(December 27th, 1872).
(From the account by Captain J. G. Bourke, in his book "On the Border with Crook" 1892. By permission of Messrs Charles Scribner's Sons).
For the same old reason, as always before, the Apaches of Arizona were fighting the whites, but doing it successfully. The Government at length sent against them fresh troops under Gen. George Crook, who was said by Gen. W. T. Sherman to be the greatest Indian fighter and manager that the Army of the United States had had. But, more than this, he was a man respected, admired and beloved by every one who knew him - friend or foe. All the wise ones felt that the solution was in sight when Crook took command.
Throughout the history of the matter, we find the great General torn by two conflicting thoughts - first, "My duty as a soldier of my country"; and, second, "These Indians are in the right." In his own words, "The American Indian commands respect for his rights, only so long as he inspires terror with his rifle".
With characteristic sternness, energy and fortitude he began the campaign, as winter set in, just when his predecessors had moved into comfortable quarters.
To realize that the mountains were full of Apaches that swooped down at unexpected times, spreading fire and slaughter and fearful destruction - was one thing and an easy one, but to find them and strike back was a wholly different matter.
The white soldiers under Crook would have been powerless, in spite of their far superior numbers, their superb equipment, abundance of food and ammunition, but for the fact that the Apaches themselves were divided, and the white soldiers had with them a large band of these red renegades, who did all the scouting, trailing and finer work of following and finding the foe, as well as guarding their white allies from surprise.
Late in December, Major Brown, with three companies of the Fifth Cavalry, some forty Apache scouts, and about one hundred more from the Pima nation, under their Chief, Esquinosquizn or Bocon, set out to run down the band of Chief Chuntz, who was terrorizing those settlers that had encroached on the acknowledged territory of the Apaches, the Gila and Salt River valleys. They were led by Nan-tahay, a renegade Apache of the region, and set out fully equipped and determined to kill or capture every Apache they could find.
Led by these renegades, the soldiers crept silently up a tremendous canyon, and at last into plain view of a large, shallow cave or natural rock shed in which was a considerable band of Apache Indians, men, women, and children, only forty yards away and wholly unconscious of the enemy so near.
The men were singing and dancing in a religious ceremony; the women were preparing the midday meal. The white soldiers had ample time to post themselves and select each his victim.
" Had not the Apaches been interested in their own singing they might surely have heard the low whisper, "Ready! aim! fire!" but it would have been too late; the die was cast, and their hour had come.
The fearful noise, which we have heard reverberating from peak to peak and from crag to crag, was the volley poured in by Ross and his comrades, which had sent six souls to their last account, and sounded the death-knell of a powerful band.
Brown's first work was to see that the whole line was impregnable to assault from the beleaguered garrison of the cave, and then he directed his interpreters to summon all to an unconditional surrender. The only answer was a shriek of hatred and defiance, threats of what we had to expect, yells of exultation at the thought that not one of us should ever see the light of another day.
There was a lull of a few minutes; each side was measuring its own strength and that of its opponent. It was apparent that any attempt to escalade without ladders would result in the loss of more than half our command; the great rock wall in front of the cave was not an inch less than ten feet in height at its lowest point, and smooth as the palm of the hand; it would be madness to attempt to climb it, because the moment the assailants reached the top, the lances of the invested force could push them back to the ground, wounded to death. Three or four of our picked shots were posted in eligible positions overlooking the places where the Apaches had been seen to expose themselves; this, in the hope that any recurrence of such foolhardiness, would afford an opportunity for the sharpshooters to show their skill. Of the main body, one half was in reserve fifty yards behind the skirmish line - to call it such, where the whole business was a skirmish line - with carbines loaded and cocked, and a handful of cartridges on the clean rocks in front, and every man on the lookout to prevent the escape of a single warrior, should any be fortunate enough to sneak or break through the first line. The men on the first line had orders to fire as rapidly as they chose, directing aim against the roof of the cave, with the view to having the bullets glance down among the Apache men, who had massed immediately back of the rock rampart.
This plan worked admirably, and, so far as we could judge, our shots were telling upon the Apaches and irritating them to that degree that they no longer sought shelter, but boldly faced our fire, and returned it with energy, the weapons of the men being reloaded by the women, who shared their dangers. A wail from a squaw and the feeble cry of a little babe were proof that the missiles of death were not seeking men alone. Brown ordered our fire to cease, and for the last time summoned the Apaches to surrender, or to let their women and children come out unmolested. On their side, the Apaches also ceased all hostile demonstrations, and it seemed to some of us Americans that they must be making ready to yield, and were discussing the matter among themselves. Our Indian guides and interpreters raised the cry, "Look out! there goes the Death Song; they are going to charge!" It was a weird chant,* one not at all easy to describe, half wail and half exultation - the frenzy of despair, and the wild cry for revenge. Now, the petulant, querulous treble of the squaws kept time with the shuffling feet, and again the deeper growl of the savage bull-dogs, who represented manhood in that cave, was flung back from the cold, pitiless brown of the cliffs.