A Chapter from the book, Chupacabra Meets Billy the Kid
By Rudolfo Anaya
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There were many stories to record. The plight of the Mescalero Apaches of the area touched Rosa. Perhaps the story began with Colonel James H. Carleton. In 1862 he marched the California Column, an army of two thousand men, from California to New Mexico. He was charged with driving Sibley’s Confederate Army out of New Mexico. But Sibley had already lost to Union forces and was gone by the time Carleton arrived.
General Carleton was named the commander of the Department of New Mexico, headquartered in Santa Fe. His first order of business was to control and punish the Mescalero Apaches. In late 1862 he ordered Fort Stanton to be reoccupied, and he sent Colonel Kit Carson to punish the recent aggressions of the Mescaleros.
Rosa read Carleton’s instructions to Carson: “All Indian men of [the Mescalero] tribe are to be killed whenever and wherever you can find them. The women and children will not be harmed, but you will take them prisoners, and feed them at Fort Stanton until you receive other instructions about them . . . we believe if we kill some of their men in fair, open war, they will be apt to remember that it will be better for them to remain at peace than to be at war.”
The letter made Rosa’s blood run cold. A time of dread and fear had descended on the territory. Payback time meant that for a few raids young Mescaleros had conducted against the Anglo and Mexicano homesteaders, the entire tribe was to suffer.
Carleton wrote to Carson: “There is to be no council held with the Indians, nor any talks. The men are to be slain whenever and wherever they can be found. The women and children may be taken as prisoners, but, of course, they are not to be killed. . . . They have robbed and murdered the people with impunity too long already.”
Kit Carson hunted all the Mescaleros within a hundred-mile radius of Fort Stanton, killing thirty-two along with Chief José Largo. The rest were marched to Bosque Redondo, the concentration camp on the Pecos River near the fateful town of Fort Sumner.
Carleton had an underlying motive: with the Mescaleros and Gila Apaches out of the way, Anglo miners could mine historically Indian lands for gold and other precious metals. The Gila Apaches were to be taken “prisoners of war,” and once they were subdued, “the Pino Alto gold mines can then be worked with security . . . whose development will tend greatly to the prosperity of this Territory.”
Manifest destiny at work. Manifest destiny at its worst.
Prosperity at the price of imprisoning a people. In the fall of 1862 and into 1863, many Gila Apaches were killed. Their chief, Mangas Colorado, was lured into consultation with the soldiers and killed in cold blood.
Rosa shivered. Is this the Law of the West? A false law created by those full of greed for gold and land. The land that once belonged to the Gila and Mescalero Apaches was filling with settlers.
There were good people in the territory opposed to the general’s inhumane orders. The death of Mangas Colorado stirred public sentiment against Carleton, but in the East the country was fighting a civil war, and there was little opposition in Washington to his plan.
The Mescaleros were rounded up and settled in Bosque Redondo, one of the worst tracts of land along the Pecos River. The water was alkaline, and the land was poor for farming. Carleton then turned his efforts against the Navajos, who for the past two centuries had terrorized both Pueblo Indian and Hispano settlements along the northern Río Grande. On April 14, 1863, the First Regiment New Mexico Volunteers under the command of Colonel Kit Carson marched against the Navajos.
Carson burned the Navajos’ peach orchards and cornfields and confiscated their sheep. He starved them into submission, so that by March of 1864 he had over eight thousand Navajo prisoners ready to march from Canyon de Chelly country to Bosque Redondo. The infamous Long Walk to Fort Sumner had begun. Herding them in small groups, it took two or three years to get the Navajos to Bosque Redondo. By the time they reached the Pecos River, hundreds had died along the way from hunger, disease, and freezing March snowstorms.
Many died of heartache, Rosa wrote. To leave their homeland was considered taboo. Enclosed by mountains sacred to the Navajos, the country they had occupied was their birthright. We emerged from this earth, their legends told. We are of this earth.
The experiment was a disaster. The Mescaleros felt overwhelmed by the Navajos. The hail and freezing rain storms of 1865 ruined crops throughout the territory. By late 1865, the starving Mescaleros fled Bosque Redondo for their own country. Hundreds of Navajos remained confined at Bosque Redondo, but starvation forced them to escape in droves.
Bowing to public pressure, the 1865–1866 Territorial Legislature passed a memorial urging Carleton’s removal, which was sent to President Andrew Johnson. The long night of a “punishing Indian policy” was coming to an end. On September 9, 1866, Carleton was relieved of his duties. The anti-Carleton Santa Fe New Mexican editorial exalted at his departure.
In June of 1868 a treaty was signed with the Navajos, and thousands started for their homeland. Hundreds had died, they had been deprived of their freedom by the military, but they had survived as a people. The Diné were home.
Rosa paused in her notes. Japanese Americans would suffer a similar punishment during World War II. And back home, thousands of Mexican workers were being deported to Mexico, breaking up families and destroying the dreams of the young, who wished only to finish their education. Did history teach any lessons? Maybe history was no longer being read in the halls of Congress or in the office of a rogue president.
Did the people of the Pecos River know this tragic part of their history? And what could they do when people were punished by an unjust government? Could the young be enticed to read history so they did not make such tragic mistakes in the future?
In our own time, the Muslims will be next if the crazy president has his way. He hates women and all ethnic groups.
“I am becoming a recorder of history,” Rosa wrote Marcy. “That’s your mission,” came her reply.
“But others have already written about this time and place,” Rosa argued.
“Not from your perspective,” she replied. “You are now part of that history.”
“I can’t be!” Rosa protested. “I belong in the future!”
“The past creates the future,” came Marcy’s reply. “You do have an option: move to Canada, as many are doing. Be safe there to tell the world what is happening with C-Force. Leave everything behind.”
“I am here searching for the true history. Is that all I can do?” She closed her laptop with a bang and whispered a silent curse.
Rudolfo Anaya is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico and award-winning author of numerous books including the classicBless Me, Ultima. Anaya has also written Curse of the ChupaCabra and ChupaCabra and the Roswell UFO. He has received myriad awards and honors for his work including the National Humanities Medal (2015), the National Medal of Arts (2001) and the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement from the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes (2012). He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.