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“The San Carlos Apache Reservation”

by Britton Davis

Lieutenant Britton Davis, who chronicled the US Army’s campaign of 1885-1886 to capture Geronimo, wrote this account of the situation on the White Mountain/San Carlos Reservation. Lieutenant Davis wrote The Truth About Geronimo to set the record straight. In the preface he said: “So much fiction has been written of the Apache by persons whose knowledge of them was gained from barroom talk, and so many self-glorifiers have claimed a part in the capture of Geronimo, who was never captured by anyone, that I feel the necessity for authenticating my connection with the Apache of the San Carlos Reservation....”

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Of the five thousand Indians on the White Mountain Reservation, about four thousand were at or near the Agency at San Carlos, depending for food on the government rations doled out to them there. Some two hundred of the chiefs and principal men assembled for a conference with the General. “The Indians had just cause for complaint.” He heard their complaints, assured them he would have abuses corrected as far as possible for him to do so, and told them what he expected of those who wanted to live at peace and what the malcontents might expect of him if they “started anything.”

The Indians had just cause for complaint. Some of the reservations originally assigned to them had been taken from them after they had established themselves there. Other reservations had been cut down and the hunting grounds, on which they depended for a large part of their sustenance, greatly restricted. They had been driven into this barren waste at San Carlos with no provision for their self-support. A nomad people who had lived off the country, subsisting on game, wild fruits, nuts, and certain herbs, they had not the faintest idea how to subsist by agriculture and no means to that end had they known how.

They did know, however, that rations provided for them by the Government were being openly sold to neighboring towns and mining camps. That beef on San Carlos Apache Encampment at Cattle Sale, 1935“San Carlos Apache Encampment at Cattle Sale, 1935,” Margaret McKittrick (Photographer) the hoof, forming the principal part of their rations, was so thin that it was hardly more than skin and bone. That the weekly issue of flour, the other principal portion of the ration, would hardly suffice a family for one day. That other components of the ration were almost negligible when issued and frequently not issued at all.

There is nothing equal to idleness as a breeder of discontent. Here were five thousand restless, nomadic people who all their lives had roamed unrestrained throughout the Southwest, with many generations of nomadic blood behind them, herded now into a small tract of desert land and told to sit down, fold their hands, and be “good Indians” no matter how much we lied to and robbed them.

Eighty per cent of them, exclusive of the lucky thousand near Fort Apache, were living in the hot, barren, brush-covered bottom lands of the Gila and San Carlos rivers, within ten miles of the Agency established at the junction of the two rivers. Their principal occupation was gathering once a week at the Agency to receive the rations doled out to them. Is there any wonder that they were discontented?