Message #310:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: La Nina Bronco
Date: Sat, 09 Aug 1997 15:25:52 -0700


Mexican villagers recall last of attacks by Apaches
But eyewitnesses dying, recollections becoming confused, historian says

By Paul Salopek
Chicago Tribune

NUEVO CASAS GRANDES, Mexico - Guillermo Damiani Bassi's eyes are as clouded
as antique glass.  But his memory is still sharp enough to jab his
conscience, make him wince when he recalls the day they dragged la nina
bronco - the wild girl - into town.

She was only 12 or 13, Damiani said and the cowboy who found her wandering
almost naked in the nearby Tasahuinora Mountains had dressed, her in baggy
men clothing.  She wouldn't eat.  She wouldn't talk.  She never looked into
her captor's eyes.  Instead she lay balled up in comer of the local jail,
her back turned to a growing of curiosity seekers.

"It was a sad thing," said Damiani, 82 a retired theater owner in this raw
cowtown in the foothills of the Sierra Madre.  "People were selling food
outside.  It was terrible, like a circus."

If what Damian and his amazed neighbors saw on hot summer day seemed like a
cheap sideshow, it was actually something far sadder and more inexplicable
- a ghost from a vanished frontier.  The girl was a hostile Apache.  And
the year - 1933 - was nearly a half-century after Geronimo, the tribe's's
last war chief, had surrendered to U.S. forces in the desert of neighboring
Arizona.

"We grew up with rumors that Apaches still were hiding up in the Sierra,"
Damiani said wistfully.  "So what do we do when we actually find one?  We
treat her like an animal."

The tale of the world's last free-roaming Apaches is an obscure and
convoluted one, a footnote in the bitter history of Native American
resistance that is largely ignored by U.S. chroniclers of the Western
frontier.

According to most history books, Apache autonomy ended forever in 1886
after Geronimo and his band turned over their guns to the 5,000 US. troops
- fully a quarter o the U.S. Army - who were hounding them.

But here in the hardscrabble towns and villages near the Sonora-Chihuahua
border, where the roads often peter out into horse trails and adobes give
way to log cabins, they tell a different story.

Old men and women tending cast-iron stoves or watching soap operas on
battery rigged televisions recall how the Apaches stole their cattle well
into this century. They remember stories of kidnapped children and brutal
family vendettas against the Indians. And they tell how a small, holdout
band of Geronimo's followers traded deadly gunfire with posses while the
rest of the
world grappled with the more modem ills of the Great Depression.

"The trouble is, these people are dying and the accounts are getting
confused" said Francisco Zozaya, the town historian in Bavispe, Sonora,
where sections of the surrounding mountains were considered a no man's land
as late as the 1920s due to Apache attacks.  "We're like the American West
was in 1930.  We're losing the living memory things."

This much of the story, though, hasn't faded.

Part of a vast raiding territory that spanned the American Southwest and
northern Mexico, the lumpy mesas and fractured canyons of the Sierra Madre
had been a favorite Apache stronghold long before the existence of the
U.S.-Mexico border.  It was to the Sierras that raiding parties often fled
when chased by the US Calvary.  And it was one of the world's first "hot
pursuit" treaties, signed by the United States and Mexico in 1882, that
became the noose that choked off the last resistance.

Yet a few Apaches slipped it.

According to Douglas Meed, a border historian and author in El Paso, from
25 to 100 tribal stragglers - most from Arizona's Chiricahua band - opted
to take their chances in Mexico rather than face life on a US reservation.
Most were women and children.  And their favorite hideout was a cave-pocked
canyon system in Sonora that today shelters a patchwork of not-so-secret
marijuana plantations.

The holdouts liked the Sierras for the same reason Mexican drug growers
like it said Meed, whose book, They Never Surrendered details the Apaches'
final years in the Sierra Madre.  "It's big, inaccessible, outside
government control, and close to the United States where they had friends."

