The two Chiricahua leaders were Friends for some 30 years until mid-May 1885 when Geronimo defied Brig. Gen. George Crook as well as Chatto, who had become Crook’s most loyal Apache scout.
Fifteen minutes before 7 o’clock on the morning of March 28, 1886, Brigadier General George Crook mounted a mule and left Embudos Canyon, 18 miles south of the Arizona Territory border, to return to his headquarters at Fort Bowie. He must have felt relieved and satisfied. For the past three days, he had discussed terms of surrender with the Chiricahua leaders Geronimo, Naiche and Chihuahua. They had finally agreed to peace on the 27th, and as far as Crook was concerned, the 10-months’ Geronimo war was over.
Crook had conducted these meetings with a very heavy heart, for during the grueling campaign, Mexican soldiers had slain his friend and trusted subordinate Captain Emmet Crawford (supposedly mistaking his Indian scouts for hostiles) one day after he had captured Geronimo’s camp. Crook credited two men for the surrender. The first was his beloved captain, whose tenacious pursuit and indomitable leadership had culminated in the capture of the Chiricahuas’ camp. The second man, and the one who deserved the lion’s share of the credit, was Chatto (sometimes seen as Chato). The 40-year-old chief had organized and led the Chiricahua scouts, who worked for the U.S. Army. According to the general, “It was entirely due to his efforts that the hostiles agreed to surrender in March 1886.”
During the conference, Crook had assumed a businesslike, unsympathetic demeanor—obviously indignant with Geronimo, the ringleader and inevitable scapegoat of the uprising. Geronimo recited his reasons for leaving the reservation. He blamed the Indian agent (Lieutenant Britton Davis), the interpreter (Mickey Free) and the sergeant of scouts (Chatto, his one-time close friend)—in short, everyone but himself. He pointed out that he had left the reservation only after other Apaches had warned him that he was going “to be seized and killed.”
Almost lost in his soliloquy was a statement that provides important insight into the mind of Geronimo: “From now on I don’t want anything bad said to me, even to joke.” One Chiricahua, who knew Geronimo well, observed that he was “very gullible” and that “he took everything so seriously that lots of people had fun with him.” Geronimo could not distinguish a joke or a rumor from the truth. This personality trait, combined with cultural and historical factors, which included an indelible hatred of Mexicans and an absolute distrust of the American military and Indian agents, virtually guaranteed that he would flee at the first perceived sign of trouble, whether real or imagined. Morris Opler, the foremost Apache anthropologist, believed that when Geronimo felt threatened he would consult with his guardian spirit, which invariably corroborated his instincts and fears. Geronimo would then take flight, leaving the reservation for the Sierra Madre in Mexico, the only place he felt safe. Chatto’s assessment was less analytical but just as insightful: When Geronimo was concerned for his own life, he “was like a wild animal” and “talk of troops made him nervous.”
While Geronimo was speaking, Crook had stared impassively at the ground, apparently not at all interested in the shaman’s words, which he supposed were lies. He refused to negotiate, offering only simple terms: He would spare the Indians’ lives if they would accept removal to Florida as prisoners of war for two years. If they chose to continue fighting, he vowed to hunt them down to the last man even if it took 50 years. The chiefs grudgingly agreed to his proposal.
Unfortunately for all concerned, the evening before Crook left Embudos Canyon, the hostiles had obtained whiskey from an American bootlegger. With this came a hangover and time to reflect on Crook’s behavior toward them. Eschewing any pretense at diplomacy, the general had, in his brusque manner, puzzled and frightened them. From their perspective, he “had talked bad to them.” They were unsure whether they could trust him. They wondered if Crook’s early exit from camp meant that he had some pernicious plan to betray them. As Naiche admitted years later, “We were drunk” and afraid of the uncertainty of life in Florida.
