The bullet ripped through the Apache warrior’s body. He grimaced with pain and tightly clutched his Springfield rifle, but he did not fall. Blood streamed from the wound as Adelnietze ran from the 7th Cavalry troopers who had attacked his small camp. The shot brought the other four Apaches in camp to full alert. The only other warrior there, the furtive and somewhat infamous Massai, immediately fled down the rock-strewn mountainside and vanished, unscathed by the troopers’ bullets. Three Apache women followed the men and disappeared into the rocks and brush.
This 19th-century confrontation was not so different from other brief, if violent, encounters between the military and the free-roaming Apaches of the Southwest. But what’s more noteworthy is the date — May 17, 1896, nearly 10 years after Chiricahua Apache war leader Geronimo surrendered for the last time. The 7th Cavalry attack took place in or near Guadalupe Canyon, which straddles the Arizona-New Mexico border and continues on into Mexico. Based on records available today, it is unclear whether the fight took place in Arizona Territory, New Mexico Territory or Mexico. In 1896 no border-crossing agreement existed that would have allowed American troops to legally enter Mexico in pursuit of renegade Apaches. Contemporary newspapers inferred that the fight took place in Mexico, and those reports drew the attention of the adjutant general’s office in Washington, D.C., which sent a communication to the 7th Cavalry’s commander, Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner, inquiring as to the location of the fight. Sumner’s seemingly equivocal response neither affirmed nor denied that the fight took place in Mexico. Regardless of where the fight occurred, the soldiers involved were stationed in Arizona Territory. The confrontation was the last fight in the U.S. Army’s final Apache campaign.
The surrender of Geronimo to Brig. Gen. Nelson Miles in September 1886 at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona Territory, has generally been viewed as the end to Apache hostilities. In fact, the government declared as much after his surrender. The conquered Apaches were either settled on reservations or banished by the government to such distant places as Florida to serve out their lives as prisoners of war. Nonetheless, small bands of free Apaches, often called ‘marauders’ or ‘hostiles’ by the military, continued to give the Army trouble up to 1896. Author and historian Lynda Sánchez, of Lincoln, N.M, who is considered an expert on the remnant Apache bands of the Sierra Madre in Mexico, notes that there were many violent confrontations on both sides of the border until way into the 1930s. But these confrontations with so-called bronco Apaches did not involve the military; instead, they were spearheaded by local authorities or vigilante groups such as the Francisco Fimbres expeditions of the 1930s.
Warfare was a way of life for the Apaches, and they started fighting Spaniards in the 1500s, followed by Mexicans and, finally, Americans. Conflicts between Apaches and white explorers began as early as the 1830s. The U.S. Army started actively fighting Apaches in the 1850s, and by the 1880s the decades of white emigration into and through Arizona Territory had all but sealed the Apaches’ fate. The Indians resisted, but superior weapons, a seemingly endless supply of soldiers and a relentless drive to settle the land dashed the Apaches’ hopes of ranging free as they had done for centuries. Brigadier General George Crook’s winter campaign of 1872-73 broke Indian resistance in north-central Arizona Territory. The campaigns against Victorio and Geronimo in the 1870s and 1880s destroyed the final large-scale Apache resistance to the settlers coming into what was once primarily Apache country. The last major clash on Arizona soil between the Army and the Apaches occurred on July 17, 1882, at a place called Big Dry Wash, north of present-day Payson. One cavalryman was killed, while about 16 Apaches fell that day.
In 1896, to cope with the small bands of roving Apaches who were continuing the old lifestyle of raiding and running free, military officials asked the adjutant general in Washington to increase the number of Indian scouts from 40 to 70. One small group of Chiricahuas — three men, three women and one boy — had escaped the night before Geronimo and Naiche’s band was brought to Skeleton Canyon to formally surrender to General Miles in September 1886. Ten years later, one of these Chiricahuas, Adelnietze, would figure prominently in the Guadalupe Canyon fight.
