Apache Life as POWs at Fort Marion (1886-1887)

After Pratt took the Apache children, 447 Chiricahuas remained at Fort Marion. 82 prisoners were men, 65 of whom had been scouts in 1885 and 1886. Four were too old to have been scouts. No more than 15 of the men had been resisters in 1885 and 1886.

“The grand, gloomy old quadrangle itself, pregnant with the history of the buried past, gazed in mute surprise upon the gestures and antics of these rep­resentatives of the only tribe in America, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, which had resisted and defied the ecclesiastical and secular arms of Rome and Spain in the plentitude of their power and had yielded to the Saxon only through a breach of faith for which the Carthaginians would have hung their heads in shame.

“… the legend ‘it is finished’ was written at the end of the unbroken series of plunder and exaction marking the progress Westward of Caucasian civilization; the last feeble remnant of savagery, fighting with the courage of despair to defend its barren, mountain birthright had been ground into powder beneath the heel of a nation whose proud boast has been ‘Liberty to all the land and to all the inhabitants thereof.’  That … so feelingly characterized as ‘the saddest of all human spectacles—the strength of a great nation exerted without its mercy’ had girdled the continent with iniquity and here on the spot where once lived the Seminoles, last of the Eastern tribes to struggle for their rights and liberties only to be overcome by treachery, had gathered as in a living tomb, the survivors of the boldest, fier­cest, truest race on the Pacific, conquered by the same ignominious and con­temptible breach of faith.”  (Captain John Gregory Bourke, Third U. S. Calvary, Staff Member, General George Crook, Commander, Department of Arizona, March 10, 1887, Fort Marion. Diary 83:56-57.)

Many Apaches sickened and died at Fort Marion.

“The President has examined the case very carefully and has come to the conclusion that the life of confinement for all those Indians in Florida, where they can do no harm, will be the most thorough punishment that can be visited upon them.

“They have been brought up in the mountain country accustomed to freedom in the pure air of a high altitude. Their transfer to the confinement in the warm climate of Florida will simply result in their dying off like so many sheep. Experienced army officers do not think that there will be one of them alive in the next five years.”  (The New York World. Quoted in the Pensacola Commercial, December 1, 1886.)

“Fort Marion is entirely inadequate to contain with safety and convenience the 447 prisoners now within its walls.…  The rations are insufficient…. The danger of contagious disease attacking these Indians … is, in my judgment, a matter worthy of prompt and serious consideration.”  (Herbert Welsh, “The Apache Prisoners in Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida.”  Philadelphia: Office of the Indian Rights Association. 1887:13.)

“I will not forget … the first death … among us…. (T)hough I knew that old people sometimes died because of their years, I had not realized that it could happen to the young. A girl passed away, my people said, from heartbreak and loneliness. Men took her body away in a box — a terrible thing to us. Whether she was buried, we had no way of knowing. That to us was much worse than death caused by violence; and it was the first of many, many, that were to follow…. (I)n Florida the damp­ness and the mosquitoes took toll of us until it seemed that none would be left. Perhaps we were taken to Florida for that purpose; from our point of view shooting would have been much less cruel.”  (James Kaywaykla, Chiricahua Apache POW and Carlisle student. In Eve Ball 1997:197.)

“… (W)hen the Chiricahua Apache were confined (at Fort Marion) as prisoners … (a) great many of the band had been suffering from sickness of one kind or another and twenty-three of the children had died; as a consequence, the medicine-men (held) … a (Mountain Spirit Dance), which is entered into only upon the most solemn occasions….

“On the terreplein (sic) of the northwest bastion, Ramon, the old medicine-man, was violently beating upon a drum, which, as usual, had been improvised of a soaped rag drawn tightly over the mouth of an iron kettle holding a little water.

“The (dancers) … emitted a peculiar whistling noise and bent slowly to the right, then to the left, then frontward, then backward, until the head in each case was level with the waist. Quickly they spun round in full circle on the left foot; back again in a reverse circle to the right; then they charged around the little group of tents in that bastion, making cuts and thrusts with their wands….

“These preliminaries occupied a few moments only; at the end of that time the (dancers) … advanced to where a (woman) … was holding up to them a little baby sick in its cradle. The mother remained kneeling while the (dancers) … frantically struck at, upon, around, and over the cradle with their wooden weapons. The baby was held so as successively to occupy each of the cardinal points and face each point directly opposite; first on the east side, facing the west; then the north side, facing the south; then the west side, facing the east; then the south side, facing the north, and back to the original position. While at each position, each of the (dancers) … in succession, after making all the passes and gestures described, seized the cradle in his hands, pressed it to his breast, and afterwards lifted it up to the sky, next to the earth, and lastly to the four cardinal points, all the time prancing, whistling, and snorting, the mother and her … friends adding to the … din by piercing shrieks and ululations. (Captain John G. Bourke, Third U. S. Calvary, Medicine-Men of the Apache 1892:583-584.)

The incarceration of Apache women, children, non-combatants, and scouts tormented altruists and military men.

“No one asserts that Geronimo and the worst of his followers, who are in Fort Pickens, have been treated with undue severity. They are fortunate to have escaped with their lives. Nor is it said that other followers of Geronimo, who are confined at Fort Marion, have any cause for complaint. The Government is criticized, however, by the Secretary of the Indian Rights Association, by Senator Dawes, and others for confining with these captured hostiles the remaining members of the tribe, who had been peaceable for two or three years before their removal from Arizona….”  (The New York Times, April 6, 1887.)

“I cannot conclude this report better than by pointing the attention of the public to what, in my opinion, is the most conspicuous fact contained in the foregoing report — the injustice with which the good behavior, the fidelity and, in some instances, the distinguished services of these imprisoned Chiricahua Indians have been rewarded by the government of the United States. I hold that in this case a fundamental principle of just and wise policy in the treatment of Indians, has been violated, for not only have the innocent been condemned unheard, but the meritorious have received the punishment of the guilty.”  (Herbert Welsh, “The Apache Prisoners in Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida.”  Philadelphia: Office of the Indian Rights Association. 1887:19-20.)

“(I)s the Government capable of an act which in the individual is a crime?  Placing it mildly is indifference to … (the Apaches’) fate worthy of a Republic which claims to be land of refuge to the oppressed of all nations?  We deprecate the light manner in which the sure death of these Indians is spoken of, and if death is merely a question of time, as we are told, it should be brought before the Government. If these Indians have committed crimes worthy of death, let the sentence of the law be executed and not in the refinement of cruelty, by inches or atoms.”  (General James Berney Stanley, “Can the Government Condescend to Cruelty?”  Grenville Advocate, December 22, 1886.)

“In my talks with the Indians they showed no resentment of the way they had been treated in the past; only wonderment at the why of it. Why had they been shifted from reservation to reservation; told to farm and have their crops destroyed; assured that the Government would ration them, then left to half starve; herded in the hot, malarial river bottoms of the Gila and San Carlos when they were mountain people?  …  And above all they wondered if they would now be allowed to live at peace…. (F)our hundred innocent people, men, women, and children, who had kept the faith with us, punished for the guilt of barely one-fourth who had been lied to and frightened into leaving the Reservation…. We have heard much talk of the treachery of the Indian. In treachery, broken pledges on the part of high officials, lies, thievery, slaughter of defenseless women and children, and every crime in the catalogue of man’s inhumanity to man the Indian was a mere amateur compared to the “noble white man.”  (Lieutenant Britton Davis, Third Calvary, Commanding Company B, Indian Scouts, at Turkey Creek, Arizona, November 1884 – September 1885, The Truth about Geronimo, 1929:114.)

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