One other misconceived notion began to consume their alcohol-induced, irrational thoughts, especially those of Geronimo. They believed that Crook had decided to designate Chatto as chief of the tribe, effectively placing him in charge of them. By then Chatto and Geronimo, once friends and allies, detested each other, possessed as they were by strong feelings that each man would take to the grave. Chatto had doggedly led the Chiricahua scouts who followed the hostiles’ trail during the first four months of the campaign. And Geronimo probably knew that before Crawford’s final expedition, Chatto had made a spirited address to the 42 Chiricahua scouts, urging them “to exterminate the hostiles.”
The combination of liquor, Crook’s indifference and fears for their lives under Chatto’s rule was enough to persuade the hostiles to renege on their promises to Crook. At about 2 a.m. on March 30, 1886, they escaped while their escort slept, prolonging the war by five months and causing Crook to request to be relieved from duty in Arizona Territory.
The last outbreak in May 1885 had deeply divided the tribe. Geronimo could convince only 144 of the 550 Chiricahuas on the reservation to leave. And, if he hadn’t lied to Naiche and Chihuahua about the extent of the upheaval on the reservation, fewer than half that number would have gone. Chatto would become the symbolic leader of the 400 Chiricahuas left on the reservation — in large part for leading the Chiricahua scouts against Geronimo and Naiche. For this, he has received abundant criticism from writers whose informants, descendants of the hostile camp, have labeled him a traitor for serving Crook’s interests. According to their views, Chatto had become a pariah, a man scorned by his own tribe. This point of view, however, is absurd, and certainly not indicative of the sentiments of the 75 percent of the tribe that remained on the reservation. To them, he was on the right side. They wanted no part of war, which, after all, had nearly wiped out two of the tribe’s four bands and reduced its population from 1,300 members in 1876 to 550 persons in 1884, a staggering loss of 58 percent. Most of the loss was a direct result of continued resistance as the Chiricahuas responded to displacement from their ancestral homeland and callous indifference to their feelings by Indian agents in the Southwest and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
How would Chatto have responded to his critics? He believed that he was serving his interests and those of his people, which happened to coincide with those of Crook and the government. A spiritual man, by 1884 he had decided to follow a new path, one based on his own religious convictions and a belief, like one held by Cochise 12 years earlier, that accommodation with Americans was the only way the tribe could survive. Furthermore, he had one other powerful incentive to bring an end to hostilities. He had returned to the reservation without his wife (Is-chos), 5-year-old daughter (Pe-des-klin-je) and 2-year-old son (Nagoka). Mexican soldiers had captured them during an attack on Juh’s camp and sent them to a prison in Chihuahua City. After Chatto had talked to Crook about their plight, the general promised to do all in his power to get them released. In return, Chatto became intensely loyal to Crook and the Chiricahuas’ new agent, Lieutenant Britton Davis.
The untold story is that Chatto and Geronimo had been close friends for at least 30 years, right up until the time of Geronimo’s last outbreak. They had shared the same village with the great Mangas Coloradas, had fought shoulder to shoulder in warfare against Mexicans and Americans and had lived together on the Chiricahua, Ojo Caliente and San Carlos reservations.
Chatto, born in the mid-1840s, was a member of the same Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apaches as Geronimo. His father was a brother of the powerful Chief Mangas Coloradas. Chatto was just a boy when Mexican troops massacred Geronimo’s family in 1851. This event utterly devastated Geronimo, leaving him with a lifelong hatred of Mexicans. Little did the young Chatto know that he would face a similar disaster some 30 years later. Chatto remembered nostalgically his teenage years, when large tribal gatherings occurred at his uncle’s camp below the Gila River at Ne-be-ke-yen-de (“Home People”), located probably at Santa Lucia Springs, northwest of today’s Silver City, N.M.
