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“The Rescue of Two Mexican Boys”

by John C. Cremony

Apache Scouts, ca. 1885“Apache Scouts, ca. 1885,” Unidentified (Photographer)

John C. Cremony spent time among the Apaches and published his remembrances in 1868. Here he tells the story of a conflict with Apache chief Mangas Colorado over the fate of two young Mexican boys whom his band had taken captive. The story illustrates the complicated ties between captors and their captives.

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It has already been stated that my tent was pitched several hundred yards from the rest of the Commission, and hidden from the view of my companions by an intervening hillock. This fact rendered me far more cautious than I otherwise would have been. Several days subsequent to the rescue of Inez, the afternoon being exceedingly hot and sultry, I was lying on my cot reading a work borrowed from Dr. Webb, while José was busy in front of the tent, washing some clothes in the pool. A very large number of Apaches were in our camp that day, but had not disturbed me, as was their usual custom.

“‘Somos Mejicanos, caballero, y estamos cautivos con los Apaches’”

Suddenly, two boys, evidently Mexicans, darted into my tent, got under my cot, and concealed themselves between the side of the tent and the drooping blankets. This visitation, in such an abrupt and irregular manner, excited my surprise, and I asked who they were and what they wanted. “Somos Mejicanos, caballero, y estamos cautivos con los Apaches, y nos hemos escondido aquí para escaparles. Por Dios no nos rinde otra vez entre ellos,” which means in English—“We are Mexicans, sir, and we are captives among the Apaches, and we have hidden here to escape them. For God’s sake, do not deliver us again among them.”

I called to José, and asked: “Are there any Indians close by.”

“No, sir,” he replied, “but they are coming this way.”

I instantly jumped from the cot, thrust two six-shooters in my belt, took two more in my hands, one in each, ordered José to sling the carbine over his shoulder and carry the double-barreled gun in his hands, and telling the boys to keep close to my side—one on the right and the other on the left—I sallied from the tent with the determination to take these captives to the Commissioner, for his disposal.

“We had not proceeded twenty yards before a band of some thirty or forty surrounded us, and with menacing words and gestures, demanded the instant release of their captives.”

We had not proceeded twenty yards before a band of some thirty or forty surrounded us, and with menacing words and gestures, demanded the instant release of their captives; but, having made up my mind, I was determined to carry out my intention at all risks. I told José to place his back to mine, cock his gun and shoot the first Indian he saw bend his bow or give sign of active hostility; while, with a cocked pistol in each hand, we went circling round, so as to face all parts of the ring in succession, at the same time warning the savages to keep their distance.

In this manner we accomplished about two hundred yards, when my situation was perceived by several gentlemen of the Commission, and, drawing their pistols, they advanced to my aid. The Indians relinquished their attempts and accompanied us peaceably to the Commissioner, to whom I surrendered the boys and detailed the affair. The boys were respectively named Savero Aredia and José Trinfan, the former aged thirteen, and a native of Bacuachi, in Sonora, and the latter aged about eleven, and a native of Fronteras, in the same State.

The next day at night, Mr. Bartlett sent them to the camp of Gen. García Conde, the Mexican Commissioner. They were accompanied by a strong guard, which delivered them safely to the General, who subsequently restored them to their respective families, much to their wonder and gratification.

Four or five days afterward, Mangas Colorado, Ponce, Delgadito, Cuchillo Negro, Coletto Amarillo, and some two hundred warriors, together with the fellow who claimed the boys, entered the Copper Mines, to have a “big talk.” Mr. Bartlett was not at all displeased to see them, and determined to settle the matter at once.

Apache Scouts in Silver City, NM, April 1883“Apache Scouts in Silver City, NM, April 1883,” Alfred S. Addis (Photographer)

The mass of Indians formed themselves in a semicircle, two and three deep, facing the door of the room in which the talk was had, while the principal men and about a dozen of the Commission, well armed, occupied a large room in our adobe building. Pipes and tobacco were handed round and a “cloud blown” before the real business of the seance commenced. About a hundred and fifty of the Commission were near at hand with their arms ready.

After a long and profound silence, the conversation was commenced by Mangas Colorado, on the part of the Apaches, and by myself, on the part of the Americans, every expression of the savages being taken down in writing, and then translated to Mr. Bartlett, who dictated a reply, if anything important occurred to him, or allowed the interpreter to respond, as the circumstances would permit. As the succeeding recital of the interview was originally written out in full by myself, and handed to Mr. Bartlett as the official record, and subsequently published by him without alteration, I deem myself justified in making use of it for this work.

Mangas Colorado spoke and said: “Why did you take our captives from us?”

Reply.—“Your captives came to us and demanded our protection.”

Mangas Colorado.—“You came to our country. You were well received. Your lives, your property, your animals were safe. You passed by ones, by twos, by threes through our country. You went and came in peace. Your strayed animals were always brought home to you again. Our wives, our women and children came here and visited your houses. We were friends—we were brothers! Believing this, we came among you and brought our captives, relying on it that we were brothers and that you would feel as we feel. We concealed nothing. We came not secretly nor in the night. We came in open day, and before your faces, and showed our captives to you. We believed your assurances of friendship, and we trusted them. Why did you take our captives from us?”

