In March of 1875 General George Crook was transferred to the Department of the Platte. In the northern territories the Sioux and Cheyenne were preparing to go on the warpath. Crook participated in the campaigns there until 1877.
During the General’s absence from Arizona the Interior Department decided to move all the Indian bands from the reservations that had been established for them to the hostile environment of San Carlos. Enemy tribes were forced to live in close proximity with each other. Violence erupted on a regular basis.
Bureaucrats in Washington did not have a clue how to resolve the Indian problem. The dual administration of reservations by the Interior Department and the military under the War Department was proving ineffective. It resulted in much dissension. The Indians were quick to pick up the friction between the two departments and often took advantage of the resulting confusion to slink away for some quick marauding. The Army was doing its best but continuing post-Civil War budget-pinching resulted in shortages of manpower and equipment.
A White Mountain Apache medicine man, Nock-ay-del-Klinne, began claiming he could resurrect the revered dead chiefs who would lead the tribes to rid the land of all whites. The Army was sent to arrest the medicine man. This action lead to a battle near Cibique in August 1881. Nock-ay-del-Klinne, an unknown number of his followers, and 10 cavalrymen were killed. A month later another group of Chiricahuas fled the reservation. The following spring more of the Warm Springs Apaches left for sanctuary in Old Mexico.
In July of 1882 the hardcore fugitives of the Cibique fight, who had taken refuge in a remote northern part of the Fort Apache reservation, decided to come out of hiding and start what they hoped would be a general uprising of all Apache bands. Led by a brash young warrior named Nan-tio-tish, they started on an 11 day murderous rampage across central Arizona, culminating at the Battle of Big Dry Wash on July 17th. Many renegades and Nan-tio-tish were killed.
In an attempt to clean up this volatile mess the Army reassigned General George Crook to command the Department of Arizona in September 1882. Crook immediately set about implementing his pacification plans which resulted in success. With relative calm in most of Arizona, Crook was now able to concentrate on the Chiricahua Apaches that had sought sanctuary in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Old Mexico. These bands had resumed raiding into southern Arizona and New Mexico.
In March 1883 one of these renegades deserted and agreed to lead General George Crook to the hideout in the Sierra Madres. During this time Crook also traveled to Old Mexico and met with officials to plan a strategy to best utilize their joint forces against the raiding Chiricahuas.
In May a company of Crook’s Apache Scouts, commanded by Capt. Emmett Crawfrod, surprised and routed an Apache encampment. The Indians were shocked that their secret mountain refuge had been discovered and soon made it known they were willing to surrender. Crook accepted and the process began of gathering all the hostile bands scattered in the mountains. It was not until April 1884 that the last band, led by Geronimo, finally reached the reservation at San Carlos.
The years 1883 through 1885 saw continued bickering between the Interior Department and the War Department regarding who should be in charge of Indian affairs. Two years of relative calm had lulled the Washington bureaucrats into favoring civilian control of the Indians despite the long history of graft within the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Interior Department.
After a lengthy drunken spree in May of 1885 the Chiricahaus broke out from the San Carlos reservation and headed south toward Old Mexico. General George Crook immediately gave chase. The Indians, however, had too great a head start. Crook realized his current forces were not properly equipped for an extended campaign. He temporarily withdrew to reorganize his troops. The Apache Scouts were kept on the trail and in January 1886 engaged the main hostile camp deep in Mexico. The battle caused the hostile Apaches to ask for peace talks as they realized their refuges in Old Mexico were no longer safe from harm.
Peace talks between General Crook and the Chiricahuas were held in March 1886 and resulted in another Apache surrender. On the trek back to the United States a sleazy white man named Bob Tribollet sold whiskey to the Indians who promptly got roaring drunk. Tribollet lied to the Indians that they were all to be killed or jailed, causing them to panic. They immediately fled back to the mountains. Crook’s detractors placed the blame for the incident on the General. The Eastern press began a character assassination of him. To top it off, the Army disapproved the terms of the surrender agreement between Crook and Geronimo. Crook had promised the Apaches something which he could not now execute. Rather than go back on his word, he saw no other alternative than to exit the scene. General Crook asked to be relieved of his command.
The man replacing him was General Nelson Miles. Miles was vain and pompous, the very antithesis of Crook in character. General Miles readily accepted full credit for the capture of Geronimo and the renegade Chiricahuas when in fact his contribution was miniscule in comparison to that of General George Crook.
Crook was reassigned to the Department of the Platte. After being promoted to the rank of Major General in April 1888, Crook was made commanding general of the Military Division of the Missouri. He died on March 21, 1890, of heart failure brought on by years of mental and physical wear and tear in the field serving his country.
Thus ended the career of the most successful and respected Indian fighting general in the history of the United States of America. Perhaps “Indian fighter” is a misnomer because General George Crook spent more time and energy attempting to better the life of the Indian than he did waging war against them. In testimony to this, Crook’s passing was mourned by both his admirers and adversaries. Although only eight years of his illustrious career were spent in Arizona, this proved to be a crucial period greatly influencing the course of development in Arizona for many decades following.
Part 3 of a 3 part series
- 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
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