October 13, 2019

The Indian Offensive of 1868

Although Indian attacks were a constant fear in the 1860s, they were not a constant occurrence. However, in the last third of 1868, the Native Americans definitely took the offensive.

“From almost every town in settlement in the territory comes a wail of woe and a cry of distress, for the loss of friends [and] property stolen and destroyed by [the Indians], and for the inability to revenge themselves upon [them],” the paper wrote. “Recently they have grown bold and valiant, and without something being done soon towards checking their power and success, it will become worse.”

On August 26th, the trouble began. Two Native American raiding parties were successful in pilfering two mules from one Prescott resident and two horses from another.

Three days later conflict occurred around Lynx Creek, about 5 miles from Prescott. “They waylaid and killed a Mexican named Juan Yeps while he was returning from town to Reamis’ Ranch.” Later that day, near the same location, Native Americans attempted to kill the esteemed Judge Flowers who was traveling with a Mexican boy. 

Yeps was popular among his fellow Mexicans. After his death, about a dozen of them, “maddened with rage and burning with desire to revenge the death of their countryman,” left Prescott on foot to try to track down and take revenge on those responsible. There was no word of success.

The very next day an ore wagon train traveling from the Vulture mine to Wickenburg was accosted, the driver killed, and the entire 20 mule team taken.

The newspaper declared that these were only a tenth of the raids that occurred. Although that’s probably exaggerated, there were, no doubt, many raids that went unreported and are now lost to history. Some of these raids may have happened around Walnut Grove at this time where it was reported that the Indians were “as thick as bees and as industrious as beavers.” The paper reported that the citizens there were planning to organize some raiding parties against the Indians and suggested that other communities should do the same.

Despite this, the raids continued. One of Joseph Ehle’s herd, which grazed in the forest, was killed and “every ounce of flesh” taken. Ehle’s cows had been grazing in the forest for four years “and during all that time, managed to escape capture and death by taking to their heels and running to town whenever they saw or smelt Indians, but the wily (natives) got them in a tight place at last,” the paper surmised. 

The tale of an Indian raid on the Peeples Ranch in Yavapai County in 1863.

On September 3rd, TW Alexander was doing chores about his ranch, located a mere mile downstream of Ft. Whipple, on Granite Creek. While laboring he found some disturbing fresh signs indicating that Indians were stalking about and decided to guard his small herd of 5 cows through the night. He stayed vigilant but neither heard nor saw any disturbance or trouble. At 4 a.m. he was thoroughly exhausted and finally retired to his cabin. Soon thereafter the Indians struck, taking Alexander’s whole herd.

The loss was noticed as soon as the rest of the family began to stir about and Alexander quickly rode to the Fort and then to town to sound the alarm and gather men. The sooner they could start the chase, the better the chances of recovering the herd. Alexander was hopeful as he had gathered a party of 8 soldiers and 8 citizens. They were able to follow the trail all the way to the Aqua Fria river, but “seeing no sign of Indians or cows, they gave up the chase and turned their faces homeward.”

Late that same morning the Indians struck again on Big Bug creek, 16 miles east of Prescott. Roberts Smith who was described by the paper as “one of the best and most industrious of our citizens,” was shot and killed. Since Big Bug creek flows into the Aqua Fria, one wonders if Smith had run into the same Indian party Alexander was chasing.

Six days later on the 10th, the Indians came upon 2 cows owned by businessman Robert Meacham. They killed one outright and wounded the other so badly that she had to be euthanized shortly after.

With Prescott area anglos now on high alert and ready to shoot Indians on sight, the Native Americans turned their attention onto Wickenburg and the Vulture mine that November. “The people of Wickenburg have got along so far without military protection,” the paper observed, “but now…the danger of an attack upon their town is imminent.” 

Indeed, on November 2nd, 6 miles north of Wickenburg, a party of 75-100 Indians attacked an army-escorted mail party. They killed one soldier, wounded the driver, captured the pack animal, and seized the two sacks of mail.

The true accounts of the deaths of the first Prescott, AZ citizen and the first Fort Whipple soldier killed in the Indian Wars in 1864.

Three days later, the Native Americans raided the Vulture mine. 40 of the 100 cattle, horses and mules “were (driven) off into the mountains…the remainder having broken away from them.”

A Mr. Barnett of Wickenburg frantically wrote the Miner: “Indians and Indian sign are thick around us. On the 12th, one of our oldest and best citizens, Francois Pouget, was killed by Indians at a place about 9 miles from here, while on his way to the Vulture mine.”  (His corpse was also mutilated.) “It is too hard on us to be left without protection. Our population numbers about 400, and night and day all are in danger of losing their lives and property by Indians. We cannot watch them at night, as every man here works during the day and needs rest at night. Cannot the military commander at Fort Whipple spare us 20 men?”

The death of Pouget stirred the citizens of the town: “the citizens of Wickenburg held a meeting for the purpose of adopting a plan for protection,” the paper reported. “The sum of $2000 dollars was quickly raised, and a party was organized, under the leadership of Tom Hodges,” a well-respected scout. 

This was enough for the Native Americans to turn their attention back to the Prescott area at the end of the year. On December 18th, a party 6 men traveling from Prescott to Skull Valley survived “a closely contested Indian fight” against a force of 50.

The exchange took place just past the divide after leaving Mint Valley. The team stopped there and one rider, Frank Smith, rode ahead 100 yards and saw two Indians cross the road. “Several shots were quickly exchanged (as) Frank rode back and gave the alarm.”

“Every man seemed cool and determined,” a witness recalled, despite the Indians 8 to 1 advantage. “We just mounted on the opposite side from where we suppose to the Indians to be, and drew our six shooters, as there was but one (rifle) in the crowd.” They started walking slowly, carefully watching anywhere the Native Americans could hide. When they had gotten 100 yards away from road, the Indians appeared. They were in three squads. The farthest one was 200-300 steps away; the closest was only 20-30 steps away. The fighting started immediately with both sides desirous of firing the first shots. 

“They were armed with long-range guns and the shots flew like hail,” it was reported, “not an arrow was fired.” After battling this way for an hour, the anglos noticed the Indians were attempting to surround them. The travelers quickly withdrew to their horses and made a mad dash toward Skull Valley before the encirclement could be accomplished. Despite the heavy gunfire, the anglos lost only a mule and later, a horse. Indian losses were not known.

The Native American offensive would continue into 1869, while 1868 came to a close with great anxiety and loud cries for Washington to send more troops.

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Weekly Arizona Miner, 9/5/1868; Pg. 2, Col. 3.
Weekly Arizona Miner, 9/12/1868; Pg. 2, Col. 1.
Weekly Arizona Miner, 11/7/1868; Pg. 2, Col. 1.
Weekly Arizona Miner, 11/14/1868; Pg. 3, Col. 3.
Weekly Arizona Miner, 11/21/1868; Pg. 2, Col. 4.
Weekly Arizona Miner, 12/26/1868; Pg. 2, Col. 3.

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