Apache Train Rides to Internment (1886)

In all from April to November 1886, Cleveland sent to Florida four different groups of Chiricahuas numbering approximately 530 individuals. Of these, at least 475 were women, children, non-combatants, and scouts. Trains took them to twenty-seven years of imprisonment.

“We had seen trains, of course, but I think no member of my father’s band had ever ridden in one. I had hidden and watched them go snorting by and wondered what they were like inside. I was afraid of the engine. When it screeched and came snorting to the platform it seemed to me as if it squatted and crouched as though about to pounce on us….

“Everybody was miserable. It was like going into the (grave) … for nobody knows what that is like, nor will anyone until he gets there.”  (Eugene Chihuahua, Chiricahua Apache POW, concerning the trip to Florida by the San Carlos Chiricahuas. Quoted in Eve Ball 1980:125.)

“It took us about a week to get to St. Augustine. There were two soldiers at each door. The train stopped somewhere around Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the plains, and we were told to get off. The Chiricahua all thought it was their last day. The soldiers came with hardtack barrels and fed us. The rest of the time we ate on the train. They drove us back in there and we went on…. The soldiers kept making motions as if they were going to cut our throats every time they went through the train to give coffee. The Indians … took it that they were going to have their throats cut. On that train we slept the best we could sitting up. Little children were put in that rack where you put packages.”  (Sam Kenoi, Chiricahua Apache POW, In Morris Opler and Sam Kenoi, “A Chiricahua Apache’s Account of the Geronimo Campaign of 1886.”  New Mexico Historical Review, vol. 13, 1938:360-386. Concerning the San Carlos Chiricahuas sent to Florida.)

The trains lacked toilettes and many individuals experienced severe motion sickness. The windows of three trains were nailed shut.

“Something had to be done to clean up the cars, but ordinary methods would have been inadequate, so when the train stopped for the morning feed, the superintendent had each car washed out with a hose and a powerful stream of water. Of course, it was not a pleasure to go into one of these cars after this cleaning, but it was the only way to make it possible for any human being, other than an Indian, to enter them at all.”  (Lieutenant William Stover, who accompanied the train from Holbrook, Arizona to Florida, National Tribune, July 24, 1924. Quoted in Stockel 1993:80.)

Chihuahua’s group arrived in Jacksonville, Florida on April 16, 1886. Troops took people from the train and loaded them on a boat to Fort Marion.

“The appearance of these ‘untutored children of the forest’ after seven days’ ride in the cars was altogether repulsive. Dirty, ragged, half-clad, with long, unkempt locks of coarse black hair flying loose about their heads and in their eyes, they were typical savages, and justified by their appearance alone almost any degree of harshness in treatment which they may have received. (Florida Times-Union on the arrival of Chihuahua’s bunch in Jacksonville, Florida April 16, 1886. Quoted in Skinner, 1987:55, and East, “Apache Prisoners in Fort Marion, 1886-1887,” El Escribano, Vol. 6, 1969:19-20.)

“When all the plunder had been transferred, the order was given to march, and the procession from the cars to the boat was a show not equaled by any circus that ever traveled. (P. T.)  Barnum would have gone into ecstasies over it. First came the men, each with shoulders and head wrapped in a blanket, and all marching with expressionless faces and stately gait; then came the young bucks with less dignity and fewer blankets, as well as fewer clothes of any kind; then, straggling along one by one, came the young women, girls, and children, the former smirking a little as with the consciousness of the attention they were attracting, the latter, trundling along in childish innocence and evidently enjoying the fun. Lastly came the old women, each lugging a baby or a bundle, and a wounded squaw on a truck with her head shrouded in a blanket, brought up the rear. All were finally got aboard the boat without accident, and they departed for their future abiding-place between the historic walls of old San Marcos, where, it is hoped, some tincture of our civilization may be installed into their savage minds.”  (Florida Times-Union on the arrival of Chihuahua’s bunch in Jacksonville, Florida April 16, 1886. Quoted in Skinner, 1987:55, and East, “Apache Prisoners in Fort Marion, 1886-1887,” El Escribano, Vol. 6, 1969:19-20.)