the children of the camp grant massacre -- 11/22/16

Today's selection -- from Shadows at Dawn by Karl Jacoby. At dawn on April 30, 1871, an informal army of Arizona citizens surrounded and attacked a peaceful Apache camp. Most of the Apache men were off hunting in the mountains. In what became known as the Camp Grant Massacre, a total of 144 of those in the camp were killed and mutilated, nearly all of them scalped. All but eight of the corpses were women and children. Twenty-nine children were captured and most were sold into slavery in Mexico. It was one of the worst such massacres in the history of the American West, and in its day commanded unparalleled national attention. Peace parleys designed to prevent an escalation of hostilities followed the event. In those parleys, surviving Apaches begged U.S. military officials for help in recovering their children:

The first responses of the [Apaches] to the massacre on April 30, 1871, illuminate the very limits of human expression. Not only were many [Apaches], their bodies sprawled amid the burning [shelters]; along Ara­vaipa Creek, silenced by death; Western Apache traditions favored not speak­ing in the face of intense despair and instead using nonverbal displays of grief such as cutting one's hair or burning a deceased family member's possessions. Survivors' initial refusal to articulate their losses left a deep impression on the first outsiders to reach the massacre site. 'Many of the men, whose fami­lies had all been killed, when I spoke to them ... were obliged to turn away, unable to speak, and too proud to show their grief. The women whose children had been killed or stolen were convulsed with grief. ... Children who two days before had been full of fun and frolic, kept at a distance, expressing won­dering horror.'...

Photograph by John Karl Hillers showing Camp Grant, Arizona in 1870.

"In the early [peace] parleys, one point emerged paramount: the fate of the twenty­-nine children seized during the massacre. 'Get them back for us,' one [Apache] exhorted the [officials]. '[O]ur little boys will grow up slaves, and our girls, as soon as they are large enough, will be diseased prostitutes to get money for whoever owns them. ... Our dead you cannot bring back to life, but those that are living we gave to you, and we look to you, who can write and talk and have soldiers, to get them back.'

"The [military officials] vowed to protect the survivors from further attack and to recover the People's missing children. ... By the Black Rocks People's [Apache's] reckoning, twenty-nine of their youths had been seized; of these, two had escaped back ... leaving twenty-seven still unac­counted for. One of [chief] Hashkēē bá nzįn's last comments during his September parley with the Enemy had been to express his pleasure at [their] renewed promises to return the youngsters to the People: 'It seems to him now as if he had his children in his own hands.' Similarly, when a new [official] (General O. O. Howard) called upon the Black Rocks People the following spring, the redemption of their children was one of the first points the People raised with him. [The Apache] strove to impress upon their visitor the human costs of the massacre, ... showing him 'a little girl, eight or nine years of age,' who had survived the Camp Grant Massacre but was 'wounded under her ear and in her side.' ...

Two children that were captured during the massacre and enslaved.

"As the conversation turned to the still unresolved status of the [Apache] children, however, the mood of the conference darkened. More than a year after the massacre and despite repeated promises to locate the [Apache]'s offspring, the [military] produced only six (four girls and two boys) of the twenty-seven missing children. Even more disap­pointing, the lead ... negotiator, General Howard, swayed by settler claims that the Apache children were better off in 'civilized,' Christian households, suddenly imposed a new condition: he would only return those [children] whose parents were alive to care for them. ...

"In the end, however, the only compromise the two sides could agree upon was to have the six children remain at the army base at Blue Water Pool under the care of an [Anglo American] governess -- a measure that did not return the youths to their families but that did not leave them among their captors either,'

"Despite the determined efforts of the Black Rocks People to reclaim their relatives, the trail of the other twenty-one captured children vanishes at this point."


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


245, 247, 249-252
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