General George Crook in Arizona Part 2

General George Crook

With the departure of Vincent Collier and his peace commission, General George Crook was ready to restart his campaign in February 1872.  He was again halted by Washington politicians.  This time they sent General Oliver O. Howard, a veteran of the Civil War.  Howard had become extremely pious and had some success in the east promoting humanitarian services for freed slaves after the Civil War.  It was hoped that Howard could convince the Apaches to take on a peaceful life.  His effort was at best a meager success.  He reached a verbal agreement with some of the Chiricahua Apaches to stop raiding in southern Arizona.  Not long after General Howard returned to the East the Indians broke this Treaty and depredations escalated anew.

With the political encumbrances out of the way, George Crook was free to execute his own pacification plan.  His goals were to get the renegade Apache to return to the reservations and live in peace, to build their self respect, to restore their dignity, to make them self-supporting, to eliminate their dependence on the federal government and to gradually assimilate them into society.  His strategy was to have his cavalry troops constantly criss-cross the remote areas where the renegades sought refuge, harassing them to the extent they would willingly surrender and return to the reservations where there was a better chance they would remain peaceful.

For several months the campaign was successful at bringing in most of the Apache bands with only a few hard cases in defiance.  Decisive defeats at Skull Cave and Turret Mountain convinced the “holdouts” to surrender.  The Indians, now returned to the reservations, were provided with farm tools, stock and other equipment, in an effort to make them self-sufficient.

Amazing success followed and life started to look more promising for the Indians.  But men who profited from the presence of the military and the dependence of the Indians on government charity worried that their livelihood would be disrupted.  Among these were a greedy bunch often referred to as “The Tucson Ring”.  It is suspected that influential people, under the pretense of promoting economy, convinced the federal government to move the Camp Verde Apaches to the much larger reservation at San Carlos.  Many of the Camp Verde Apache had traditional enemies at San Carlos and they did not mix well at all.  Numerous violent incidents occurred and “breakouts” were common.  A lot of the good that General Crook had accomplished was quickly undone.

To reduce the constant unauthorized movement on and off the reservations by the agitated Indians, Crook introduced a system of tagging.  Each Indian capable of bearing arms was required to wear an identifying tag around his neck.  If he wished to go off the reservation to hunt deer for his family, a brave would make a request of the reservation Indian Agent.  If granted, the brave would be issued a pass and upon his return he would be signed in.  Roll calls were made daily.  In this manner the presence or absence of any particular Indian could be determined.  If encountered in the back country, the Indian’s identity and travel status could be confirmed by his tag and pass which might save his life or at least save an unnecessary escort back to the reservation. 

Crook also set a rule that, if an outbreak occurred, he would not allow the renegade band back on the reservation until their leader was brought in as a prisoner or was proved to be dead.  Thus Crook was able to punish the hostile chief without warring against his followers.

Part 2 of a 3 part series

Suggested Reading

  • Chains of Command – Arizona and the Army 1856-1875; Constance Altshuler, Arizona Historical Society 1981
  • General George Crook – His Autobiography; Martin F. Schmitt, University of Oklahoma Press 1946 and 1960
  • An Apache Campaign in the Sierra Madres; John G. Bourke, 1886
  • On the Border with Crook; John G. Bourke, 1891, University of Nebraska Press 1971
  • Resume of Operations Against Apache Indians – 1882 to 1886; George Crook, 1886
  • Federal Control of the Western Apaches 1848 to 1886; Ralph H. Ogle, 1940
  • The Apache Problem; George Crook, Journal of the Military Service Institution of the U.S., Volume VII Number 27, October 1886
  • Guide to the General Crook Trail: Eldon Bowman, Museum of Northern Arizona Press 1978