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THE ]\4IJSEul\4 OF NE\ / N4EXICO N4AGAZINE r SIJI\41\4ER/FALL a996 m VOL. aoa, NO.


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By Gharles Bennett

TENrs Cavarny cAMp NsA.n Curonros, Nnw Mnxrco. Puoro nv Hrunv A. Scnutor, 1892. MNM Nnc No. 58556


s* midden dating to circa 1638 A.D., with several nearby panels of
\--l two archaeolosists examined first from a distance, and spectacular pictographs and petroglyphs depicting Apache
then from inches, the rock ledges of a formation in remote Mountain Spirit dancers and mounted warriors. The third site
Hembrillo Canyon in the San Andres Mountains. What they had long been associated with an engagement between
found was the site of a fight between African American cavalry Apaches and the U.S. Army Cavalry during the Indian Wars.
troopers known as "Buffalo Soldiers" and the forces of the war- Scrutinizing the ground with trained eyes for any trace of cul-
rior called Victorio, the indomitable leader of a renegade force tural material, the archaeologists found spent cartridge shells
of Mimbres (Eastern Chiricahua) and Mescalero Apaches' clustered on the ground and lined among the rocks, along a
Karl Laumbach and Robert Burton were with F{uman ridge, and at other spots which seemed to offer cover thanks to
Systems Research, a contract archaeology firm with headquar- limestone outcrops.
ters in Tularosa and Las Cruces. They were in the field at White Subsequent research revealed that Laumbach and Burton
Sands Missile Range as they conducted archaeological surveys
of three Apache sites in the area. One, Victorio Peak, is the Charles Bennett is CtLrator of History and Assistant Director at the

fabled site of a golden treasure; the second is a fire-cracked rock Museum of New Mexico's Palace of the Goaernors in Snnta Fe.

'tt Er Peracro
had stumbled upon the very spot where, 114 years before, sev- (according to an after-action report) and too well protected,
enty-one cavalrymen had been ambushed when they rode into concealed by the rocks, and breastworks, and stone rifle-pits
the canyon where a spring was known to exist. In a desperate that they had laid up and the rifle pits dug in the upper reach-
search for water, the cavalry inadvertently had come upon the es of the formation. Clearly those on the attack had been pre-
Apache War Chief Victorio's hidden stronghold, pared also to defend themselves. However inadvertently,
For the troopers, members of two companies of a battalion Carroll and his troopers had discovered Victorio's hideout,
of Ninth Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, it was the end of a grueling and it would be a iong day and night.
and dangerous few days. They Tough situations were not new
began when Captain Henry to these troopers. They were
Carroll and his men left Fort members of the Second Battalion,
Stanton on April 5, 1880, in a con- a total of four companies of the
certed movement to track down Ninth Cavalry, and it was their
Victorio and his group. Army job to track down Victorio and his
intelligence had indicated that the band. Victorio had raised the ire
Apache band had chosen the area of the military first in 1877 and
of the central San Andres even more in 1.879 when he and
Mountains for a hideout, but his followers refused to accept a
exactly where no one knew. The government-selected reservation
area was the focus of a three- in eastern Arizona that was hun-
pronged attack planned by dreds of miles from his band's
Colonel Edward Hatch, who had homeland in the mountains of
been in command of the Ninth southwestern New Mexico. Once
Cavalry from its formation in they were denounced by the
1866. Two columns were to army and denied their home
approach the mountains from the Tnoor L, NrNrH Cavarn, Fonr Wrxcarr, ranges, Victorio and his group
northwest and south, while the Nnw Mnxrco, 1899. MNM Nrc. No. 98373 began staging raids in southern
third column made up of New Mexico and northern
Carroll's battalion of four companies (almost a hundred men) Mexico. Lives were lost, stock stolen, and property destroyed in
was to come from the east. what some historians call the "Victorio War of 1879-1880."
When Carroll and his command of Buffalo Soldiers entered The cavalrymen in the campaign to stop Victorio-and
Hembrillo Canyon, they were looking not only for Victorio but indeed, a majority of the horse soldiers in New Mexico
also for water. The night before they had camped at Malpais Territory in the last three decades of the nineteenth century-
Spring where the men and their horses unknowingiy had were African American troops known as "Buffalo Soldiers."
drunk water with high concentrations of gypsum. By the next Presumably, their Native American adversaries applied the
day all were feeling incapacitated and excessively thirsty-the name because of the soldiers' tenacity and resilience in a fight,
effects of hydrated calcium sulfate. and because their hair reminded them of the fur on the
Imagine their anticipation as they filed into a bowl formed American bison.
by a semi-circular rock formation, a stand of cottonwoods Black soldiers were familiar figures in U.S. military history
marking the spring itself: the cavalrymen could all but taste before they were assigned to frontier posts. Black troops had
the long drink of cool, pure water just a few hundred yards fought in Washington's armies in the Revolutionary War, and
away. As they drew nearer to the trees, but not yet the water, had assisted Andrew Jackson in defeating the British in their
without warning shots rang out. The tired, thirsty troopers assault on New Orleans in 1815 during the War of 1812. Black
immediately deployed, readying their Springfieid carbines troops serving in the armies of the Federal government during
even as they dismounted; every fourth man held the reins of the Civil War numbered between 180,000 and 200,000 (10 per-
his own and three other troopers'horses. Precision trained, the cent of the Union soldiers)-with 33,380 giving their lives for
cavalry began to return fire within seconds, but without suc- freedom and the Union. Even so, at war's end racial prejudice
cess. Their enemy was "upwards of two hundred" strong in the army resurfaced, and many political and military leaders

