March 13, 2016

1864: Apache Indians Mass to Attack Prescott


September, 1864: A 16 year-old, emaciated Mexican boy makes his way into Prescott frightened. He had just escaped the Apaches, who had held him as a slave since he was 10. (*1)

As excited as the boy was to be free, the people of Prescott felt equally anxious. Whites had already lost hundreds of heads of livestock to the Indians in 1864 and it was now becoming apparent that the Apaches were massing in large numbers to harass and attack Prescott.

A year earlier, in the summer or fall of that year, "Apaches entered the town in numbers at dusk, killing one man and stampeding all the milk cows in the burg." A posse was formed within two hours to level retribution and several indians were killed. (*2)

The previous winter of 1863 brought hardship to the white miners as no real plans were made to bring in food for the winter. If it wasn't for the Miller brothers, the town would have starved to death. (*3)

But since then, things had changed. Instead of the Apaches finding Prescott on the decline, (perhaps as they expected,) the town was booming instead. It had just been named the capital of the territory.

Even as the the Governor's Mansion (a 6 room log cabin) was being built: "the carpenters engaged were 'annoyed'...by the Indians creeping up in range and bothering them by imitating the coyote so as to attract them to the rocks and timber nearby" to lure them to their deaths. Instead, the carpenters went about their labor while another group of men took a path around the back side of the hilltop to ambush the Indians. They killed three. (*2)

Today with the old Governor's Mansion at the heart of the Sharlot Hall Museum complex and the museum being in the heart of the developed city, it's difficult to imagine a day when hostile native americans could have come that close.

See how Native Americans successfully used the tactic of "guerrilla attrition" to keep a prosperous gold mine from operating during the Indian Wars.


Development was in earnest. Lots had been plotted and were being auctioned off. Businessmen, cowboys, entrepreneurs and politicians added greatly to the influx of miners looking to strike it rich. Nearly overnight, Prescott grew from a small mining-town burg to a growing magnet for whites from all over the territory and all over the country.  This must of been a surprise to the Apaches.

The Mexican boy-slave described "the indians as suffering for food and driven to desperation." He said that the Apaches "have seriously meditated an attack on Prescott, but (after seeing how the town had grown,) they have neither the numbers nor the nerve to attempt it." (*1)

However, this did little to shrink Prescott's anxiety. The paper wrote: "While there may be no attack in force (on the city), there will undoubtedly be small parties constantly prowling about. No one should go unarmed by day or by night and not less than two or three men should venture on any of the mountain trails." (*1)

"It is generally believed that numerous hostile Apaches...are encamped between Prescott and Mohave, ostensibly to gather...supplies, but really to perfect arrangements for an attack upon Prescott," the paper wrote. "They have for a long time been urging a combination of all the (enemy) tribes to make certain of the destruction of the whites... That they seriously premeditate attacking Prescott, in sufficient strength to take off all our (live)stock, if not destroy the place and its inhabitants, there is no longer any doubt." (*4)

Story of how Skull Valley, AZ earned its name as a killing field.


Indeed, the Native Americans did carry out a large number of raids, mostly taking or running-off livestock.

But ultimately, a third political force terminated any Apache thoughts of overrunning Prescott. The territory around the city was not a part of the Apaches' land. It was the traditional land of the people we now call the Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe.

In a letter to the Territory's Governor Goodwin that was published in the newspaper, Capt. Moss wrote: "that the hostile Indians who have for some time past infested the road between (Walnut Grove) and the vicinity of Prescott, are no longer there. They have been driven off by the exertions of the Yavapis, on whose ground they have been trespassing." (*5)

The Prescott Yavapais asked the Apaches to leave the city alone and the Apaches respected and honored the request.

Although killing and raiding would continue for over twenty more years, it would be directed toward the ranchers and miners who were outside the safety of the city. The full-blown "Battle of Prescott" would never occur. The city's place in Arizona was guaranteed.

Tourist Tips:
The Yavapai-Prescott People are a vital part of Prescott. They give generously to local charities.
The Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe offers more than just gaming (Slots & Blackjack).
There is also shopping at the Frontier Village.
And a resort with a breath-taking "Top of the Hill" outdoor wedding facility


ALSO BY Drew Desmond:

SOURCES:
(*1) Arizona Miner 9/7/1864 p2 c4 (bottom)
(*2) Sharlot Hall Museum Archives. Vertical Folder: Indian Fights, (Item #29) "Memorable Indian Fights" transcribed from "West Coast Magazine" January 1908.
(*3) The Miller Bros. Saved Prescott From Starvation
(*4) Arizona Miner 9/21/1864 p 2 c 4 "Take Their Scalps"
(*5) Arizona Miner 10/5/1864 p 2 c 4



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