Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

The Wickenburg Massacre

The 1937 stone structure commemorating the ambush of the Ehrenburg-Wickenburg Stage in 1871.

The 1937 stone structure commemorating the ambush of the Ehrenburg-Wickenburg Stage in 1871.

I was surprised to find this plaque at the end of an outing in the Mighty Furd, one that led me down some Jeep trails narrow enough to scrape its paint with thorns as it lumbered onward through open range. I had that weird sensation of history as I picked my path, and was considering how difficult it would be to prod a loaded wagon from one tiny encampment to another in the West’s early days. Winding up and down from hill to eroded wash mile after mile, would be quite the adventure. Then my surprise at finding this memorial after returning to pavement made me realize that the threats to travel were not limited to terrain at that time.

The plaque reads: "Wickenburg Massacre - In this vicinity Nov, 5, 1871, Wickenburg-Ehrensburg Stage ambushed by Apache Mohave Indians. John Lanz - Fred W. Loring - P.M.Hamel - W.G.Salmon - Frederick Shoholm and C.S. Adams were murdered. Mollie Sheppard died of wounds. Arizona Highway Department 1937."

The plaque reads: “Wickenburg Massacre – In this vicinity Nov, 5, 1871, Wickenburg-Ehrensburg Stage ambushed by Apache Mohave Indians. John Lanz – Fred W. Loring – P.M.Hamel – W.G.Salmon – Frederick Shoholm and C.S. Adams were murdered. Mollie Sheppard died of wounds. Arizona Highway Department 1937.”

Doing some research, I found that this tragedy was more complex and was backgrounded with yet more tragedy than I cared to consider. This particular attack received national attention because a young

Boston writer of some rising promise had been in that stagecoach, and was gunned down unarmed. The ambush ultimately led to the Yavapai Indians being uprooted and forced to march from their Date Creek reservation to another one 180 miles south in the winter, resulting in about 100 deaths. The Yavapai were until recently referred to as Apache-Mohave from outright error on the part of the victors, yet the Yavapai were not a unified tribe as such. Simply indigenous natives with a common language, they were divided into five geographical areas at the time, and considered themselves separate peoples. Each division was still not so much a tribe as groups of extended families, since the terrain could not support anything larger. In identifying them, whites simply lumped them in with surrounding tribes and called them Mohave-Apache, Yuma-Apache, and Tonto-Apache. To the whites, they were simply location-based Apaches.

Unsurprisingly, the incursion of whites into their domains and then their reservations – with the complicity of Indian Agents to reap the benefits – caused no end of sporadic trouble on both sides. At one point, with hostilities tapering off, the Federal Government began reducing funds for pacifying and controlling hostile tribes, so the merchants earning Federal funds around Tucson by distributing “Blankets for Peace” to Apaches feared an end to their livelihood. In early 1871, locals allegedly staged several mock Indian raids on isolated Indian settlements to bolster public support that hostile action was still needed to quell the violence, and to regain funding. Taking no middle ground, local papers at the time recommended that the best solution to the sporadic murders of whites was to simply shoot on sight any male Indian who looked old enough to be able to carry a rifle.

I should point out that this was no insane, one-off wish by a few crazed locals. Early governors of the pre-revolutionary Colonies offered very generous bounties on the scalps of Indians of any age or sex, in order to make their complete eradication from that area more efficient. The French and British had long before motivated, armed and used Native American (in Canada, First Nation) tribes against each other’s forces and inhabitants, as well as against their own historic tribal enemies who just happened to be in league with the other side. Following the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the British, who had won control of Canada and points south, continued to arm and encourage tribes to attack American encroachment from Ohio all the way to the West coast, even after they had ceded the Oregon Territory to the United States. Given the long record of violence on both sides, the innate hostility between white Americans and natives was hardly a simple case of racial hatred or bigotry. It was also the natural and normal result of getting someone else to fight your wars for you. An appropriate term in current use is blowback. Butchery is seldom forgiven and forgotten, and the overwhelming flood of whites into tribal lands, as well as the wanton depredation of their food sources, did nothing to ease the situation.

