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In the latter half of the 19th century, there were many cultures striving for control of the American Southwest, mainly the southern half of present-day Arizona, which was purchased by the United States in 1853. American Indian tribes, such as the Apaches, had original claims to the land that were overtaken by the Mexican invasion of missions at Tubac and Tucson, which were later overrun with American settlers and soldiers laying their claims to this new American territory. These struggles for power created tension between all of the peoples of southern Arizona, originally between the Apache tribes and Mexicans, and then morphing into a trifecta of clashes between all of the races for control of the land.
When the Spanish began colonizing the northern area of Mexico, they were confronted with a problem-what were they to do with the native peoples? Jesuit priests attempted to reform some of the mesa tribes in present-day Arizona and New Mexico, but encountered a population uninterested in Christianity and comfortable with their nomadic ways. There were missions of this type in the towns of Tucson and Tubac, which were abandoned by the missionaries and taken over by the Hispanic population, which in its early days, numbered around five hundred. The Hispanic settlements were centralized around military establishments, mostly because of a fear of the native people, the Pinal Apaches, who were characterized by their raids for horses, food, and other staples. In 1821, Mexico achieved independence from Spain, and the military outposts were completely under Hispanic control; they no longer were under Spanish rule and could make military decisions about the tribes on their own.
With this newfound independence, the Mexicans began dealing in peace treaties with the local tribes. On March 5, 1837, the military government in Tucson signed a document with their "perennial enemies, the Pinal Apaches" (Officer, 137), which transported the tribe to the barren Arivaipa Creek, and contained a stipulation that the Apaches could only travel through the Tucson stronghold with the permission of the commander. Placing the Indians on reservations, which created land claims that were their own, seemed to have no reciprocal effect with the Mexicans.
Although the tribes were not allowed to trespass on Mexican territory, the Mexicans did not care who trod on the newly claimed tribal lands. According to James E. Officer, in his book Hispanic Arizona, 1356-1856, ".
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With all of these acts against Indian territory, attacks were imminent. The commanding officer at Altar, Rafael Moraga, made it clear in his personal diary that "arrogant Mexican trespassers...contributed to the deteriorating state of affairs" (146). Life became difficult as settlers were forced to live inside "walled compounds" (147) with their livestock that had "parapets used by soldiers in firing at Apache raiders" (147). A state of extreme tension dominated life for these people, for if they were not suffering from drought or poor crops, they were under constant attack from the local Apache tribes or others. Many families abandoned ranches given to them under Mexican land grants because of the terrible Apache offensive in the early 1840's, and moved to safer areas closer to the military strongholds of Tucson and Tubac. An attempt to gain control over the several tribes was made by governor Jose Maria Irigoyen, who thought it best to turn the Indians against each other, and created rewards for the scalps that tribe members brought to his attention. This action created dubious results, for although the residents had a treaty with their main enemy, the Pinal Apaches, who supplied them with information and spies, other tribes began raiding the Mexican colonies in retaliation. This retribution, brought on mostly by the Pima Indians, included the Apache tribes who had supplied the information.
The Pinal were not the only tribe of Apache Indians who had difficulties with the recent additions to southeastern Arizona. The Chiricahua Apaches, led by the infamous Cochise, also had a complex relationship with the Hispanic and Anglo settlers. After a period of somewhat peaceful relations with the Mexicans, the Apaches were confronted with a new foe. With the Gold Rush of 1849 in California, southern Arizona became a highly traversed route, and many Americans began populating Apache lands. With the new population came new civilization. American Army outposts were scattered throughout the territory, and ensured a safe environment for the new American settlers. With the building of American forts, the Chiricahua Apaches had a new way to keep their tribe fed. The United States Army outposts were stocked with the staples they needed. Chief Cochise took advantage of this American military settlement by conducting raids to capture food, livestock and weaponry items. While Cochise did not feel these raids to be acts of war, the Americans felt differently-- "Around 1860, Americans killed some of Cochise's men who were caught stealing livestock. This ignited the beginnings of hatred in Cochise towards the Americans, but not to the point of war until a year later" (Sweeney 177). Relations did not improve over the next year between the settlers. In his book, Making Peace With Cochise, Sweeney notes, "Relations hit rock bottom in February, 1861, when 2nd Lt. George Nicholas Bascom's command arrived at Apache Pass. They were seeking a boy who Apache's had supposedly captured. Bascom invited Cochise to come in for a parley and promptly arrested him, despite Cochise's innocence" (178). Cochise was now a prisoner of the Americans for crimes he did not commit. "Cochise was inflamed by this act of the Americans and began raids immediately" (178). He also was enraged and allegedly "attacked wagon trains and killed many Mexicans and captured four Americans" (179). When peace couldn't be made with the release of the Americans, Cochise began torturing the Americans in his captivity. When they later died, the unfortunate turn of events began the warring between the Americans and the Chiricahua Apaches.