The other warrior involved in that May 1896 fight, Massai, was a member of Loco’s Chihenne band of Chiricahua Apaches. Massai probably caused as much trouble as the scout-turned-outlaw Apache Kid, but much of Massai’s work may have been blamed on the Kid. Born in Arizona Territory around 1860, the Apache Kid became a scout for the Army and participated in the Battle of Big Dry Wash, General Crook’s 1883 Sierra Madre search for Geronimo and the 1885 Geronimo campaign. After getting caught up in a row at the San Carlos Reservation in 1887, he escaped, but surrendered that June. The Kid was shuttled back and forth through the legal system before he escaped again while being taken to Yuma Territorial Prison on November 2, 1889. He remained a fugitive for the rest of his life, though several men took credit for killing him at various times and locations. Contemporary accounts have Massai running with the Apache Kid at times. Massai is frequently mentioned in military reports and newspapers of the 1890s, and he is credited with killing several cowboys and miners.
Massai, according to Jason Betzinez’s I Fought with Geronimo, was being transported on a train in 1882 with other Apache scouts when he learned that his band’s leader, Loco, and others had broken out of the San Carlos Reservation and were headed for Mexico. Massai jumped off the train. Four years later, he repeated the feat in a more celebrated escape. In September 1886, he escaped from the train that was shipping him back east along with about 400 other peaceful Chiricahuas who had been rounded up at Fort Apache. Massai exited the Florida-bound train in Missouri and returned to Arizona Territory, on foot and alone. Certainly, he was one of the last free Apache fighters, but it’s hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Massai. One 1953 story claims that he wiped out an entire Mexican cavalry unit ‘by bringing them into a shallow gorge just in time to be swept away by a mountain cloudburst.’
Although the U.S. Army was in the field throughout the early 1890s until 1896, the only fight with Apaches took place on March 7, 1890, when troopers of the 4th and 10th Cavalry regiments attacked a small band of Apaches on the Salt River, 30 miles north of Globe, Arizona Territory, killing two and capturing three. Soldiers chased Massai, the Apache Kid and the other bronco Apaches throughout the early 1890s, but they never seemed to catch up to them. At mid-decade, Apache activity increased. Bronco Apaches murdered Elizabeth Merrill and her father, Horatio Merrill, on December 3, 1895, near Solomonville, Arizona Territory, and on March 28, 1896, they killed Alfred Hands at his cabin on the eastern side of the Chiricahua Mountains (near present-day Portal, Ariz.). Citizens and newspapers in the territory clamored for action by the military.
The Army undertook an aggressive campaign in April and May 1896 to chase down the hostile Indians. As part of the campaign, Captain James M. Bell of the 7th Cavalry, stationed at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory, sent out 1st Lt. Sedgwick Rice to search for renegades. Minnesota-born Rice had become a second lieutenant in October 1883, and then a first lieutenant in May 1892, which was also the month he was transferred into the 7th Cavalry.
Rice departed San Simon Station, a railroad stop and town on the Southern Pacific Railroad, on May 11, 1896, with a detachment of three Indian scouts and four troopers. Rice and his men moved southward, passing through the Peloncillos, a mountain range that runs parallel to the Arizona-New Mexico border, until they cut a trail of horses and Apache Indians on May 12. The scouts told Rice that there were five horses and three Indians ahead and that four of the five horses were shod with rawhide and the other with iron shoes. The scouts also identified the Indian tracks as those of one man and two women. Darkness was quickly approaching, though, so the troopers and scouts went into camp for the night.
Early the next morning, Rice’s detachment continued to follow the trail south. One day later, on May 14, they reached a point where the trail veered away from the mountains and headed for the Animas Valley in New Mexico Territory — a clear passage to Mexico historically used by Apaches when they fled the United Sates. At that point, the command met some troopers under 2nd Lt. Nathan King Averill, also of the 7th Cavalry, who were scouting the area. An 1890 West Point graduate who had been with the 7th for nearly a year, Averill had engaged some Apaches in a skirmish six days earlier, the Army’s first fight with Apaches since 1890. His command had stayed around in hopes of intercepting the Indians. Rice headed toward Averill’s camp in Guadalupe Canyon to confer with him.
