Captured by the Navajos
BY THE NAVAJOS
CAPTAIN CHARLES A. CURTIS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1904, by Harper & Brothers.
|"EVERY ONE HELD HIS RIFLE IN READINESS TOSHOOT THE ESCAPING APACHES"||Frontispiece|
|"MOUNTED, THE BOYS PRESENTED A WARLIKEAPPEARANCE"||Facing p.||88|
|"CORPORAL HENRY ASKED CAPTAIN BAYARD TOINQUIRE FOR MANUEL PEREA"||"||122|
|"'GOD HAS GIVEN ME AMONG MANY FRIENDS,TWO THAT ARE SOMETHING MORE'"||"||154|
INTRODUCES THE BOYS
It was late in the fall of the second year of the civil war that Irejoined my company at Santa Fé, New Mexico, from detached service inthe Army of the Potomac. The boom of the sunrise gun awoke me on themorning after my arrival, and I hastened to attend reveille roll-call.As I descended the steps of the officers' quarters the men of the fourcompanies composing the garrison were forming into line before theirbarracks. Details from the guard, which had just fired the gun andhoisted the national colors, were returning to the guard-house, andthe officers were hastening to their places.
At the conclusion of the ceremony I turned again towards my quarters,and noticed two handsome boys, evidently aged about fifteen andthirteen, dressed in a modification of the infantry uniform of thearmy, and wearing corporals' chevrons. They stood near the regimentaladjutant, and seemed to be reporting their presence to him.
At breakfast, the adjutant chancing to sit near me, I asked him whothe youthful soldiers were.
"They are the sons of Lieutenant-Colonel Burton, Corporals Frank andHenry," he replied. "They hold honorary rank, and are attached tohead-quarters, acting as messengers and performing some light clericalwork."
"How do they happen to be in Santa Fé?"
"Mother recently died in the East, and the colonel had them sent herein charge of a tutor who is to fit them for college, I believe."
Later, on the same day, being desirous of looking over this ancientIndian and Mexican town, I was making a pedestrian tour of itsstreets, and chanced to be opposite San Miguel School in the easternsection during the pupils' recess. Half a dozen boys were engaged inthrowing the lasso over the posts of the enclosing fence, whensuddenly from a side street appeared the young corporals whom I hadseen at reveille.
The Mexican boys instantly greeted them with derisive shouts andjeers. They called them little Gringos and other opprobrious names,and one young Mexican threw the loop of his lasso over the smallercorporal's head and jerked him off his feet. His companions laughedloudly. The older corporal instantly pulled out his knife and cut therope. Then the two brothers stood shoulder to shoulder, facing thecrowd, quite ready to defend themselves. The young Mexicans,gesticulating and shouting, crowded round the two brothers, and blowsappeared imminent.
"Muchachos," suddenly cried a ringing voice from the rear, in Spanish,"are you not ashamed? A hundred against two!"
A handsome lad forced his way through the crowd, placed himself besidethe two corporals, and faced his young countrymen. Before the Mexicansrecovered from their surprise the bell of San Miguel summoned them toschool. They hurried away, leaving the two corporals with the youngMexican who had come to their assistance.
"My name is Frank Burton," said the older corporal, extending hishand to the Mexican, "and this is my brother, Henry."
The Mexican boy grasped the proffered hand, and said, "My name isManuel Perea, of Algodones."
"We are the sons of the commanding officer at the fort. Can't you comeand see us next holiday?"
"I should much like to; I will ask the fathers if I may."
"Come over, and we will try to make your visit pleasant."
"How well you speak Spanish! It will be a great pleasure to visitAmerican boys who can speak my language, for I know but few Englishwords."
"Next Saturday, then?"
"At ten o'clock, if the padres consent. Good-bye," and Manueldisappeared into the school-room.
The following Saturday I saw the two corporals and their newlyacquired companion at the post and at dinner in the mess-room, and afriendship was then formed which was to continue for many years.
One evening, nearly a month afterwards, I received an order to marchmy company into the Jemez Mountains to co-operate with other detachedcommands in a war being carried on against the Navajo Indians. Just asI had laid aside the order after reading it, Colonel Burton entered,and, taking a seat by my fireside, announced that he had been orderedon detached service to northern Colorado, on a tour of inspection,which would require him to be absent for a considerable period, andthat he had been thinking of allowing his sons to accompany me to mycamp at Los Valles Grandes.
