savagery in the american west -- 10/17/16

Today's selection -- from Shadows at Dawn by Karl Jacoby. After the U.S. acquired the territory that is now Arizona through the Gadsden Purchase and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, U.S. soldiers and settlers began to populate those lands. The Apaches had roamed those lands for centuries and at first greeted these new arrivals peacefully. But as more came and threatened their sustenance, they reacted with savagery. The Americans responded with equal and astonishing savagery, including the killing of infants:

"By the 1860s, the majority of settlers in the territory had adopted a policy of killing all Apaches they encountered: '[I]t was the rigid rule all over the country to shoot these savages upon sight.' In the minds of many Arizonians, the elusive character of the Apache justified such actions. ... On [one] occasion, after several Anglo miners ambushed a party of Indians, one of the participants cut the heads off five of the Apaches slain in the encounter and used their brains to tan a deerhide -- behavior that unnerved some Anglo onlookers and brought peals of laughter from others.

"A similar blending of Apache killing and spectacle was engaged in by King Woolsey, an Arizona rancher who would receive a 'resolution of thanks' from the territory's Legislative Assembly in 1865 for leading several scouts of 'civilian volunteers' against the Apache, including the one Allyn recorded in which the raiders slew thirty or so Apaches during a parley. In 1861, Woolsey killed the leader of an Apache band with a shotgun blast. '[D]etermined to make a conspicuous mark of the dead chief,' he dragged the man's body to a nearby mesquite tree and hung the corpse by the neck. The body dangled in this spot for several years for all to see. 'One of the feet and both hands had been cut off or torn away by the coyotes,' reported a visitor. 'The head was thrown back, and the eye-sockets glared in the sun.' ...

Apaches at home

"The shared code of violence between civilians and the military emerged even more clearly when Conner and his compatriots met with the Apache leader 'Mangus' under a flag of truce. During their parley, Conner's party seized Mangus, whom they then turned over to a U.S. Army unit. That evening, Conner saw the sol­diers guarding Mangus heat their bayonets in a campfire and apply the red-hot blades to the chiefs legs and feet. When Mangus told the sentinels in Spanish chat he was 'no child to be playing with,' the soldiers shot and killed him on the excuse that he was trying to escape. One of the guards, borrowing a knife from the unit's cook, then scalped Mangus. A few days later, soldiers dug up his body and mutilated it further, decapitating the Apache leader and boiling his head. ...

"In ... campaigns [against the Apache], parties of Americans, typically led by a Pima, Papago, or Mexican scout, tried to surprise the Apache in their rancherias [settlements], ideally striking just before daybreak when the Indians were least prepared. Such a strategy inevitably meant that the attackers not only encoun­tered potential raiders -- healthy young Apache men -- but women, children, and the elderly. For some Americans, such distinctions mattered little: they killed all the Indians they could, often justifying the dispatching of women with the claim that they were especially ruthless in torturing prisoners. The civilian scout leader Woolsey, for example, [wrote] ... 'It sir is next to impossible to prevent killing squaws in jumping a rancheria even were we disposed to save them. For my part I am frank to say that I fight on the broad platform of extermination.' ...

"On those occasions when children were seized, they were often treated more like orphans than prisoners of war. ... In contrast, the conscious targeting of children generated far more unease, as revealed in a series of incidents involving a settler known as 'Sugarfoot Jack.' In the course of yet another campaign against the Apache, a band of American civilians, having found a rancheria, proceeded to burn the wick­iups and other supplies to prevent any surviving Apaches from reclaiming them. In his search of the camp, Sugarfoot Jack happened upon an Apache infant, whom he tossed into one of the fires and watched burn alive. Revolted at Sugarfoot's behavior, several other Americans attempted to reclaim 'the little, black, crisped body' from the flames. But 'the skin peeling off every time it was touched made the "boys" sick,' and they left the dead child in the still-smoldering ashes. Meanwhile, Sugarfoot Jack located yet another Apache infant. Soon he could be seen to 'dance it upon his knee and tickle it under the chin and handle the babe in the manner of a playful mother.' When he tired of this game, Sugarfoot drew his pistol, a heavy dragoon revolver. Plac­ing his weapon against the child's head, he pulled the trigger, 'bespatter[ing] his clothes and face with infant brains.' "


Karl Jacoby


Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and the Violence of History (The Penguin History of American Life)


Penguin Books


Copyright Karl Jacoby, 2008


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