On July 6, 1882, about sixty White Mountain Apaches swept down onto the San Carlos Agency ; captured and took with them half a dozen squaws ; rode up the San Carlos River and a few miles from the Agency waylaid and killed Chief of Scouts J. L. Colvig ("Cibicu Charley") and five or six of his Indian police. Colvig succeeded Chief of Scouts Sterling who had likewise been killed in an encounter with recalcitrant Apaches only four months before.
Lt. Charles B. Gatewood and company of Apache scouts at Fort Apache in 1880,
at the end of the Victorio campaign. Sam Bowman, civilian scout, stands behind Gatewood.
(Arizona Pioneer's Historical Society)
Following the news of the outbreak and Colvig's death, five separate bodies of U. S. troops were in the field after the raiders.
Troop D, 6th Cavalry, Capt. A. R. Chaffee and First Lieut. Frank E. West, were first in the field from Camp McDowell on the west side of the Basin, under orders to move to Wild Rye creek and await developments. Chaffee had with him Al Sieber and eight Tonto Indian Scouts.
Adna Romanza Chaffee was born in Orwell, Ohio on April 14, 1842.
In July 1861, Chaffee, only 19 years old, enlisted in the newly-formed 6th U. S. Cavalry as a private. In early 1862, he was promoted to sergeant, and to first sergeant in September 1862. As a reward for his good service, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton arranged for him to be appointed second lieutenant in April 1863. Although only 21 years old, he was in command of a company of the 6th U. S. by the time of the Battle of Gettysburg that summer.
In 1904, he was promoted to lieutenant general and became chief of staff of the United States Army, a position he held for a bit over two years. He was one of two old horse cavalrymen to rise from the rank of private to serve as chief of staff of the Army, the other being Samuel Baldwin Marks Young
Troop D 3rd Cavalry, Capt. Albert D. King and Second Lieut. Franklin D. Johnson ;
Troop E 3rd Cavalry, Lieut. Converse commanding;
Troop I 3rd Cavalry, Lieut. Hardie commanding;
Troop K 3rd Cavalry, Capt. Geo. A. Dodd commanding;
Company E, 26 enlisted Indian Scouts, Second Lieut. George H. Morgan, 3rd Cavalry, commanding, also followed Chaffee 's troop from McDowell with orders to scout the region and keep Chaffee advised of the hostiles' movements as far as possible.
Troop K 6th Cavalry, Capt. Lemuel A. Abbott and Second Lieut. Frederick G. Hodgson commanding All under command of Major A. W, Evans, 3rd Cavalry, left Fort Apache, on the east side of the Basin, under orders to scout the country and follow the hostiles' trail vigorously.
Two troops of the 3rd Cavalry, Capts. Russell and Wessel commanding, hurried from Whipple Barracks near Prescott.
From Fort Verde, Troop K 6 th Cavalry, 1st Lieut. Henry Kingsbury commanding and Troop A of the 3rd Cavalry, Lieut. Chase commanding, were rushed out of that post eastward on the old "Verde" or Crook" road, which followed closely the "Rim" of the Tonto Basin, to scout for signs and intercept the hostiles if they should attempt to climb up the bold escarpment known as the "Rim of the Basin," swing around to the east and thus back into the Apache Indian Reservation and safety.
From Fort Thomas on the Gila above San Carlos went four troops of the 3rd Cavalry with Captains Drew, Vroom and Crawford, and Lieuts. Morton, Porter, Boughton and Davis, (Britton Davis).
Thus we have a record of no less than 15 troops of cavalry probably 350 men in all; one company of Indian scouts, and fully 150 pack-mules with many civilian packers, all searching the country for the hostiles and converging on them from every side.
Those who today ride over this country on well built auto roads ; who drive easily from Phoenix to Payson, "under the Rim," in six hours, can have little real appreciation of the difficult task these army men faced in 1882. There is no rougher, more broken terrain in the United States. The granitic formation is peculiarly hard on horses' hoofs and a lost shoe on a cavalry horse or pack-mule means a lamed animal if not shod at once.
The following account of the fight is taken from Britton Davis' recent book, "The Truth About Geronimo," by permission of the Yale University Press, and also with Gen. Cruse's consent.
"For the following description of the fight, the most successful our troops ever had with the Apache after they had obtained modern arms, I am indebted to General, then Lieutenant, Thomas Cruse, U. S. Army, Retired, who for his gallantry in this action was awarded the 'Congressional Medal of Honor.'
|Lieutenant Thomas Cruse, U. S. Army|
"The hostiles had seen Chaffee's troop, which was mounted on white horses, and had kept it under observation from about three o'clock until dark. They counted his men and concluded to ambush him the next day under circumstances favorable to themselves. But they had not seen the Fort Apache column at all, and their watchers reported the next morning that Chaffee 's troop was still alone.
