Column No. 7

A Very Dangerous Place to Live

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

Imagine that you were a gold miner in the Oro Blanco area in 1873, when American mining got started. Besides problems like isolation, lack of water, and inefficient recovery of gold, your biggest concern might have been your very survival. Fierce Apache raiders made southern Arizona a very dangerous place to live.

The “Indian problem” plagued mining operations. The Mining and Scientific Press in 1871 lamented:

Mining in Arizona experiences considerable difficulty in carrying on business on account of the Indians. The troubles on that score seem to be increasing instead of diminishing as was expected by the gradual increase of population. . . People in Arizona are not free to go where they please as in other countries for fear of molestation from Apaches. They have to stand guard over their stock and other property. It is necessary for escorts to go with every wagon and team on its journey, and the miners and prospectors are compelled to move around in parties to protect themselves from their wily foes.

Apache Indians first came to the southwest from the north, sometime after A.D. 1200, and spread into northern Mexico by the 1500s. The Apache were hunters, warriors, and raiders and caused turmoil in northern Mexico and southern Arizona until near the end of the 19th century.

The Santa Cruz Valley did not escape Apache raids. In the late 1730s, Spanish fortune seekers, originally attracted to Sonora by rich mining prospects, started drifting north and began to settle along the Santa Cruz River at Tubac. The Apache were a problem from the beginning. In 1748, in response to repeated raids, the Spanish made a formal declaration of war against them.

In 1753, because of continued Apache attacks (and the Pima revolt of 1751), the Spanish built the first permanent garrison (presidio) in southern Arizona at Tubac.

From 1786 to 1793 the Spanish made peace treaties with most of the Apache. The feared fighters settled in rancherias (“peace establishments”) near the presidios where they learned to farm and received rations.

The Apache were generally peaceful during the first ten years of Mexican independence (starting in 1821). But, when deteriorating economic and political conditions caused Mexico to discontinue rations at the peace establishments, the Apache resumed raiding. By the late 1840’s, Mexican ranchers, settlers, and miners had abandoned much of the Santa Cruz Valley.

Immediately after the United States took over control of southern Arizona (south of the Gila River) with the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, the Army established military garrisons to protect the lands on each side of the Santa Cruz River. These garrisons included Camp Moore at Calabasas, just north of Nogales, and Camp Buchanan, near the present town of Sonoita.

But, the U. S. Civil War starting in 1861 drew soldiers away from these military garrisons. The greatly reduced military presence left the few American mines (e.g., Charles Poston’s Cerro Colorado silver mine near Arivaca) unprotected from the Apache (and marauding Mexican bandits). This resulted in virtual abandonment of the mining camps to the north and east of Oro Blanco, and probably delayed Oro Blanco’s mining development.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, the Army returned, but Indian attacks were still a constant danger.

The incessant fighting with the white man gradually reduced the number of Apaches. By 1886 a small band led by famed Apache warrior Geronomo was just about all that was left. And Geronomo was getting desperate.

In April 1886, A.L. Peck and his assistant Charles Owen were about two miles up a canyon from Peck’s ranch house on the Agua Fria in the southeastern part of the Oro Blanco Mining District (OBMD). Raiding Apaches surprised them. The Indians quickly shot and killed Owen. The raiders captured Peck, tied him up, kept him under guard for an hour, and then, strangely, released him. When he rushed back to his house, he found his wife and 11-month old baby brutally murdered and his 12-year old niece Jennie taken into captivity. Two weeks later a group of cattlemen found Jennie’s body near Peck’s ranch. Her head had been smashed with rocks.

A few months later in July 1886, Apaches attacked John Bartlett’s cattle ranch in Bear Valley, nine miles southeast of Oro Blanco village. A friend and neighbor of Bartlett’s, John Shanahan, with his ten-year old son Phil, had just stopped to visit. The Apaches grievously wounded John Shanahan right away. Bartlett sent Shanahan’s young son Phil to warn his mother and sister at their home and sent his own nine-year old son Johnny on a run for help to the village of Oro Blanco. Bartlett, with a shoulder wound, tended John Shanahan and continued to fight off the Indians.

Phil Shanahan reached home in time to warn his Mother and sister. Shanahan’s family fled to the mountains, leaving all of their clothes and possessions in the house. The Apache raiders then attacked the house and destroyed everything.

Meanwhile, Johnny Bartlett successfully reached Dr. Adolphus Noon’s house in the village of Oro Blanc. An armed party returned to Bear Valley where they found the Indians gone and John Shanahan dead. Fifty-seven year old Bartlett survived his shoulder wound to live and work in the OBMD for another 20 years, until his death in 1906 in a wagon accident.

Local residents celebrated young Phil and Johnny as heroes of the Bear Valley raid.

Shanahan left his family (a wife, two daughters, and two sons) destitute. Friends of the family made appeals for charitable donations in Oro Blanco village, Arivaca, and as far as Tucson. The people of Oro Blanco village raised $50.

Finally, in September 1886, Geronomo and the remaining Apache surrendered. The constant fear of Indian attack was over.

(Sources: Tom Bahti, Southwestern Indian Tribes; John P. Wilson, Islands in the Desert; Mining and Scientific Press; Arizona Daily Star; Arizona Citizen)

Photo of Geronomo

Camillus Sidney Fly took this photograph of Geronomo (third from left) and family in Mexico in March 1886, only a month before the Apaches raided A. L. Peck’s ranch in Oro Blanco.

NEXT TIME: ALONG THE RUBY ROAD Early Development of the Montana Mine

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