During the 1850s, he became acquainted with the Chokonens under Cochise (who had married Chatto’s cousin, Dos-teh-seh) and other Chiricahua leaders who gathered at Mangas’ village for ceremonies, feasts and social dances. His father put him through a vigorous training regimen that emphasized self-reliance and physical fitness to prepare him for the rigors and challenges of manhood. He told Chatto, “My son, no one will help you in this world; you must do something.” His father advised him to trust his own instincts and body: “Your leg is your friend; your brain is your friend; your sight is your friend.” Chatto obviously listened attentively, for he finely honed his instincts and developed a strong, athletic frame that would serve him well through the years of warfare with Americans.
In 1861 the Chiricahua Apaches’ war with Americans began when an Army lieutenant arrested Cochise for a raid that he had not committed. Two years later, American troops betrayed and executed Mangas Coloradas, who had come in to make peace. The treachery had profound ramifications. Chatto, now a young warrior of 18, joined Geronimo and Cochise to avenge the death of their tribal chief. To Geronimo, the act had been “the greatest of wrongs.”
Cochise’s war lasted for a decade. During this time Chatto married Is-chos, a Chokonen, and went to live with Cochise’s people. He was the prototypical Apache warrior, an expert horseman, renowned sharpshooter and a fearless fighter. Sometime during the previous decade, when he was on a raid, a mule had kicked him in the face, smashing his nose. To Mexicans and Americans, he became known as Chatto (Flat Nose).
In October 1872, Cochise and his leading men (probably including Chatto) agreed to a historic treaty with Brig. Gen. Oliver O. Howard. During the next month, while the Nednhis under Juh (including Geronimo) were settled on Cochise’s reservation, Chatto and Geronimo undoubtedly renewed their former friendship.
In June 1874, the “great chief,” as Chatto referred to Cochise, died of natural causes on the Chiricahua Reservation. Two years later, the government closed the reservation and ordered Indian Agent John Clum to move the Chiricahuas to San Carlos, a barren place where no Chiricahua wanted to live. Though the Chokonens under Cochise’s two sons, Taza and Naiche, decided to relocate, both Geronimo and Chatto refused to go. Chatto went to Victorio’s reservation at Ojo Caliente, New Mexico Territory; Geronimo and Juh returned to Sonora. In early 1877, Geronimo left Mexico for Ojo Caliente. Again his path crossed with Chatto’s. Together they set out on a raid for horses against the Pima Indians in Arizona Territory. When an American officer saw that Geronimo had returned to Ojo Caliente with the stolen stock, Indian officials dispatched John Clum to capture him. Clum and a large Western Apache police force seized Geronimo, Chatto and several other men at daybreak on April 21, 1877. On Clum’s orders, a blacksmith promptly placed leg irons on them. To make matters worse, Clum had called in troops to remove every Apache from Ojo Caliente to San Carlos.
There can be no question that Clum’s treatment of Geronimo influenced his future behavior. He would forever adopt a cautious approach before placing himself in the hands of Americans. At the first sign of trouble, he always left the reservation. Thinking the agent would blame him for the death of his nephew by suicide during a tiswin party, he left the reservation with his family in August 1878 and joined Juh in Mexico. Chatto assumed the position of chief of Geronimo’s small group left at the agency.
In early 1880, Juh and Geronimo returned to San Carlos from Mexico. Geronimo immediately rejoined Chatto’s group. They remained there together until September 30, 1881, when the Chiricahua chiefs, alarmed by a concentration of troops near the reservation, jumped the agency after a White Mountain chief had warned them that soldiers were going to arrest the chiefs and secure them with leg irons. Although this report was false, Geronimo never bothered even to consult his Power to confirm his fears. He and Juh decided to flee to Mexico. Naiche and Chatto joined them—though it was a decision that each would come to regret. In April 1882, Geronimo and Chatto led a Chiricahua war party from Mexico in a raid on San Carlos. Without warning, they surrounded Loco’s band and forced it to leave for Mexico. Loco had no choice as he faced a Winchester rifle pointed at him by Chatto. They had several clashes with American troops until they reached the safety of Mexico. But there, Mexican troops ambushed the party, killing and capturing 111, mostly women and children of Loco’s band.
