Thursday, January 12, 2006


January 12, 1880:

Major Albert Morrow and elements of the Ninth Cavalry find and attack Victorio and his Warm Springs Apaches near the source of the Puerco River, in southern New Mexico. The fighting lasts for about four hours, until sunset, when the Indians escape...


Excerpt from the book
"In the Days of Victorio Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache"
by Eve Ball
James Kaywaykla, narrator

... I was awakened by shots and I knew that it had come. Screams! More shots!

Entangled in my blanket I struggled to my feet. Grandmother lifted me to her shoulders and ran from our brush arbor on the east slope of the mountain. Above us a wickiup burst into flames as she ran toward the spring.

People on foot raced past us. A horse almost ran us down. There were flashes of fire and the whine of bullets. Grandmother stumbled across a body but regained her footing.

"Tight, tight, Torres,"she muttered as she stooped to fill partially her water jug. Then she followed the soft thud of moccasins up the steep slope of the mesa. It seemed a long time before she reached the rim. Trembling with exhaustion she put me down and took my hand. We ran toward a clump of vegetation, and there she stopped to fold and arrange the blankets. She set out for another clump of mesquite; and from one to another we went.

As I trotted beside her I could see the faint glow of dawn before us. I tried hard to keep the pace. When I fell behind she lifted me again and did not stop until she reached the bank of a dry arroyo. She dropped me into the arroyo and we lay flat until we could breathe easily. Then she set out, crawling on hands and knees, up the watercourse. I followed, moving when she did, stopping when she stopped. Creep and freeze! Creep and freeze! She'd taught me that game, and I'd played it with other children at Ojo Caliente [Warm Springs]. My hands touched damp sand, and I knew that some of the water had been spilled from the jug.

The arroyo bent sharply to the east and Grandmother stopped to listen before rounding the turn. I heard the hoofs of horses-shod horses-coming close. Then came the jingle of metal and the sound of harsh voices-White Eye voices. I lay still and held my breath. A horse snorted-he had smelled us! There was a long silence. Then I heard them plunge into the arroyo and scramble up the east bank. The sounds gradually died away, but we lay still for a long time.

Daylight was upon us before Grandmother resumed her crawling. She did not risk raising her head to look after the cavalry until we reached a place where the bank vas well screened with cactus. The Blue Coats were still riding toward the Rio Bravo [Rio Grande]. She let me drink from the jug, and she gave me a handful of dried venison from the buckskin bag attacled to her belt.

I, too, had a food bag, a small one containing mesquite bean meal. For months no Apache child had been without his emergency rations, nor had he slept without an admonition not to remove it, and not to abandon his blanket in cafe of attack. My food bag had never left me, day nor night.

"You're a good boy; you kept your blanket."

"Where's Siki?"* I asked.

"She left the village before we did. I had given her instructions long ago as to where to stop so that we can find her. I hope she remembers. If she obeys, the soldiers will not capture her."

"Why do they hunt us?"

"They have orders to kill every Apache, man, woman, or child, found off the reservation."

"But this is our reservation."

"It is no longer ours. The land Ussen created and gave to the Apache, is no longer ours. This, the land promised to Victorio by the Great Nantan in Washington, has been taken from us. He promised it to our Chief and our people forever. And only two summers ago! Perhaps the gold for which the White Eyes grovel in the earth has been found in our mountains. Because of that the word of the Great White Chief means nothing. He has ordered that we go to San Carlos, the worst place in all Apachería, the vast land of our people. I have been to that place when Victorio took his people there. So many died that we fled from it and returned to Warm Springs. You, too, went, but you were too small to remember. Not many babies lived to return.

"Victorio will die fighting before he will permit the Warm Springs Apaches to be forced back to San Carlos again. Instead we go to the Great River where we meet those of us who escape.¹ Grandfather Nana will go to the three chiefs of the Mescaleros, our brothers, and ask for refuge on their reservation. He is to meet us at the river with horses and ammunition."

"Is it far to the river?"

"Not if we could stand and walk. Moving as we do it is perhaps three days."

I think it may have been mid-afternoon before we reached the head of the arroyo. We had a bare ridge to cross, one with little cover except occasional clumps of bear grass and scattered stones. We lay flat and wriggled from one cover to another until well over the crest. Several times Grandmother spied moving dots, and each time we lay motionless until she felt sure that the soldiers were still riding toward the east. She knew that with field glasses they might see us.

We made our way southeast until we reached the head of another dry stream bed leading to Cuchillo Canyon. We slipped between its protecting banks and worked our way south. There was a Mexican village in the canyon but Grandmother knew we had little to fear from it. The arroyo gradually became deep enough that Grandmother could stand and walk without fear of being seen. Toward dark we reached an overhanging rock. The encircling walls formed a sort of cave, open only on one side. She stopped and called softly. In the darkness something moved. She called again-a quail whistle-and a shadow stole toward us.