"Colonel Evans told Chaffee to keep ahead the next morning as if he were acting alone and he would follow at day break. Troop I, Converse, Third Cavalry, also on white horses, would be in the lead at the head of our column, so that if the Indians did stop to fight Chaffee he would have two troops on white horses to engage them at once and the other troops could be placed to the best advantage as they came up.
"At daylight on July 17, we moved out cautiously and saw Chaffee climb the rim of the basin unopposed; then we followed, reached General's Spring and saw signs of the hostile camp of the night before ; then went on, cursing our luck over the prospect of a tedious campaign in the rough, waterless Navaho country. About a mile farther a mounted courier from Chaffee dashed up. Converse with his white horse troop rushed forward at a gallop, and word was passed along that the Indians were camped on the far side of a deep crack in the earth, a branch of Canon Diablo (Big Dry Wash), with all arrangements to give Chaffee the fight of his life.
"The location was about three miles from where we were, and as we rapidly approached we could hear casual shots and an occasional volley crash.
"Sieber and the scouts located the hostiles on the far side of the chasm. Chaffee then is mounted his troop and sent a few men forward to the brink When these were seen the hostiles opened fire then Converse galloped up, dismounted almost in plain view of the hostiles, sent his horses to the rear and advanced in line of skirmishers along the edge of the canon as if intending to go down the trail. Both troops and hostiles then opened up a heavy fire across the canon.
"The scene of action was in a heavy pine forest, thickly set with large pine trees (park-like, with no underbrush or shrubbery whatever) on a high mesa at the summit of the Mogollon Range. Across this mesa from east to west ran a gigantic slash in the face of the earth, a volcanic crack, some seven hundred yards across and about one thousand feet deep, with almost perpendicular walls for miles on either side of the very steep trail which led to the Navaho country. This crossing point was held by the hostiles and their fire covered every foot of the trail, descending and ascending.
"Colonel Evans and his troops rode up and quickly dismounted about three hundred yards from the brink of the canon. Chaffee reported to him, outlined the situation, and started to suggest some dispositions of the troops. Evans stopped him ; told him to dispose of the troops as he saw best and gave him full control, saying that he, Chaffee, had located the Indians and it was his fight.
"This was one of the most unselfish actions of relinquishing command that ever came to my notice during a long career in the army ; because, mind you, Chaffee was not only Evans' junior (a captain) but also belonged to another cavalry regiment, the Sixth, while Colonel Evans belonged to the Third, and there is always rivalry for honors between regiments so thrown together.
"Chaffee got busy at once ; ordered Kramer and Cruse with Troop E, Sixth Cavalry, his (Chaffee's) own troop, Sixth Cavalry, commanded by Lieutenant Frank West, and part of the Indian scouts under Sieber to go cautiously to the right of the trail and cross where possible about a mile to the east. When the far side of the canon had been gained they were to form for attack and close in on the main trail. Converse and his troop were told to keep up a heavy fire across the chasm. Troop K, Sixth Cavalry, Captain L. A. Abbott and Lieutenant F. G. Hodgson ; Troop E, Third Cavalry, Lieutenants F. H. Hardie and F. C. (Friday) Johnson, and the remainder of the Indian scouts under Lieutenant George H. Morgan, Third Cavalry, were sent across the canon to the west and then to move east.
" A small group from each troop was left with the pack-trains and led horses to protect them from surprise should any of the hostiles succeed in gaining our side of the canon unperceived.
"These movements began about three o'clock in the afternoon and the sun was shining brightly. As we moved out, we heard that Converse had been shot in the head and was being brought in. I saw him as we passed and rushed up for a second and spoke to him. He said something was the matter with his eye but thought it would soon pass.
"Poor fellow, it has never passed. A 44 calibre bullet had struck a piece of lava rock, split it in two, and one-half had penetrated the eye, wedging itself firmly in the eye socket where, in spite of the ministrations of the noted swung our line in a semicircle toward the Indians' camp, driving the hostiles in front of us and penning them against the edge of the canon.
"By this time, five o 'clock, and the shadows heavy in the dense forest, I found myself in command of the left flank of Troop E, next to the brink of the canon and probably two hundred yards in front of what had been the main camp of the hostiles, indicated only by some scattered blankets, cooking utensils, etc. Sieber was by my side.
