HISTORY OF TENURE AND DEVELOPMENT
History of Tenure and Development Until 1933
"In that country which lies around the headwaters of the Gila River I was reared. This range was our fatherland; among these mountains our wigwams were hidden; the scattered valleys contained our fields; the boundless prairies, stretching away on every side, were our pastures; the rocky caverns were our burying places."--Geronimo. 
Not a single map records an Apache name for any place on the headwaters of the Gila River, which for at least 250 years was their domain: these names were lost when the land was lost. Apache words for the narrow beautiful place now called Cliff Dweller Canyon are no longer remembered, and the Apache presence is recorded only by a pictograph, drawn in characteristic thin black lines, a few sherds of pottery lying on two ledges, and a burial that has been vandalized.  These meager, even melancholic, artifacts give not the slightest hint of the fierce dominion Apaches once wielded over the Spanish borderlands, raiding throughout what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Chihuahua, and Sonora.
The word Apache appears to be a Spanish corruption of the Zuni word Apachu that means enemy and that reveals an early local assessment of these Athapaskan-speaking hunters who had drifted down the continent from what is now the interior of Alaska and northwestern Canada.  The duration of this migration is debated, but linguistic studies suggest that the Apaches arrived in the American Southwest around A.D.1400 although there is no archeological evidence to confirm this date.  The first historical reference to a people that may have been Apache occurs in the journals of Pedro de Castenada, who accompanied Coronado on his expedition up the Rio Grande in 1540, searching for the seven golden cities of Cibola. 
In 1628, while ministering in San Antonio de la Senacu, not far from the present Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, the traveling Franciscan cleric Fray Alonso de Benavides encountered a few visitors whom he specifically identified as Apaches del Xila from west of the Rio del Norte (Rio Grande).  The name of these people eventually appeared on a map published in 1650 by Nicolas Sanson d'Abbeville and with a slight drift to the south remained on maps for the next two hundred years.  These people and Apaches in general, according to Alonso de Benavides, were a fierce people of superior intelligence with a marked aversion to lying, and there were a lot of them, enough to completely surround New Mexico and to commonly field armies of 30,000. Undoubtedly the Franciscan was wrong about the numbers, but the error probably reflects local concern about Apache potential for havoc.
Twelve years after the Great Pueblo Revolt in 1680, Gila Apaches were raiding Nuevo Vizcaya (present-day Chihuahua and Durango) from the north, beginning centuries of conflict.  These raids could be devastating. In the years 1771-1776, for example, 1,674 Spaniards were killed, 154 were captured, 100 ranches were abandoned, and 68,000 livestock animals were stolen.  Large retaliatory expeditions were launched into the headwaters of the Gila by the Spanish military, starting in 1747  and continuing at intervals almost for the next 40 years, but these expeditions were little deterrence to a people that dispersed quickly in the mountains, lived off the land, and favored guerrilla tactics.
Despite hostilities, some Gila Apaches made occasional peaceful visits to the Spanish frontier settlements.  These visits suggest the curious nature of conflict waged by a culture of roving, loosely affiliated bands that raided for booty, revenge, or personal status and not for conquest: an Apache band could be raiding one settlement and at peace and trading with another. Stolen livestock was the most common Apache trade commodity, and the preferred coin of exchange was liquor and arms.  Naturally, these trades could be volatile, but they were sufficiently lucrative that dread Apaches who came to sell horses could for the occasion be eagerly received. The ambiguities of the Apache system of conflict and intermittent or partial peace endlessly complicated, confused, and embittered relations between Apaches on the one hand and Spaniards, Mexicans, and finally Americans on the other.