In late 1882, Geronimo split from Juh. He assumed the leadership of a part of the band, determined to leave the lofty Sierra Madre and raid Sonoran settlements. Juh, with most of the tribe, preferred the protection afforded by the mountains. Chatto fell in with Juh. They felt secure in their winter camp located in a secluded arroyo between two forks of a tributary of the Satatchi River. But at dawn on January 24, 1883, 100 Chihuahuan Volunteer troops, all Tarahumara Indians, charged Juh’s sleepy Apache camp from two directions, catching the village off guard. After a three-hour battle, the Mexicans burned the rancheria. They had killed and scalped 14 Chiricahuas and captured 33 women and children; among them were Chatto’s wife, son and daughter. It was the most painful day of Chatto’s life. One year later, he described his agony to Captain Emmet Crawford: “I cried—my heart was sick.”
The destitute survivors moved north to Geronimo’s camp. Here they found help and shelter. Juh assembled his family and left. For the first and actually only time in his life, Geronimo had become the acknowledged leader of the tribe. It was an honor received by default. Kayitah, who was there, described his status: “Geronimo was not really a chief but became one because of all the trouble.” The tribe regarded him with respect, as an experienced leader and a powerful shaman with undeniable abilities to predict enemy movements. In March Geronimo and Chatto led separate forays against their enemies. Geronimo took most of the warriors and launched an expedition toward Ures, Sonora; Chatto, with 25 men, forged north to the United States, seeking ammunition and stock. His quick-striking raid, which slaughtered everyone in its path, achieved continent-wide fame when it captured a small boy named Charlie McComas.
In May 1883, General Crook invaded the hostiles’ sanctuary. Unfortunately, after his scouts had captured a Chiricahua camp and killed several women, the surviving Indians killed Charlie McComas. Over a 10-day period of negotiations, Crook convinced the Chiricahuas to return to the San Carlos Reservation. Crook, his supplies spent, began his journey north with 300 of the 500 Chiricahuas. Those left in Mexico, under Geronimo, Naiche and Chatto, had decided to attempt to negotiate for the release of their people held in Chihuahua. One day a half-starved woman came into camp. She was Mananita, a wife of Geronimo, who had made a miraculous 44-day journey after escaping from prison in Chihuahua City. She brought news that lifted Chatto’s spirits. There were 23 Chiricahua captives in Chihuahua City, including his wife and two children.
In late August, the chiefs sent peace envoys to Casas Grandes, Chihuahua. On September 12, Geronimo and Chatto asked Lt. Col. Miguel Gonzalez about their captives. Chatto, willing to say anything to recover his family, assured the Mexicans that he had no intention of going to San Carlos. Gonzalez told the Chiricahuas “You can get your captives back” if they agreed to terms. But negotiations broke off, for the Indians saw through their intentions. Chatto explained to Crawford that “the way Mexicans make a treaty is to get us all together [and] then kill us.” Naiche and Chihuahua went to San Carlos, taking with them relatives of Chatto and Chappo, the son of Geronimo, who was to report to his father on affairs at San Carlos.
In February 1884, Chatto returned to the reservation. The plight of the 23 Chiricahuas imprisoned in Chihuahua City was his paramount concern. He explained to Captain Crawford that circumstances had delayed him because he thought he had a chance to get his captives back. “If you were placed in our position with your relatives in captivity, I think you would have done the same—to try and get them out.” An introspective Chatto recognized that the old ways were over. They had “been on a crooked trail, but now all is peace.” He wondered why “we had so much trouble with the white man for they were all made of the same God.” He felt that the chiefs, “who are all good men,” would come together to do what was best for the Chiricahua tribe.
Soon after Chatto arrived, Geronimo came in. Chatto had left San Carlos in December to bring in his father. Before leaving, he had told Captain Crawford that his father had two fears, “troops and the calaboose,” an obvious reference to Clum’s arrest. As he left, he shook Crawford’s hand and assured him that everything “is all right.”
