid, to come back and tell me, and I would shoot him. I told him to follow Micky and he would be in the fight. I had told Micky how to do, and not to start the fight, but to wait and let me start it. I told him that I would expect him to control the cow boys till he heard my yell and shots from my party.
Now we were ready and the Indians were still half a mile away. We were waiting for them to get behind a hill, then my men would get in position. Micky ranged up his cow boys and addressed them in Mexican, which they all understood. (Micky could not talk English.) He said to them: “Friends, I will take you into this fight, and then each of you do as you please after the fight gets started. You want to do as I tell you until the chief says to start, and then we will go. Till that time, you must obey me and I will cut the throat of the man who does not do as I say. That is all. Come on.”
A more recklessly brave man than Micky never did live at any time, and as the cow boys wanted to fight so bad, I knew that if they followed Micky they would be in it.
I got down as close to where the Indians would come, as I could get. They were coming slowly and we had plenty of time. The herd would come within two hundred yards of where my party were concealed. Just when they got to where I wanted to strike them, one of the renegades gave a yell. “Un-Dah!” he yelled. (That meant “White men.”)
I was going to start the fight by firing and this renegade that gave the yell was looking towards where I knew Wilder was. I was on the ground and was going to shoot at this Indian. He checked up his horse an instant and I blazed away at him. That was the signal, and few men ever saw such a sight as I saw there. Soldiers rode at them from the front, their head. Cow boys charged them from the rear, and as I saw them come over the hill I looked to see where Micky was. He was all right and leading the cowboy charge.
I wanted to turn the renegades out into the flat country, so I took a run at them myself, enough to make them think that I had the main body of men with me. Sure enough they turned for a minute towards the flat. In a good deal less than a minute after I fired the first shot, soldiers, and cow boys and renegades were all mixed up and most of my scouts went away and left me. I had got soldier blouses from Wilder’s men and put them on my scouts, so that if they did all get mixed up, my scouts would be easy to distinguish from the renegades.
If any hostiles got away from that fight I never saw nor heard of them, and I do think that not one escaped. A squaw turned towards where I was and there was no one after her and she was coming nearly directly toward me. I stopped her, and I think she was the only one of the entire party that was not killed. After the fight was over she told me there had been fourteen in the party. Eleven men and three women.
We found and counted ten dead men and two dead women, and I had one woman alive, which accounted for all the women, but there was one man shy, and we could not and did not find him. He never returned to the Reservation, and I do not know what ever became of that one Indian. My opinion always was that he escaped in some way, and was wounded so that he must have died in the mountains. I don’t think the fight lasted five minutes. We, on our side, had one dead cow boy, a Mexican from San Bernardino ranch, and two wounded cow boys. Micky Free had a big slash in his left arm and one soldier was shot in the neck, and one in the stomach. We were in big luck to get off so easy.
The cow boys and Micky did most of the killing, as they had the best show and all of them were riding their picked horses, and as the San Simon boss said, they did go right up to the edge of them!
There were 118 head of stolen horses and I did not know what to do with them. I would not touch them, and Lieutenant Wilder would not have anything to do with them. The San Simon boss would not have anything to do with them, so I got the Slaughter boss from San Bernardino to take them back and turn them loose at the Slaughter ranch.
We buried the San Bernardino Mexican. He had tried to rope an Indian and did rope him and pulled him off his horse; then the Indian got up and killed him.
Some of the cow boys wanted to scalp the dead Indians, but the San Simon boss would not let them. We stayed around there till close to noon and then we all went our different ways. Wilder and I both wrote out our reports of the fight, and Wilder sent a couple of soldiers on in to Bowie with them. I tried to get Wilder to take charge of my prisoner, but he respectfully declined. Wilder was going back by the Tex Spring and I was going up over the Chiricahua Mountains and I made arrangements to meet Wilder at old Camp Rucker, in two days and we would go from there to Bowie together.
The Chiricahuas Become Restless
Five days after the fight we got into Bowie. All this happened in the month of January, 1884, and it was the last day of January when we got into Bowie. Major John G. Burke met us there, or at least he came in the first day of February. Major Burke and Captain Roberts, both of whom were on General Crook’s staff, had a long talk with my prisoner. I was not present at the talk. Major Burke spoke Mexican, or Spanish as he called it, and he used Micky as interpreter.
Burke came, after he got through his talk, and asked me what I was going to do with the squaw. I told him it was up to him. He said I might send her up to Turkey Creek with the rest of the Chiricahuas, so she could tell them that the renegades that were missing would not come back.
