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Battle of Big Dry Wash


Battle of Big Dry Wash

The Battle of Big Dry Wash

During the spring of 1882 a small group of White Mountain Apache warriors, sixty at the most, came out of their wilderness hiding and by early summer coalesced under the leadership of a man called Na-tio-tish.

In early July some of the warriors ambushed and killed four San Carlos policemen, including the police chief. Following the ambush Na-tio-tish led his band of warriors northwest through the Tonto Basin, raiding as they went. Central Arizona residents were greatly alarmed and demanded protection from the army which immediately sent out fourteen companies of cavalry from forts surrounding the Tonto Basin.

In the middle of July Na-tio-tish led his band up Cherry Creek to the Mogollon Rim, intending to reach General Springs, a well-known water hole on the Crook Trail. The Apaches noticed that they were trailed by a single troop of cavalry and decided to lay an ambush seven miles north of General Springs where a fork of East Clear Creek cuts a precipitous gorge into the Mogollon Rim. The Apaches hid on the far side and waited.

The cavalry company was led by Captain Adna R. Chaffee. Unbeknown to Na-tio-tish, Chaffee was guided by the famous scout Al Sieber who soon discovered the Apachesí trap and warned the troops. Also unbeknown to Na-tio-tish, during the night Chaffeeís lone company was reinforced by four more from Fort Apache under the command of Major A. W. Evans.

Early in the morning of July 17 one company of cavalry opened fire from the rim facing the Apaches. Meanwhile Chaffee sent two companies upstream and two downstream to sneak across the canyon and attack the Apaches. Na-tio-tish failed to post lookouts and the troops crossed over undetected. From sixteen to twenty-seven warriors were killed, including Na-tio-tish.

The Battle of Big Dry Wash was the last battle fought between the Apaches and army regulars. It was also one of the few times that army soldiers fought and bested Apaches in actual battle but this was mainly because, as one historian noted, ìit was one of the few instances in which Apaches allowed themselves to be drawn into conventional battle.î ñStephen G. Maurer

(Editor's note: information for the above article was taken from Apaches: A History and Culture Portrait by James L. Haley, University of Oklahoma Press, 1981. The quote at the end is from Robert M. Utley's Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indians Macmillan Co., 1973


Apache prisoners, including Geronimo and Nana. Courtesy Smithsonian Museum.

A historical re-enactment of buffalo soliders during the Apache wars. Courtesy BLM New Mexico State Office.

Naiche, a leader of the Chiricahua Apache, and his wife. Courtesy Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.




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