APACHES MADE WAR
OFFICER OBERLY, OF BROOKLYN, TELLS WHAT HE KNOWS ABOUT IT.
It was all owing, he declares, to the Bad Faith and Blundering Ignorance and
cruelty of a young West Point Cadet - An illustration of Duplicity Which the
Indians Were Not Slow to follow.
Few of the residents of Brooklyn who frequent Carroll Park are unacquainted
with Park Officer Oberly, or "Obe," as he is generally called, but few have
heard of his adventurous life. He is a modest man, who takes particular care of
the erratic youngsters while the pretty nursemaids indulge in a slight
flirtation; but the way he bounces a somnolent tramp is a caution.
A few evenings since a World reporter rambled into the Park and happening to
mention something about the Apache war, Oberly's brown eyes flashed with
indignation as he exclaimed:
"Sir, if it were not for the insensate folly and drunken stupidity of a young
West Point cadet there would never have been an Apache war, I was at the first
outbreak, and I have seen it."
"How is that, Obe?" said the reporter. "What do you know about it?"
"I enlisted at the age of thirteen, on the 25th of May, 1840, and served five
years in the Fourth Artillery, Company A. I was discharged in 1846 and returned
to New York. I did not care for business and reenlisted in the Seventh
Infantry, and joined at Corpus Christi, in Texas, under General Taylor. We went
from there to the Rio Grande, opposite Matamoras. After the battle of Monterey,
when we joined General Scott at Tampico, and thence to Vera Cruz; left Mexico
in 1848 and returned to St. Louis. After that I was sent to Florida on the
Seminole or Billy Bowlegs campaign; left there in 1849, and was sent to the
Indian Nation. In 1858 went to Utah under General Sydney Johnston; thence to
Santa Fe, and afterwards to Fort Buchanan, Arizona, in 1860, and was there when
the Apache war broke out, so I presume to know of what I speak when I say that
outbreak was the result of the outrageous brutality with which the Indians were
treated by men who should have known better. When we arrived there in 1860 the
Apaches were as well behaved and friendly a tribe of Indians as any in the
They were then guarding the Butterfield mail route against the attacks of
roving bands, and acted in good faith. Ka Kreese, their head chief, was a
splendid-looking man. He stood about six feet two, and was powerfully built.
His men were in detachments at each station on the route from Texas to the
confines of California. They would guard the coach from one station to the
next, where they would meet the return and escort it back to their own station,
as so long the entire route."
"At this time I held the rank of Color-Sergeant. Lieut. Col. Morrison, of the
commanded the department, and one day a Mexican ranch-owner, who lived
nearby, came to Fort Buchanan and complained that some Indians had stolen a
herd of ponies and the boy who minded them. He ordered Second Lieutenant Bascom
to take sixty men and go to Ka Kreese's headquarters, at Apache Pass, and have
a talk with him and see if he would be able to get the ponies and the boy back.
He had confidence in him as a friendly Indian and knew he could do better than
the troops could do."
"Bascom was fresh from West Point and totally unfit to deal with the Apaches.
He was well supplied with commissary whiskey, which he used liberally, and when
the Butterfield station in Apache Pass was reached, he sent out poor
Station-Master Wallace, I'll never forget his name, to the Indian village as an
interpreter, to invite the head chief and three or four subordinate chiefs to
come to camp and talk the matter over. Shortly after Ka Kreese, his brother,
four other chiefs, a women and two little boys came into camp. He had dinner
prepared for them, but he had ordered Sergeant Robinson to surround the tent
and capture the Indians as soon as they had sat down, in violation of
every law of honor and hospitality. When the Indians saw the armed soldiers,
with a wild yell Ka Kreese and his brother and another chief cut their way
through with their scalping knives. "Shoot them down", yelled Bascom, but only
the chief's brother was shot through the leg, and, with the rest in the tent,
was taken prisoner. Now bear in mind, these men had done nothing absolutely
wrong, and came into camp on a friendly invitation from Bascom and without fear
"About an hour afterwards Ka Kreese rode up to the top of a peak hard by and
ask to only show his brother and all would be well. Bascom's answer was another
volley. Ka Kreese raised his hand and swore to be revenged. Wallace
remonstrated and pointed out the wrong and said he would be held responsible.
Next day Bascom became scared and said to Wallace he had better go see the
chief and have matters fixed up. Much against his better judgment, Wallace
went, but was never seen again; his actual fate was never discovered and most
probably never will be now. His life probably was the first lost in the Apache
"Bascom became thoroughly unnerved and refused to permit the men to go for
water to a spring one hundred and fifty yards from the corral. All day they lay
there, parching with thirst; at last Robinson, who was a brave man, said:
"Lieutenant, one may better be shot than die of thirst; I will go to the
spring." So he did, and brought back a half a dozen canteens filled with the
precious fluid. Then he took down a mountain burro, or donkey, and brought back
two kegs full. Then Bascom's craven fears were stilled and he ordered the now
thirst maddened animals to be led out to water, and they rushed furiously down
to drink. Like a flash the entire place was filled with Indians. They seemed to
spring from the earth. In a second they had wounded three men and captured
every one of the mules, while the air was rent with their yells, the shouts of
the soldiers, the crack of their rifles as they rushed to the rescue of their
comrades. Robinson was one of the wounded. Sixteen mules only remained. The
wounded were suffering dreadfully, so sixteen men volunteered to return to the
Fort for the Doctor. Next night they muffled the mules' feet in blankets and
stole out of the fatal pass and arrived at Fort Buchanan next afternoon.