Back in Arizona on April 28, 1871, two locals gathered to form a Committee of Public Safety and armed six Americans, 48 Mexicans, and 92 O’odham (a competing tribe) to march to a settlement of Apaches in Aravaipa Canyon. They turned the O’odham loose on the camp at dawn two days later, with the Americans and Mexicans picking off any Apaches trying to escape. Since most of the adult males in the settlement were off in the mountains hunting, just eight adult males were killed, the 136 remaining women and children being murdered and mutilated, nearly all of them scalped. The twenty-nine lucky children captured intact were sold into slavery in Mexico by both the O’odham and the Mexicans. One woman was found still alive during a later military search for any surviving wounded. In the aftermath, many of the Arizona locals considered the massacre to be justifiable homicide, while Easterners saw the slaughter of unarmed women and children as a criminal act. Under threat of martial law being imposed by President Grant, a criminal trial of 100 of the assailants on 108 counts of murder was held in Tucson, and the jury stalled for a discrete 19 minutes before finding them not guilty.

So, given the proximity to all of the recent events in the area, the attack on the ill-fated Wickenburg stagecoach later in November of that same year should not be that surprising. Did the 15 Yavapai renegades do it? Probably. Yet there is compelling evidence that the attack was another mock Indian attack staged by Mexicans bandits, but too many questions remained about the conflicting clues at the murder scene, the accuracy of the survivor’s statements as to identification, and the determined General who made an on-again, off again pursuit under orders. Most Apaches left their ancestral homeland farms near Tucson to gather for safety as a result of the Aravaipa Canyon slaughter, never to be able to reclaim them from the settlers who moved in and took over. A few Apaches joined with Yavapais in Tonto Basin to conduct a guerilla war lasting until 1875. That the Apaches and Yavapais murdered white settlers and travelers is indisputable. That they were lied to, tricked, deceived, cheated, starved and murdered is also beyond dispute.

It was fashionable yesterday to consider Indians as mindless, murdering redskins who could not be reasoned with, and who must be shot off their horses in order for innocents to be saved. It stayed that way pretty much until the film Hombre in 1967 and Little Big Man in 1970, films which were just as “revisionist history” as the former, but taking the opposite tack. It is fashionable today to consider Native Americans as hapless victims of the white man’s surge of incessant greed. One might wonder now at the nearly uniform outlook of earlier times that “Manifest Destiny” justified our slowly taking over the entire continent in the manner in which we did, without apology or second thought. I have not often found that basic attitude more carefully expressed (in 100% religion-free terms) than by noted author and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982) in Ayn Rand Answers, a book assembled and published in 2005 from her many speeches and public conversations, this transcription being from a 1974 Q&A period at West Point Military Academy:

“Now, I don’t care to discuss the alleged complaints American Indians have against this country. I believe, with good reason, the most unsympathetic Hollywood portrayal of Indians and what they did to the white man. They had no right to a country merely because they were born here and then acted like savages. The white man did not conquer this country. And you’re a racist if you object, because it means you believe that certain men are entitled to something because of their race. You believe that if someone is born in a magnificent country and doesn’t know what to do with it, he still has a property right to it. He does not. Since the Indians did not have the concept of property or property rights–they didn’t have a settled society, they had predominantly nomadic tribal “cultures”–they didn’t have rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights that they had not conceived of and were not using. It’s wrong to attack a country that respects (or even tries to respect) individual rights. If you do, you’re an aggressor and are morally wrong. But if a “country” does not protect rights–if a group of tribesmen are the slaves of their tribal chief–why should you respect the “rights” that they don’t have or respect? The same is true for a dictatorship. The citizens in it have individual rights, but the country has no rights and so anyone has the right to invade it, because rights are not recognized in that country; and no individual or country can have its cake and eat it too–that is, you can’t claim one should respect the “rights” of Indians, when they had no concept of rights and no respect for rights. But let’s suppose they were all beautifully innocent savages–which they certainly were not. What were they fighting for, in opposing the white man on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence; for their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched–to keep everybody out so they could live like animals or cavemen. Any European who brought with him an element of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it’s great that some of them did. The racist Indians today–those who condemn America–do not respect individual rights.”