Guadalupe Canyon, a natural, protected pass leading into Mexico from Arizona Territory, had been used by the Apaches for a long time as an escape route. Realizing its strategic importance, General Crook and others had frequently posted soldiers there. During the Geronimo campaign, a small redoubt in Guadalupe Canyon had been attacked by some of Geronimo’s warriors in June 1885. After the Apache leader surrendered in Mexico in 1886, he had returned to Arizona Territory through Guadalupe Canyon under the protection of Lieutenant Charles Gatewood.
Before Rice could reach the camp in Guadalupe Canyon, Averill rode up and informed him that the Apaches had crossed the border about three miles west of Cloverdale, a New Mexican ranch just east of the Arizona Territory border.
The combined forces of Rice and Averill now rode together to see 7th Cavalry Lieutenant Edwin C. Bullock, who was camped nearby. That evening Rice sent a courier to his commanding officer informing him of the day’s events and then made preparations for the next movement by the troopers. Rice believed that the Indians were still in the vicinity, and he planned to scout the mountains in and around Guadalupe Canyon.
On the morning of May 15, Rice left camp with Averill and 10 men of Troop E, 7th Cavalry, one enlisted man of Troop I, one of Troop C and 10 Indian scouts. John H. Slaughter, former Cochise County sheriff and now a prominent rancher, joined the group, as did other citizens, including Slaughter’s foreman at the San Bernardino Ranch, Jesse Fisher. Slaughter knew the region well and had joined Averill in his action against Apaches the previous week. During that scout, the troopers and citizens had attacked an Apache camp and captured a small Apache girl, who was subsequently taken to live with Slaughter at his ranch. This girl, who died a few years later in a fire, became known as Apache May.
Rice’s command found no signs of the bronco Apaches that day. Near dusk, the tired men moved into camp for the night. Rice, however, decided to send out the scouts right away to see if they could locate the Apache camp. The scouts departed, and early on the morning of the 16th, they spotted an Apache camp of two men and three women.
Among the scouts were several Western Apaches, including Sherman Curley, who, much later, told ethnographer Grenville Goodwin about the incident. Also on the trip, according to Curley, was the famous Apache scout, Merejildo Grijalva, who was 56 years old in 1896 and had been a scout since the 1860s. Grijalva’s advancing years may have explained Curley’s statement that Grijalva was ‘too fat to travel fast.’ Curley and another Apache scout went back to tell Rice about their discovery while Grijalva and the others stayed hidden.
Upon receiving Curley’s report, Rice had his men mount up and ride rapidly toward the Apache camp. They moved in as close as they dared and waited for the cover of darkness. Rice tried to surround the camp, which was not easy, he said, because the Apaches were located ‘in an exceedingly difficult position in a ledge of rock, or rather a pinnacle, about halfway up a very steep mountain.’ The May 22, 1896, issue of the Tombstone Prospector newspaper described the area as one of ‘precipitable character…the perpendicular or overhanging rocks and abrupt declivities making it an almost impossibility to get closer than long range shot.’
Averill, 12 troopers, three Indian scouts and the four civilians moved into position north of the Apache camp. Rice wanted them there in case the Apaches decided to flee in that direction. Averill and his men split off from Slaughter’s group at the base of the mountain, to cover the east and west canyons that fed off the mountainside where the Apaches were located. It would take Averill and his men nearly five hours to move into position.
After Averill’s party had slipped off into the darkness, Rice, one trooper and seven Apache scouts moved closer to the renegades’ camp. At 4 a.m. on May 17, Rice’s detachment reached a position only 250 yards above the Apache camp. They had a commanding view of the camp and waited to attack at sunrise.
The three Apache women below began moving about less than two hours after Rice and his men were in position. The women were easy targets, but Rice instructed his men to fire only in self-defense. The Apache scouts said that the women would most likely surrender if the two men were killed, so the wait continued. Finally, shortly before 7 a.m., one of the Indian men showed himself. This was Adelnietze, the warrior who had escaped nearly 10 years earlier, just before Geronimo and Naiche had surrendered. Adelnietze, now about 50 years old, was tall for an Apache, standing about 5 feet 10 inches. Rice reported that Adelnietze was apparently responding to an alarm call from one of the Apache women, who had detected Averill’s men below the camp at the foot of the mountain. The Tombstone Prospector, perhaps reflecting the fight as reported by its citizen informants, reported that a ‘warrior arose and sauntered forth….’
