Skip over navigation
Brown shield Brown shield Brown University Library Brown shield Brown shield Brown University Library Center for Digital Scholarship
The Pioneers
The Story of the Camp Grant Massacre of 1871
Retold by the Captain of the Expedition to His Old Comrades--Interesting Historical Data Worth Preserving

There was a larger gathering of pioneers and their friends at Pioneer Hall last evening to listen to the story of the Camp Grant massacre by W.S. Oury, the captain of the band who performed the work. There was quite a number of ladies present. After some preliminary work of the order, Mr. Oury stepped to the front and said:

Having been chosen by our worthy president to give a paper upon some event connected with the early history of Arizona, the writer has selected as his theme the so-called Camp Grant massacre, believing it to be one of the events most important in its results to the peace and progress of our Apache cursed land. To give a mere recital of the act of killing a few more or less of blood thirsty savages, without a detail of the causes and provocations which drove a long suffering and patient people to the adoption of remedial measures so apparently cruel in their results, would be a gross wrong and injustice to those of our friends and neighbors who in various ways gave sanction and aid to the undertaking, and would fall far short of the object and aim of the writer, to give a fair and impartial history.

In the year 1870 in accordance with the peace policy which had been decided upon by the U.S. government, the Pinal and Aravaipa bands of Apache Indians were collected together and placed upon a reservation around old Camp Grant at the junction of the San Pedro and Aravaipa creeks, about 55 miles from Tucson, under the supervision of the military stationed at that post. One or two Agents of them had been taken from civil life, but in a short time their management proving unsatisfactory, one Royal E. Whitman, a Lieut. of the 4rd Cavalry, U.S.A., was assigned to duty as their agent; being what is termed a sharp man and of a thrifty turn, he soon saw that there was money in the Apache, and lost no time in the practical application of that knowledge, to do which successfully required outside partners who were soon found in Tucson; a settler's store was first started, followed by a blacksmith, butcher, and a number of strikers, chosen in various capacities, ostensibly for the benefit of poor Lo, really affidavit, and easy conscience witness men for the boss, and as a trite saying goes "hell was fully inaugurated."

The Indians soon commenced plundering and murdering the citizens of Tucson, San Xavier, Tubac, Sonoita, San Pedro and every other settlement within a radius of 100 miles of Old Camp Grant in the confidence that if they escaped to their reservation they reached a secure haven. During the winter of 1870-71 these murders and depredations were so numerous as to threaten the abandonment of nearly all the settlements outside of Tucson, especially that of San Pedro the most numerous and most important of all; the meantime the citizens of Tucson were aroused, meetings were held upon the occurrence of each new murder or outrage, representations were made to the right Royal Whitman, that his Indians were plundering and murdering our people, which he denied, and stood ready to prove by every striker on the reservation that his Indians never left the place. Meanwhile, the work of death and destruction kept up with ever increasing force until the slaughter of Wooster and wife on the Santa Cruz above Tubac so inflamed the people that an indignation meeting was held at Tucson, a great amount of resoluting and speechifying was indulged in, and it was determined to raise a military company at once for which a paper was drawn up and signers called for to which eighty-two Americans signed their names. The writer was elected Captain and all hands pledged to eat up blood-raw every Apache in the land upon the recurrence of a new outrage. A committee was appointed to visit the Department Commander, General Stoneman at the time on the Gila near Florence, consisting of S.R. De Long, J.W. Hopkins, and the writer, the remaining names are not now remembered, which committee started at once for its destination. The result of the conference with that august personage Gen. Stoneman was that he had but few troops and could give no aid, that Tucson had the largest population in the Territory, and gave us to understand that we must protect ourselves. With this cold comfort after a trip of 150 miles and the loss of a valuable mule we returned to our constituents, and although no public demonstration was made, at a quiet assemblage of some of our ablest and most substantial citizens it was resolved that the recommendation of Gen. Stoneman should be adopted and that to the best of our ability we would endeavor to protect ourselves. A few days afterwards in the beginning of April 1871 the arrival of a carrier from San Xavier brought the sad intelligence that the Indians had just made a descent upon that place and had driven off a large number of cattle and horses. The alarm drum (the usual way of collecting our people) was beat--a flaming cartoon carried by a man who accompanied the drummer was displayed with the following inscription "Injuns--Injuns--Injuns." "Big meeting at the court house, come everybody, time for action has arrived." This device had been so frequently resorted to and the result obtained so unsatisfactory that it failed to draw. Meanwhile a party of citizens had saddled their horses and learning from two San Xavier couriers the direction the marauding Indians had taken off, rode off hoping to intercept them before they reached Cebadilla Pass; in this they were disappointed for the Indians had gone into the pass before they arrived, but they met the pursuing party from San Xavier and the whole party followed through the pass and overtook the rear Indian driving the stock on a tired horse and killed him and recovered some of the cattle, the other Indians escaped with the horses and the freshest cattle.

