Camp Grant Massacre
Backstory and Context
*The massacre occurred in the vicinity of Camp Grant. In 1871, its location was on an upper terrace on the east bank of the San Pedro River, just north of the junction with Araviapa Creek. The camp was in the vicinity of the coordinates labeled above in the "Location" section of this page. The Camp Grant site was near the present Aravaipa Campus of Central Arizona Community College, which is located between the towns of Mammoth and Winkelman on Arizona State Route 77. Few remains of the site are visible. Current authorities place the massacre site south of the Aravaipa Creek and about five miles upstream from Camp Grant. No marker is at the site of the massacre, and the location is only generally known.
Some historians feel the reduction of Indian hostilities in the region had triggered fears of economic crisis in Tucson, since the Federal government was reducing funds for pacifying and controlling hostile tribes, mostly Apaches. Merchants who survived on the "blankets for peace" economy, were afraid their source of income would soon be lost. In early 1871, to bolster public support for increased hostilities and increased federal funding of "gifts" to the Apaches, several Arizonans allegedly staged mock raids on isolated settlements. One of these settlements was in Aravaipa Canyon.
American Indian affairs in early 1870s Arizona lurched back and forth between peace and war. Each new round of hostilities brought increasing conflict between the settlers and the soldiers. The report of the Indian Peace Commission, in 1867, led to the creation of the Board of Indian Commissioners two years later. Investigating abuses within the Office of Indian Affairs, the commissioners spearheaded a growing movement for native American rights that culminated in the Quaker Policy of President Ulysses S. Grant's administration.
A major problem faced by Arizona's military was they had too few soldiers for too vast an area of land. Most chronicles of the time regarded Apaches as the biggest menace, but Yuman-speaking Yavapais, who were often identified as Apache Mohaves or Apache Yumas, killed and mutilated settlers just as often. Divided into four subtribes, the Tolkapaya, or Western Yavapais, the Yavepe and the Wipukpaya or Northeastern Yavapais and the Kewevkapaya or Southeastern Yavapais, the Yavapais ranged from the Colorado River to the Tonto Basin. Like the Apaches, they were mobile and extremely independent, their only political authorities being war chiefs and advisory chiefs selected by local groups. This made it extremely difficult for the United States Army to run down or negotiate with more than one Yavapai group at a time. Troops had to pursue the Yavapais across rough desert terrain. Many of the soldiers deserted, fleeing places like Camp Grant, a sun-scorched collection of adobe buildings.
Early in 1871, a 37-year-old first lieutenant named Royal Emerson Whitman assumed command of Camp Grant, Arizona Territory, about 50 miles northeast of Tucson. In February 1871, five old Apache women straggled into Camp Grant to look for a son who had been taken prisoner. Whitman fed them and treated them kindly, so other Apaches from Aravaipa and Pinal bands soon came to the post to receive rations of beef and flour. That spring, Whitman created a refuge along Aravaipa Creek, about five miles east of Camp Grant for nearly 500 Aravaipa and Pinal Apaches, including Chief Eskiminzin. The Apaches began cutting hay for the post's horses and harvesting barley in nearby ranchers' fields.
Whitman may have suspected that peace could not last. He urged Eskiminzin to move his people to the White Mountains near Fort Apache, which was established in 1870, but he refused. During the winter and spring, William S. Oury and Jesus Maria Elias formed a Committee of Public Safety, which blamed every depredation in southern Arizona on the Camp Grant Apaches. After Apaches ran off livestock from San Xavier on April 10, Elías contacted his old ally Francisco Galerita, leader of the Tohono O'odham at San Xavier. Oury collected arms and ammunition from his followers.
On the afternoon of April 28, six Americans, 48 Mexicans, and 92 O'odham gathered along Rillito Creek and set off on a march to Aravaipa Canyon; one of the Americans was William S. Oury, the brother of Granville Henderson Oury. At dawn on Sunday, April 30, they surrounded the Apache camp. The O'odham were the main fighters, while the Americans and Mexicans picked off Apaches who tried to escape. Most of the Apache men were off hunting in the mountains. All but eight of the corpses were women and children. Twenty-nine children had been captured and were sold into slavery in Mexico by the Tohono O'odham and the Mexicans themselves. A total of 144 Aravaipas and Pinals had been killed and mutilated, nearly all of them scalped.
Lieutenant Whitman searched for the wounded, found only one woman, buried the bodies, and dispatched interpreters into the mountains to find the Apache men and assure them his soldiers had not participated in the "vile transaction". The following evening, the surviving Aravaipas began trickling back to Camp Grant. Many of the settlers in southern Arizona considered the attack justifiable homicide and agreed with Oury, but this was not the end of the story.
Within a week of the slaughter, a local businessman, William Hopkins Tonge, wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs stating, "The Indians at the time of the massacre being so taken by surprise and considering themselves perfectly safe with scarcely any arms, those that could get away ran for the mountains." He was the first person to refer to what had taken place as a massacre.
The military and the Eastern press called it a massacre, so President Grant informed Governor A.P.K. Safford that if the perpetrators were not brought to trial, he would place Arizona under martial law. In October 1871, a Tucson grand jury indicted 100 of the assailants with 108 counts of murder. The trial, two months later, focused solely on Apache depredations; it took the jury just 19 minutes to pronounce a verdict of not guilty. Western Apache groups soon left their farms and gathering places near Tucson in fear of subsequent attacks. As pioneer families arrived and settled in the area, Apaches were never able to regain hold of much of their ancestral lands in the San Pedro River Valley. Many groups of Apaches joined up with the Yavapais in Tonto Basin, and from there, a guerilla war began which lasted until 1875.