Averill had decided to move in closer to the enemy camp, though it was now almost dawn and not a good time to try approaching the Apaches unseen. The lieutenant sent a sergeant and two other soldiers to one canyon, and he took the other men behind a peak that he assumed lay on the back side of the Apache camp. In accordance with Rice’s plan, Averill deployed his men so as to catch anyone coming down the mountain. In the pre-dawn chill, they waited for daylight.
Averill then noticed a person on a high pinnacle on the next ridge. According to Averill, one of the scouts informed him that it was an Apache woman — the first solid confirmation the lieutenant had that the Apache camp was actually there. Scouring the mountainside with his field glasses, Averill noticed people he assumed were Rice and his men. He decided to move toward the next ridge. Averill chose a trooper to come with him and then crept off in the direction of the Apache woman. The other men had orders to hold their fire, so as not to alert the enemy.
Rice, though, was ready for action, and his men opened fire. Adelnietze took a bullet, but with characteristic Apache strength and endurance, he ran down the mountain through a narrow opening in the rocks, followed by one or more of the Apache women. Massai also made a hasty retreat from the camp, as the troopers’ bullets ricocheted harmlessly off the rocks that provided him with cover.
Rice assumed that the renegades would flee right into Averill and his men, as he had planned. But Rice did not know that Averill and Slaughter had separated upon reaching the base of the mountain and that many in Averill’s force were not in a good position to stop a flight.
Averill later said that he could not get the scouts to move closer to the camp. In his report, he quoted his scouts as saying, ‘Camp right here, we sit down, Chericahuas [sic] hear us….’ According to Averill, he forced one scout (Curley) to continue on, but reported that the scout ‘moved very slowly and finally refused to go any further, either through fear for himself or through fear of alarming the renegades.’ Curley provided a slightly different account; he reported the difficulty of following the trail: ‘Just by myself, without the help of another scout, it was slow trailing. They ought to have sent two or three scouts along with me to help.’
Averill and the trooper he had taken with him had barely made the bottom of the canyon when they heard Rice’s shots from above. The shots chased the three Apache women directly toward Averill, but they were scared off, according to Averill, by the firing of a rifle ‘into the air’ by Curley. The scout saw things differently. He reported that as the renegade Indians ran toward the bottom of the hill, he tried to point them out to Averill, but the lieutenant could not spot them. Therefore, it was up to only Curley to fire at them. In any case, the women took cover in the rocky formations. In his official report, Averill blamed Curley for failing to get him into the right position and for warning the Apaches by firing his rifle. He also expressed dissatisfaction with the scout who went with Slaughter and his men.
While Averill was watching the Apaches run down the mountain, Rice and his men were in hot pursuit. The renegades escaped into side canyons, and the soldiers and scouts could only pick up one trail — the very bloody trail left by Adelnietze. The Apache scouts came across Adelnietze’s rifle, an 1873 Springfield with a shortened barrel, and also a pair of field glasses, bows and arrows, moccasins and some clothing. The Tombstone Prospector reported that these items were found in the camp where Adelnietze was first shot, and that the soldiers and scouts followed his trail to a spot where the ‘ground was saturated with blood’ and there were Apache leggings ‘filled with blood.’
Although Adelneitze was not found, the scouts assured Rice that he was dead or would soon be so, since an Apache would never discard his all-important leggings. Averill kept the leggings and later presented one of them, along with an arrow recovered from the camp, to the editor of the Prospector.
The search for the wounded Adelneitze was finally called off, the scouts having traveled continuously for 48 hours without rest or much food or water. The troopers and civilians were on the move for 20 of those hours. At the Apache camp, the soldiers found two stolen horses, one of which belonged to John Slaughter. They also recovered clothing that they suspected had belonged to Elizabeth Merrill, the woman killed in December 1895.
Rice and his men returned to their horses and packs, left in a canyon several miles away the night before. They then went to Lieutenant Bullock’s Guadalupe Canyon camp for the night. Rice instructed Averill to continue the search for the wounded Apache (Adelneitze) as well as for the Apache Averill’s command had reported shooting earlier. Averill and his men, according to newspaper reports, did eventually find Adelneitze, who was indeed dead, as the scouts had predicted. They also found the body of the Apache man killed in the earlier May fight.