Reply.—“What we have said to you is true. We do not tell lies. The greatness and dignity of our nation forbid our doing so mean a thing. What our brother has said is true and good also. We will now tell him why we took his captives away. Four years ago, we, too, were at war with Mexico. We know that the Apaches make a distinction between Chihuahua and Sonora. They are now at peace with Chihuahua, but at war with Sonora. We, in our war, did not make that distinction. The Mexicans, whether living in one or the other State, are all one nation, and we fought them as a nation. When the war was over, in which we conquered, we made peace with them. They are now our friends, and by the terms of the peace we are bound to protect them. We told you this when we first came here, and requested you to cease from hostility against Mexico. Time passed, and we grew very friendly; everything went well. You came in here with your captives. Who were those captives? Mexicans; the very people we told you we were bound to protect. We took them from you and sent them to Gen. García Conde, who will set them at liberty in their own country. We mean to show you that we cannot lie. We promised protection to the Mexicans, and we gave it to them. We promise friendship and protection to you, and we will give them to you. If we had not done so to Mexico, you would not believe us with regard to yourselves. We cannot lie.”

During the above conversation, which was carried on in a slow and dignified manner, Ponce was becoming very much excited, altogether too much so for an Indian, and being unable to restrain himself any longer, he arose, and, with many gesticulations, said:

Ponce.—“Yes, but you took our captives without beforehand cautioning us. We were ignorant of this promise to restore captives. They were made prisoners in lawful warfare. They belong to us. They are our property. Our people have also been made captives by Mexicans. If we had known of this thing, we would not have come here. We would not have placed that confidence in you.”

Apaches at Fort Union, ca. 1880s“Apaches at Fort Union, ca. 1880s,” Unidentified (Photographer)

Reply.—“Our brother speaks in anger, and without reflection. Boys and women lose their temper, but men reflect and argue; and he who has reason and justice on his side, wins. No doubt, you have suffered much by the Mexicans. This is a question in which it is impossible for us to tell who is wrong, or who is right. You and the Mexicans accuse each other of being the aggressors. Our duty is to fulfill our promise to both. This opportunity enables us to show to Mexico that we mean what we say, and when the time comes, we will be ready and prompt to prove the good faith of our promises to you.”

Ponce.—“I am neither a boy nor a squaw. I am a man and a brave. I speak with reflection. I know what I say. I speak of the wrongs we have suffered and those you now do us.”

Then, placing his hand on my shoulder, he said in a very excited manner—“You must not speak any more. Let some one else speak.”

As this was rather more than I had bargained for, I immediately placed both hands on his shoulders, and, crushing him down on the floor, I said:

“I want you to understand that I am the very one to speak—the only one who can speak to you. Now, stay there. Do you sit down. You are a squaw and no brave. I will select a man to speak for the Apaches. Delgadito (beckoning to that warrior) do you come here and speak for your nation.”

It is impossible to describe the smothered rage of Ponce, but he saw there was no chance, and never again uttered a word during the session.

Delgadito then arose and said: “Let my brother declare the mind of his people.”

Reply.—“We wish to explain to our Apache brethren why we have done this thing, and what we can do for the late owner of those captives. We know that you have not acted secretly or in the dark. You came in open day, and brought your captives among us. We took them in open day, in obedience to orders from our great chief at Washington. The great chief of our nation said: ‘You must take all the Mexican captives you meet among the Apaches and set them at liberty.’ We cannot disobey this order, and for this reason we have taken away your captives.”

Delgadito.—“We cannot doubt the words of our brave white brethren. The Americans are braves. We know it, and we believe a brave scorns to lie. But the owner of these captives is poor. He cannot lose his prisoners, who were obtained at the risk of his life, and purchased by the blood of his relatives. He justly demands his captives. We are his friends, and wish to see this demand complied with. It is just, and as justice we demand it.”

Reply.—“We will tell our Apache brethren what can be done. The captives cannot be restored. The Commissioner cannot buy them. No American can buy them; but there is a Mexican in our employ who is anxious to buy and restore them to their homes. We have no objection that he should do so; and if he is not rich enough, some of us will lend him the means.”

Delgadito.—“The owner does not wish to sell; he wants his captives.”

Reply.—“Our brother has already been told that this cannot be. We do not speak with two tongues. Make up your minds.”

A short consultation was then held among the leading Apaches, after which Delgadito said: “The owner wants twenty horses for them.”

Reply.—“The Apache laughs at his white brother. He thinks him a squaw, and that he can play with him as with an arrow. Let the Apache say again.”

Delgadito.—“The brave who owns these captives does not want to sell. He has had one of these boys six years. He grew up under him. His heart-strings are bound around. him. He is as a son to his old age. He speaks our language, and he cannot sell him. Money cannot buy affection. His heart cannot be sold. He taught him to string the bow and wield the lance. He loves the boy and cannot sell him.”

Reply.—“We are sorry that this thing should be. We feel for our Apache brother, and would like to lighten his heart. But it is not our fault. Our brother has fixed his affection on the child of his enemy. It is very noble. But our duty is stern. We cannot avoid it. It wounds our hearts to hurt our friends; but if they were our own children, and the duty of the law said: ‘Part with them; part with them,’ we would. Let our Apache brother reflect, and name his price.”

Delgadito.—“What will you give?”

To which Mr. Bartlett replied: “Come and I will show you.”

“I felt positive that the time would come when they would endeavor to wreak their ill-concealed vengeance.”

The whole conclave then broke up and adjourned to the Commissary’s stores, where goods, such as calicoes, blankets and sheetings, to the value of two hundred and fifty dollars were laid out for their acceptance. This was more than Apache cupidity could stand; the bargain was soon closed, and the affair passed away in peace. But it was never forgotten, and I felt positive that the time would come when they would endeavor to wreak their ill-concealed vengeance. My expectations were justified by the result, for they ultimately stole nearly two hundred head of animals from the Commission.