Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee | Study Guide

Dee Alexander Brown

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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee | Chapter 17 : The Last of the Apache Chiefs | Summary

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Summary

The Chiricahuas split into different factions after the death of Cochise in 1874, and some of them start raiding again. White settlers, miners, and politicians want the Chiricahuas moved to the White Mountain reservation at San Carlos. Only half of them go—the other half flee to Mexico. The San Carlos agency is led by John Clum. Clum isn't like other agents. He employs Apache police instead of white soldiers, and he helps the Indians in his care become self-sufficient.

Warrior Victorio and most of the Warm Springs Apaches are moved to San Carlos in the spring of 1877. Their reputation precedes them, and a company of white soldiers is moved to nearby Fort Thomas "as a precautionary move." Clum is livid. He wants to replace the soldiers with more Apache police officers. This angers the War Department as well as the civilian army contractors in New Mexico and Arizona. Clum's request is ignored, and he resigns.

Life at San Carlos becomes much worse for the Apaches. It is harder to get rations, and a group of miners takes over part of the reservation and refuses to leave. Victorio and his people run away in September 1877. They settle at Tularosa a year later, but in 1879 Victorio is arrested for horse stealing and murder. Convinced he is "marked for death," he decides his reservation days are over. He goes to Mexico and recruits a guerrilla army "to make war forever" against the United States. His 200 Mescalero Apaches and Chiricahuas raid Mexican ranches, kill settlers in Texas and New Mexico, and ambush cavalry soldiers. Victorio becomes known as a "ruthless killer," willing to torture and mutilate his victims. The American and Mexican armies finally capture and kill him on October 14, 1880. A Mimbres Apache warrior of 70-plus years named Nana takes over the guerrilla war.

More Apaches flee the White Mountain reservation in September 1881. Chiricahua Chief Geronimo and 70 of his followers go to Mexico and then return six months later to take all willing Apaches back with them. Things go well until they cross into Mexico and meet a Mexican infantry regiment that slaughters the women and children at the front of the pack. Geronimo and a few other chiefs escape.

Every breakout from White Mountain leads to more white soldiers stationed at nearby forts, which leads to more Apache unrest. The government tries to break the cycle by recalling General Crook to the Southwest. He has changed in the past 10 years—he now sympathizes with Indians and views them as human beings. He quickly discovers the Apaches don't know who they can trust, or what they should believe. He also learns "white men were trying to arouse the Apaches to violent action" by withholding rations. Crook ejects the white squatters and miners from the reservation and allows the Apaches their choice of land on which to build their homes. The Apaches can work the land and sell the excess to the government. They are also expected to police themselves.

Crook is concerned about the Chiricahuas and Warm Springs Apaches living in Mexico. He knows they will cross the border to raid again, and he doesn't want another war. He thinks it would be best to talk to them. He has his chance in May 1883 after Geronimo and his people raid some Mexican ranchers. Crook crosses into Mexico in 1883, and he and Geronimo come to an understanding after three lengthy parleys. Geronimo is allowed as much time as he needs to round up "the last man, woman, and child of the Chiricahuas," and, true to his word, he arrives with the last of his people in February 1884.

The Chiricahuas grow restless in the spring of 1885. They don't have a lot to do now that all the corn is planted, so they spend their time drinking and gambling. Geronimo hears rumors he is going to be arrested and hanged, so when he and his friends get drunk on May 17, it seems like a good idea to leave the reservation. They take 134 Chiricahuas with them. Crook tries to avoid any military interference—he thinks talking things through is more productive and effective than violence.

Crook finally catches up with the Chiricahuas on March 25, 1886. They will surrender if they can go back to San Carlos, but Crook has been ordered to send them to a military prison in Florida. The War Department refuses to negotiate, and Geronimo and Naiche escape to Mexico. Crook is reprimanded for his "tolerant attitude toward Indians," negligence, and negotiating surrender terms. He resigns and is replaced by General Nelson Miles, who employs 5,000 soldiers, 500 Apache chiefs, and thousands of civilian militiamen to capture Geronimo and his 25 warriors.

Geronimo is finally caught by Lieutenant Charles Gatewood and two Apache scouts at the end of summer. He surrenders, and he and his followers are sent to Fort Marion, Florida, where the other escaped Chiricahuas were sent the previous year. Over 100 die of consumption there, while 50 of their children die at an Indian school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Eskiminzin and the 40 remaining Aravaipas are also sent to Fort Marion. Clum, Crook, and Lieutenant Hugh Scott successfully petition for their return to San Carlos, but Chiricahuas aren't allowed to return to Arizona. They end up on the Kiowa and Comanche reservation at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where Geronimo is a prisoner of war until his death in 1909.

