American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Eskiminzin

A leader of the Arivaipa Apache band in the late nineteenth century, Eskiminzin guided his people through the turbulent first years of American colonialism in southern Arizona. Known by various names, including Es-kin-in-zin and Skimmy, "Eskiminzin' is an approximation of the Apache name, Haské Bahnzin (Anger Stands Beside Him). Haské Bahnzin lived a remarkable and difficult life, not only as a leader of a Native community threatened from every corner, but also as a farmer, warrior, husband, diplomat, rebel, father, and prisoner.

Although Haské Bahnzin was born into the Pinal band of western Apaches, he married into the closely related Arivaipa band, or tcéjìné (Dark Rocks People), who farmed and gathered along Arivaipa Creek and the San Pedro River in southern Arizona. Even decades after his death, Haské Bahnzin was remembered as a generous man, who welcomed relatives to gather in the San Pedro Valley. Despite the abundance of the land, Apache lifeways were not entirely tranquil. Haské Bahnzin certainly participated in the violence of war and raiding that pitted Apaches against the Mexican and American empires throughout the 1800s.

In February of 1871, after an especially harsh winter, Haské Bahnzin arrived at Camp Grant, a U.S. Army installation on the San Pedro River, asking for peace. Several months later, more than 400 Apaches had surrendered to the Army and were living peacefully at gashdla'á cho o'aa (Big Sycamore Stands There), five miles from Camp Grant. Nearby Chiricahua Apaches continued raiding and Tucson leaders mistakenly believed those camped at gashdla'á cho o'aa were responsible. In a surprise attack on gashdla'á cho o'aa, the Tucsonans and their Tohono O'odham allies killed more than 100 Apaches and took close to thirty children as slaves. Haské Bahnzin lost most of the Arivaipa band, as well as his own wife and children, in the Camp Grant massacre.

In the wake of the massacre, Haské Bahnzin returned to a life in the mountains. During the months that followed, people accused him of committing murders and attacks; however, none of these accusations have been convincingly proven. In 1872, he and his fellow tribesmen returned to Camp Grant, this time to have peace talks with government authorities, Tucson businessmen, and Tohono O'odham leaders. From these discussions, Eskiminzin agreed to move north and settle along the San Carlos River.

Life at San Carlos was not altogether uneventful for Haské Bahnzin. In 1874, he was arrested as a prisoner of war. Later released, he began a farm and continued to mediate among Apaches and government officials. John P. Clum, an Indian agent at San Carlos, befriended Haské Bahnzin and took him across the continent to Washington, D.C., in 1876. He made the trip east again in 1888 to meet President Grover Cleveland.

In 1877, Haské Bahnzin moved to nadnlid cho (Big Sunflower Hill), now the town of Dudleyville, in the San Pedro Valley. There he settled down to a successful life as a farmer and rancher. Shortly after he built a home, three or four additional Apache families joined him, also erecting houses and fences and cultivating the land. However, later that year, an Indian agent warned Haské Bahnzin that 150 armed citizens were coming to kill him. With the memory of the massacre at Camp Grant, he fled. He later said Tucsonans stole 513 sacks of grain, 523 pumpkins, and thirty-two cattle. After his escape, Haské Bahnzin was asked if he might return to San Pedro but replied, "I would not be safe there and would feel like a man sitting on a chair with some one scratching the sand out from under the legs" (Clum 1929, 22).

Haské Bahnzin went back to San Carlos and tried to begin a new life. Several years later, he was arrested due to vague accusations of aiding Apache fugitives. Sent to Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama, in shackles, he was eventually released with the help of his old friend, John Clum. But only a year after gaining his freedom, on December 16, 1895, Haské Bahnzin died of chronic stomach pain in obscurity and poverty. The site of his grave remains unknown today.

Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh


Further Reading
Browning, Sinclair. 2000. Enju: The Life and Struggles of an Apache Chief from the Little Running Water. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.; Clum, John P. 1929. "Es-kin-in-zin." New Mexico Historical Review 4, no. 1: 1–27.
 

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