“I Will Not Surrender the Hair of a Horse’s Tail”: The Victorio Campaign, 1879, by Robert N. Watt, Helion and Co., Solihull, U.K., 2018, $49.95
Anyone expecting a rousing tale of horse soldiers vs. Indians in “I Will Not Surrender the Hair of a Horse’s Tail” may be in for a disappointment. Its first chapters are not wild and wooly so much as dense and detailed, with roughly one-third of the book’s pages devoted to appendices and documentation. If the reader is interested in following in the moccasin prints of one of the most ingenious guerrilla campaigns in the American Southwest, however, it is well worth plowing through the explanations and evidence author Robert Watt presents to back his assertions.
The author starts by addressing the question of why American histories devote so much more space to Apaches like Cochise and Geronimo than to Victorio. Among other reasons, he suggests Victorio was too successful, so much so as to cast embarrassing reflections on the U.S. Army, not to mention the very foundations on which American “Manifest Destiny” was predicated—namely, the march of civilization and progress. Of all the Apache leaders, Victorio was never brought to ground by U.S. authorities. When his luck finally ran out on Oct. 15, 1880, it was while operating south of the border, in the Tres Castillos Mountains, at the hands of the Mexicans so often dismissed by the Americans (and the Apaches, many of whom insist Victorio, when hopelessly cornered, died by his own hand rather than surrender to them).
Watt, a lecturer in the department of political science and international studies at the University of Birmingham who harbors a personal fascination with the Apaches, seeks to redress what he regards as distorted treatment by examining Victorio in context of strategy, tactics and politics, applied in equal measure to his own society and that of his white adversaries. Once Watt establishes the background, he gets on with the fighting, raiding and trading (in the latter case, Victorio, acting as anything but a mindless savage, cannily maintained peaceable working relations with selected Mexican towns as a fallback for supplies).
Profusely illustrated with photos of the historical ground Watt covered while diligently retracing the campaign’s movements, “I Will Not Surrender the Hair of a Horse’s Tail” provides an outsider’s historical appraisal of a remarkably resourceful campaign conducted against colossal odds. For a long time the terrain of the American Southwest and a handful of “savages” trained in its use from youth humiliated all the technology and military science white civilization sent against them.