Searching for Ulzana
The daring Apache fictionalized on film in Ulzana's Raid really existed—and left his mark on southwest New Mexico, where energetic and eagle-eyed hikers can find traces yet today.
Story and photos by Jerry Eagan
"A knowledge of signals, whether of smokes or fires, or bent twigs and pressed grasses or of turned stones, together with the localities of water sources. . . to the acquirement of all these points I devoted much attention... Signalizing by stones is much more difficult to comprehend... the traveler is often surprised to notice a number of stones on one side of the road... one stone placed on end... [stones] arranged as to be nearly in line."
Life Among the Apache
Soon after coming to New Mexico in 1998, I started working as a volunteer at the Gila Cliff Dwellings, serving as a guide or staffing the gift shop. After work, I began taking short hikes. Soon I was hiking longer, spending all day in Geronimo's homeland, Apacheria.
An Apache marker or destination rock.
When I wasn't hiking, I was reading about the Apache. In a book by Louis Kraft, Gatewood and Geronimo, I read how, in November and December 1885, a man named Ulzana (a.k.a. Ulzahuay, Josanie, Jolsany, Jolsanie, Jolsanny) entered the Florida Mountains of New Mexico with 10 warriors to "raid."
Ulzana struck people and ranches, quickly, frequently, savagely, for three weeks. On Nov. 23, he and his men hit the Fort Apache Reservation. Five men and boys, 11 women and four children died at there as Ulzana took a few Chiricahua women and children with him as he headed east, back towards Mexico. One historian thinks he was determined to rescue some of his own band who had been captured earlier in 1885.
In 1972, a movie titled Ulzana's Raid was made, starring Burt Lancaster as an Army scout, Archie McIntosh. Lancaster's laconic portrayal of McIntosh, who was a former trapper turned Apache scout, fit his personality. When I read Gatewood and Geronimo, though, I realized Hollywood had wanted the White Guys to win: The ending is wrong.
According to Kraft's book, in addition to the Americans and Mexicans he killed, Ulzana's band stole between 200 and 300 horses and mules, plus ammunition and weapons. Kraft adds, "He lost one man."
What fascinated me about Ulzana's raid wasn't the casualty ratio, but the incredible distances covered by the raiders. According to Kraft, they traveled approximately 1,200 miles. (Personally, I think Ulzana covered 2,000 miles.) Sometimes on foot, sometimes even barefoot in snow and mud, or on horse- or mule-back, in fall and winter weather, Ulzana's Apaches crossed an enormously rugged area.
I won't condone the killing, but I appreciated the physical prowess of the raid. I've hiked many parts of their route myself—but hundreds of people weren't pissed off and chasing me, seeking to put my head on a stick. I certainly couldn't have survived nearly two months in the open, on "outdoor" skills.
Ulzana's raiders probably crossed the border in the Western Portillos, east of Columbus. If so, they rode across a landscape forbiddingly arid, parched, a smooth-surfaced wasteland. I've hiked Camel Mountain, in the West Portillos. It sits right against the American-Mexican border. From there, you can look into Chihuahua, towards Palomas Lake, and even farther, towards Laguna Guzman. For centuries, the Apache stopped there in their seasonal movements.
In those days, water was more plentiful; today, you'll be lucky to find a few tinajas with just enough water to fill a single bottle. From the border, Ulzana's trail went north, from the Tres Hermanas, to the Floridas, then north, past Fort Cummings and into the Cooke's Range.
I've hiked the Floridas 25 times, all but once along the eastern flank of the mountains. I ascended Cooke's Peak with the Mimbres Hiking Group in 2003. I've hiked rugged country north, in the Black Range, Mogollons, Pinos Altos, Diablos—all-day hikes. If you check the distances on BLM maps, you'll discover that in order to cover the area of operation of Ulzana's raid's, you'd need every single BLM map of New Mexico from Las Cruces west. You'd need to go into Arizona as far as the western flanks of the Chiricahuas and south to the border, as far north and along a line from Clifton to Reserve to Hillsboro, and then south again to the Mexican border. Additionally, get a map of Mexico and go as far south as Bavispe, in the Sierra Madre Occidental.
