Days Past - Above and Beyond: Arizona and the Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for bravery, was first authorized by the U.S. Congress in the early years of the Civil War. Initially, the Army balked at the concept of such a medal, as its commanding general thought that it smacked of “European monarchy.” He nevertheless reconsidered when the Navy adopted it in 1861 “to be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and Marines as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry and other seamanlike qualities during the present war.” The authorization for an Army Medal of Honor was enacted into law in July 1862.
Initially, only enlisted men who served during the Civil War were eligible to receive the Medal. Eventually, the eligibility was extended to officers and to service in other wars. Since its inception, more than 3,400 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen have been recognized for actions worthy of this honor, including 168 who have a direct connection with Arizona.
Arizona’s Indian Wars in the latter half of the 19th Century was the conflict that resulted in the greatest number of Arizona-related Medal of Honor recipients – 156, including 11 Apache Indian Scouts. Subsequent 20th Century wars on foreign soil provided the venue for the remaining recipients, who as members of the armed forces of the United States distinguished themselves “by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
The Apache Scouts who were honored with the Medal were, indeed, members of the armed forces, having enlisted pursuant to a post-Civil War Act of Congress that authorized such enlistments. One of these Scouts, known as Chiquito, was recognized for his actions in Arizona Territory during Gen. George Crook’s Tonto Basin campaign in the winter of 1872-73, a campaign that ultimately forced the Yavapai and Tonto Apaches onto reservations.
Chiquito is a bit of an enigma to historians, as little is known about either him or the specific acts of bravery that led to his receipt of the Medal. Chiquito was a Sierra Blanca Apache, a band of
the Western Apache Tribe, one of the two major Apache tribes in Arizona, the other being the Chiricahua. A research note prepared by the United States Army Military History Institute (USAMHI) states that he was among the scouts recruited by Corydon Cooley at Ft. Apache, Arizona, in November 1872. Cooley, a white civilian scout, had been engaged by Gen. Crook to recruit and lead a unit of Apache scouts during Crook’s campaign in Tonto Basin.
Chiquito evidently distinguished himself during that campaign. In a letter dated June 30, 1873, addressed to the Army’s Adjutant General, Gen. Crook recommended that medals be conferred on him, nine other scouts and other enlisted men of his command. The rationale for bestowing the honor on Chiquito and the other scouts was:
“For gallant conduct during the difficult campaigns against, and engagements with, the Apaches during the winter of 1872-73 …”
Crook’s recommendation was approved by the War Department on March 30, 1875, and the medals were presented to Chiquito and other Indian scouts at Ft. Bowie on April 12, 1875.
The official military records on Chiquito’s service end at this point, and nothing further is known of him. In the 1980s, the planchet (the star-shaped metal part) of Chiquito’s medal was discovered in the desert near Wheatfield, Arizona. On the back of the medal was engraved: “The Congress to Private Chiquito, Indian Scout.” How an award revered by so many came to rest in desolation is a mystery as big as Chiquito’s life.
As noted, the distinguished list of Arizonans who have been recognized with the Medal of Honor does not end with the conclusion of the Indian Wars. Since that time, these Medal of Honor recipients have been joined by 12 other Arizonans who were similarly honored for their extraordinary acts of bravery during the nation’s wars in such places as Italy, France and Vietnam. The story of these men – heroes all – is told in an exhibit at the Sharlot Hall
Museum beginning today, May 22.
“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 ext. 14, or via email at email@example.com for information.