In early May, the Chiricahuas, en route to their new homes on Turkey Creek, had just crossed the Black River, when they suddenly became euphoric. They had met General Crook, who called a council. Most of the chiefs spoke, with Naiche’s comment that “we are all happy and contented” representative of the general theme. Chatto made the most poignant comments. He asked the general to use his influence to restore their relatives held in Mexico. Chatto furnished the names of his kinfolk. Crook promised to do what he could. Chatto never forgot Crook’s words, for he had given him hope of seeing his loved ones. To show his gratitude, he enlisted as a scout and became fiercely loyal to the agent, Lieutenant Britton Davis.
The rift in the relationship between Chatto and Geronimo took place in early 1885. The real reasons remain unclear, but perhaps Geronimo had become envious of Chatto’s relationship with Lieutenant Davis. According to one account, the trouble began when Chatto helped Davis in the arrest of a White Mountain Apache outlaw named Gar. On February 27, Gar attended a dance held in a Chiricahua camp. Late that evening, two Chiricahua scouts came to Davis with the news that Gar was present. One scout, perhaps Chatto, “grabbed him and threw him to the ground.” Lieutenant Charles Gatewood took him to Fort Apache.
Chatto’s role in capturing Gar may have been the first crack in his relationship with Geronimo. The ever-suspicious shaman no doubt felt some empathy for Gar’s situation. In any case, the friendship between the two Apache leaders ended forever in mid-May 1885, when most of the Chiricahua chiefs (except Chatto) attended a tiswin party, defying Davis and Crook. Then they overplayed their hand by challenging Davis to arrest them, thinking as they did that the jail could not hold everyone who had imbibed the mild brew. Davis calmly explained that he had to wire Crook for instructions. Unfortunately for all concerned, his telegram never reached Crook. For three days, those responsible for the tiswin binge, Geronimo and Mangas, waited for a message that never came. The silence only served to feed their lively imaginations, which by then were running wild in anticipation of Crook’s response.
Geronimo heard rumors that Crook had ordered Davis to arrest Mangas and him. And if they resisted, the chief understood that Davis had orders to kill them. This brought back bad memories to Geronimo of “all our past wrongs and my own unjust imprisonment.” So he consulted his Power, which told him that if he did not leave he would definitely face imprisonment. To gain additional recruits, he told Naiche and Chihuahua that he had sent men to kill Davis and Chatto. It was only after they left the reservation that they learned Geronimo’s men had not carried out his death sentence. By then Geronimo thought that Chatto was the instrument for Davis to carry out Crook’s orders.
Once Chatto discovered that Geronimo had sent men to kill him, their relationship hit rock bottom. Four days later, Chatto learned that Crook had decided to suspend efforts at recovering the Chiricahua captives until this “trouble is satisfactorily settled.” Now, he had two compelling reasons to get Geronimo—revenge and his family. As Crook explained to one officer who questioned Chatto’s loyalty: “It was in Chatto’s interest to keep faith with us, for the Mexicans held his [family] and the prospect of recovering them depended on his good behavior.” In Chatto’s mind, the fate of his family rested on whether or not he captured or killed Geronimo.
That evening, May 21, Chatto, with most of the Chiricahuas on the reservation present, held a war dance. He was their fighting leader, who, many Chiricahuas believed, had “great medicine.” In later years he revealed that his power came from dreams that foretold the future, and from muscular tremors that proved to be reliable warnings of imminent danger. Most of the Chiricahuas who had remained on the reservation attended the demonstration as Chatto showed the scouts what had to be done, no matter how distasteful. The medicine man, according to one account, called Chatto by name: “‘Chatto you are a man. You are known to be a great warrior. You have fought your enemies in close battle. We are calling on you to dance.’ As soon as he heard this, Chatto had his gun ready. He sprang out there, shooting into the air. Then they kept singing and calling another name and another until four or five were out there dancing.”