Er Paracro 45

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Bes6sarr rnlu, Tnoop L, Nrrvrn Cevernv, Fonr Wrncarn, Nlw Mrxrco, c,+. r899-19oo. MNM Nnc. No. 98374

did not want blacks in the peacetime army and argued vehe- These infantry troops were the first African Americans to
mently against the idea. Nevertheless, in 7866, when it passed be assigned to the New Mexico Territory. It is a mark of their
an act to reorganize the army, Congress authorized six regi- ability to get the job done that by the time they left the territo-
ments of black troops: two of them cavalry regiments, the Ninth ry in July 1890, almost 4,000 biack cavalry and infantry soldiers
and Tenth, each wiih twelve companies; and four infantry reg- had served served at eleven of the sixteen military posts in New
iments, the Thirty-Eighth, Thirty-Ninth, Fortieth, and Forty- Mexico. When they first arrived, the black troops were quickly
First, each with ten companies. (It also decreed that the com- put to work helping to build the newly established Fort Selden
missioned officers for the new black regiments were to be and Fort Bayard and repairing buildings at other forts in the
white, while the non-commissioned officers were black. Many area. They were hardly settled, however, before they were
white officers, George A. Custer among them, refused to serve called upon to protect settlers and their property and deal with
in the black regiments.) Three years later, Congress reduced the Indian-related problems. Among their duties were chasing
army's enlisted personnel, consolidating many units, including down Indian raiders and oihers who had ieft their reservations,
the Thirty-Eighth and Forty-First into the Twenty-Fourth pursuing cattle and horse thieves, watching out for travelers,
Infantry, and the Thirty-Ninth and Fortieth into the TWenty- scouting the countryside, and escorting government supply
Fifth Infantry. The black horse-and-foot soldiers of the Ninth trains, wagon trains, stagecoaches, mail trains, and railroad and
and Tenth Cavalry and those assigned to the Twenty-Fourth telegraph workers. When they weren't protecting people and
and Twenty-Fifth Infantry became known as the Buffalo livestock, they dug wells, cut and hauled wood, quarried stone,
Soldiers. Later they would become known for their valor. cooked, clerked, nursed the sick, and generally did anything

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Er- Paracro 47

that had to be done at their posts land near their homeland.

of duty. Then, in September and The Mescalero Apaches also
October 7869, +he 488 enlisted accepted their reservation near
black soldiers of the Thirty- Fort Stanton. Then, in 1875, the
Eighth Infantry were marched prospectsfor a lasting peace
out of New Mexico to other posts, with the Apache people dis-
and other infantry units were solved because the U.S. gov-
brought in. ernment unwisely decided to
The next six years were rel- join all of the Apaches of west-
atively peaceful in southern ern New Mexico and eastern
New Mexico. In fact, it was so Arizona on one reservation at
peaceful that during this period San Carlos, which was in
there were no black troops sta- Arizona Territory. The Apache
tioned at any of the forts in the groups found that plan totally
territory. The leaders of the unacceptable, and trouble began
Eastern Chiricahua Apache again.
bands indicated that they were NrNrrr CA.varnv B-lNo oN THE Praza ru Saura Fr, Nnw Muxrco, To deal with the increased
willing to move to reservatlon Jurv r88o. Prroro ev BnN Wrrrrcx. MNM Nrc No. 5o887 conflicts between Native