Upon the return of the party to Tucson, I hunted up Jesus Ma Elias and had a long conference with him in which he said to me "Don Guillermo I have always been satisfied and have repeatedly told you that the Camp Grant Indians were the ones that were destroying us. I have now proof positive, the Indian we have just killed I will swear and others will also swear is a Camp Grant Indian. I have frequently seen him there and know him well by having his front tooth out and as a further proof when we overtook the Indians they were making a direct course for Camp Grant. Now it devolves upon you as one of the oldest American resident of this Country to devise some means of saving us from the total ruin which the present state of affairs must inevitable lead to if not remedied. See your countrymen, they are the only ones who have money to furnish the supplies necessary to make a formal and effective campaign against our implacable enemies. I know my countrymen will vouch that if arms and ammunition and provisions, however scant are furnished them they will be ready at the first call."

I replied, "Don Jesus, for myself I will answer that I will at all times be ready to do my part, and will at once issue a call for the assemblage of my people at the Court House where you can publicly state what you have just told me, and some concerted plan can be adopted which may give the desired relief."

With a sad shake of his head, he answered, "Don Guillermo for months we have repeatedly held public meetings at which many patriotic speeches have been made and many glowing resolutions passed, meanwhile our means of subsistence have been rapidly diminishing and nothing accomplished. We cannot resolute the remorseless Apache out of existence; if that could have been done every one of them would have been dead long since; besides, giving publicity to the course we might pursue would surely defeat any plan we might adopt. You are aware that there are wealthy and influential men in this community whose interest is to have the Indians of Camp Grant left undisturbed and who would at the first intimation of an intent to inquire seriously into their operations, appeal to the military (whose ear they have) and frustrate all our plans and hopes."

I saw at once the force of his arguments and replied lay out a plan of action and I will aid you with all the zeal and energy I possess. He then developed the following plan: "You and I will go first to San Xavier, see Francisco the head Papago there, and have him send runners to the various Papago villages notifying them that on the 28th day of April we want to be at San Xavier early in the morning with all the force they can muster, for a campaign against our common enemy the Apaches; Francisco, to be prepared to give them a good breakfast on their arrival and send messengers to me at once; this matter being satisfactory we returned to Tucson. I will see all the Mexicans who may desire to participate in the campaign and have them all ready to move on the day fixed. You make arrangements with the Americans you can trust either to take active part in the campaign or render such assistance in supplies, arms, ammunition and horses as will be required to carry out the expedition; and on the day fixed (April 28th) news of the arrival of the Papagoes at San Xavier having first been received, all who were to be active participants in the campaign to leave town quietly and singly to avoid giving alarm and rendezvous on the Rillito opposite San Xavier where the Papagoes will be advised to meet us, and where, as per arrangements, the arms, ammunition and provisions will be delivered and distributed. All hands having arrived at the rendezvous, the command to be fully organized by the election of a commander who all shall be pledged to obey implictly--when thus organized the company to march up the Rillito until the trail of the Indians who had committed the recent depredations at San Xavier was struck which was to be followed where it ought to and all Indians found on it killed, if possible."

Here you have the whole plan of the Camp Grant Campaign as proposed by Mr. Elias and concurred in by the writer.

