Camp Grant Massacre - April 30, 1871

In February of 1871, five starving Aravaipa Apache women came to Camp Grant to ask for sanctuary. The Camp was located at the convergence of the San Pedro River and Aravaipa Creek, the home of the Apache women before the tribe had been driven away. Lt. Royal Whitman was the officer in charge of the Camp Grant Post. The Lieutenant received the women and after meeting with them decided that the Aravaipa Apaches could settle at the Camp. Technically the Apaches would be "prisoners of war" under the jurisdiction of Camp Grant. By allowing them to settle at the camp, Lt. Whitman became responsible for their protection and food.

Hearing of the situation at Fort Grant, over 500 Aravaipas soon arrived, led by their chief Eskiminzin. Eskiminzin requested that the Apaches be allowed to grow crops along the creek to feed their people. Permission was granted and Whitman also arranged that the Indians could earn money by working as farmhands for local ranchers. The Apaches hoped to live peaceably on their home territory beside the creek that had provided their water. Living peaceably near white settlers was always problematic and this time was to be no different.

In March of 1871 American Indians attacked a baggage train and two men were murdered and 16 mules stolen. Later that same month a Tubac rancher was killed and a Mexican woman from the south of Tucson was kidnapped. After the second, outraged angry Tucson residents sent a delegation to General George Stoneman. Stoneman was responsible for all military policies in the Arizona Territory and had stationed his troops, the 3rd Calvary northeast of Tucson, leaving the civilians of Tucson without military protection. Stoneman viewed the request from the Tucson residents as criticism and did nothing.

In early April Indians again raided a farm, stealing 19 head of cattle. Papagos Indians, who hated the Apaches brought word of the raid to Tucson and a posse was organized. After a 50-mile chase, one old Indian was found and killed. The Indian was identified as an Arivaipa Apache from Camp Grant. Three settlers were killed during the chase and three days later a farmer was murdered 30 miles from Ft. Grant.

On April 28th Americans and Mexicans began to leave Tucson a few at a time to avoid suspicion. The Americans included William S. Oury, the organizer of the raid. An easily angered Virginian, Oury had fought in the Texas war for independence, serving at the Alamo and in the Mexican War. Jesus Elias, a skillful tracker, was the leader of the Mexicans. Apaches had recently attacked the Elias homestead, killing two of Elias’ brothers. The 48 Mexicans and 6 Americans were joined by 94 San Xavier Papagos, led by their chief Francisco who hated Apaches and welcomed the chance for revenge. The raiders headed for Camp Grant, where they were sure the problem existed.

After traveling for two days under the cover of darkness, the raiders arrived at Camp Grant. Hiram Stevens, a friend of Oury's stood guard at the intersection of the road to Camp Grant to prevent any early warning and detection, while the raiders gathered outside the camp where the Apaches slept. In a short 30 minutes, the Papagos with clubs and lances and the Mexicans and Americans with rifles and six shooters massacred 8 men and 110 women and children. Additionally, the vigilantes kidnapped 28 Apache babies to be sold into slavery.

By the time that Lt. Whitman received word that armed citizens intended to raid the Apaches at Camp Grant, it was too late, the Indians had been slaughtered. Post surgeon Conant B. Briesly arrived at the camp with 12 men to find only one woman alive.

In December of 1871, 104 posse members were indicted and brought to trial. President Grant demanded the trial, threatening to put the territory under martial law if the governor failed to act. After 5 days of trial and only 19 minutes of deliberation, all 104 members were found not guilty. In the 1880s on the western frontier, no one was going to be found guilty of murdering Apaches.

It would be more than 125 years before a marker was even placed at the site of this massacre of the Arivaipa Apaches.