The Apache odd couple lived off the reservation, dodging soldiers.
Massai, his long journey to freedom ended, climbed up Sierra Blanca and looked toward the amber New Mexico horizon. He had reached Apache country safely but knew his wife and children—all his people—were now prisoners in Florida. He never felt so alone. The wind carried the music of female voices speaking Apache. He moved closer. Three young women were picking piñon nuts in a canyon. Impulsively, he approached them. A somewhat unlikely love story was about to unfold in the late 1880s for a Chiricahua man who had once ridden with Geronimo.
Born sometime in the 1850s near what would become Globe, Ariz., Massai as a young man heeded Geronimo’s call to fight the white man. In October 1878 he was searching for Geronimo when troops picked him up and sent him with Chief Loco’s Warm Springs band to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. There he married a woman of Loco’s band.
Massai enlisted as a scout during the 1880 campaign against Victorio and was still serving two years later when Geronimo forced Loco and his followers to leave San Carlos and run for Mexico. During the latter campaign Massai was on a train when another scout jumped. An officer sent Massai back to find the man, but the trail was cold. Ten days later Massai himself left the reservation and made his way alone to the Sierra Madre. In June 1882 he found Geronimo but stayed only long enough to steal a horse and return his family to San Carlos.“For some reason he did not like to be with Geronimo’s people,” recalled the Apache James Kaywaykla. “He took his family and his wife and two children.”
In spring 1884 Massai and his family were with Geronimo when the U.S. Army moved them to Turkey Creek, near Fort Apache, in southeastern Arizona Territory. Geronimo broke out in May 1885. Massai was with him but disliked being a fugitive and returned. Authorities allowed him to rejoin his family.
In the summer of 1886 the Army chose to end its Apache troubles by sending the Chiricahua and Warm Springs people, including the scouts, to prison in Florida. Most of the Apaches gathered at the terminal in Holbrook, Arizona Territory, had never ridden a train; Massai not only had been a train passenger but also knew it was possible to escape from one. When a guard on the Florida-bound train drew a finger across his throat, Massai thought he would be killed.
Somewhere in Missouri he jumped off. Traveling at night and navigating by the stars, he reached the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southern New Mexico Territory. It was then Massai climbed 12,003- foot Sierra Blanca Peak, considered sacred by the Mescaleros. “He sat on the side of it, thinking what he was going to do,” Massai’s daughter, Alberta Begay, told historian Eve Ball in 1955. “He thought that he would never see his family again. On the other side, my mother, Zanagoliche, a young Mescalero girl, lived. She was about 17 years old.”
Zanagoliche’s sister, Catherine Cojo, told Ball that some women “were out picking piñons in the Rinconada…and Massai came and took her. They [perhaps the Mescalero police] tried to trail him but could not locate him.”
Zanagoliche was married to Chivato, a Lipan Apache, whose people had lived in Texas and northern Mexico. By 1882 they were settled at the Mescalero Apache Reservation, but conditions were miserable, and there was occasional friction between Lipans and Mescaleros. Chivato had befriended Comanches in his younger days and by 1887 wanted to move to their reservation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). But Zanagoliche didn’t want to leave her parents. This was the situation when Massai abducted Zanagoliche. Several accounts fix this abduction in 1887, about six months after Massai escaped from the train, though the Mescalero census shows Zanagoliche still with Chivato until 1889.
When I told this story in my 2000 book Apache Voices, I had trouble reconciling Alberta’s account with San Carlos Agency reports from 1887 to 1890 that describe Massai raiding and stealing women, often in the company of fellow famous renegade the Apache Kid.The inconsistencies, I thought, were because authorities pinned crimes on Massai, as they did the Apache Kid, based on scant or no evidence, and because he and the Kid were mistaken for each other.
Then I found more to the story. Massai apparently didn’t go first to Mescalero. Warm Springs Apache Jason Betsinez said Massai lived in the Black Range of New Mexico until loneliness drove him to Mescalero. It’s also likely Massai operated with the Apache Kid; the two became acquainted as scouts. When Massai did encounter Zanagoliche, as Ball tells it, he seized one of her long braids and ordered her to come with him. He was kind to her as they traveled and gave her a choice of marrying him or returning home.
Zanagoliche left behind a young son but knew her family would care for him. Her husband was determined to go to the Comanches. She didn’t have to follow Chivato, but she knew existence for the many women at Mescalero without husbands was harsh. As the fugitives traveled westward, Zanagoliche agreed to marry Massai, the Apache way, and he took her to Arizona for a wedding feast.
And the marriage worked. Massai and Zanagoliche lived for some 16 years off the reservation, dodging troops, and had six children. By all accounts Massai took good care of them. But it was his decision to finally change things. “One night he had a bad dream,” recalled Alberta. “He told my mother: ‘Well, it has been a long time since I took you from Mescalero, and now I know we have all these children. I want them to be safe. I want you to take them back to Mescalero.’”
Near Chloride, New Mexico Territory, in September 1906 rancher Charlie Anderson led a posse to track horse thieves. The possemen killed a man they assumed was the Apache Kid. “Pretty soon they built a great big fire—too big for cooking,” Alberta Begay recalled. “We watch. They throw him [Massai’s body] on top of that fire.We were afraid to go down. They might be hiding to kill us.We waited three days. Until then my mother could not cry. Then she did.” Zanagoliche went alone to the cold fire, raked her fingers through the ashes and found the buckle of Massai’s ammunition belt. “All the time you took care of me and the children,” Zanagoliche said.“Now you nothing but ashes. I will keep this buckle. It is all I have to take back to the children.”
Mother and children made their way to Mescalero, approaching Sierra Blanca from Three Rivers. It was there Massai had abducted Zanagoliche when she was the young wife of another man. On the other side of the mountain the widow found her family’s tepee. They didn’t know her at first.“Is that you?” they asked. “Is it really you?”“Yes. I am the one who was kidnapped many years ago.”
Misfortune followed the reunion. Her three oldest children died from disease, and her youngest was murdered in his teens. Zanagoliche, though, was still alive in the 1930s. On her deathbed she told daughter Alberta: “Some of these days you must remember all the story. Your father was not a murderer. He killed only to protect us. He did not do it for meanness—only to protect his family.”
Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.