I sent Micky and a half dozen scouts with him to take the woman up to Turkey Creek, and to come back by San Carlos and get all their traps and horses that they wanted and come back to Bowie, as Burke said I must make Bowie my headquarters. Major Burke was very much pleased with the way things were going, so he told me. When Micky and the rest of the scouts came back, I had a long letter from Sieber and he told me I was doing fine, to keep it up and do just as I saw fit all the time and never to wait for orders from headquarters, but when anything was to be done, to put out and do it and let the orders follow me up, as they had on this occasion. He said Major Burke and Captain Roberts were both old Indian fighters, and whenever it became necessary for me to do as I had just done, (that was to go on my own hook, without orders); that Burke or Roberts would always send out a good young man to find me and take charge of my command, but that the young man would always do as I advised, just as Wilder had done, and any officer who would not do so would never be sent for me. Sieber said Burke and Roberts did not want to tell me this, but they wanted me to do so without being told.
After Micky got back from San Carlos we lay around Bowie till we were tired of it, and I took Micky and a couple more men and went out to look around the country a little and visit. The San Simon cow boss had pressed me to make him a visit, so we took in the San Simon Ranch for a starter. We reached there the next day after we left Bowie, and at the ranch we stayed for six days, “hunting Indians.”
Well, it was certainly amusing to hear those cow boys tell of the fight we had out at the south end of the Chiricahuas. There were ladies, there, also, and one of them asked me if I did not think it a very dangerous life to lead, being chief of scouts. She asked me how I knew the Indians would come the way they did come, and a great many more questions with about the same amount of sense in them. She asked me if I was not afraid my own scouts would revolt and kill me. She said they could do so any time out in the mountains.
She said: “All the cow boys say that your man Micky is one of the greatest scouts alive and one of the bravest men, but I am sure he looks like a villain.”
I told her that Micky was a gentleman and a scholar, and that I also considered him a judge of beauty, as he had told me that the white lady with blue eyes and blonde hair was the prettiest woman he had ever seen. Next day I noticed she had Micky in her house feeding him sweet cakes and giving him lemonade to drink!
We knocked around the big ranch and visited for about three weeks, and then went back to the Post. Along in the summer we went up to Camp Apache and to the Chiricahua Camp on Turkey Creek. I was going to discharge my scouts in a short time, as they had enlisted for only six months at a time, and I wanted to see Gatewood, so as to know if it would be necessary to enlist any more. Gatewood told me he was having an awful time. The Chiricahuas were unusually mean; were trading off all their horses for ammunition and whiskey, and that they were raising Cain with all the other Indians; in fact, that he could do nothing with them.
“They will not stay much longer,” said he, adding that he was going to leave the camp and go and live in Camp Apache, twelve miles away. I went over to Geronimo’s camp and asked him why he could not behave himself. He asked me what he had done, and I told him that his people were not doing right. He said he could not do anything with them. I asked him if he was tired of life on the Reservation, and he said all his people were dissatisfied. I wanted to know why. He replied: “It will do no good to lie to you; they want to go back to Mexico.” I told him if he ever left again, that General Crook would keep his word and go down to Mexico with a war party and that many Indians would have to die. He said that they all wanted to go, and that only his counsel held them. I learned from his talk that Gatewood had good cause to feel uneasy, for when Geronimo said that only his voice for peace was heard in the entire Chiricahua Camp, that the matter of peace hung by a very slim thread, for Geronimo never had favored peace. He would talk peace, and talk it day and night, but he was in reality the war chief of the Chiricahuas, and was still looked upon as such by all the tribe, and the balance of peace, when left to him, was surely a slim hold on peace.
I went down to San Carlos, saw Sieber and told him of my talk with Geronimo. I told him that the other chiefs would not talk to me at all.
Sieber said: “That means war, and bitter war it will be now. I have just learned what Geronimo came up here for. He calculated to live here on the Reservation and keep sending raiding parties into Mexico to steal horses and bring them up here and sell them and start up a regular business, thinking we would be compelled to help him out with it. You and Wilder and the cow boys knocked it out of the first gang that he sent down, and now that he sees that he can not do that kind of business in a successful way he wants to go back on the war path, so he can keep up the devilment he loves so well. We will go to Bowie and see Burke, and we may be able to do something. At least we can not let this go without putting it to him plainly.”