For its successful fulfillment we both went to work with all our hearts, he with his countrymen (the Mexicans) I with our mine (the Americans) and both together with our auxiliaries the Papagoes: and early in the morning of April 28th, 1871, we received the welcome news of the arrival of the Papagoes at San Xavier and that after a short rest and a feed they would march to the general rendezvous on the Rillito.

Soon after, Elias informed me that the Mexicans' contingent was quietly and singly leaving town for the same destination, and soon after, the writer having given proper directions to the extremely small contingent of his own countrymen, silently and alone took up the line of march to the common rendezvous. By three P.M. all the command had arrived; also, that which was still more essential to the successful issue of the campaign, to wit; the wagon with the arms, ammunition and grub, thanks to our old companion the Adjutant General of the Territory whose name it might not be discreet to give in this connection, but who is well known to almost every member of the society of Arizona Pioneers.

As soon as the writer was convinced that no further increase was to be expected he proceed to take account of the stock with the following result--Papagoes 92, Mexicans 48, Americans 6, in all 146 men good and true. During our short stay at the general rendezvous a number of pleasantries were indulged in by the different members of the party upon the motley appearance of the troop, and your historian got a blow squarely in the right eye from an old neighbor who quietly said to him: "Don Guillermo your countrymen are grand on resoluting and speechifying, but when it comes to action they show up exceedingly thin." Which in view of the fact that 82 Americans had solemnly pledged themselves to be ready at any moment for the campaign and only six finally showed up, was to say the least rather humilating.

However, everything was taken pleasantly. Jesus Elias was elected commander of the expedition and at 4 P.M. the company was in the saddle ready for the march. Just here it seemed to me that we had neglected a very important precautionary measure and I penciled the following note to H.S. Stevens, Esq., Tucson: "Send a party to the Canada del Oro on the main road from Tucson to Camp Grant with orders to stop any and all persons going towards Camp Grant until 7 A.M. of April 30th, 1871."

This note I have to the teamster who had not yet left our camp, who, delivered it promptly and it was as promptly attended to by Mr. Stevens. But for this precaution our campaign would have resulted in complete failure from the fact that the absence of so many men from so small a population as Tucson then contained was noted by a person of large influence in the community, and at whose urgent command the military commander sent an express of two soldiers with dispatches to Camp Grant. They were quietly detained at Canada del Oro, and did not reach that post until it was too late to harm us.

After writing and dispatching the note above referred to, the order, "forward" was given and the command moved gaily and confidently on its mission. About 6 P.M. the trail was struck which we proposed to follow and the march continues through the Cebadilla Pass and down the slopes of the San Pedro to the point where the San Xavier party had killed the Indian above referred to when the order to camp was given as it was about midnight, the moon going down and the trail could not be well followed in the dark. Just at break of day of the morning of April 29t we marched into the San Pedro bottom, where our commander determined to remain until nightfall, lest our command should be discovered by roving Indians and the alarm given at the rancheria. We had followed all this time the trail of the Indians who had raided San Xavier, and every man in the command was now fully satisfied that it would lead us to the reservation, and arrangements made accordingly.

Commander Elias gave orders to march as soon as it was dark, and believing that we were much nearer the rancheria than we really were, and that we would reach the neighborhood by midnight, detailed three men as scouts, whose duty it was when the command arrived conveniently near the rancheria, to go ahead and ascertain the exact locality and report to him the result of their reconnaissance, in order to have no guess work about their position and our attack consequently a haphazard affair. Everything being now ready for the final march, we moved out of the San Pedro bottom just at dark. It soon became evident that our captain and all those who thought they knew the distance had made a miscalculation, and that instead of it being about 16 miles, as estimated, it was nearly 30, so that after a continuous march through the whole night, it was near daybreak before we reached the Aravaipa canyon, so that when we did reach it there was no time left to make the proposed reconnaissance so as to ascertain the exact location of the Indian camp--which involved the necessity of a change in our plan of attack. We knew that the rancheria was in the Aravipa canyon, somewhere above the post, but the exact distance nobody knew. We were in sight of the post, day was approaching, and it was plain that in a very short time we would be discovered either by the Indians or the people at the post.

