In late June 1871, General George Crook arrived in the sun-baked, adobe village of Tucson, convinced that the Apaches were never going to be conquered by military troops, civilians, nor by any combination of troops and civilians. It was his belief that the only way to subdue the Indians was by using their own people against them, and one of the first Apache scouts he hired for this purpose was a young Noch-ay-del-klinne. Ten years later, this gentle man would figure prominently in a battle with tragic consequences.
When Nochaydelklinne first came to the attention of the white man, he was a kindly sort of herb doctor. The Apaches considered him an ascetic, or holy man, but he wasn’t yet as powerful as he would soon become. He stood about five feet, six inches tall and weighed somewhere in the vicinity of 120 pounds. His complexion was very pale, almost transparent, and he had a strange quality about him which defied explanation. Cochise thought very highly of him and listened to his council, as did Geronimo, albeit for different reasons. Nana apparently had greater faith. He once visited the prophet, attended a prayer session, and claimed (when he was later on the Fort Sill Military Reservation) to have seen him call up Mangas Coloradas, Cochise, and Victorio.
Nochaydelklinne became a scout for General Crook when he was about 22 years old. He went to Washington that same year (1871) to meet President Ulysses Grant, received a silver medal, and returned telling of all the wonders he had seen. It is known that at some point in his youth, he had been to Santa Fe to attend school, where he learned all about Christianity. He became infatuated with the story of the Resurrection, and when he returned to his own people, he would withdraw periodically to the mountains to fast and speculate upon religion. At no time was he ever considered a dangerous man. He became widely known throughout Apacheria as a healer and a mystic.
For ten years, Nochaydelklinne dreamed his way into the subconscious of his people, arousing them to a fervor of devotion and trust. He was probably of the White Mountain band, although different scholars tell different ancestry. It is know that he stayed among the San Carlos and Fort Apache reservations, and he had become the center of revival-type Apache gatherings which preached that the whites would soon be driven away and that two chiefs would soon return from the dead. This caused great excitement among the bands and led to the Ghost Dance, which caused so much worry to the Army.
The Apaches were not one tribe as in other cultures. They were independent bands, and some of them were bitter enemies. The government refused to recognize this distinction, and when it forced a number of bands from Arizona and New Mexico together onto the San Carlos Reservation, it was only a matter of time before hostilities erupted. As the Apache watched in growing desperation, they became crowded with their enemies, whites overran their lands, and dishonest agents sold their rations, forcing them to go hungry. Apaches everywhere accepted the promises of Nochaydelklinne.
By 1881, Nochaydelklinne was a full-fledged prophet attracting larger and larger crowds. One Army officer who observed the enraptured Apache moving like wooden figures to the monotonous drumbeats was Lieutenant Thomas Cruse. In mid-August, he sent his chief of scouts, a Choctaw named Sam Bowman, to observe the dances. On his return, Bowman was gloomy and said only that it was time he visited relatives in Indian Territory, that he was resigning. When pressed for details, Bowman confessed that trouble was brewing. Cruse thought so, too. Already, Apaches who had previously been mortal enemies were beginning to fraternize. Scouts, who received passes from the Army to attend the revivals, overstayed their time and returned to camp exhausted, surly, and insubordinate, which was totally out of character because they had been completely loyal and trustworthy.
It came to a head when Nochaydelklinne moved his camp meetings to Cibecue, on Cibecue Creek, about 40 miles west of Fort Apache. This was in late August 1881, and the dancing and emotional fervor were at their height at the very time that Nana was splashing blood over the map of New Mexico. Officials responsible for good order on the reservation were understandably nervous. When San Carlos Agent Joseph Tiffany refused to grant passes for his Apaches to attend the dances, hundreds of the more aggressive members of the various bands defiantly went anyway.
Tiffany called on Colonel Eugene Carr at Fort Apache for help. Carr sent a message for Nochaydelklinne to come to the post for a talk. The prophet refused, saying he would consider it at a later time. This refusal prompted Carr to wire General Orlando Willcox at the Department of Arizona, requesting two cavalry troops be sent from Fort Grant to make a show of force that would cool off the hotheads among Nochaydelklinne’s followers. Unfortunately, the telegraph line suffered one of its frequent breakdowns after the wire was sent, and by August 28, when men were finally able to repair the line long enough for Carr to receive a wire, it was the fatal "Capture or kill Nochaydelklinne, or both" message.
On 29 August 1881, the 117-man Army column marched to Carrizo Creek. Colonel Carr took one of the Apache scouts aside and explained that he wanted only to talk to Nochaydelklinne. The scout, Sergeant Mose, took two other scouts with him and headed for Cibecue a few hours after midnight. His intentions were to make clear to Nochaydelklinne that the march wasn’t with hostile intent and to warn the prophet to keep his followers from firing on the troops. It didn’t work. The Battle of Cibecue Creek turned into one of the biggest fiascoes in Southwestern history.
Nochaydelklinne was arrested by scouts Sergeant John McDonald and Sergeant Mose, who had orders to shoot if there was any trouble. As Nochaydelklinne’s wife ran ahead of him, doing an odd dance, scattering sacred powder and chanting, dozens of armed and painted warriors appeared out of ravines and began to follow. By the time the Army had reached their camping site, the Apaches had them surrounded. At the first shots, Sergeant McDonald shot Nochaydelklinne, as ordered. The prophet’s wife threw herself over his body, and McDonald then went down with a bullet in his leg. At that moment Nochaydelklinne’s young son charged into camp on his father’s pony and was promptly shot down. His mother saw him fall, and as she ran with a shriek, the nearest soldier promptly shot her. Nochaydelklinne, who had not died at the first shot, began to crawl away, but the bugler, William Benites, saw him and put his pistol to the prophet’s head and pulled the trigger. By sunset, the massacre was over. The Army dug a large grave and buried Nochaydelklinne’s entire family and six soldiers. One dead soldier couldn’t be found in the dark, and a wounded one died the next day. General Willcox and Agent Tiffany both denied any responsibility for the affair.
The next day, the Apache charged the army post at Fort Apache repeatedly, but were repulsed each time. Two days later, replacement troops arrived from Fort Thomas, but the hostile Apache had gone into hiding. By the time all hostilities had calmed, eighteen scouts had been killed, and reinforcements had arrived from New Mexico and California---cavalry, infantry, artillery---twenty-two companies in all. At San Carlos, where several restless bands had been confined, the sight of so many troops panicked Juh, Benito, and Naiche, and they promptly fled into Mexico with all of their followers to join forces with Geronimo. Loco and his people soon joined them. With the disappearance of the peaceful Loco and his band, the War Department became convinced that Apache affairs in Arizona were once again out of hand. General Crook was finally called in to replace Willcox and restore order.
The Apache have always avoided mentioning the names of their dead whenever possible. As a result, the name of Nochaydelklinne was rarely mentioned, and his promises were soon forgotten. Although he hadn’t preached war against the whites, his words had inspired the diehards to fight. Nochaydelklinne, the gentle prophet, and his wife and son, paid with their lives.
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