"As our line closed in there was a furious burst of fire from the hostiles, causing several casualties among the troops, among others, Lieutenant Morgan, Third Cavalry, who had joined West after his Indian scouts had been left behind the line ; and Sergeant Conn, Troop E, Sixth. As the line advanced from tree to tree, Morgan had chances to fire at hostiles several times and finally dropped one. Elated over his success he called out, "I got him." In doing this he exposed his position to another Indian in the same nest who thereupon fired and got Morgan through the arm, into the side and apparently through both lungs. The soldiers got the Indian.
"We thought sure that Morgan would die that night but he is still living and in good health, a colonel on the retired list. The surgeon (Dr.—later Colonel Ewing) found that when the bullet broke the arm bone its force was so lessened that it did not break the rib, as from the hole made we supposed it had, but slid around it under the skin and lodged in the muscles of the back, where it was finally dug out and presented to Morgan.
"Sergeant Conn was a character in the Sixth Cavalry and had been with the regiment for about twenty years. The bullet hit him full in the throat, made a ghastly hole, pushed aside the jugular vein (so the surgeon claimed), grazed the vertebra and passed out, leaving a hole as big as a silver dollar ; all this in the neck that wore a number thirteen collar.
"In the meantime I had pushed forward with Sieber, whom I saw kill three hostiles as they were creeping to the edge of the canon to drop over. He would say, "There he goes," then bang would go his rifle. The Indian that I had never seen, strain my eyes as I might, would, when hit throw up his arms as if trying to seize some support, then under the impetus of his rush, plunge forward on his head and roll over several times. One, shot near the brink, plunged clear over and it seemed to me kept falling for ten minutes.
"It was now about five-thirty and getting dusk ; only about seventy-five yards and a little ravine some seven feet deep separated me and my men from the Indians in the camp. I knew that unless the camp was taken pretty quick the Indians would escape under cover of darkness, so I resolved to cross the ravine and take it. I told Sieber that I was going to do it, and much to my surprise he hastily remonstrated.
'Don't you do it, Lieutenant ; don't you do it ; there are lots of Indians over there and they will get you sure.' " 'Why, Al, you have killed every one of them,' " I replied, and instructed my men what to do. They were to rush forward to the ravine, halt under cover, then, when ordered, were to advance at a run into the camp with some cartridges in hand, guns loaded. We did just that and had no casualties, due, I think, to the fact that Captain Kramer's men and Sieber smothered the hostiles with their fire.
"As we rushed forward on the other side of the ravine I soon discovered that, as Sieber had said, there were lots of Indians there, and we had business on our hands. But I had with me Sergeant Horan, Sergeant Martin, and six or eight other old-timers whom such things did not disconcert in the least. Things were going slap-bang when suddenly not over six feet away was an Indian with his gun leveled directly at me. It seemed he could not miss, so raising my gun, I stood awaiting the shock of the bullet. He was nervous and jerked the trigger sufficiently to barely miss me and hit a young Scotchman, McLellan, just to my left, and probably a foot in the rear. McLellan fell, I fired and threw myself to the ground.
"Sieber, Captain Kramer and several others saw me go down and thought for sure I had been hit. I found I was not but saw McLellan lying almost beside me and asked if he was hit ; he replied, 'Yes, sir, through the arm ; I think it is broken.'
"I told him to lie quietly, and we would get back to the ravine. In a lull, I rose up and found he was unconscious ; dragged him back about twenty feet where the slope protected us ; rested a little, then back a little farther. Finally Sergeant Horan and myself got him to the bottom of the ravine.
"In going back with McLellan, Abbott's men saw several hostiles rise up to fire, whom they had not seen before. Every man in the line turned loose on them, not knowing that I was in their direct line of fire at two hundred yards distance, and the way the air was filled with bullets showed that they were coming close inside their target. Several pieces of gravel and small fragments of rock or lead struck me in the face, making it bleed. I was sure that I was hit and would soon collapse. Kramer's men swarmed into the hostiles but darkness soon came on and the fight was over.
"I grabbed some blankets from the Indian camp and made a nice bed for McLellan, but the bullet had smashed his rib and gone through both lungs. He passed away quietly about an hour later."
This concludes General Cruse 's statement
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Second Lieutenant Thomas Cruse, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 17 July 1882, while serving with 6th U.S. Cavalry, in action at Big Dry Fork, Arizona Territory. Second Lieutenant Cruse gallantly charged hostile Indians, and with his carbine compelled a party of them to keep under cover of their breastworks, thus being enabled to recover a severely wounded soldier.
Gravesite of Pvt. Joseph McLernon Battle of Big Dry Wash July 17, 1882
The Monument to commemerate the Battle of the Big Dry Wash
(By WILL C BARNES) w/ deletions and additions.