Share This Article

“Horses Worn to Mere Shadows”: The Victorio Campaign, 1880, by Robert N. Watt, Helion & Co., Warwick, U.K., 2019, $69.95

Following his 2018 book “I Will Not Surrender the Hair of a Horse’s Tail”: The Victorio Campaign, 1879 (reviewed in the February 2019 Wild West and online at comes this stirring second volume of Robert Watt’s Victorio trilogy. Once again he presents a richly detailed account superbly illustrated by photographs, many taken by the author. One of his images captures a spent cartridge case wedged in a wall in New Mexico’s Hembrillo Canyon and probably last handled by an Apache warrior in April 1880. Accompanying maps and battle plans are invaluable.

Having returned to New Mexico Territory in January 1880, Mimbreño Apache Chief Victorio commenced raiding in the Rio Grande Valley. His warriors were well armed with rifles and ammunition—some captured in Mexico, some obtained via illicit trade networks on either side of the border, others from a not insignificant number of cavalry and infantry deserters. The raiders killed settlers, stole livestock and cut telegraph wires while stagecoaches refused to travel unless escorted. Early April brought the Hembrillo Canyon operation, the biggest battle of the campaign in terms of numbers involved, though casualties on both sides remained low. Victorio nearly inflicted another humiliating defeat on the 9th U.S. Cavalry, and more Apache raids followed.

The Army turned the tables on May 24–25, when Victorio, having chosen a poor defensive position where the Palomas River runs through a narrow gorge, suffered his first major defeat. Apache scouts recruited by the Army launched a devastating attack on three sides. Women and children were among the first casualties.

The end came in mid-October at Tres Castillos, Chihuahua, Mexico. Soldiers under Colonel Joaquín Terrazas closed in on the unsuspecting Apaches, who were short of ammunition during their epic, if one-sided, last stand. All told, the Mexicans killed more than 60 men and boys, while the band’s 100 women and children were either killed, taken as slaves or adopted. There are conflicting accounts of how Victorio died—as it should be with any legend.

—David Saunders