Analysis

The problems in Apache territory are exacerbated by the press, which, from Crook's perspective, is trying to start a war between white civilians and the Apaches. He accuses local newspapers of spreading "all sorts of exaggerations and falsehoods about the Indians," which are then picked up by newspapers around the country. Crook points out that the Indians' side of the story is rarely ever heard. This observation alone shows how much Crook has changed since his days hunting Cochise and the years he spent trying to annihilate the Sioux. When he first began his career in the West he didn't care at all about the Indians' side of the story—all that mattered was that he was fulfilling the requests of his superiors to rid the American West of Indians. His experiences with the Sioux and the Poncas have helped him understand just how human Indians are.

Geronimo wishes all white people had the ability to see the humanity of the Indian. He is greatly troubled by the way he is characterized by the press, especially after he agrees to move all his people to the reservation. The newspapers "invent atrocity stories by the dozens," and blatantly tell their readers to hang him if the government won't. Stories like this, which are told to him by the Chiricahuas' interpreter, make it difficult for Geronimo to want to stay on the reservation. He fears for his life—everyone in Arizona and New Mexico knows where he is after he surrenders to Crook, which makes him an easy target. Such slander also does nothing to endear the white man to him, and it makes him distrust all of them, even those like Crook, who are trying to help him.

John Clum also falls to the power of the press. His request for Apache police to replace the soldiers at Fort Thomas is picked up by newspapers in Washington, DC, and spreads to the rest of the country—including Arizona and New Mexico. Not only does Clum face the wrath of the War Department, but he is suddenly the target of much ire from army contractors. War is profitable for them, and they won't make any money if Clum is able to prevent unrest in San Carlos. The public condemnation of his "brass and impudence" for thinking he could accomplish what an entire military could not contributes to his decision to leave the Indians altogether and start his own newspaper.

Brown points out that Clum wasn't exactly like other allies of American Indians he profiles in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Edward Wynkoop viewed the Chiricahuas as equals, as did Tom Jeffords. Brown asserts Jeffords had even "learned to think as an Apache." Clum was fair and kind toward the Apaches at his agency, but he never really understood them, especially "the chiefs who resisted to the bitter end." Unlike them, he didn't believe death was a better alternative to adopting a different way of life and losing their heritage. This could be because he didn't view their heritage as anything worth preserving. He was an ally to the Apaches on the exterior, but he wasn't able to overcome his implicit biases to genuinely empathize with them.

Victorio is one of the Indians who resist to the bitter end, which seems to dramatically alter his mental state and his sense of right and wrong. His people have been moved so frequently, and he has been arrested so many times, that he determines he has "been marked for death," which sends him into a tailspin. He raises his own army, raids ranches, chases the cavalry, and kills as many white settlers as he can. None of these things make him feel any better—they only fuel his hatred, which sends him deeper and deeper into madness. The man "torturing and mutilating his victims" isn't anyone his people recognize, but it's very much someone white civilians know. Victorio's desperation to be free of the white man turns him into the very villain they think him to be.

The real villains in all of this are not the Indians, not even the ones who live up to the reputation of a savage killer. It is the civilians. It seems as if all of Arizona and New Mexico wants war with the Apaches. Everyone has a different reason. The war profiteers—those who make more money when soldiers are deployed—arms manufacturers and companies that provide rations for the soldiers—want a war so they can fill their pockets. White settlers and miners want the land the Indians occupy for themselves. Even traders, whom the Indians formerly thought of as friends, "fill them full of whiskey and lies." It seems as if every white person has something to gain from a war with the Indians, while the Indians have everything to lose.

The greatest loss for many Indians was their children. The U.S. government began sending American Indian children to boarding schools in the 1870s. It wasn't optional—children were often taken from their parents without parental consent, especially during times of war. The schools were meant to remove every bit of "Indian" from their students. The children were forbidden to talk about anything relating to their home lives and were forced to speak English, use English names, and learn about English culture. The academic education itself was almost nonexistent—most schools focused more on trades, like carpentry and housekeeping. Fifty Apache children died at the boarding school in Pennsylvania, but this wasn't the tribe's only loss. With each child that successfully "graduated" from the school, they lost someone who could pass on the language, history, and culture of their people. Boarding schools were yet another way white men controlled the American Indian and eventually erased his culture.

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