Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee | Study Guide

Dee Alexander Brown

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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee | Chapter 9 : Cochise and the Apache Guerrillas | Summary



The Apaches live in New Mexico and Arizona. In the summer of 1871 Indian Affairs Commissioner Ely Parker invites the great Apache chief Cochise to Washington, DC, for a meeting like the one he had with Red Cloud and Spotted Tail. Cochise isn't interested. He doesn't trust the military or the government, and for good reason. In 1861 three of Cochise's male relatives were executed after Cochise killed three white men because he was falsely accused of stealing cattle and kidnapping a "half-breed" boy. Cochise and his father-in-law, the great Apache war chief Mangas Colorado, then joined forces to rid their land of white men. Their guerrilla war went on for two years before Mangas was murdered under a truce flag by white soldiers.

This incident caused the Apaches to declare war on the white man. They raided settlements and trails for two years. When some Apache leaders broached the idea of peace with the government, they were told they had to move to the reservation at Bosque Redondo. The Apaches knew about the horrible conditions there and spent the next five years hiding in the mountains, occasionally re-emerging to raid American and Mexican ranches.

In February 1871 Aravaipa Apache chief Eskiminzin travels to Camp Grant to make peace. He is told they will have to move to the reservation at the White Mountains for that to happen. This won't work for the Aravaipas, however—they rely on mescal, a nutritious food made of roasted agave leaves, for much of their diet. Mescal can't be made in the mountains. Lieutenant Royal E. Whitman makes a deal with Eskiminzin. If the Aravaipas give up their weapons and become prisoners of war, they can live by the fort. Whitman is impressed with the Aravaipas' work ethic, and soon he and local ranchers are paying the Aravaipas for manual labor. Things go well until members of Tucson's Committee of Public Safety accuse the Aravaipas of killing white people during a raid. The Aravaipas had nothing to do with it, but on April 30, 1871, many Aravaipas, mostly women and children, are slaughtered at Camp Grant. Whitman is horrified. The Tucson raiders are eventually brought to trial thanks to Whitman's "persistent efforts." They all go free and Whitman's career is destroyed.

President Ulysses S. Grant orders the U.S. Army and the Indian Bureau to bring peace to the Southwest. General George Crook takes command of the Department of Arizona. A few weeks later Indian Bureau representative Vincent Colyer arrives in the Southwest to talk to Eskiminzin, Tonto Apache Delshay, and Cochise.

Eskiminzin assures Colyer he wants peace, but the Aravaipas' lives are upended in February 1873 when they are moved 60 miles away to San Carlos. Eskiminzin is arrested as a "military precaution" for a death neither he nor his people took part in. The Aravaipas escape in January 1874, only to return four months later, sick and starving. Eskiminzin and his subchiefs are arrested and transported to the new Camp Grant, while the rest of the tribe remains in San Carlos. That summer a white man named John Clum arranges for Eskiminzin to return to San Carlos to be the leader his people need.

Delshay of the Tonto Apaches also assures Colyer he wants to "make a peace that will last." But his request for a reservation in the Sunflower Valley is all but ignored, and the Tontos are forced to roam. Crook finally catches them in April 1873, and they are sent to Fort Apache on the White Mountain reservation, where they are forced to wear numbered dog tags. There aren't enough supplies on the reservation, and the Coyoteros already living there are unhappy to be sharing "their" land with "intruders." The Tontos run away in July 1873 to the reservation on the Rio Verde, where they are allowed to stay as long as they are peaceful. A price is put on Delshay's head after he is accused of hiding Apache fugitives. In July 1874 two mercenary Apaches each claim to have killed him. Crook accepts both heads, and has them mounted at Rio Verde and San Carlos.

Colyer and Crook both want to speak to—or in Crook's case, capture or kill—Cochise, but he doesn't trust either of them. He instead meets with General Gordon Granger at Cañada Alamosa in 1871. It is agreed that the Chiricahuas will live at Cañada Alamosa, per Cochise's request, but they are soon moved to Fort Tularosa. Cochise and his warriors flee to the mountains of southeastern Arizona.

In September 1882 Cochise meets up with an old friend, Tom "Taglito" Jeffords. Jeffords helps General Oliver Otis Howard negotiate peace with Cochise. Cochise convinces Howard to let the Chiricahuas live on their own land near the Chiricahua Mountains. Jeffords will be the agent at the new reservation.

Cochise falls ill in the spring of 1874. Certain he will die soon, he is indifferent to the government's decision to merge the Chiricahua agency with the new Hot Springs agency in New Mexico. His subchiefs and sons aren't so nonchalant—they say they would rather die than leave their mountains. Cochise dies a few days later.