The two fights in May were the main confrontations of the 1896 Apache campaign. Following the May 17 fight, the U.S. Army strengthened its forces along the border, signed a border-crossing agreement with Mexico, and sent patrols into Mexico in June, July and August. The only thing close to another fight came in June when soldiers operating below the border burst into an Apache camp and captured a few camp stragglers. No Apaches were wounded or killed, and apparently no shots were fired. According to newspaper reports, the Apache scouts gave a warning call that allowed the Apache adults to flee the camp right before the attack began. Since that June attack did not lead to any shootings, Guadalupe Canyon can be seen as the last fight between the U.S. Army and the free-roaming Apaches. Subsequent hunts for renegade Apaches over the years would involve civilians out of Mexico or civilian authorities north of the border.
Major General Nelson Miles approved of what occurred in the Guadalupe Canyon fight. In a telegraphic dispatch dated June 6, 1896, Miles’ adjutant general wrote on behalf of his boss: ‘The major-general commanding the army appreciates very highly the skill, fortitude, and perseverance of the troops…and the success so far achieved….First Lieutenant Sedgwick Rice and Second Lieutenant N.K. Averill, Seventh Cavalry, and the non-commissioned officers, guides and Indian scouts under their command are highly commended.’ Miles’ praise for members of the 7th Cavalry came 20 years after the unit’s monumental defeat against the northern Plains Indians at the Little Bighorn, and six years after the 7th Cavalry’s so-called revenge at Wounded Knee.
John Slaughter was elected to the Arizona Legislature 11 years after the 1896 Apache campaign. He was also named deputy sheriff, and he held that honorary title until his death in 1922. Slaughter is buried in Douglas, Ariz., and his Slaughter Ranch (San Bernardino Ranch) is a National Historic Landmark. His foreman, Jesse Fisher, was killed on the Slaughter Ranch in 1921 by a Mexican bandit. Jesse’s son, Edward Fisher, still lives in Douglas and remembers sitting on John Slaughter’s lap as a young boy.
Lieutenant Averill served in Arizona Territory through 1898, and then participated in the Spanish-American War, during which he was mentioned for gallantry and recommended for a brevet. Averill married Mary B. Bradley on July 23, 1901, in New York and had five children. After serving in the Philippines in 1905-06, he was appointed military attaché to the Russian Court at St. Petersburg. Averill died in Albany, N.Y., in October 1947. His grandson, Michael Crimmins, is a Catholic priest in New York who, as a young boy, vaguely remembers his grandfather. Averill’s granddaughter, Catherine Sims, lives in Connecticut.
Lieutenant Rice remained for a while in Arizona Territory and was serving as the acting Indian agent at the San Carlos Reservation in 1898. He became a major in the 48th U.S. Volunteer Infantry in 1899 and was honorably mustered out in 1901. After that, he became a captain in the 3rd Cavalry and served in the Philippines and at Fort Leavenworth. He died at Fort Brown, Texas, on February 15, 1925.
Massai, the Apache warrior who survived the Guadalupe Canyon attack unhurt, epitomized the plight of the free Apaches after the end of the Apache wars, continuing the old ways until a group of cowboys killed him near Chloride, New Mexico Territory, in September 1906. Because people thought it was the Apache Kid who died that day, that area became known as the Apache Kid Wilderness. Merejildo Grijalva, the old Apache scout, seemed to lapse into obscurity after the turn of the century. He died on April 5, 1912, at his Arizona ranch near Solomonville. Scout Sherman Curley died in January 1934.
The May 17, 1896, fight at Guadalupe Canyon was a fairly nondramatic end to the Apache wars, but it had many of the elements that were standard during those wars — the use of Apache scouts, the all-day fruitless searches, the nighttime approach to the Apaches’ camp and the attack at dawn. Furthermore, the 7th Cavalry had fought again, had inflicted the only casualty (Adelneitze) and had performed well — at least in the eyes of General Miles. What Massai thought about it all is not known.
This article was written by Britt W. Wilson and originally appeared in the October 2001 issue of Wild West.
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