"Siki?" "Yes, Grandmother, I waited as you told me."

"Enjuh! [Good!] I was afraid you might not find the place."

"I had no trouble. Grandmother, I'm hungry."

"So am I. So is Torres, but he has not asked for food. You had a bag. Where is it?"

"I took it from my belt to sleep."

"Torres did not. He obeyed. To obey is to live. And your blanket?"

"I was frightened-"

"So was 1. So was Torres; but he held on to his blanket."

"I'm sorry, Grandmother."

"You're sorry! You know it is everyone for himself."

Siki crept from under the rock. "I'II go, Grandmother."

"You will not. Go back and sit down."

She took a handful of dried venison from her bag and mesquite meal from mine. She handed it to Siki. Then she filled my hand and took a small portion for herself. We ate. She bade Siki lie next to the wall, and me beside her. She spread both blankets over us and crept under the edge of them with her face to the open side. Knife in hand she slept.

Before dawn she had us on our way across a gentle slope toward another arroyo. Once within its banks we walked until Grandmother stopped to examine a trail sign. It was a row of little stones with a slightly larger one at the south end.

"A woman and children-seven in all. Too many! They should have separated so that each group might have a chance to live."

An hour or so later she found another message. Four had turned east; the rest kept on south.



"The older children have struck out east to the river."

Until almost evening we moved cautiously. I was very thirsty but knew better than to ask for water. The jug was empty but Grandmother continued to carry it, for it requires much time and labor to weave a wicker jug and coat it with pinon gum so it will not leak.

We were nearing the Cuchillo. The arroyo was deep, with much vegetation along its banks, and we did not leave its shelter until dark. We walked cautiously, stopping often to listen and to sniff the air. I think I caught the tantalizing odor of meat as soon as Grandmother. Burning wood, too! I was cold as well as hungry. And thirsty! Grandmother murmured an order, and Siki and I sank to the ground. She was gone some time before we heard the quail call. Siki touched me. We waited for a second call before answering. Grandmother came with water and we drank.

"A sheep herder's camp, not a Mexican, but a White Eye. He has gone to Cuchillo, but it is not far. He may be back soon. Come!"

Flames flickered before the queer square tepee. The meat was suspended above them instead of being laid on coals in the proper manner. I dropped near the welcome fire while Grandmother and Siki went into the tent. In a very short time they returned with bundles wrapped in white cloth. Siki had a blanket and a knife. They cut the meat and each carried a piece.

In the shelter of the next arroyo we ate the partially cooked food. Grandmother cut long strips of meat. Mine she cut into small chunks, but she and Siki placed the ends in their mouths and deftly severed the bits with their knives. I was so hungry that I crammed two at a time into my mouth and chewed greedily. "Not so fast, Torres. You must eat like a chief, for you come from a long line of them. You can never be one unless you practice self-control. A chief must have good manners."

I know that Nana never acted as though he were hungry, though he must often have been. I ate more slowly, enjoying every morsel of the good food. Then I stretched out on the ground and must have slept almost instantly. I awoke when Grandmother touched me.

"We must walk. Before day we must cross the big trail of the White Eyes in their journeys up and down the river.'

"Are we close to the river?"

"About halfway between it and Cuchillo."

"Why does Grandfather say that Cuchillo Negro is name?"

"It is the name of Black Knife, a chief and our relative. And a black knife is not easily seen; that is why we darken the handles with clay."

Apaches do not like to travel by night, but Grandmother had no choice in the matter. When I became too weary to keep up she or Siki carried me. I did not know when they reached the river. I awoke in a mesquite thicket where a little group of our people was huddled. Siki rolled up in her blanket and slept, but Grandmother went among them to check for the missing.

The next time I awoke Grandfather sat beside me rubbing his lame foot. His face was wrinkled and thin. His body was wrinkled and thin. He was tall, almost as tall as Naiche, who was the tallest of the Apaches. Nana was old, how old he did not know. In our tongue he was called Broken Foot, but never in his presence. It was rude to name one in his hearing; and when necessary to refer to him, it was customary to call him Nantan or leader. To tell the story, however, I call my people by name; it was not our custom to do so. Nor did anyone mention Grandfather's infirmity in his presence. He asked no odds because of either age or lameness; and frail though he was, Nana was universally feared and respected for his fighting ability.

When I looked into his shrewd old eyes he smiled and drew me into the embrace that is the greeting between men of our tribe. Then strong hands lifted me and I was enfolded in the arms of my father. My mother, Gouyan [Wise Woman], next embraced but did not kiss me, for that was an intimacy abhorrent to Apaches.

