Taming the Chiricahua Apaches

While the War Department imprisoned the Chiricahuas, Anglo-Americans continued to portray them as “bloodthirsty savages.”  They agreed with what Theodore Roosevelt said earlier in the year.

“I suppose I should be ashamed to say that I take the Western view of the Indian. I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian.”  (Theodore Roosevelt, New York, January 1886 speech.)

“Florida has now upon her soil a band of the most crafty, bloody, and terrible Indians that ever carried death and dismay to the settlers of the Western frontier. They are low, brutal and remorseless and the government is now debating … what to do with such a crew.”  (Jacksonville Morning News, September 30, 1886.)

Anglo-Americans imagined Apache POWs as wild animals to be tamed for the Whiteman’s pleasure.

“We do not … apprehend that our immigrant Apaches will ever monkey with the peace of society in Florida.”  The question that now agitates the Floridian people is, “How may we make the Apache settlers useful as well as ornamental?”

“We suggest that they be trained to gather oranges…. How it would draw crowds of tourists, though!  ” … It would draw to beat any dime museum that ever burned a lime light, or displayed a flaming poster.”  (Jacksonville Morning News, September 30, 1886.)

Geronimo and … his men have been ordered into winter quarters at Fort Pickens. I trust he will draw as largely as Jumbo, for he has proved a bigger elephant to Uncle Sam. With Geronimo and the Shipping League Convention, drawing a crowd in Pensacola about the same time, your tradesmen should be in cheerful glee.”  (Charles S. Hill, Secretary of the National Shipping and Industrial League, Washington, D. C., Pensacola Commercial, October 27, 1886.)

So-called humanitarians saw Chiricahuas as “the Whiteman’s Burden” — heathens whose souls must be saved and whose bodies and behavior must be civilized. Although the following is out of context, it portrays accurately the racist climate of 1886:

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child. (Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden,” 1899.)

“The Indian in his natural state acts in conformity with (his) low standard, but when he is taught a higher law, and when the public sentiment of savagery no longer controls him, he undergoes a change of opinion and gradually of character which is not vague and tentative, but surprisingly radical. The severest critics of Indian customs and practices are often found among the Indians themselves who through Christianity and civilization have broken loose from former bondage and have come to be ashamed of and despise things in which they once indulged without restraint.”  (Herbert Welsh, “The Apache Prisoners in Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida.”  Philadelphia: Office of the Indian Rights Association. 1887:18.)

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