Although retaliatory expeditions by the Spanish military were largely failures, they did provide opportunities to explore Apacheria. In 1756 and the following year as well, Father Bartolome Saenz accompanied two military forays around the upper Gila River, and he reported on the country to his Jesuit superior in Mexico City, noting good mission sites, commenting on the biota, and making observations about the Apache way of life.  Along the Gila at Todos Santos (near the present town of Gila), he also observed pueblo sites, which he correctly inferred to be ancient. Saenz was the first man to record the presence of prehistoric ruins on the upper Gila River. Narrow geography and boulder-strewn water discouraged the mounted expedition from ascending the river past Turkey Creek to the more remote country where Gila Cliff Dwellings lay.
Apaches blocked northern expansion by the Spanish Empire, and by the last decades of the eighteenth century the Spaniards tacitly acquiesced to this state of affairs. In 1786, Bernardo de Galvez, the new viceroy of Mexico and a former campaigner against Apaches, advocated a new approach to peace on the frontier: regular rations for good behavior by Apaches, vigorous and timely punishment for hostile acts, and a diplomacy calculated to quietly disrupt Native American alliances.  By the 1790s some Gila Apaches began to settle on reserves around frontier presidios like Janos, and for the next forty years raiding subsided into an uneasy peace. Even unpacified bands ranging on the headwaters of the Gila River more or less respected the accommodation. 
After independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico continued the same Apache policies. The new country radically changed another border policy, however, welcoming previously proscribed trade with Americans, and long ox-drawn caravans between Independence, Missouri, and Santa Fe soon began wearing ruts into the prairie. With the traders came fur-trappers, pursuing beaver in the untapped streams and tributaries of the Rio Grande, the Gila, and the Colorado.
Among the first on the Gila was a party of trappers that included Sylvester Pattie and his son James Ohio Pattie.  In 1825 the Americans stopped for one night at the Santa Rita mines, a fortified outpost built in 1804 to exploit well-known copper deposits.  On the Gila River the trapping party split up. Young Pattie and a companion ascended the river "sometimes on our hands and knees, through a thick tangle of grape-vines and under-brush" in dread of bears.  They passed the Gila Hot Springs, clambering finally two days along the West Fork before crossing over to the Middle Fork and descending the river to where Sylvester Pattie waited. If he saw cliff dwellings, James Ohio Pattie did not record them in his journal, but he did observe that there were not "beaver enough to recompense us for our trouble." 
A year later, four different bands of American trappers, numbering almost 100 men, also launched expeditions on the Gila River,  and until 1838, when the mines were abandoned because of flooding shafts and renewed Apache hostility,  Santa Rita became a well-known stop for men like Bill Williams, Michael Robidoux, Ewing Young, Kit Carson, and James Kirker. These trappers, who usually travelled in large groups, were intent on snaring beaver and watching for Apaches, and there is no record that they noticed prehistoric ruins.
In 1831, after 40 or so years of relative peace, the Mexican government ended the regular supply of rations to Apaches--as an economy--and raiding recommenced in earnest.  Despite a brief peace negotiated at Santa Rita in 1832, events spiraled into increasing viciousness, culminating with Sonora's renewed offer in 1835 of bounties for Apache scalps. A year after the abandonment of Santa Rita in 1838, the state of Chihuahua also started a bounty on scalps and contracted with James Kirker, who eventually earned 25,000 pesos on this contract and later claimed to have killed 487 Apaches during his entire career.  An account by George Ruxton who was traveling through Chihuahua in 1845 describes the celebration of a Kirker victory: "...with scalps carried on poles, Kirker's party entered Chihuahua [city]--in procession, headed by the governor and priests, with bands of music escorting them in triumph to the town."  The Apaches, of course, had their own program of revenge and counter-revenge, and the country drained by the headwaters of the Gila River, became an excellent place to avoid.
American soldiers entered this bloody scene in 1846, during the Mexican-American War. In October of that year, Kit Carson guided Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny and his troops through the Mimbres Mountains on their way to complete the conquest of California. Accompanying Kearny was Lt. William H. Emory, who in 1844 had constructed--often from inaccurate sources--a master map of the Southwest for the Army Topographical Engineers.  Emory was now able to survey with instruments the path of Kearny's expedition, observations that contributed to his development of another map, which became the standard reference for years. This map was published first in 1851 with the bold words Unexplored Territory across a void on the paper that corresponded to the headwaters of the Gila. 