I had seen little of my parents, for my father was a brave warrior, and my mother's place was at his side. She prepared food, dressed wounds, and when necessary fought beside him as bravely as any man. She, like all Apache wives, spaced her children about four years apart, and as soon as a baby could be separated from her, turned it over to the care of its grandmother.

I asked for my grandmother. Mother smiled and reminded me that she could not come to us because of my father's presence. I saw her standing some distance away, with her back to us. "I want Grandmother," I said.

"Then go to her," replied Mother. "It is natural that you love her best of the family. She has taken care of you since you were a baby."

"Gouyan, your name fits you well. You are intelligent with reason. You understand why the boy loves his grandmother," said my father.

Riders with many horses were entering the thicket. My parents joined them as they dismounted. My father led two mounts apart and Grandmother obeyed his summons to join him.

"You came by the camp from which we fled?"

"Yes, my sister. We buried the dead; fortunately there were few: the Lame One, two women, and the entire family camped on the hill above you. They camped apart for protection of the larger group and gave their lives that you might escape. We recovered many of the horses stampeded by the cavalry. And we captured many of theirs-enough, I think, to mount all who made it here. The river is rising rapidly and in a short time it may be impossible to cross. Prepare to ride."

>From the stores brought in by the warriors, people hastily filled their individual food bags. They divided ammunition, rolled blankets, and tied them to saddles. My grandmother mounted a cavalry horse and Nana lifted me to a seat behind her. He took a buckskin thong and tied my belt firmly to hers. He saw that the blankets were secure and turned the horse to the water's edge. Siki, astride another, followed.

"Where's Mother?" I asked.

"She rides with your father and Nana on another raid."

The long line of horses faced the current. The women began to sing the Prayer to the Great River. It was accompanied by the ululating sound produced by tapping the hand over the open mouth. This prayer had long been used by my people to secure a safe crossing when the river was in flood. As the singing ended I saw flashes of turquoise as pieces were tossed into the angry water. That was the signal to plunge into the stream, but nobody moved. Then Blanco, my father's brother, rode along the line urging first one and then another to ride into the torrent. He was a medicine man, with great Power, but they did not obey. I heard him chide them: "When there is no danger you forget Ussen, but when you fear for your lives you pray to Him. You pay little heed when I tell you how to live; but when you face death you remember your religion. Songs and prayers avail little to those who have not lived according to the will of Ussen. You are in much greater danger from the cavalry on your trail than from the river. Is there no brave woman who will take the lead?"

Grandmother urged her mount to the brink and tried to force him to take the plunge. There was a commotion and the long line parted to let a rider through. I saw a magnificent woman on a beautiful black horse-Lozen, sister of Victorio. Lozen, the woman warrior!² High above her head she held her rifle. There was a glitter as her right foot lifted and struck the shoulder of her horse. He reared, then plunged into the torrent. She turned his head upstream, and he began swimming.

Grandmother called to Siki to follow as cold water splashed into my face. She bent forward, and so did I. Water tugged at my feet and then my waist. When it washed over my shoulders I clung to Grandmother. My head went under, and then lifted above the water. The horse swam steadily across the broad stream until he found footing. His forelegs lifted and he scrambled onto a hidden ledge and waded ashore. I kept my seat until he began shaking himself; then I began slipping until Grandmother pushed me back in place. Horses were floundering in the shallow water and coming ashore. One had washed down stream with its rider until Lozen overtook it and got it up the bank. When Lozen joined us, people had dismounted and begun to wring the water out of clothing and blankets.

Lozen came straight to Grandmother.

"You take charge now. I must return to the warriors. Head for the Sacred Mountain in the San Andres, and permit only short stops until you reach it. Camp near the spring and wait there until Nana comes. We can spare no men, but the young boys will obey your orders. Nana has told them that you are in charge. Get the people mounted and start. I go to join my brother."

Grandmother told the half-grown lads that theirs was the most dangerous of all positions, that of rear guard.

Then she led the way, with the long line following.



  1. I heard the voice of truth from New Mexico spoken by a native Chief named, Victorio. Mustang-fast escaped from San Carlos never to return to the land that he loved most.
    Weave the web of life
    Mother Earth she weeps
    Where the broken heart still beats

    Hear my song Victorio at

  2. I heard the voice of truth from New Mexico spoken by a Native Chief named, Victorio.
    Mustang-fast escaped from San Carlos, never to return to the place that he loved most.
    Weave the web of life
    Mother Earth she weeps
    Where the broken heart still beats...
    hear my song Victorio at

  3. Victorio plus other songs at