Days Past: Yavapai Scouts helped track down Geronimo
In the 1870s the Army was still hunting Geronimo. He was known as Goyathlay by his tribe (Bedonkohe Mescalero-Chiricahua) and Gajeesah by the Yavapai (for the name of the place his mother, wife, and three children were massacred by Mexicans). According to Geronimo’s biography he was made war chief of all the Apaches with this name (his spelling: Kas-ki-yeh).
Yavapai scouts’ oral history of their part in the capture of Gajeesah, including Crook’s promise they could go home if they helped, is documented in the Library of Congress, Local Legacy (Arizona) project.
When General Crook returned to Arizona for the Geronimo campaign the work of Indian Scouts pursuing renegades gained national attention. Crook’s use of Native Americans was regarded as brilliant strategy. Prescott citizens, who had resisted the idea of Indian Scouts initially, boasted that “the first scouts to enlist were our Yavapai Indians and by damn, they’re the best ones too.”
In April 1882, seven Yavapai scouts, regarded as excellent “trailers,” were on an expedition out of Fort Huachuca against Chiricahuas. The force, commanded by Lieutenant D. N. McDonald, pursued the Chiricahuas into the Stein Peak Mountains (on the Arizona-New Mexico border). Four Yavapai scouts were killed on April 23 in battle at Stein’s Pass, including Yuma Bill, considered the Army’s most experienced and reliable scout — a favorite of many officers. Also killed were Ceguania, Panoche, and Kaloh. Yavapai scouts surviving that battle were Moh-kay-nay-hah (Mountain Deer Killer), Quay-day-lay-thay-go (Blood), “The Big Mojave” and an old Yavapai medicine man. Operations focused on the southeast corner of Arizona, southern New Mexico, and the Sierra Madres of Chihuahua, Mexico (home of the Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apache).
In what would be known as the Sierra Madre Campaign of 1883, Crook was ordered back into the field. He used 193 scouts including Yuma-Apache (Yavapai), Mojave-Apache (Yavapai), Tonto and White Mountain Apache under Captain Emmet Crawford and Lieutenant Charles Gatewood in his foray across the border.
Yavapai scout Sergeant Rowdy was one of eight scouts with Lieutenant Charles Elliot chasing Geronimo deep into the rugged terrain of Mexico in 1885 when Mexican soldiers ambushed them. All taking cover in rocks, Lieutenant Elliot stepped out and informed the Mexicans that he was an American officer with “tame” Apaches. Elliot informed the Mexicans that the main command was nearby with 50 Apache scouts. The Mexicans demanded that the scouts come out of the rocks or they would kill Lieutenant Elliot. Rowdy told the scouts to come out; they reluctantly obeyed his order. Elliot and his scouts were held prisoner but soon were rescued by Lieutenant Britton Davis of the main command. Elliot was to be forever grateful to Rowdy and wrote: “I owe my life and the ultimate safety of my small command to [him].”
Rowdy, regarded as an “excellent shot,” won his Medal of Honor for actions as a Company A scout during the Cherry Creek Campaign in Arizona. Pursuit of renegades through the Salt River Canyon was so dangerous that at some points the scouts had to lie down and crawl through the narrow passages to trace renegades’ footsteps.
In 1886 more than 100 Yavapai served as scouts in three all-Yavapai companies and two mixed companies with Western Apaches.
Yavapai from San Carlos attended the 1898 Omaha Exposition as part of the “Indian Congress” showcasing the American West.
After the surrender of Geronimo scouts carried out important duties including supervising ration issues, repairing fences, acting as game wardens, searching for illegal weapons, and guiding civilian posses. One of the most important jobs was protecting tribal livestock and enforcing laws against white ranchers who illegally grazed cattle on reservation lands.
Returning scouts helped lead the formation of the Yavapai Reservations established on the military lands of Camp Verde, Fort McDowell, and Fort Whipple. When the First World War was over and Prescott held a parade, one old scout joined in and walked last carrying a big, long old Army rifle. In true warrior tradition, the descendants of these scouts and war leaders continue to protect their people as soldiers in the United States Armed Forces, and in the battle of words as Tribal leaders.
Many of the reference materials used in the preparation of this article are available at the Sharlot Hall Museum Library and Archives.
“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.