Sieber could not ride on horseback, as an old wound in his hip was giving him a lot of trouble, so he got an ambulance from the Quartermaster and we struck out for Bowie, which was now the Department Headquarters. Sieber had to go around by Thomas with the ambulance, so I went straight across the country and got to Bowie one day ahead of him.
When he came in we saw Major Burke and told him that we thought Geronimo was going to break out again, and soon at that. We then went over the whole business with him and told him our reasons for what we thought. Major Burke told us that General Crook was in Washington and that he would write him a full account of what we had reported, and see what General Crook had to say. Burke wanted to know what we had to suggest to stop the outbreak. We wanted to take up the cavalry regiment and put all the bucks in irons and the women and children under guard and send them away. Burke wanted to know where we could send them to. I suggested that they be sent to Missouri, and Sieber said: “Yes, send them to Missouri or to some such place. That is all we can do.”
I asked Burke if I should enlist another company of scouts, and he said I could not, as no arrangements had been made for them. He told me that I could hire nine Apache scouts for $30.00 a month and them furnish their own horses, and one man for $50.00 and furnish his own horses and that the Quartermaster Department would give me forage for two horses for each man. Told me to go to San Carlos and get them and report back at Bowie as soon as ‘ convenient, as he thought General Crook would soon be there.
I went back with Sieber in the ambulance and took my saddle, as I had some horses at San Carlos I wanted to bring down. I got my scouts as soon as my old company was discharged. I made Micky my head man, of course, and we were soon back at Fort Bowie. There Burke told me that General Crook would be delayed some time in Washington, and hinted that now, as my men were all civilians, I could cross the Mexico line, and that we would not be an armed body of American troops. I then told him how Sieber and I once crossed the line and that our own government rounded us up for it, and he laughed and said, yes, he knew all about our having been “reprimanded by the investigating committee” and said that he guessed it did not do much good, as the following January I had gone into Mexico alone, anyhow, as far as the Terras Mountains, when I located the Indians that we cleaned up so well down on the south end of the Chiricahua Mountains.
I told him one man was not an armed body of men. He gave me to understand that if I did violate the orders of our War Department and invade Mexico with civilian scouts, that our Government would stand by us if we were arrested down there. And that if we made an invasion and were not arrested in Mexico, that he did not think the federal courts would handle us very roughly here in the United States.
Of course we would not be arrested in Mexico, for there was no one there to arrest us. Burke told me to take my men and go make Camp Rucker my headquarters, and that he would send down rations and forage for us. He told me always to leave two or three men in camp so they could go and find me if I were away from camp when any message came from headquarters.
We pulled out. We had about twenty-five extra horses and every one of them a picked horse. We were well fixed to do lots of scouting, but there were no renegades out that we knew of. I always left three men in camp to feed and look after our extra horses. Now, when we would go out, we never had to take an extra with us, for we would make only such trips as took us from four to six days.
I never got any further orders regarding anything. Every month the Quartermaster’s chief clerk from Fort Bowie, would come down in his ambulance and pay us off. There was a troop of cavalry stationed there also, and with the troop and in command of it was my friend, Lieutenant Wilder. He put in his leisure time in wishing I could find some more renegades, and in drinking smuggled muscal. I always left word at camp with the men there as to about where I would be if we were needed. I was looking for General Crook to come, but did not hear a word more of him.
Along about the middle of November the long expected happened. At the head of Skeleton Cañon we heard some shots fired and a big bunch of “Diamond A” cattle came running through the hills. There were 300 or 400 head of them, and we were sure it must be Indians. It was either Indians or outlaws, sure, and so we guessed Indians. Whichever it was, if we met them it meant war. There were eight of us, and we were all right to look out for ourselves.
Micky and I got off our horses and ran up to the top of a little butte and there we saw about twenty-five Indians gathered around the carcass of a cow they had shot. There were squaws, and bucks and children, and they were all gathered or were gathering around the cow so we could not get a count on them. They were coming from the north, toward the Reservation, as we saw several of the hindmost ones still coming up. There was water close to them, but if they camped at the water we could not get at them, as there was too much open country. They were about 600 yards from us, but we could get a great deal nearer by going on foot. The only thing to do was to try and get a lick at them as they were butchering.
We rode as close as we dared go on horseback and then left one man with our horses and ran up on a little hill that had a kind of a rough stony top and also a few scrub trees on it. We were only a couple of hundred yards away, so we tore loose at them.
