The author of this book, Captain John Bourke, served on Crook’s staff for sixteen years between 1870-86. This put him in an ideal position to witness campaigns against the Indian tribes on the Western Plains, waged by the United States Army under the command of a general who was described by Sherman as ‘the greatest Indian fighter the army ever had.’ Bourke proved not only to be an excellent cavalry officer, but also a man with a keen sense of history and a fine talent for observation. As a consequence, this book is regarded as one of the best books of Western history ever published and is now recognised as a classic by those interested in the subject. Bourke takes his readers on iconic campaigns and enables them to share his experience in the company of an eyewitness. Excitingly related here are tales of memorable exploits on the Great Plains and against the Apaches, with famous tribes and great men such as Geronimo, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
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My instructions were not to make any fight, but to keep the Apaches occupied, in case they tried to break out of the trap, and to order all men to shelter themselves to the utmost Major Brown was down with the remainder of the command almost before a shot could be exchanged with the enemy, although there were two more killed either a moment before his arrival or very soon after. One of these was a Pima, one of our own allies, who persisted in disregarding orders, and exposed himself to the enemy’s fire, and was shot through the body and died before he ever knew what had struck him. The other was one of the Apaches who had sneaked down along our right flank, and was making his way out to try to open up communication with another village and get its people to attack us in rear. He counted without his host, and died a victim to his own carelessness; he had climbed to the top of a high rock some distance down the cañon, and there fancied himself safe from our shots, and turned to give a yell of defiance. His figure outlined against the sky was an excellent mark, and there was an excellent shot among us to take full advantage of it.<br>
Blacksmith John Cahill had his rifle in position like a flash, and shot the Indian through the body. At the time of the fight, we did not know that the savage had been killed, although Cahill insisted that he had shot him as described, and as those nearest him believed. The corpse could not be found in the rocks before we left, and therefore was not counted, but the squaws at San Carlos have long since told me that their relative was killed there, and that his remains were found after we had left the neighbourhood.<br>
Brown’s first work was to see that the whole line was impregnable to assault from the beleaguered garrison of the care, and then he directed his interpreters to summon all to an unconditional surrender. The only answer was a shriek of hatred and defiance, threats of what we had to expect, yells of exultation at the thought that not one of us should ever see the light of another day, but should furnish a banquet for the crows and buzzards, and some scattering shots fired in pure bravado. Brown again summoned all to surrender, and when jeers were once more his sole response, he called upon the Apaches to allow their women and children to come out, and assured them kind treatment. To this the answer was the same as before, the jeers and taunts of the garrison assuring our people that they were in dead earnest in saying that they intended to fight till they died. For some moments the Apaches resorted to the old tactics of enticing some of our unwary soldiers to expose themselves above the wall of rocks behind which Major Brown ordered all to crouch; a hat or a war bonnet would be set up on the end of a bow, and held in such a way as to make-believe that there was a warrior behind it, and induce someone proud of his marksmanship to “lay” for the red man and brother, who would, in his turn, be “laying” for the white man in some coign of vantage close to where his squaw was holding the headgear.<br>
But such tricks were entirely too transparent to deceive many, and after a short time the Apaches themselves grew tired of them, and began to try new methods. They seemed to be abundantly provided with arrows and lances, and of the former they made no saving, but would send them flying high in air in the hope that upon coming back to earth they might hit those of our rearguard who were not taking such good care of themselves as were their brothers at the front on the skirmish line.<br>
There was a lull of a few minutes; each side was measuring its own strength and that of its opponent. It was apparent that any attempt to escalade without ladders would result in the loss of more than half our command; the great rock wall in front of the cave was not an inch less than ten feet in height at its lowest point, and smooth as the palm of the hand; it would be madness to attempt to climb it, because the moment the assailants reached the top, the lances of the invested force could push them back to the ground wounded to death. Three or four of our picked shots were posted in eligible positions overlooking the places where the Apaches had been seen to expose themselves; this, in the hope that any recurrence of such foolhardiness would afford on opportunity for the sharpshooters to show their skill.<br>
Of the main body, one-half was in reserve fifty yards behind the skirmish line—to call it such where the whole business was a skirmish line — with carbines loaded and cocked, and a handful of cartridges on the clean rocks in front, and every man on the lookout to prevent the escape of a single warrior, should any be fortunate enough to sneak or break through the first line. The men on the first line had orders to fire as rapidly as they chose, directing aim against the roof of the cave, with the view to having the bullets glance down among the Apache men, who had massed immediately back of the rock rampart.<br>
This plan worked admirably, and, so far as we could judge, our shots were telling upon the Apaches, and irritating them to that degree that they no longer sought shelter, but boldly faced our fire and returned it with energy, the weapons of the men being reloaded by the women, who shared their dangers. A wail from a squaw, and the feeble cry of a little babe, were proof that the missiles of death were not seeking men alone. Brown ordered our fire to cease, and for the last time summoned the Apaches to surrender, or to let their women and children come out unmolested.