48 Et, Perecto

Americans and soldiers, the government ten military posts, and for the next six
bolstered the white troops still stationed in years, almost a quarter of the U.S. Army's
New Mexico with the entire Ninth Cavalry, black iroops-b70-800 men-were serving
still commanded by the decorated and in New Mexico.
respected Colonel Hatch. The blond, blue- Overall, the African American troops in
eyed native of Maine began his military the trans-Mississippi West racked up an
career in August 1861 when he was appoint- impressive service record, and they did so
ed captain of the Second Iowa Cavalry. while coniending with obstacles often more
During the Civil War, Hatch earned citations obdurate than their white counterparts
for gallantry and meritorious service follow- faced on similar frontier duty. Despite unfa-
ing the Battles of Franklin and Nashville, miliar and often seasonally hostile environ-
and at war's end was brevetted a major gen- ments, inferior housing and equipment,
eral of volunteers. He was an able, decisive, poor cavally mounts, backbreaking work,
ambitious and personable officer without Indian dangers, loneliness, bad food, and
racial prejudice and with highly regarded racial prejudice, the Buffalo Soldiers still
military skills. When called upon for this were considered among the steadiest and
New Mexico assignment, Hatch moved his most reliable soldiers. They fought hard
command from Texas to New Mexico and and frequently, deserted far less often than
Dnsan, AracuE scour wrru rHr TENrn
estabiished his headquarters in Santa Fe (in Cnvlrnv, 1892. MNM Nrc. No. r33r4 white soldiers, and showed a discipline and
a building at the corner of Palace and high morale at times when white soldiers
Lincoln Avenues where the Museum of Fine Arts now stands). faltered. Because of their extraordinary acts of heroism during
Eventually, a1l twelve companies under Hatch v,'ere dispersed to battles with Indians in the late nineteenth century, eighteen
Er Paracro ,1

Buffalo Soldiers received the Medal of Honor. For eight of them it

was for deeds of valor while on duty in New Mexico Territory.
In the late 1870s, Buffalo Soldiers were involved in two of the
more famous civil disfurbances in New Mexico's territorial histo-
ry: the Colfax County War and the Lincoln County War. Without
a doubt, however, their most notable contribution in New Mexico
occurred during the Victorio War. Some regarded Victorio as the
greatest of all Apache military strategists. He had been called by
one historian "America's greatest guerrilla hghter," ranking with
Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox of the American Revolution;
William Quantrill, the Confederate guerrilla leader; John Mosby,
called the Confederate Ranger; and Charles Merrill, the Burma
Marauder. The difference between Victorio and these figures was
that Victorio was driven to hostility as he defended his people, his
homeland, and the Apache way of life from encroachments by
American and Mexican citizens.
Ninth Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers spent most of their time in
1879 looking for the Apache leader who was reported to have
crossed back over the border from Mexico. In January of that
year, two companies left Fort Bayard and combed the rugged
area along the New Mexico-Arizona boundary for a band of
Chiricahua Apaches who had jumped their reservation. By the
time the companies returned in February, the men had braved
severe weather and covered 256 miles "over country never
before traveled by troops," according to one of the soldiers.
There were numerous other scouting expeditions dis-
patched from southern New Mexico forts that year, all in search
of Victorio and other "renegade" bands of Apaches branded
"hostiles," who allegedly were responsible for countless acts of
theft and violence throughout southern New Mexico Territory.
When the expeditions crossed paths with Victorio, the outcome
always was bloody, and soldiers often were honored for valor.
]une 1879: One column of Buffalo Soldiers from Fort
Bayard met Victorio and his band in the Gila Mountains. As
Captain Charles D. Beyer and Victorio tried to establish ground
rules for a parley, their men prepared for a fight. Talks never
happened, but the battle did, and after about thirty minutes of
gunfire during which two Apache warriors and two Buffalo
Soldiers were seriously wounded, the Apaches fled. Beyer
ordered their camp burned. In his report of the incident, Beyer
noted that seven of his men displayed gallantry and bravery;
one cavalryman, Sergeant Thomas Boyne, was awarded the
Medal of Honor for rescuing a white officer who had been sur-
rounded by Indians after his horse had been killed.
June 30, 1879: Victorio surrendered to the government and
was cordially welcomed by a government agent, who gave his
assurances that the Mimbres Apache women and children
would be moved from the hated San Carlos Reservation.
TrNrrr Cavarny Tnoops wt:rtt Ixorau scours ar Srvrn MoNluMsNt MrNn Caup, CHronron Cnrsx
ryEST oF CHLonron, Nrw Mnxrco, cl. r89r. Puoro sy Hnnny A. ScHnlror. MNM Nnc. No. rz8z8