Most of the scouts thought these duties had placed them in a horrible position. One Chiricahua remarked years later: “In this way [Geronimo] caused Apache to fight Apache, and all sorts of trouble to break out among our people.”
The next day, May 22, Davis and Chatto left Fort Apache with 57 Apache scouts, including 21 Chiricahuas. One month later, he and 30 scouts surprised Chihuahua’s camp, capturing 15 women and children. Chatto sent one woman with a message to Chihuahua: Kill Geronimo and the war could end. By then, however, Chihuahua was more interested in killing Chatto. Another detachment of Apache scouts, under the Western Apache Chief Bylas, who had also vowed revenge on Geronimo, struck his camp on August 7. They captured 15 women and children (including three of Geronimo’s wives), but the shaman, ever the survivalist, escaped. Chatto and Davis picked up Geronimo’s trail and followed it on a grueling chase, across the most rugged part of the Sierra Madre into Chihuahua. When Davis’ command reached El Paso, no one could believe that he had started on the Sonoran side of the Sierra Madre. By then everyone was spent, for though they had done everything possible to overtake Geronimo, he was always a step ahead.
In September 1885, Chatto and Lieutenant Davis arrived at Fort Bowie after their exhausting four-month campaign in the Sierra Madre about which Chatto said “I am willing to lay down my life” for Crook. The general, in appreciation of his dedication, had already resumed communications with Mexico about Chatto’s family. He pointed out that Chatto was the “most influential chief” of the Chiricahuas on the reservation. If the government could pressure Mexico to return his family, “there is nothing that [Chatto] would appreciate more.”
Crook’s persistence finally paid dividends after he left Arizona. Mexican authorities admitted that Chatto’s family was in Chihuahua. They sent a picture of his wife, now named Catarina, and two children to State Department officials, who forwarded it to Crook. The general sent the photo to Chatto, who admitted that he cried every time he looked at it. Catarina was a servant in the household of Dr. Miguel Marquez. Two families in Chihuahua City had adopted her daughter and son, which was the state’s custom for prisoners who were minors. They allowed her to visit her children, which was probably why she refused to return to Chatto. Yet, Mexican officials said if Chatto could prove they were legally married, he “could demand his wife through the courts of Mexico.”
None of the Chiricahuas could believe that she preferred to stay with Mexicans. Nevertheless Chatto, who would live another 50 years, never laid eyes on his family again.
After Geronimo and Naiche’s final surrender to Brig. Gen. Nelson Miles in September 1886, another betrayal occurred—one far more egregious than the treachery carried out against Cochise and Mangas Coloradas. The government removed to Florida Chatto and the 400 Chiricahuas on the reservation, who had worked so diligently with the military to bring an end to the conflict. They shared a fate identical to that of Geronimo and the other hostiles (who were sent to Texas and then to Florida). Chatto was in Washington and had just received a medal with an image of the president engraved upon it. He always proudly displayed the medal as proof of his honorable service. He never understood the government’s duplicity. Neither could Crook.
In early 1890, Crook, now a major general, paid a visit to the Chiricahuas in Mount Vernon, Ala. He greeted Chatto with affection, like an old friend. He refused to acknowledge Geronimo: “He is such a liar that I can’t believe a word he says. I don’t want anything to do with him.” When the interpreter translated Crook’s words to him, Geronimo felt humiliated. A few months later, Crook died suddenly. Geronimo thought it was God’s punishment “for the many evil deeds that he committed.” Few, if any, Chiricahuas would have agreed with him.
Edwin R. Sweeney, of St. Charles, Mo., is the author of two first-rate biographies— Mangas Coloradas: Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches and Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief.The third book in his Chiricahua trilogy, Cochise to Geronimo: A Chiricahua Ethnohistory, 1872-1886, should be out in 2008. Also recommended for further reading: Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place, by Angie Debo; The Truth About Geronimo, by Britton Davis; I Fought With Geronimo, by Jason Betzinez; and Gatewood and Geronimo, by Louis Kraft.
Originally published in the August 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.