I always carry BLM maps as well as USGS topographical maps. A BLM map encompasses 32 USGS 7.5-inch topo maps. The topo maps make plain that these aren't simple linear, flat miles: The ground is riven with ravines, canyons, arroyos, bluffs—you name it.
Even though many of my hikes have been in very rugged country, and even though I always carry my 25-pound hiking kit, I never hiked knowing there was no foreseeable time when I could "come in from the bush." In Vietnam, I was "out in the bush" for 45 days, but I was connected to a vast logistical lifeline that brought food, water, ammunition and new clothes to replace those the jungle rotted off me. I was 19 then, so running, sometimes literally, was easier than it is now. I just turned 59 in April.
At the Cliff Dwellings, as I read more about the Apache, I wondered: How did they know where to go in such a vast territory? They had no maps. They didn't talk in terms of miles, and the region they covered had no road signs.
My answer has come in an odd way: As I've hiked these places, I've found, at least a dozen times, from the Floridas and Portillos to the Mogollons, what I call "markers." I don't know with certainty whether these rock markers were left by the Apache. My photos show, though, that these rocks aren't necessarily found on or along obvious trails. Often these marker rocks point in a specific direction. And, as John Cremony noted in his book Life Among the Apache, some are in trees or bushes.
Read more by
Who Walks with the Warriors?
The rocks have caught my attention because they stand out and seem "out of place" against the larger backdrop of their surroundings. If you're in a hurry, you'll blow right by them. If the normal orientation of surrounding rocks is generally horizontal, with an occasional rock standing, vertically, these rocks are almost always vertical. In many cases, upon closer inspection, they prove to have been propped up by other stones.
I found one such vertical marker on a steep scree slope. I was slogging along, trying to avoid getting stuck by prickly pear, yucca, Spanish bayonet, cholla and sotol cactus, and watching for rattlers, when I looked up and saw a rock standing tall, like a sign.
Trust me, I know what western man's cairns look like. One such cairn, which is within 500 yards of this particular marker, was set by cowboys or hunters many years ago. They too can point.
The rocks I call "Apache" are different from the typical western cairns in that the lichen on them has grown in a manner consistent with the rocks around them that have not been moved. In other words, these rocks have been there a lot longer than most cowboy cairns I've found. Often, also, as Cremony suggested, these markers are raised vertically, as opposed to horizontal or pyramidal cairns. These rocks are often on an angled edge, and point towards—well, all I can say is that I've tracked them out as best I can, and in so doing, felt they pointed towards a cave, or a canyon with water, or even in one case, a large rock ring that looked to have been ceremonial, and had no signs of western civilized man and his ubiquitous trash.
The rock standing tall points, in fact, to a finger of a ridge, or, perhaps farther down the river, to a cave. Take the rugged sloped trail to the ridge, and there is another that points down, towards the water. At the bottom is a wonderful swimming hole, but more important, several caves and a side canyon that has perennial water. Cross that side canyon and you move from one mountain range to another, according to the maps.
The Apache marker rocks may point to cache caves. In those caves they stored weapons, ammunition, cloth, rawhide and leather, grain in sealed containers, perhaps some blankets and wicker water bottles. With these fallback supplies scattered in their homeland, the Apache could move like the wind if surprised by American or Mexican Army troops.
The caves I believe were caches are in rugged places, but also in canyons where clearly the Apache simply hadn't been accustomed to seeing anyone until ranchers and cowboys and prospectors showed up. The possible cache caves I've found have all been cleaned out as if by a vacuum cleaner. The degree to which they've been cleared of loose rock and soil tells me something was there that has been taken. I've never found anything in caches.
Ulzana was the older brother of Chihuahua—Kla-esch—who was a Chiricahua subgroup leader. Chihuahua's group came from the Western side of the Mogollons. Like Geronimo, he was a Bedonkohe Apache. It was natural, then, that Ulzana raided that vast area we live in, the part of Apacheria I've explored in my hikes.
Ulzana crossed the border on or about Nov. 1, 1885. On Nov. 7, Captain Chafee of the US 6th Cavalry was stationed at Cambray, east of Deming. He reported that "hostiles" had attacked the couriers of Troop A, and killed a Navajo scout, Antonio, and wounded Private Abbott, "securing the two horses and carbines of the two men." Chafee also reported that Apaches had attacked the houses of Mr. and Mrs. John Shy and of Andrew Yeater and his wife. Both men worked for the Missouri Cattle Company, which ran 700 head of cattle along the eastern and southern end of the Floridas.