The colonel in command sent an express to Fort Breckenridge, where there were
troops of dragoons, which were at once ordered to succor Bascom at Apache
Pass. "The doctor-Irwin was his name-was an Irishman and a splendid
fellow, and at once said his place was with the wounded, and the same
sixteen men started back with him to the pass.
On their way they captured three Indians and a herd of ponies and brought them
to the pass. The dragoons arrived next morning under the command of Lieuts.
Moore and Lord and raised the siege of the corral. They then had as prisoners
the chief's brother, two other chiefs and the three Indians captured with the
ponies. After leaving the pass there is a prairie known as the Round Prairie,
in the center of which stands four oak trees as large as any in Carroll Park.
It is a favorite camping place and the troops stopped to rest. Bascom wanted to
hang the prisoners. Irwin objected and wanted to bring them to the Fort.
Finally a pack of cards was borrowed from a soldier and the fate of the poor
wretches hung on a game of Seven-up, in which the side for mercy was beaten and
the death sentence pronounced. When the prisoners were made aware of their fate
they asked to be shot. This was denied and then they asked for "fire water,"
which was also refused. Men mounted the trees and fastened short-noosed ropes
to the branches. While this was going on the Indians sang their death-song and
"About three months afterwards I started with a train of six wagon-loads of
provisions for Fort McLean with and escort of twenty-four men, a wagonmaster
and eight teamsters, thirty-three in all. When we reached the Round Prairie I
saw where a train of Texas emigrants had been completely destroyed. How many
were killed I know not, but all that remained was the iron-work of the wagons.
I afterwards heard there were about two hundred slain. We got through Apache
Pass without molestation, and camped by Sansamoan Creek, between Apache Pass
and Stein's Peak, about twenty-five miles from Sonora. We stayed there next day
to recruit the mules before crossing a desert of sixty miles without water.
About sundown I was lying under a wagon reading a novel when I was startled by
the well-known Indian yell. The men were resting and the teamsters guarding the
mules. I hallooed to the men, who jumped to their arms. The prairie was
literally alive with Indians. They ran off twenty of my mules and wounded two
teamsters. Several of them fell from our fire, but were carried off by their
comrades and in a short time had disappeared, leaving us to stare at each other
in blank dismay. Next morning I unloaded three of the heaviest wagons and built
a small fort. I asked for eight volunteers to stay and guard the property, and
left them a box of ammunition. There would be at least four days elapse before
relief could be sent to them, and with a heavy heart I started with three
wagons, four mules to each, for Stein's Peak. I left the wounded Mexicans in
camp. We met some troops from Fort McLean, commanded by Lieutenant Plympton, of
the Seventh Infantry. He had under escort a train of fifty two horse wagons of
Texan emigrants on the trail to California. He had orders to escort them
through Apache Pass and then return. I told him how my men were situated. He
said he would leave ten men with them at Sansamoan until his return. I told the
Captain of the Texan train, a lank individual with long hair and a big hat, of
the dangers of the Pass; that the warpath, and he had better return to the
fort. He looked at me superciliously and said, or rather drawled out:
"Stranger, how many men did you come through with?' I told him but
reminded him they were disciplined men, and we had neither women nor children
with us. "Wall, stranger, we have fifty men that fight besides the youngsters,
and if I am put on the other side of Apache Pass I will get to California in
spite of h--l.' Further remonstrance was useless and so we parted. Clinton
remained a night with them on the camping ground on the Round Prairie and then
left for Sansamoan Creek to relieve my men. The Texans remained there until the
next day to recruit their teams-and they never left it. That night the Apaches
attacked the camp and not a soul to tell the fate of over two hundred men,
women and children that composed the train. This occurred within a short
distance of where the formed train had been destroyed."
"The Butterfield mail route was broken up, thousands of lives lost and millions
of dollars spent to remedy the error of a hair-brained cadet of West Point, The
Indians became so bold that three weeks afterwards they drove off forty mules
within sight of Fort McLean and killed the herders, and it is my firm belief
that the Apache War with all it's evils was the direct outcome of Lieutenant
Bascom's outrage. I have always wished that the American public could know the
real cause of the Apache war.
The above is a typed copy of an interview by Colonel M.L. Crimmins, Ret. Box
63, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. This was obtained from the Manuscript collection
of the Arizona Historical Society, Tucson, Arizona.
Written by Arnold Franks
Copyright © 2000 Arnold Franks