Yet if modem narcotraficantes have long since elbowed the Apaches out of
news reports from the Sierra Madre, it was not always that way.

In 1930, the tiny band of Indians made international headlines when a
Mexican rancher named Francisco Fimbres started recruiting American
gunslingers to wipe them out, Meed said.

Fimbres, a ruthless latter-day Indian fighter, was motivated by vengeance:
Apaches had stormed his Sonora ranch in 1926, killing his wife and
kidnapping his infant son.  His "Fimbres Apache Expedition," bankrolled and
promoted by publicity-hungry businessmen in Arizona, drew more than a
thousand trigger-happy volunteers.  The mercenary force even boasted its
own airplane to spot elusive Apache camps.

"It was billed as sort of a gentlemen's safari," Meed said.

The Mexican government, more alarmed by the prospect of armed gringos
overrunning its northern frontier than by hazy reports of renegade Apaches,
squelched the gung-ho crusade before it began.  Worried about casualties,
American diplomats heaved a sigh of relief.

"They wouldn't have caught a single Indian anyway," said Pedro Fimbres, a
nephew of Francisco Fimbres who has converted his house in the village of
Colonia Juarez into a makeshift family museum.  Enshrined under glass, his
prize exhibit is a blurry, 1931 Arizona Daily Star photo showing his
now-deceased uncle holding up a fistful of Apache scalps.

"The Apaches moved every day - stealing a horse here, gathering pine nuts
there, killing a cowboy over there," said Fimbres, a grizzled saddle-maker.
 "The Americans would have been running in circles for months."

Still, the once-wide horizons of the Sierra were relentlessly closing in.

Despite their dazzling ability to cover 70 miles a day over exhausting
terrain, the fugitive Chiricahuas were being slowly picked off by ranchers
armed and deputized by the Mexican government.  Gunfights often forced the
harried Indians to abandon their food caches of acorns and rustled beef.
And, as with the long-vanished American frontier, commerce eventually
sealed their fate.

"When logging took off in the Sierra, it was all over," Mexican Apache buff
Zozaya said.  "The Sierra was all cut up by new roads, new sawmills, new
settlements.  There was no place left to hide."

By 1934, Grenville Goodwin, an American anthropologist who had heard about
the holdouts while living among their cousins on Arizona reservations,
estimated that no more than 30 Apaches were "fighting a losing battle in
Mexico and it seems oiuy a question of time till they will be
exterminated." Goodwin tried - as did several US government Indian agents
at the time - to make contact with the tribespeople across the border.  He
failed.

"Thee (American) Apaches know what happened to their ancestors down in
Mexico, but it's not something they talk about openly," said Alicia
Delgadillo, an amateur historian from Tucson who acts as a media liaison to
several Apache bands in Arizona and New Mexico.  "It's just part of the
people's history that's private."

A spokeswoman for the Mescalero Apaches in New Mexico said fact-finding
trips and religious pilgrimages have been undertaken by the friends and
relatives of the holdouts since the 1930s.  A handful of descendants of
Geronimo and his Chiricahuas live at Mescalero.

The Sierra's beleaguered Apaches certainly left no records of their own.
Though some Indians doubtless gave up and were absorbed into local Mexican
populations, most sources agree that far more were hunted down and shot.
Details vary, but the last major Apache battle in North America probably
took place in the spring of 1933, in a brushy ravine in Sonora about 300
miles south of the US - Mexico border.

At the time, Geronimo was long dead, a prisoner of war buried in Oklahoma.
Herbert Hoover was president.  And Hollywood was cranking out B Westerns
featuring white actors in face paint.

In the language of the Opata, another Mexican tribe, Tasahuinora means
"hill where the sun rises." Whatever her real name, she was the last
documented Apache captured alive in the Sierra Madre.

[ Photo / Caption: Apache Indian Warrior Geronimo, the tribe's last war
chief, surrendered to U.S. forces in 1886. ]

Arizona Republic, Page A8, Saturday August 9, 1997