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“Cattle”

by Daklugie

Eve Ball settled near the Mescalero Apache Reservation in 1942. Over a period of thirty years she interviewed many old-timers who told stories about the Apaches under siege by the US Army. Here Daklugie, the son of a renowned Apache chief named Juh, talks about Apache life after the Army forced the Mescaleros to live on reservations.

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Geronimo Skinning a Bison“Geronimo Skinning a Bison,” Unidentified (Photographer)

So I took over. The government had given the prisoners a start in cattle, and in one year some of the men had become fairly good at handling them. All were good horsemen, but they had to learn how to rope and to flank calves. I had not done that either and I had to learn with the rest.

When I saw Captain Scott again it was in his office. He stood and we shook hands. I had come to ask for good bulls and he approved the purchase. After that I worked hard to make that herd the best in Oklahoma, and when we left for Mescalero in 1913 I think it was.

The range had not been fenced. We cut posts and set them. The government provided wire and the Apaches built the fence. But we had to have gates because the road crossed our reservation and there was much travel through it.

Nearly all of the older men, and some of the younger men, were farming. They raised some corn, Kaffir corn, and sorghum. All are good feed for both cattle and horses; Kaffir and sorghum stand drouth better. Cattle were our main source of income but hay came next—hay and fodder. We sold it to the cavalry.

We were paid for our work—not very much, but enough that we didn’t have to run to the government with our hands out for every pound of sugar or coffee.

When the race for the strip was run, I put extra guards on duty, night and day. Perico was a very efficient scout and he and I spent several nights riding fence to see that cattle weren’t stolen.

San Carlos Apache Line Rider, ca. 1885“San Carlos Apache Line Rider, ca. 1885,” Margaret McKittrick (Photographer)

At another time we had to keep careful watch after I began missing cattle. They were going—sometimes two or three at a time, sometimes just one. Some had been butchered on the reservation; there was evidence of that. Every cowboy watched both for offal and tracks of strange horses. By that time most of our mounts were shod. A white man might have been unable to identify tracks, but Apaches could.

Night after night I kept watch, and sometimes I had Eugene or Perico with me; sometimes others volunteered and stayed. What sleep I got was in the daytime. But it was during the day that by accident I rode by an abandoned well about which I hadn’t known. There were sixty-seven hides in it with Apache brands. Some suspected our neighboring brothers, the Comanches, Kiowas, and Kiowa-Apaches. However, though they didn’t like us, they had given part of their range to us, and I felt sure that they were not stealing our cattle. We had many good friends among them. There are bad ones among all people, but at that time Indians weren’t stealing from each other.

As I had suspected, the thieves were White Eyes. They were sent to the penitentiary for fifteen years. That was the first time I’d ever known of a white man’s being punished for robbing Indians. Usually they steal by means of dishonest laws and crooked lawyers. (At least these thieves had the courage to take some risks.) Yet, there are a few honest attorneys and they can do a lot of good, and have. We had one prosecute those thieves and they got what they deserved.

The responsibility for the tribe’s herd was great, but I liked it. I looked forward to a time when we must depend upon our own resources—and be free of orders. And to me raising cattle was the answer. I knew very well that the government couldn’t make farmers out of us, though at that time some of our people were raising crops. Even though they disliked cultivating the soil they did it. But I didn’t know a man who didn’t like riding a horse and working cattle.

Apache Sunrise Ceremony“Apache Sunrise Ceremony,” Unidentified (Photographer)

One thing that happened was very disturbing to me. In a tribal meeting the men elected me as “working chief.” Though it was, I felt, an honor, I declined it. Why? We had a chief, one elected to the customs of the Apaches; and he had been a good and efficient one. Young though he was when his older brother, Taza, died, Naiche had wisdom far beyond his years.

When I had earned enough money to get a house and support a family, Ramona and I were married. Ramona would have been willing to camp under a tree, if necessary, but I wasn’t. She and her mother made a beautiful beaded buckskin dress for the wedding feast. We wanted to be really married, Indian way, and we were. But Ramona wanted the respect of the White Eyes, too; so we had two ceremonies. For that one she made a beautiful silk dress. She still has both.