Good Indians at Mount Vernon Barracks

In 1887 and 1888, the United States moved 396 Chiricahua prisoners of war from Florida to Mount Vernon Barracks near Montgomery, Alabama. The War Department incarcerated Apaches there for seven years.

” … (O)ur ‘Big Injun’; and large-sized curiosity, Geronimo, together with those held with him at Fort Pickens, were conveyed to Mobile, and had actually reached their destination, which was Mount Vernon, before the people of Pensacola knew anything about it!  This is a severe blow at a certain summer industry, and excursions will likely be less numerous.”  (The Pensacolian, May 19, 1888. Quoted in Skinner 1987:219.)

While Chiricahuas were in Alabama, Anglo-Americans still wanted to make “Good Indians” of them.

“We don’t think there is any more room in this country for Indians, but there is room for men; no more land for hunting, but plenty for farming and making your living like white men do. The old Indian road is all shut up; the white man has built his railroads across it and the Indian road don’t lead anywhere; it don’t lead to any more game; it leads only to ruin.”  (Charles C. Painter, Indian Rights Association Washington Agent, June 24, 1889, to Chiricahua Apache POWs at Mount Vernon Barracks.)

“I am not at all in sympathy with those benevolent but injudicious people who are constantly insisting that these Indians should be returned to their reservation. Their removal was an absolute necessity if the lives and property of citizens upon the frontier are to be at all regarded by the Government. Their continued restraint at a distance from the scene of their repeated and cruel murders and outrages is still necessary. It is a mistaken philanthropy, every way injurious, which prompts the desire to see these savages returned to their old haunts. They are in their present location as the result of the best judgment of those having official responsibility in the matter, and who are by no means lacking in kind consideration for the Indians. A number of these prisoners have forfeited their lives to outraged law and humanity. Experience has proved that they are dangerous and cannot be trusted. This is true not only of those who on the warpath have heretofore actually been guilty of atrocious murder, but of their kindred and friends, who, while they remained upon their reservation, furnished aid and comfort to those absent with bloody intent.

“These prisoners should be treated kindly and kept in restraint far from the locality of their former reservation; they should be subjected to efforts calculated to lead to their improvement and the softening of their savage and cruel instincts, but their return to their old home should be persistently resisted.”  (President Grover Cleveland, “Fourth Annual Message,” December 3, 1888.)

Apache prisoners learned to say what authorities demanded to hear.

“I thought I would follow in the footsteps of the white people; I saw the way they dressed, slept, ate, drank, and acted, and it seemed to me to be better than my own way….”  (Naiche, Chiricahua Apache POW, to Charles C. Painter, Indian Rights Association Washington Agent, June 24, 1889, at Mount Vernon Barracks.)

“It’s a long time since I first followed in the footsteps of the white people and I am still doing it, trying to be as much like a white man as I can…. My thoughts are more like those of a white man than an Indian. That’s why I have been glad to grow old among them.”  (Loco, Chiricahua Apache POW, to Charles C. Painter, Indian Rights Association Washington Agent, June 24, 1889, at Mount Vernon Barracks.)

“Every one of us have (sic) got children at school and we will behave ourselves on account of these children, we want them to learn.…  I do not consider that I am an Indian any more.…  I am a white man.…  I consider that all white men are my brothers and all white women are my sisters — that is what I want to say.”  (Geronimo to Lieutenant Hugh Lennox Scott and Captain Marion Maus, August 29, 1894, at Mount Vernon Barracks. Scott 1928:182-184. Quoted in Debo 1976:36-361.)

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