"The hunting and fishing are fine in those valleys, and Frank andHenry would enjoy life there very much," he said. "They have done sowell in their studies that they deserve a well-earned recreation."
"I should much like to have their company, sir," I replied, "but wouldit not be exposing them to great danger from the Indians?"
"The officer whom you are to relieve has been in the valleys nearly ayear, and he reports that he has not seen a Navajo in all that time.Of course, it may be your fortune to meet them, but I do not thinkso. If you do, then the boys must give a good account of themselves.In any engagement that involves the whole command they must not forgetthey are the sons of a soldier. Still, I do not want them needlesslyexposed. You are quite sure it will give you no trouble to take them?"
"Few things could afford me greater pleasure on such isolated duty,sir. They will be good company for me."
"Thank you for your kindness. The lads will report to you to-morrowmorning. I will see that they are properly fitted out, and will writeyou now and then during my absence, and as soon as I return to SantaFé they can be sent back."
Colonel Burton then took his departure, and I turned to a localhistory to learn from its pages something of the tribe with which Imight be brought in contact.
The home of the Navajos lay between the Rio Grande del Norte on theeast, the Rio Colorado on the west, the Rio San Juan on the north, andthe Rio Colorado Chiquito on the south, but from time immemorial theyhad roamed a considerable distance beyond these borders.
They had always been known as a pastoral race, raising flocks andherds, and tilling the soil. They owned, at the time we began war uponthem, sheep and ponies by the thousand, and raised large quantities ofcorn, wheat, beans, and other products.
They numbered between twelve and fifteen thousand, and could put threethousand mounted warriors in the field. They were industrious, the mendoing all the hard work instead of putting it upon the women, as dothe Indians of the plains and all of the marauding tribes. Theymanufactured their wearing apparel, and made their own weapons, suchas bows, arrows, and lances. They wove beautiful blankets, often verycostly, and knit woollen stockings, and dressed in greater comfortthan did most other tribes. In addition to a somewhat brilliantcostume, they wore numerous strings of fine coral, shells, and manyornaments of silver, and usually appeared in cool weather with ahandsome blanket thrown over the shoulders.
The Navajos and the New Mexicans were almost continually at war.Expeditions were frequently fitted out in the border towns by theclass of New Mexicans who possessed no land or stock, for the solepurpose of capturing the flocks and herds of the Navajos. The Indiansretaliated in kind, making raids upon the settlements and pasturelands, and driving off sheep, horses, and cattle to the mountains.Complaints were made by the property-holders, and war was declaredagainst the Indians.
The military department of New Mexico was in fine condition to carryon a successful war. Besides our regiment of regular infantry, it hadtwo regiments of California volunteer infantry and one regiment eachof California and New Mexican cavalry.
The Navajo upon the war-path was terribly in earnest, and his methodsof waging war were like those of the redman everywhere. With theknowledge that the American soldier was an ally of his old-time enemy,and that the Mexican was wearing the uniform of the "Great Father," heno longer hesitated to look upon us as his enemies also, and resolvedto combat us up to the very walls of our posts.
No road in the Territory was safe to the traveller; no train daredmove without an escort. Towns were raided, and women and childrencarried into captivity. Frightful cases of mutilation and torture wereconstantly occurring in the mountain fastnesses. Troops took thefield, and prosecuted with vigilance a war in which there was littleglory and plenty of suffering and hard service.
Every band of Indians captured was taken to the Bosque Rodondo, on theRio Pecos, where a large fort had been established. It was occupied bya strong garrison of infantry and cavalry.
I had found social life in Santa Fé very pleasant during my brief staythere, so I was not overjoyed when I received the order to march mycompany to Los Valles Grandes, there to relieve the California companyalready referred to. But the order being peremptory, we packed ourbaggage during the first hours of the night, and were on the road soonafter daybreak.
It was the 3d of October when the boy corporals and myself, mounted onsturdy Mexican ponies, rode out of Fort Marcy for our new station, onehundred miles due west. The regimental band escorted the companythrough the plaza and for a mile on our way, playing, afterimmemorial custom, "The Girl I Left Behind Me," and adding, I thoughtwith a vein of irony, "Ain't Ye Glad You've Got Out th' Wilderness?"
On the morning of the 8th, after four days of gradual and constantascent from the valley of the Rio Grande, which we had forded at SanIldefonso, we began