The Human Cost of Chiricahua Apache Imprisonment

In 1872, perhaps 1,500 Chiricahua Apaches resided at the Chiricahua Apache and Ojo Caliente reservations.

In 1886, about 530 Chiricahuas were alive, having endured hostilities, disease, and starvation at San Carlos. Since they were not yet dead, President Cleveland sent them east as prisoners of war.

In 1913 when most of them were freed, there were 275 Chiricahua Apaches. 105 of them survived from 1886; 80 percent of the original POWs died during internment. 170 of the remaining Chiricahua Apaches were children born into captivity.

While the Chiricahuas were prisoners of war, the United States took possession of not only their aboriginal homeland, but also their new home in Oklahoma.

“Before the Chiricahua Apaches’ aboriginal lands were taken by the United States on September 4, 1886, the policy of the United States was to encourage the intrusion upon and exploitation of the said lands by non-Indian third parties. The United States encouraged the exploitation of these lands by enacting laws aimed at developing the said lands…. The United States encouraged intrusions upon said lands through its policy of protecting said intruders by conducting military campaigns against the Chiricahua Apaches and attempting … to confine them to reservations against the wishes of the Chiricahua Apaches.”  (Indian Claims Commission, Docket 182. See Dockets 30-A and 48-A, 19 Ind. Cl. Comm. L212, 229, 243-45 (1968))

In 1974, the Federal Indian Claims Commission awarded Chiricahuas $16.5 million for 15.6 million acres of land that the United States took from us. This amounts to $1.06 per acre. The United States has never compensated them for wrongful imprisonment or loss of life. It has never apologized for its despicable acts, especially with respect to Apache women, children, non-combatants, and scouts. What Herbert Welsh said in 1887 is equally true today.

“The official blundering, the long and unnecessary delay in the management of the Apache business is but an instance of the general incoherence and inefficiency which have usually distinguished the administration of Indian affairs. It is a subject for the consideration of intelligent, public-spirited and patriotic Americans; for only by the systematic and organized efforts of such persons can the evils of which we justly complain be remedied…. It is by creating a powerful constituency for the Indians that their full civil, religious and educational rights shall at last be secured.”  (Herbert Welsh, “The Apache Prisoners in Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida.”  Philadelphia: Office of the Indian Rights Association. 1887:23.)