"Yeater and Wife Butchered Within Sight Of Deming: Two Other Men Killed Near Mule Springs—Shy's Gallant Fight the Talk of the Country," the headlines of the Silver City Enterprise newspaper read on Nov. 13, 1885. Caught apart while working outside, Shy and his family all ran for their house as the Apaches rode up. Mrs. Shy later told a Deming Headlight reporter that their dinner, which she was preparing, was disturbed when Apaches "suddenly surrounded their home. Before setting the house ablaze, one of the Apache said, through a window: 'Come out, John, we no hurt you, we good Indians, we scouts!'"
John Shy answered them with his rifle, but by then his house was burning. The Shys bolted out of the house and up a small incline, where they individually went to ground among some rocks. I've not confirmed that the home in a photo I took near the site is either the Shy or Yeater houses, but I suspect it's typical. Notably, it sits beside a constant water source, which may have been why the Apache chose this target.
The 11-year-old, younger Shy (name unknown) proudly called to his dad when it looked like John Shy had nailed an Apache. But then, as the 11-year-old ran, he cried out again: "Oh, papa, I'm shot!" Mrs. Shy looked and saw "the little fellow fallen in rocks." The mother poignantly and heroically crawled to her son. Hearing him say he was cold, she dragged him farther into the rocks to comfort him. He'd been shot through the groin. Next morning, the Deming Headlight reported he was back with his family and all would survive.
Initially, though, the frantic Mrs. Shy began a run for help, apparently all the way to Deming. Before the attack, herders had seen the Apache heading for the Floridas, and bolted for Deming; there, alarmed, a posse came out from Deming to kill the Apache. En route, they found Mrs. Shy near the road, badly entangled in mesquite. The Shy family survived; the neighboring Yeaters didn't.
The Yeaters had gotten into a buckboard and were headed to Deming when Ulzana's men caught up them. Mr. Yeater was shot three times and stripped of his clothes. Mrs. Yeater jumped down from the buckboard and ran. The Apaches chased her and "brained" her—a common form of death for women and children too young or too feisty to capture. Children—say, ages eight or nine—were often taken as captives, as well cared for by the Apaches as their own children. Older women were shot or "brained."
From first contact in the Floridas, Ulzana's party ran north, raiding, killing and stealing horses for the next two months. Lives were lost in Lake Valley, Hillsboro, the Black Range, the Mimbres, Alma and Fort Apache, Ariz. Lieutenant S. W. Fountain's C Troop, 8th Cavalry, hunted Ulzana in the area from San Francisco River over as far west as Eagle Creek and Clifton, Ariz., Mule Springs (not "Creek" then) and the foothills of the Mogollons, Little Dry Creek and Big Dry Creeks and Cactus Flats (south of present-day Pleasanton).
On Dec. 7, Fountain and his scouts "picked up a trail of possibly 20 hostiles." Fountain trailed the Apache as they headed towards Mogollon Park, then to the "head of Turkey Creek" (more than likely, Turkey Feather Creek). He plunged into the Mogollons, doggedly trailing Ulzana's raiders.
By Dec. 9, Fountain had tracked scattered Apache trails past a cabin on fire, which was put out, then on to another cabin, which Fountain identified as being owned by John Lilley. There a firefight erupted. Fountain and his men had chased this band of Apache at least 38 miles in less than 24 hours in cold and snow. They were probably sick and tired of chasing, and wanted to do some fighting.
Fountain's description of this firefight is vivid: a cabin burning orange and red against snow, which was drifted in places, heavy rifle fire all around. "I wanted above all things, to send the Navajos [scouts] around to the right and let them steal in and open the fight. . . [however] such a plan would have required time and we had not a minute to lose. I now ordered and led the men to the charge, opening fire at the same time. The surprise was complete. The hostiles ran up the hill behind the house; two were mounted, one on a gray horse, and he fell from his horse head first." Fountain himself was too exhausted from the exertion of a charge at altitude—7,000-plus feet—to press the fight. He was elated, though, since it appeared they'd separated the Apache from their horses.
