The Navajo and Apache Wars
During the nineteenth century, the U.S. military went to war against many western tribes. These wars depleted the Native Americans' numbers, divided their leadership, and drove them onto reservations, often located far from their homelands and in inhospitable climates. Images related to these wars are available by searching on the names of pertinent people, tribes, and places and through the Subject Index headings beginning Indians of North America--War.
As was often the case, the U.S. military fought the Navajos and Apaches largely for their lands. The Civil War brought many soldiers to the Southwest, including General James Carleton, who decided to remove the Navajos and Apaches to reservations so that the lands of the Rio Grande Valley could be used for settlement and mining. Carleton enlisted the one-time friend of the Navajos, Kit Carson, to force them from their homelands through starvation.
Carson burned the Navajos’ farms, stole their livestock, and finally destroyed the villages in their last stronghold, Canyon de Chelly. Without food or shelter to sustain them through the winter, over 3,000 Navajos surrendered and made what is called “the long walk of the Navajos” to the reservation at Fort Sumner. Hundreds of Navajos died along the way and after arriving at the fort. A few bands of Navajos held out, living in the mountains. But one by one, these bands and their leaders — Barboncito, Armijo, and finally Manuelito — were captured or surrendered and taken to the reservation.
Before his campaign against the Navajos, Carleton began forcing the various bands of Apaches onto the reservation at Fort Sumner. Apache leaders like Mangas Colorado and Cochise, of the Chiricahua band, and Victorio of the Mescalero band, led raids to drive European Americans from their land and resisted the military's attempts, by force and persuasion, to relocate their people to a reservation.
Soldiers and civilians, especially from Tuscon, constantly pursued the Apaches through the 1860s and 70s. After two decades of guerrilla warfare, Cochise chose to make peace and agreed to relocate to a reservation in the Chiricahua Mountains. Not long afterward, Cochise died. When the U.S. government came to move the Chiricahuas to the San Carlos reservation, half of them complied. The other half, led by a man named Geronimo, escaped to Mexico.
In the spring of 1877, the U.S. captured Geronimo and brought him to the San Carlos reservation. He stayed there until September 1881, when a gathering of soldiers around the reservation caused him to fear that he would be imprisoned for his past deeds. He fled to Mexico, taking 700 Apaches with him. In April of the following year, Geronimo returned to San Carlos with horses and guns and liberated the rest of the Apaches, leading many of them back to Mexico.
In the spring of 1883, General George Crook was put in charge of the Arizona and New Mexico reservations. With 200 Apaches, he journeyed to Mexico, found Geronimo’s camp, and persuaded him and his people to return to the San Carlos reservation. Crook instituted several reforms on the reservation, but local newspapers criticized him for being too lenient and demonized Geronimo. On May 17, 1885, Geronimo, drunk and intimidated by demands for his death printed in the papers, escaped once again to Mexico.
Again, Crook went after Geronimo, but this time the negotiations fell through. The War Department reprimanded Crook for the failure and he resigned. He was replaced by Brigadier General Nelson Miles who sent 5,000 soldiers, 500 Apache scouts, and thousands of civilian militia after Geronimo and twenty-four warriors. Geronimo was quickly found and persuaded to surrender. He and many other Apaches were sent to Fort Marion in Florida, where many died because of the climate. Many Apache children were taken to the Carlisle school in Pennsylvania, where fifty of them died.