With the cycle of revenge becoming bloodier by each fight, Cochise enlisted the help of other bands of Apaches. Eventually, Cochise believed was successful in his attempt to drive all of the Americans out of the Arizona Territory with the exception of the lone, sparse miner. But, while Cochise thought he had freed his territory of the Americans, the soldiers had traveled East to fight in the Civil War. Cochise and the Chiricahua enjoyed a time of peace until the Americans returned from their country's bloodshed. The attacks began anew when Cochise discovered that the American soldiers had "killed his father in law, Mangas Coloradas" (183). The raids continued and the death toll rose.
The United States Army had more difficulties with the Mexicans and the tribes centralized around the Arizona-New Mexico border, mainly the Apache. The boundary between the United States and Mexico was unnoticed by the tribe raiders, which "disturbed relations....for years...[and] presented the U.S. Army with one of its severest challenges" (Utley 344). The Americans wished to keep the Indians confined to their reservations to avoid the horrific problems that the Mexicans faced, yet the Mexicans did not wish to get involved in American problems. In 1870, the State Department asked permission from the Mexican government to cross the border in search of Indians, but "political disaster awaited the Mexican president who [granted] it" (Utley 346). The American government tried again to gain control in 1871, and with a facade of Mexican help, rounded up several tribes of Indians and took them to their reservations. The American commanding officer, Colonel Mackenzie, crossed the Mexican border without the permission of the foreign government, with his superiors saying, "Damn the orders!....whatever you do to clean up the situation, you can rest assured of the fullest support" (346). Subsequently, Mackenzie crossed the border while the men were raiding other camps and murdered, captured, and tortured over 50 women and children. The troops then quickly returned to Arizona territory, for "a collision with Mexicans would almost certainly [strained] relations between Mexico and the United States." (347). The American government was able to cover their atrocities by claiming that there are no "guiltless" (349) Indians. The Mexican government seemed to agree with this sentiment.
With control over the Apaches and the Mexican government seemingly in place, Americans came into the territory in extremely large numbers in the 1870's and were well armed. The Chiricahua felt outnumbered and unconfident in waging war and began thinking of a peaceful resolution. Cochise compromised with the American Army in 1872, and signed a treaty with General O.O. Howard. The treaty allowed for the Chiricahua to move to the Canada Alamosa Reservation in New Mexico. This agreement with Cochise also allowed for the United States to overlook their plundering of lands in Northern Mexico. The army would leave the reservation alone, which gave them easy, unrestricted access to Mexican goods. The American government was more concerned with the movement of other tribes to the more unsavory parts of Arizona, which placed most out of their mountain homes and in the southern deserts.
The American government continued to cross the tenuous border separating them from Mexico, but more carefully as time passed. By 1876, raids to capture Indians went largely unnoticed by the Mexican government, who accepted a "See No Evil" policy until 1877, when the government was overthrown by Porfirio Diaz, who "exploited Mexican hostility towards the United States". This created international incidents, especially with the U.S. soldiers receiving aid from the Mexicans being considered a treasonable offense. Border tensions came to a head with the continual crossings of soldiers onto Mexican soil after the wayward Apaches, but then faded as attention was based on building communities north of Tucson and Tubac, and the building of railroads in Flagstaff.
The power and control over southern Arizona fluctuated between the three warring factions. In the early half of the 19th century, the struggle was centralized between the Mexicans and the Indians until the United States Army began enforcing its power over the original inhabitants. No single group held total control until a peace treaty was signed by the Chief of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, Cochise.