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The Camp Grant Massacre

At dawn on April 30, 1871 approximately 6 Americans, 48 Mexicans and 92 Tohono O’odham crept into an encampment of Aravaipa Apaches who had recently surrendered to the nearby Camp Grant and slaughtered over one hundred Apache, mostly women and children. To the western world, this became known as The Camp Grant Massacre. To the Apache, the sacred place is known as g’ashdla a cho o aa or “big sycamore standing there.” They have an unspoken understanding of the tragedy that took place by the big sycamore.

Over the previous ten years, the already tense atmosphere between the Indians and the settlers had exploded into bloody war. With the start of the Civil War, President Lincoln pulled out most of the army from the southwest to help fight the south. This left the door wide open for the Apache (and other tribes) to try to take back some of their land.

And for a while, it seemed that the Apache may be winning the war. Many areas in southern Arizona were so dangerous for the settlers that they were abandoned and only by holding up with many others in places like Tucson, were they able to survive. But with the end of the Civil War, the army came back and with a renewed vengeance. With all the new technology and lessons learned in the Civil War, they began to mop up areas of Indian resistance.

Some historians believe that this prospect of peace did not fit well with those who profited from the war with the Indians. There were many merchants who sold supplies to the Army and profited when the federal government decided to give the Indians "gifts" of food, blankets, etc. This was big business for the area and peace would dry up many of those businesses who profited from the war. They believe that some of these citizens may have staged some of the Apache raids during this time just to keep the war going.

Regardless of who conducted the raids, tensions between the warring parties was very high. Trust was hard to come by. The Army had a hard time understanding that although they made piece with one Chief, the other chiefs may not abide by the treaty and would blame the chief for any raids that happened in the area. Dealing with the Apache was not like dealing with a government controlled entity like the army was used to.

Camp Grant was right in the middle of all these hostilities. The original camp was located on the east bank of the San Pedro River, just north of its intersection with Araviapa Creek (about 50 miles north of Tucson). In 1871, it was commanded by first lieutenant Royal Emerson Whitman. Early in the year, some Apache women came into the camp looking for a son who had been taken prison earlier. They found that lieutenant Whitman treated them well and fed them, which was something that did not happen too often.

Life had been getting very tough for the Apache over the past few decades. Not only were they continuously being hunted by the army or armed settlers for depredations they may or may not have committed, the land they used to survive had been taken over and their crops burned. They were tired from years of continuous running and they were slowly starving to death. Whitman offered them safety and food. As word of his kindness spread, more Apache bands came in, including Chief Eskiminzin.

Whitman create a refuge along Aravaipa Creek about 5 miles upstream from Camp Grant for the Apache. About 500 Indians lived in this refuge. as it was their traditional hunting grounds. To pay for some of the supplied that Whitman offered them, the Indians worked harvesting crops at nearby ranches. But there were still raids going on and the situation was very tense.

Ranchers in the area feared an Indian uprising. Whitman feared for the Indians and he told Chief Eskiminzin that he should move his people north to the White Mountain near Fort Apache. Eskiminzin refused.

Tucson residents formed a committee of public safety and began stockpiling weapons and ammunition. This was led by Jesús María Elías and William Oury, a former Texas Ranger and the mayor of Tucson. Our blamed the stealing of livestock from San Xavier on April 10 on the Camp Grant Apaches. Elías contacted an old ally named Francisco Galerita, who was the leader of the Tohono O'odham at San Xavier. They devised a plan to get rid of the problem once and for all.

At down on April 30, the Tohono O'odham crept into the Apache refuge and began to kill, mutilate and rape its occupants - most of which were women and children. Only 8 men were at the camp at the time of the massacre, the rest were on a hunting expedition. The Mexicans and Americans mostly stayed in the hills and used rifles to pick off anyone trying to escape. The army only found one wounded survivor. Approximately 30 children were captured and sold into slavery by the O'odham and Mexican.

Estimates vary on how many were actually killed, but most think somewhere between 100 and 150. Most were mutilated and scalped. The army buried the dead and sent scouts into the hills to inform the men of the tragedy (and to let them know the army was not responsible).

Many of the residents of Tucson and the surrounding area applauded the raid and thought it was justified, but the eastern press saw it as a massacre and it went to President Grant's office. Grant told Governor Safford that if the perpetrators were not brought to trial, he would place Arizona under martial law. It took until October 1871, but a Tucson grand jury indicted 100 of the assailants for murder. But the trail was a joke and it focused mostly on Apache depredations. The jury took only 19 minutes to pronounce a not guilty verdict.

A quote from Oury sums up the point of view of many of the local residents at the time. He said they had the “full satisfaction of a job well done.”

In 1872, the "old" Camp Grant was closed down and replaced by the "new" Camp Grant at the base of Mount Graham.

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