Victorio seemed to have found a home at last. Howeveq he bolt- than a thousand troops in the field looking for Victorio.
ed in early September, convinced that he was about to be arrest- September 16-17 , 1879: A column of Buffalo Soldiers from
ed and brought up on charges of horse stealing and murder. Fort Stanton tracked Victorio to the Black Range Mountains. In
And again the Ninth Cavalry tracked him. the fight that followed-known as the "Battle of Las Animas"-
September 4, 1879: Victorio and sixty of his men surprised five black troopers and three army Indian scouts died. The
a company of Buffalo Soldiers at Ojo Caliente (in present-day casualties would surely have been greater because the battle
Socorro County), killed five men and three civilians, and stole was going badly for the soldiers until another column of
eighteen muJ.es and fifty horses; shortly after, another nine civil- Buffalo Soldiers heard the firing and came to the rescue. After
ians were killed by the Apache band. In swift response to the this action, two more Buffalo Soldiers received Medals of
firsi affront, Colonei Hatch put all available Ninth Cavalry Honor, one, Sergeant John Denny of the Ninth Cavalry, for most
Buffalo Soldiers into the field to find Victorio. By late 1879, as conspicuous gallantry when he rescued a wounded private in
many as 550 Ninth Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers were on assign- ihe face of heavy enemy fire.
ment in New Mexico, and other Buffalo Soldiers from the Tenth Late September 1879: Victorio and fifty to seventy war-
Cavalry of Texas joined in the search. In all there were more riors, mounted on stolen cavalry horses, attacked a mail train

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and its Buffalo Soldier escort. The fighting was short, furious and Events in January 1880 promised another year of the
might have been fatal to the escort had not a hunting party led same death, destruction and border-crossings: Victorio
by a Ninth Cavalry sergeant arrived just in time to heip their resumed his raids in New Mexico; Colonel Hatch again
comrades escape. The next day, a detachment caught up ordered the Ninth Cavalry into the field, and in the
with Victorio and began a batile that went from mid- next two months the soldiers fought the warriors
afternoon until 10 p.m. The next morning, as the six more times.
cavalq..rnen were eating breakfast, an Apache shot Then came Hembrillo Canyon, and the sol-
an army sentinel, and the fighting resumed. The '? diers' urgent search for water that put them
black troopers drove the Apache warriors away -oi; in mortal danger.
only after a running, two hour fight. Intending to catch Victorio in a pincers move-
October 1879: For more than a month ment, Hatch had organized his men into the
Buffalo Soldiers relentlessly pursued Victorio three battalions that would pressure him from
through the mountains of southern New Mexico, three directions into a final fight. Captain Carroll
before he crossed into Mexico and holed up in the and his battalion of Ninth Cavalry Buffalo
Candelaria Mountains; five troopers were singled Soldiers (from Companies A, D, R and G) formed
out for special praise from their commander during one of the three columns in Hatch's plan. Their dire
the long pursuit. For the next two months, the need to find water threw the plan out of kilter.
African American cavalrymen did picket duty Trxrrr CevernY EMBLEM Carroll's troopers remained pinned down and
in southern New Mexico, watching for the MNM Nnc. No. 657o6 hard pressed by the Apaches for the rest of the
return of Victorio. They did not have long to wait. Mexican day and through the night of April 7,1.880. The Apaches had
troops chased him back over the U.S. border after Victorio killed the high ground-and the only water. Several Buffalo Soldiers
some Mexican citizens. and Carroll himself were wounded during the night. The
Tnool H, NrxrH Cavarnv, Fonr WrNcarn, Nrw Mnxrco, r899-t9oo. MNM Nrc. No. 98372