In either case our expedition would be an absolute failure. But our gallant captain was equal to the emergency; promptly he gave orders to divide the command in two wings, the one to comprise the Papagoes, the other the Mexicans and Americans, and to skirmish up the creek until we struck the rancheria.

When the order forward was given, a new difficulty arose which if it had not been speedly overcome would have been fatal. The command was now in plain view of the military post--the Papagoes had all the time been afraid of military interference with us. I assured them that no such thing would occur and vouched for it. It happened that just as the command was halting I dropped the canteen from the horn of my saddle and dismounting to look for it in the dust and semi-darkness got behind the troops.

The Papagos not seeing me at the front when the order forward for the skirmish was given refused to move inquiring where Don Guillermo was? Word was immediately passed down the line to me and I galloped to the front with a motion of my hand without a word spoken the Papagoes bounded forward like deer and the skirmish began and a better executed one I never witnessed even from veteran soldiers. There was not a break in either line from beginning to end of the affair which covered a distance of nearly four miles before the Indians were struck. They were completely surprised and sleeping in absolute security in the wickiups with only a buck and a squaw as look-outs on a bluff above the rancheria who were playing cards by a small fire and were both clubbed to death before they could give the alarm.

The Papagoes attacked them in the wickiups with clubs and guns, and all who escaped them took to the bluffs and were received and dispatched by the other wing which occupied a position above them. The attack was so swift and fierce that within a half hour the whole work was ended and not an adult Indian left to tell the tale. Some 28 or 30 small papooses were spared and brought to Tucson as captives. Not a single man of our command was hurt to mar the full measure of our triumph and at 8 o'clock on the bright April morning of April 30th, 1871, our tired troops were resting on the San Pedro a few miles above the post in the full satisfaction of a work well done.

Here, also, might your historian lay down his pen and rest, but believing that in order to fully vindicate those who were aids and abettors he craves your indulgence whilst he gives a brief summary of the causes which drove our people to such extreme measures and the happy effects resulting therefrom.

Through the greater part of the year 1870 and the first part of 1871 these Indians had held a carnival of murder and plunder in all our settlement until our people were appalled and almost paralyzed. On the San Pedro the bravest and best of its pioneers had fallen by the wayside--instance Henry Long, Alex McKensie, Sam Brown, Simns, and many others well known to all of you. On the Santa Cruz, noble Wooster, his wife, Sanders and an innumerable host sleep the sleep that knows no waking. On the Sonoita the gallant Pennington, Jackson, Carrol, Rotherwell and others were slain without a chance of defence, and our Secretary Wm. J. Osburn severely wounded. In the vicinity of Tucson, mail drivers and riders, and almost all others whom temerity or necessity caused to leave the protection of our adobe walls were pitilessly slaughtered makes the array truly appalling. Add to this the fact that the remaining settlers in the San Pedro now knowing who the next victim would be, had at last resolved to abandon their crops in the fields and fly with their wives and little ones to Tucson for safety, and the picture of misery is complete up to that memorable and glorious morning of April 30th, 1871, when swift punishment was dealt out to those red-handed butchers, and they were wiped from the face of the earth.

Behold now the happy results immediately following that episode. The farmers of San Pedro return with their wives and babes to gather their abandoned crops. On the Sonoita, Santa Cruz, and all other settlements of southern Arizona, new life springs up, confidence is restored, and industry bounds forward with an impetus that has known no check in the whole fourteen years that have elapsed since that occurrence.

In view of all the facts, I call on all Arizonians to answer on their consciences: Can you call the killing of the Apaches at Camp Grant on the morning of the 30th of April, 1871, a massacre?

After Mr. Oury finished reading his interesting paper, the president requested volunteer remarks from pioneers present or visiting friends. Rev. G.H. Adams in response to calls, made a strong, practical address on the treatment of the Indian question, which from the frequency of the applause appeared to strike the pioneer heart as the true policy.