Fountain waited until the cabin completely burned down. Apache "stay behinds" shot at anyone exposed in the glow of the fire. Fountain didn't pursue the main Apache band. His men and horses were worn out. He wrote: "My men behaved in the most satisfactory manner. . . . I counted sixteen hostiles; it is probable that I did not see them all; from dresses found on two ponies, I believe there were two "squaws" among them. . . . We found blood on the trail."
Fountain was anxious to reach Presley Papineau's place, three miles farther north on the Middle Fork of the Gila, concerned that Papineau also might be attacked. "We found Mr. [John] Lilley's dead body a hundred yards from the house. He had been shot through the head, his body was not mutilated in any manner—a half burned body was in the house supposed to be Mr. [Thomas] Prior." On Dec. 10 Fountain marched to Papineau's, a distance of three miles. He found three men there who said they would get another five men from from ranches above and below on the Gila and go over and bury Lillie and "old man Prior."
Fountain and his men had marched 268 miles.
On Dec. 14, 1885, the secretary of war sent a telegram to J. H. Lillie, John Lillie's father, who lived in Hackettstown, NJ. He was advised that more information into "the killing of your son by Indians" would be provided by those who knew more. In January 1886, Sarah Boggs, John Lilley's sister, wrote and asked the adjutant general of the Army whether her brother's body, could "either be moved from its internment place in the Mogollons, to Magdalena, where the body could be shipped by rail back to New Jersey, or buried at Ft. Bayard Cemetery" where they could "erect a suitable monument."
She wrote in a second letter, "We are very anxious to know if this has been done. Both my father and myself fully appreciate the kindness shown us by the Government in this very sad and heart rending loss." In the summer of 1886, though, the adjutant general's office replied that the government could not accommodate their wishes. To date, I have not discovered whether John Lilley's body was ever removed to New Jersey, but I'm working on it.
In every war, people die away from homes and loved ones. John Lillie, Thomas Prior and Presley Papineau were three of 38 such casualties caused by Ulzana's raid. Most were at least identified. Did their family marvel sadly: Who would have thought Uncle John would be killed by Apaches when he left New Jersey? In fact, who were Lilley, Papineau, Prior and the Yeaters? What were their stories? Some died in the dusty Floridas, some in the Mogollons, on a night of snow, fire and ice.
Historians say only one Apache who rode with Ulzana was killed on the raid. While the Apache valued rituals, if a warrior was killed in battle, an honor attached to his loss that mitigated the lack of a proper burial. On the run, a burial might not have been possible. Anglos and Hispanics put up gravestones and tell stories, naming the people as a way to personalize the history. Morris Opler, an anthropologist who studied the Apache extensively, recorded that some Chiricahuas claimed that if Apaches came to a spot where an Apache had died, they fired their rifles over the spot, in a salute. Apaches would never speak the name of the warrior again, lest his name invite his spirit back to the land of the living, where it could lure unsuspecting souls into the world of ghosts, which frightened the Apache.
Ulzana, who later had two wives and was reported "drinks too much," died at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, in 1909. He and others of Chihuahua's group are buried there. Eve Ball's book, In the Days of Victorio, has a photo of Ulzana with his brother, Geronimo, Loco and Nana, taken at Fort Sill as old men.
Hardly anyone, at the time of the raid, knew of Ulzana. He may have been the first and last Apache many saw.
Jerry Eagan is a retired civil servant who writes, sells his photography at A Daily Practice yoga studio, 104 N. Texas St. in Silver City, and hikes twice a week into Apacheria. This is the fourth of a series of articles about his experiences. He wishes to thank the following people for their assistance:
Richard Mitchem, Ft. Bayard Association;
Joe Tribbet and Jim Coates, Pleasanton;
Mary and Ed Cosper and James Ed Hughes, Silver City;
Andrea Jacquez and Neta Pope; Don Lunt of the Clifton, Ariz., Museum;
Arturo Roman, Deming-Luna Mimbres Museum archives;
Pat Bennett and Susan Berry, Silver City Museum;
Henrietta Stockel, Sherry Robinson, Bob Schiowitz, and Gail Firebaugh-Smith, USFS.