Theft of the Chiricahua Apache Homeland

From the moment Chiricahuas arrived in Oklahoma, a critical issue was the location of their permanent home. The government told the Apaches that Fort Sill would be that place, since it ruled out their traditional homeland in New Mexico and Arizona.

“When the Indians were established at Fort Sill they were solemnly promised on the part of the Government that the reserve was to be their permanent home and that they would not be moved again….”  (Secretary of the Interior, Richard Ballinger, to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, February 18, 1910. (P1. Ex. No. 65, at 2.))

“…  (T)he intention to settle the Apache prisoners upon the Fort Sill Military Reservation was shared by the President, the Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

“In several communications to Congress … officials of the Executive branch informed Congress that it was intended to settle the Apache prisoners permanently upon the Fort Sill Military Reservation.”  (Indian Claims Commission, Docket 182. See e.g., the Reports of the Secretary of War for the years 1894 and 1896, quoted in findings of fact 7 and 8, supra.)

In 1897, U. S. officials obtained additional land for the Apaches from Kiowa and Comanche Indians.

“In accordance with the agreement signed by the representatives of the Kiowa Comanche and Kiowa Apache Indians at Anadarko, Okl., February 17th, 1897, … (selected) tracts of land located on the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Reservation in the Territory of Oklahoma … are hereby set apart and added to the military reser­vation at Fort Sill, Ok., for exclusive use for military purposes and for the permanent location thereon of the Apache Prisoners of War.”  (President Grover Cleveland, Executive Order February 26, 1897. (P1. Ex. No. 34.))

“…  (I)t was clearly promised these Indians when land was added for the benefit of the former Fort Sill Military Reservation, that this land would be used … to provide for them and their children…. This was agreed to by officials of the Indian Bureau and the War Department and a former President of the United States….

“…  (F)urthermore, under the various provisions with which these added tracts were set aside, the purpose was clearly for the benefit of the Indians.”  (R. G. Valentine, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in a letter written August 8, 1911.)

In the early 1900s, the War Department decided to disavow all agreements with the Chiricahuas and employ Fort Sill as an artillery training school. Such use began on June 29, 1905.

“Since the eastern and western addition(s) to the original military reservation were made, it has been found that the enlarged reservation is in the highest degree necessary for military purposes in the training and instruction of the troops, especially of the field artillery, and in the conduct of joint and separate camps of maneuvers for practical instruction in field service….

“It is therefore recommended that the military reservation, as added to since the date of its original establishment, continue in the use to which it was assigned in the several executive orders which created it; that the Apache prisoners be maintained there until a suitable and convenient occasion presents itself for their removal to another reservation….”  (Indian Claims Commission, Docket 182. P1. Ex. No. 71, at 4-6.)

General Hugh Lennox Scott was ordered to notify Apaches about the decision to displace them and arrange their removal from Fort Sill. He knew this decision violated solemn commitments made to the Chiricahuas.

“This duty was approached with some trepidation knowing that the question has come up many times in the War (Department) … and that the Indians had cause to feel that promises made them (have) not been kept. These promises were made by direction of President Cleveland (who) told the present writer in the presence of (Secretary of War) Lamont and Major General (George) W. Davis, to get the consensus of the Kiowa & Comanche Indians to the addition of (some) of their land to the military reservation at Fort Sill to permit the allotment … of Fort Sill … (to the Apaches)….”  (General Hugh Lennox Scott, in a hand-written draft of a report sent to his superiors in Washington, D.C. Quoted in Turcheneske 1997:85.)

As commanded, General Scott told the POWs that the United States never intended Fort Sill to be their permanent home and that they were to be moved yet again. The Chiricahuas responded.

“It don’t look like you are going to help us out the way you talk…. When you brought us here you told us that this was our country and that this was our land. And you said don’t think about any other country because this is yours. You told the old men that. (When) I was a boy and I listened to that and Captain Pratt told us that too. I learned much in Alabama where I went to school. General Howard came down there and wrote on the black board these words, “Look forward and not back, look up and not down.”  I remember that … (t)he Kiowas and Comanches gave us some of this land. So this belongs to us. I worked hard building these fences, putting up post(s), digging post holes and building fences. What is going to become of all of it?  You told us that this was ours and that is why we worked so hard. You with the Kiowas and Comanches helped to get us this land and. told us it was ours.”  (Eugene Chihuahua, Chiricahua Apache POW, to General Hugh Lennox Scott, October 8, 1911. Land Claims documents.)

“We want to be given land somewhere that would be our home and now we thought you had come down here to tell us about that. We don’t think of anything else. All we want is to be freed and be released as prisoners, given land and homes that we can call our own. That is all we think about.”  (Naiche, Chiricahua Apache POW, to General Hugh Lennox Scott, September 21, 1911. Land Claims documents.)

“The government goes according to law. If a man owns a piece of property … it cannot be taken away from him…. (W)e want land like that, land that nobody can take away. We have been moved around for twenty-six or twenty seven years…. (We) have done as we have been told to do; and now we want to be sent back to our old homes and be given land that cannot be taken away.”  (Talbot Gooday, Chiricahua Apache POW, to General Hugh Lennox Scott, October 8, 1911. Land Claims documents.)

“We want to be free!”  (Asa Daklugie, Chiricahua Apache POW, to General Hugh Lennox Scott, October 8, 1911. Land Claims documents.)

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