Amazing, isn’t it? In her world, perceived innate superiority justifies much, and we simply cleared away the marginally-human Neanderthals needlessly taking up space. This is also the core thinking behind applied eugenics, a movement which gained much traction during her formative years, and which reached its zenith during World War Two. Still more amazing is the reverence that many self-styled intellectuals, philosophers and counter-cultural artistes hold for her today, since this is a core moral issue that colors everything above it. In her own day, Ayn Rand was dismissed as a philosophical lightweight, a self-styled provocateur who purposely basked in the enlivening glow of controversy. But she had found the secret of getting her name out there, and pumped that handle for all it was worth. It is telling, I think, that her philosophies are more warmly embraced today than they were during her lifetime. It says something about which way a piece of our own culture is drifting.

In many ways, I’m still idling along in out-of-fashion thinking. I have my biases, mostly formed by personal experiences within the lifetime that I have lived. Regarding indigenous Americans as murderous redskins isn’t one of them, but that they deserved better is not a new, modern concept either. There were many individuals on both sides in those times who spoke out for peace, rights, coexistence, fairness, integrity and respect. I think it all boils down to how you prefer to view people who are not like you, and who do not share your values, outlooks or practices. I am speaking in generalities, of course. If they have what you want, or you perceive that they threaten to stand between you and what you want, then how you perceive them makes all the difference. That’s how political movements gain the spotlight and momentum, how war is motivated and exploited, and how things like The Final Solution manage to be placed on the table as a “regrettable but necessary” option. Whether someone is our fellow man or “one of them” is in the mind of the beholder, and it ain’t always pretty. When it comes down to “sheeple” vs “losers” or any other “us” vs “them” terms, we really can’t claim today to be enlightened, morally superior beings over those ignorant and bigoted dullards of yesteryear. Same product, new packaging.

What we really need to advance beyond what we are will not come through further eons of evolution, nor through enlightenment, intellectual thought, new programs, education, technological modernization, nor engineered alterations to our DNA (a kissin’ cousin of eugenics and its more action-oriented siblings, forced sterilization and genocide). Any advance can come only through a change in heart and mind, here and now, which is prompted and empowered by something quite beyond ourselves and our own natures. I consider that it cannot be grasped or attained, but only received, much like a gift. A heart embittered by adversity cannot receive it, while one softened by adversity has the advantage. The lust for revenge is not the same as the desire for what is just or fair.

There is such a thing as destiny, a predictable future for each of us which is based upon the natural and normal results of our usual thinking, behavior and actions. In the end, we get what we pursue regardless of whether we grasp the full implications of all that may inherently come right along with it. We innately pursue what we want, and reap both the intended and unintended consequences. A superior acquaintance with the unintended is why most of our parents tried (in vain) to protect us from ourselves. Our utter inability to perceive nor care about ultimate consequences to ourselves and those around us causes what has literally been no end of trouble.

The Wickenburg massacre, what preceded it and what followed it clearly represent the most-followed paths of thought and action, and the most common heart condition. It is a pretty plain indicator that we as individuals need changes of heart, because not much has altered since then, except perhaps on paper, here and there. I hold that the world is as it is, not because of some uncaring celestial entity, but because we have made it so, step by step along the same parallel paths. There is little debate that what is needed are traits that we obviously do not inherently possess as a species. Some are willing to hope for a slow evolutionary adaptation, one which is somehow willing to trade in the original survival instinct for one geared for more harmonious social relationships. Given the comparative growth rates between weaponry and evolutionary change, that takes considerably more faith than I can muster. I hold that although we cannot change ourselves, we can be changed, but that gets into another topic for another post.

So, I suppose that my executive summary for the Wickenburg Massacre plaque is that, as with most events, there is a much larger context surrounding it. To pull this cruel tragedy out of that backdrop distorts it into a freestanding event that seemingly has no rhyme or reason. That makes it a justification and a go-ahead for us to do whatever we have it in our hearts to do: what we’ve wanted to do all along. One more step.

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4 thoughts on “The Wickenburg Massacre

  1. Nice writeup, I enjoyed it.

  2. Deep thoughts – well done!

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