American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Camp Grant Massacre

On April 30, 1871, a confederacy of Anglo-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Tohono O'odhams murdered more than 100 western Apaches, mostly unarmed children and women, who had surrendered to the U.S. Army at Camp Grant, just north of Tucson, Arizona. Another thirty or so children were taken captive. Later that winter, a local court charged the assailants with murder, but after a weeklong trial the jury pronounced a verdict of not guilty. Western Apache groups soon left their farms and gathering places near Tucson in fear of subsequent attacks. As pioneer families arrived and settled in the area, Apaches were never able to regain hold of their ancestral lands.

Following the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, American settlers began to enter the San Pedro Valley, the fertile land to the east of modern-day Tucson. However, western Apache groups like the Arivaipa and Pinal bands had control of the valley, as they had since at least the late 1700s. To protect pioneers and subdue Native populations who refused to submit to American authority, the government established military posts to strike directly into Apache communities. On May 8, 1860, the United States erected Fort Aravaypa at the confluence of the San Pedro River and Arivaipa Creek. In 1865 it was renamed Camp Grant in honor of Ulysses S. Grant.

On February 28, 1871, Lieutenant Royal E. Whitman, then in charge of Camp Grant, reported that a small group of elderly Apache women came to the post looking for several stolen children and hoping to make a lasting peace with the government. Whitman encouraged the Apaches to come in, and soon dozens of Arivaipa and Pinal Apaches were encamped at the fort and receiving rations of corn, flour, beans, coffee, and meat. By late March, more than 400 Apaches had arrived, settling peacefully at a traditional site called gashdla'á cho o'aa ("Big Sycamore Stands There"), five miles from Camp Grant, up Arivaipa Creek.

Despite the amiable settlement at Camp Grant, Chiricahua Apaches continued raiding. While Apaches at Camp Grant almost certainly did not commit these depredations, residents in Tucson assumed they did. After the government refused pleas for protection, William Oury conspired with Jesus Maria Elías, two leading Tucsonans, to seek revenge on the Apaches near Camp Grant. The men recruited dozens of local residents and scores of Tohono O'odham warriors. On the afternoon of April 28, 1871, the group met in secrecy and was provided weapons and provisions by the adjutant general of Arizona, Samuel Hughes.

After nearly continuous travel, they arrived at Big Sycamore Stands There in the early morning hours of April 30, they attacked immediately, catching the Apaches off guard. The attack was over in half an hour. The murders were brutal—children were hacked apart, girls were raped. The army at Camp Grant did not hear the screams and gunshots because of the distance from the Apache settlement. When the attackers left, more than 100 Apaches were dead, nearly all women and children, and some thirty children were taken as captives. A half dozen of the children lived for a while with highly regarded Tucsonans, such as Leopoldo Carrillo and Francisco Romero, but were reluctantly returned to Apache relatives in 1872. The rest of the children were sold into slavery in Sonora for $100 each.

The group returned to a jubilant Tucson, while the reaction on the East Coast and even among military personnel was horror and disbelief. When local authorities did not press charges, President Ulysses S. Grant threatened to impose marshal law to prosecute those responsible. On October 23, 1871, a grand jury handed down 111 indictments, 108 for murder and three for misdemeanors, with Sidney R. DeLong as the lead defendant. A weeklong trial was held in December. The jury deliberated for nineteen minutes before announcing a verdict of not guilty.

After the massacre, the Apaches at Camp Grant dispersed throughout southern Arizona. They returned to the post in the spring of 1872 for peace talks and agreed to settle on the San Carlos River to the north. Although this pact did not relinquish Apache territory, Anglo-American and Mexican-American pioneers soon spread roots in the San Pedro Valley and made it their home. When Apaches later tried to return and settle in the San Pedro Valley during the 1880s, they were run off their traditional lands.

Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh


Further Reading
Arnold, Elliott. 1976. The Camp Grant Massacre. New York: Simon & Schuster.; Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Chip. 2003. "Western Apache Oral Histories and Traditions of the Camp Grant Massacre." American Indian Quarterly 27, nos. 3–4: 639–666.
 

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