Clio Logo

The Battle of Pinos Altos was an engagement that took place on September 27th, 1861, during the American Civil War and the Apache Wars. Multiple Apache warriors attacked the mining town and were repelled by two militia companies known as the “Arizona Guards” and “Minutemen.” The battle ended with a Confederate victory after an antique artillery piece that had been on display in front of the saloon/general store was loaded with assorted items such as rocks, nails, and buckshot, and fired into the attacking native Americans. Although the Civil War was happening in the backdrop of this battle, it can be considered more of an Apache Wars battle, as it was the same settlers fighting natives before and after the Civil War.


  • Two of the oldest still standing buildings in Pinos Altos. The Buckhorn saloon and Pinos Altos Opera House.

On September 27th, 1861, Apache warriors lead by Cochise and Mangas Coloradas attacked the town of Pinos Altos, Confederate Arizona. (Current day New Mexico.) The attack was not expected and came as a shock to the local miners. Multiple mining camps were attacked in coordination outside of the settlement. Many fought from their cabins; while some hid in dug outs. Soon the warriors converged on the center of town, Roy and Sam Bean’s store, where the militiamen had fortified. After fierce fighting, the miners and militiamen loaded an antique cannon that sat outside of the store with buckshot, nails, and rocks and fired into the attackers. This caused them to rout, which allowed the defenders to concentrate another attack, breaking native lines, and within half an hour the battle was over. The specific number of Apaches at the battle is unknown, but it is estimated to have been between 19 to 200. The number of miners is also unknown but estimated within the same numbers. The two militia companies consisted of fifteen men. Jack Swilling, the founder of Phoenix, Arizona, was a First Lieutenant in the Arizona Guards. Total native causalities are unknown, but thought to be at least 10. Confederate causalities consisted of Captain Thomas J. Mastin, leader of the “Arizona Guards,” Private J.B. Corwin, and three unknown civilians. Though local forces won militarily; the attack caused many miners to leave Pinos Altos. Many went to other local mining towns such as Sante Fe, and Mesilla. However, the Apache also left the area, with Cochise heading south into Mexico where peace had been made. Although the Civil War was happening at the same time, this can be considered more of an Apache Wars battle. The same settlers were fighting the same natives before and after the Civil War. This was a battle for the struggle of native's rights, and the American conquest of the west. This battle and others like it are all part of the larger story of western expansion and manifest destiny.

Sweeney, Edwin R. Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief. The Civilization of the American Indian. Norman, Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Wells, John Wesley. An Alphabetical List of the Battles of the War of the Rebellion with Dates, from Fort Sumter S.C., April 12 and 13, 1861, to Kirby Smith's Surrender, May 26, 1865: Compiled from the Official Records of the Offices of the Adjutant-general and the Surgeon-general, U.S.A. ... Also the Battles of the War of Independence ... War with the North-West Indians, 1790 to 1795 ... and a Chronological History of the War with Mexico, from 1845 to 1848; and a List of the Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States, from Washington to Hayes. J.H. Soule, 1878.

Debo, Angie. Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place. Volume 142. The Civilization of the American Indian Series. Norman, Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma Press, 2012.

Bloom, Lansing Bartless. Walter, Paul A.F. . New Mexico Historical Review. University of New Mexico Press, 1968.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

New Mexico Tourism Department