Reporting on his work under Kearny, Lieutenant Emory also included some observations about the ruins at Pecos, Casa Grande on the lower Gila, and other sites along the same river, beginning "almost singlehandedly...the study of Southwestern archaeology." 
At the close of the Mexican-American War, under terms of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded nearly half its territory to the United States, including the unpacified lands of Apacheria that contained Gila Cliff Dwellings. The discovery of gold that same year in California encouraged men to travel across the southern edge of the Apache lands, but it was acknowledged "exceedingly hazardous for any but large parties to attempt to pass through their country...." 
Over the next ten years, gradual and cautious encroachment by Americans only tattered the edges of Apacheria, and a moderate peace was negotiated. In 1860, however, a gold strike at Pinos Altos sent 700 miners swarming into mountains above Santa Rita, and the peace unraveled in a series of reprisals for stolen stock, dead Apaches, and the egregious public whipping of Mangas Coloradas, a leader of legendary ferocity. The advent of the Civil War, which preoccupied the western garrisons and siphoned troops to the east, and the cessation of the Butterfield Overland Stage line emboldened the Apaches, who drove the settlers out of the Mimbres Valley and effectively closed the mines at Pinos Altos and around Santa Rita. In 1862, following the expulsion of Confederate forces from New Mexico, Brevet Brig. Gen. James Henry Carleton launched a campaign of extermination against the Apaches that lasted beyond his own transfer to Texas in late 1866. 
Eventually the Apaches tired. Mangas Colorado was killed under a white flag, and by 1870 even the notorious but aging Cochise was negotiating for peace with the observation that "although [his people] had killed many whites, they had lost many braves so that now he had more women and children to provide for than with a war he could protect, that he desired peace, would talk straight...."  The site of these negotiations was Ojo Caliente, on the east side of the Black Range and just upstream from Canada Alamosa, a Mexican settlement and an outpost of Fort MacRae.  Ojo Caliente quickly evolved as an informal reservation, and within a year 1,000 Apaches were drawing rations there.  In the mid-1850s American authorities had sought to establish reservations for reluctant Apaches on the Mimbres River, and plans in 1860 to set aside 225 square miles around Santa Lucia and the Gila River had dissipated in the hot winds of war. In 1870, the year silver was struck west of Santa Rita, the development of suitable reservations for the Apaches became policy, and the Southwest was made many times safer for settlers--at the expense of Apache rights.
Canada Alamosa was only briefly a reservation, in part because Cochise refused to settle there. In 1872, he received a reservation in the Chiricahua Mountains, and the Mimbrenos were allotted a reservation along the Tularosa River, in unsettled country and far from the whiskey traders at Canada Alamosa. Disliked by the Mimbrenos and expensive to supply from the Rio Grande, Fort Tularosa was closed in 1874, and the Apaches were moved back to Ojo Caliente. Shortly afterwards, the United States government began a policy of closing smaller reservations in order to concentrate Apaches in one place. Within three years all Apaches west of the Rio Grande had been moved to the low country around San Carlos, Arizona.
In September 1877, however, Victorio, a powerful and discontented Mimbreno leader, stole horses from White Mountain Apaches and fled with his band towards the malpais below Fort Wingate. Although he surrendered shortly afterwards, Victorio refused to return to San Carlos, and his rebellion inaugurated nearly a decade of breakouts from that notorious reservation, deadly raids by broncho or "unpacified" Apaches out of Mexico, and relentless military maneuvers of pursuit. In 1880, Victorio was killed in Mexico, but as late as 1885, despite encirclement by mining and farming communities, the Gila headwaters were still remote enough to hide a few non-reservation Indians, who discouraged settlers.
Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001