A "forced peace" falls over the Southwest by 1875. Crook is moved to the Department of the Platte to deal with the Sioux and Cheyennes, and most of the Apaches are either living on reservations or hiding in Mexico. The Apache wars are over for now.


Deception is one of the major themes of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Every single chapter details at least one instance in which the Indians are told one thing by white men only to have something completely different happen. In many cases the deception perpetrated by U.S. government officials and military leaders is purposeful. A good example is the truce flag. Time and time again Indian chiefs wave the truce flag for a parley and enter the white man's camp only to be arrested or taken hostage. It happened to Mangas Colorado, it happened to Kiowas Lone Wolf and Satanta, and it happened to Joseph of the Nez Percés. While such actions might not be illegal, they're also not okay. The same thing happens with peace treaties. The Indians are either told the treaty says one thing when it really says another, or the white men don't adhere to the terms of the treaty at all.

Sometimes the white man's deception is unintentional. People like General Granger and Colyer really do want to help the Apaches find ways to live peacefully with white settlers and the U.S. government. But more often than not those with good hearts aren't in positions of power. Men like General Sherman, General Sheridan, and General Crook abhor Indians. President Ulysses S. Grant and Indian Bureau Commissioner Ely Parker make it the country's policy to listen to the Indians, and find a way to make them—as well as the settlers and politicians—happy. But the men running the day-to-day operations of the American West don't feel the same way. They want the Indians exterminated. Brown doesn't offer explicit reasons for this, but it is implied that Sherman, Sheridan, and Crook were of the opinion that Indians are at the same place on the evolutionary scale as animals. They hunt the Indians like animals, they pen them in on the reservation like animals, and they provide rations even animals wouldn't want to eat.

This is not to say all white men hate Indians. Many go out of their way to act as allies, including Whitman, Jeffords, and Clum. Brown even attributes the temporary peace in Apache country to the latter two men. Clum's relationship with the Apaches is detailed further in Chapter 17, but the short version is that he has encouraged the Aravaipa Apaches to take responsibility for most of the operations of their agency. In addition to removing the soldiers from the reservation, this tactic also helps the Aravaipas feel as if they have a say in the way they live their lives. They still have to live on the reservation, but at least they are treated like humans. Jeffords also treats Indians like humans. His friendship with Cochise developed when Jeffords asked the Chiricahua chief to engage in a personal treaty so Cochise's men wouldn't ambush Jeffords again while he was trying to deliver the mail. Cochise was impressed—no white man had ever talked to him like this before. He felt compelled to "honor Taglito's courage," and the two men soon became drinking buddies. The denominator in both these cases is the acknowledgment of the Apaches' humanity. Clum and Jeffords treated Indians like they were human, which was a radical idea in the mid-19th century.

Whitman's relationship with the Aravaipa Apaches begins like most relationships between white men and Indians in the post–Civil War era. He is skeptical of the Indians' promises of peace and doesn't expect them to follow through on their promises. But when he gives them the benefit of the doubt, he is pleasantly surprised by how kind and industrious they are. Like Edward Wynkoop, who worked with Black Kettle's band of Southern Cheyennes, Whitman becomes an advocate for the Aravaipas. But also like Wynkoop, he is looked upon with disdain by his superiors for respecting the people in his care. Wynkoop managed to avoid professional ruin while working with the Cheyennes, but Whitman suffered enormously for coming to their defense after they were accused of killing white people during a raid, and ensuring that the people who ambushed their camp were taken to trial. He was court-martialed—taken to military court—three times on "ridiculous charges," and was denied any promotions. He eventually quit. Standing up for the Aravaipas showed a lot of courage and a strong sense of morality, which is pretty much the opposite of what military leaders handling Indian affairs wanted in their soldiers.

The destruction of Whitman's career can be directly linked to the Indian Ring. This was a group of government and military officials and war profiteers—people and companies who made money by selling goods or weapons to parties at war. According to Brown, the Tucson Committee of Public Safety—and most citizens of Tucson—were "opposed to agencies where Apaches worked for a living and were peaceful." It is a lot harder for government and military officials to justify a war with the Indians when the Indians are living peacefully on their reservations. No war means fewer soldiers are needed, which means less food, uniforms, and weapons are needed, which decreases the amount of money earned by people who sell those things. Peace on the Aravaipa reservation was bad for business in Tucson. Brown is implying that the Committee of Public Safety attacked the Aravaipas not just because they wanted to kill Indians but because they were trying to reignite the war. Situations like this happened all over the American West. Government and military officials accepted bribes from suppliers for government contracts. In return, they had to make sure the war dragged on as long as possible. People like Whitman and Clum who figured out ways to keep the Indians content on their reservations got in the way. In Whitman's case, it cost him his career.

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