Well, I am telling the truth when I say there was no more butchering done there. The women and kids commenced to yell and their horses were some that had been stolen in Mexico, and they most all of them got scared at the racket and started to run and we kept on shooting for a minute, and then I sent four of the scouts to bring the horses. The man we left with them was coming, but he was slow.
In a couple of minutes the horses were brought up. Micky and I remained and were shooting as well as we could, but we were not doing any good. When our horses came up, we mounted and went at the Indians. We did not have very good success, as they were well scattered now, and running, most of them on foot, and they were hard to do anything with, so we went back up the hill the way the rest of the scouts had gone. We found Micky with two squaws and five children; we also got six horses and two mules with their equip- ments. We went down to where we had done the first shooting, at the beef, and there we found two dead bucks.
I was afoot, my horse having been killed, and we had a bunch of prisoners. We did not notice for a while that we were one man shy, and then we heard a big racket up on the top of the hill. Micky rode up there and one of the scouts had a big, healthy, greasy squaw treed. The scout did not want to shoot her, and she had out her knife and swore she would cut his heart out if he put his hand on her. I did not see it, but Micky said it was a great battle. The woman said she would not be a prisoner, so Micky said: “Well, we have got too many prisoners, any way.” He drew up his gun as though he were going to shoot her in the eye, and she said: “Well, I will go with you.” That made three women and five kids we had and the worst of it was we did not have the women the kids belonged to. We loaded them all on the horses we had captured, after I picked out the best animal (and a very good one he proved to be after he got rested up a month or so), and for Camp Rucker we headed.
It was getting late and we wanted to get out into the San Simon Valley before night. We were thirty miles from Rucker and we wanted to get there that night. The San Simon Cattle Company were boring a well out in the flat and I wanted to go by there and tell the men the Indians were out, as one of our captives said all the Chiricahuas had broken out.
At the well I found one of my men from rucker coming to look for me to tell me of the outbreak. He had also come by the well to let the boys there know that the country was full of Indians. This outfit of mine settled the whole thing with the men at the well. They wanted to get away from where they were and they wanted to do it quick. They had a good team of horses and a wagon, and a double-barreled shot gun. They could not go to the San Simon ranch, as they would be going towards the Indians. When I suggested that they hitch up and go with me, they were very willing. I put all my prisoners and the traps that were on the captured horses in the wagon, as the Indian’s horses were very tired. I put Micky in the wagon also, and we again started to Camp Rucker, where we arrived about sunup. Lieutenant Wilder had a full report of the outbreak from Bowie, and he was ordered to co-operate with me and see if we could intercept any of the renegades that were coming toward the line. I told him that we were too late to do any more good, but that I would get something to eat and then have a talk with the captives. The women had refused to talk much and were as sullen as mules in a mud hole. I got a big drink of brandy from the surgeon and gave to one of the women, and then all of them said they would talk if I would give them a dram. This I did, and a big one, and they then told me all about the outbreak. How every one was made to leave all extra horses and camp traps and to make for Mexico in small bunches of about twenty in a bunch, and not to stop from the time they started till they got to the San Luis and Terras Mountains. They were all warned to be very careful on the Mexican line, as Geronimo knew that Micky and I were on the line somewhere. There is a mountain in Sonora, Mexico, called El Durasnillo. The Indians call it Cu, and there all the Indians were to rendezvous. This was pretty good to know, so I sent a scout in to Major Burke and told him what I had learned as to the place the Indians would all come together, and suggested he immediately notify Colonel Tores, at Hermosillo, Mexico, to that effect, so as to give him a chance to go gunning for them.
After I started my messenger to Major Burke I tried to get Wilder to take my prisoners on to Ft. Bowie, but he would not do it, as he wanted to go on down towards the line and try and find some more Indians. So I had to go myself to Bowie. I did not like to leave the line. I knew, also, that all the renegades were in the mountains safe across the line, but I had only ten men and I could not divide them and do any good. I dared not send Micky in charge of the prisoners, for he would have killed all of them; so I sent Micky and another with Wilder and I loaded my squaws and kids into a Government wagon and pulled out for Bowie.
To be continued…
Editor’s note: Readers might consider that Tom Horn was a man of the 1800s, also a scout and Indian fighter. Attitudes and language now considered unacceptable were common then. Horn, more over, in the employ of his government, sometimes killed Apaches, perhaps even innocents (and Geronimo’s warriors, the fierce Chiricahua, killed soldiers and civilians, sometimes in deliberately horrific ways. Those were brutal times in the West, and hardly politically correct.