troops were vulnerable, and the Apaches knew it. They started the detachment of 125 members of the Sixth Cavalry and army
to move, one by one, down the slopes toward the beleaguered Indian scouts wasted no time attacking and driving Victorio and
soldiers, from their positions that but for 90 degrees surround- his men out of the canyon. At the end of the eighteen-hour siege,
ed the troopers. seven enlisted men were wounded, Carroll was hit by gunfire in
To see the archaeological evidence of the warriors' moving the chest and leg, and lived to fight again-in the Victorio Wat
skirmish line, discovered by archaeologists Laumbach and in other skirmishes in the West, and in the Spanish American
Burton at the battleground (since nominated to become a War. Captain Carroll retired in 1899 with the regular rank of
National Historic Site), is to understand the certain despair felt colonel and the brevet rank of brigadier general, this honor in
by the soldiers. Using metal detectors, the archaeologists found part because of his gallantry during the action at Hembrillo
the standard .45-70 caftridges (.45 caliber with seventy grains of Canyon. Carroll said that three Apache warriors were killed;
gunpowder) that they determined were fired by the soldiers, however, only one body was found after the battle, referred to as
and also smaller caliber cartridge cases presumed to be from "the fight where the soldiers were sick" in the only published
troopers' personal pocket pistols. The fighting was that close. In Apache account of the incident.
the face of a disaster similar to that of the l876Battle of the Little Though Victorio's band dispersed after this encounter, it
Bighorn-i.e., the annihilation of a body of troops-the Buffalo regrouped and continued its marauding ways, with Colonel
Soldiers valiantly fought on; the Apache warriors closed in. Hatch and his cavalry in pursuit. There were several skirmish-
Then, as though a yet-to-be-written script for a Hollywood es before Victorio moved into Texas in late July 1880, pursued by
Western were guiding the action, there came the distant sound of Buffalo Soldiers of the Tenth Cavairy, who pushed him back into
a bugle, and then rifle shots from the cavalry coming to the res- Mexico. This time the MexicanArmy cornered him and his band
cue. For the Buffalo Soldiers facing certain death, the bugle call, in the Tres Castillos Mountains of Chihuahua. Victorio and
the rifle shots and the help came mid-morning from a detach- sixty-two of his 120 men were killed; the rest were captured.
ment of troops from one of the other two columns that were part The work of the Buffalo Soldiers in New Mexico was not
of the pincers movement. Led by Captain Curwen B. Mclellan, {inished, and for another year they were assigned to protect

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railway crews, miners, telegraph construction workers, and

others who would bring more Americans to a land that had
belonged to those still ready to fight for it. Among them was a
follower of Victorio called Nana. Following a series of attacks
ied by Nana, Colonel Hatch again took the lead and called
upon the troops of New Mexico, placing every available man in
the field. For six weeks nearly 1,200 men, including eight com-
panies of Buffalo Soldiers, hounded Nana. In time, they were
directly responsible for pushing his band into permanent hid-
ing in the mountains of Mexico.
Although the Ninth Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers left the terri-
tory at the end of 1881, there would be other New Mexico
assignments {or them and for other Buffalo Soldiers. At various
times betweenl887 and1.896, units of the Tenth Cavalry and a
large portion of the TWenty-Fifth Infantry were stationed at
Fort Bayard. From 1888 to 189I, small detachments of the
TWenty-Fourth were stationed at Fort Selden, and for a three-
month period at Fort Stanton. Finally, companies of the
Twenty-Fifth Infantry and the Ninth Cavalry served at Forts
Bayard and Wingate during the last two years of the century.
Then, in July 1900, the last of the Ninth Cavalry left Fort
Wingate, and no more black troops were to serve in New
Mexico until after it became a state in 1912.
Given the accomplishments of the Ninth Cavalry and
other African American units active in the New Mexico
Territory, it is no wonder that an editorial in the Santa FeWeekly
New Mexican extolled the attributes of the Ninth Cavalry
Buffalo Soldiers, in general, and in particular for their service in
the Victorio War:
"The history [of the Ninth Cavabyl," the editor wrote, "is a
record of forced marches, endurance and bravery such as only a
fine regiment in Indian counky could experience and come out
of with credit. There has never been the slightest disposition to
slight duty or avoid danger. Whenever called upon they have
responded with remarkable energy and faithfulness." I

The seroice of New Mexico's Buffalo Soldiers has been acknowledged

in recent years by the book New Mexico's Buffalo Soldiers, written
by New Mexico State Uniaersity Professor of History Monroe
Billington and published in 1.991. by the Uniztersity Press of Colorado;
a 12|th anniztersary reunion at Fort Selden Strte Monument in 1994
of the Ninth and Tenth Caaalry Association, the fficial army unit
association consisting of aeterans of the Ninth and Tenth who seraed
throughWorldWar lI (when the units were allblack), and the unaeil-
ing at that reunion of a seaen-foot bronze statue of a Buffalo Soldier
by sculptor Reynnldo ("Sonny") Rioera.