I know exactly what Sergeant John R. McDonald was thinking that afternoon of Tuesday, 30 August, 1881. He had just pulled the saddle and blanket from his cavalry mount when the first burst of gun fire, produced a stabbing pain which tore his right leg out from under him, dropping both saddle and the Irishman to the ground.
However, drowning out the searing agony, were the orders from his 51 year old commander, Colonel Eugene Asa Carr (above). Under no circumstances, the Medal-of-Honor winner had told him, should his prisoner be allowed to be rescued. So without examining his own wound, McDonald instantly searched for the Apache medicine man (above). Seeing Nakaidoklini - or Nock-ay-det-kline - scurrying toward the underbrush on all fours, the Sergeant dutifully pulled his big Navy revolver and shot the Apache through both legs.
Under orders from Brevet Major General Orlando Willcox 200 miles to the south-west in Tuscon, the 85 troopers of the 6th Cavalry under Colonel Carr's command, along with 23 Apache scouts, had left the White Mountain stronghold of Fort Apache the day before.
After a 45 mile, over night ride across this southern reach of the Colorado Plateau, they arrived that afternoon at the wickiups of Nakaidoklini's village, near Cibecue Creek (above), in the upper Salt River Canyon. Their stated goal was to bring the medicine man back to Fort Apache for a talk. But everyone - including the Apache scouts - knew the U.S. Army was not going to allow this leader to ever return to his people.
Nakaidoklini's offense was that he had been providing guidance to the warrior "He-who-yawns", aka by the Mexican and Americans as "Geronimo" (above, right), and to the another clan chief, Miguel. And lately the independent medicine man had also been preaching a fresh blend of traditional Apache religion and Christianity. Nakaidoklini was predicting he could, Christ like, raise dead chiefs from their graves. And that was what inspired General Wilcox to order Colonel Carr to arrest and detain the moral leader of the Cibecue band of Apache.
Carr's problem was he did not trust his Apache scouts on this mission. Centuries of life in the deserts and mountains had forced the Apache into small bands, even more suspicious of each other as they were the Americans or Mexicans. But a decade of luring all Apache bands into the White Mountains of northern Arizona with the promise of food and clothing, had eroded those divisions. And the racism of the Americans did not help. So Carr asked General Wilcox for more troopers. The General replied that this summer of 1881, he was anticipating trouble with the Cow Boy elements between Tombstone and the Mexican border, and could spare no more men for the subjugated Apache. Carr would have to carry on with his suspect Apache scouts.
Once they had arrived at his village, Carr assured Nakaidoklini the army only wanted to talk to him, and he seemed agreeable enough. But once the lead elements had started back, the medicine man decided he wanted to ride his own horse. This delayed his escort about 15 minutes, which proved just long enough to set up the ambush by the Cibecue band at the crossing of Verde Creek. The Apache scouts knew what was coming. In fact, they were the first to fire, just as the column was setting up camp.
The first volley was so close it killed 6 soldiers, and wounded 2 more, including McDonald. The Irish sergeant signaled his trumpeter, Corporeal William O. Benites, to make certain the prisoner was dead. Benites crawled close to Nakaidikini, and stood just long enough to draw a bead on the Apache. He shot the medicine man in the neck, before ducking down below the barrage that followed.
With nightfall, Colonel Carr decided to run for the safety of Fort Apache before sunrise. But he decided to send his adjunct, 29 year old Lieutenant William Giles Harding Carter (above), to double check the dead prisoner. Carter wrote later he discovered, , "...not withstanding his wounds, (Nakaidikini) was still alive. The recovery of this Indian if left to the hands of his friends, would have given him a commanding influence over these superstitious people, which would have resulted in endless war. General Carr then repeated his order for his death, specifying that no more shots should be fired." One of the guides, named Byrnes then "...took an ax and crushed the forehead of the deluded fanatic, and from this time forward every person murdered by these Apaches was treated in a similar manner."
What followed should not be dignified by calling it a "war". The 74 warriors and 300 women and children of the Cibecue Creek band were left trying to escape after their Pyrric victory at Verde crossing. Before the end of the month they would fail. But across Arizona, Europeans panicked.
On 10 September, General Wilcox (above) ordered the release for sale of 50 war surplus carbines, with 1,000 rounds of ammunition to any community which felt the need, This was the same day Pete Spence and Frank Stillwell were arraigned in Tombstone on charges of robbing the Bisbee stage, released on bail, and then re-arrested on Federal charges of interfering with the U.S. Mail.
Tombstone could afford the weapons the army was offering , and a militia company was instantly formed, electing County Marshal Johnny Behan as their captain and Federal Deputy Marshal Virgil Earp as First Lieutenant. The company included Wyatt and Morgan Earp, Mayor John Clum, deputies Billy Breakenridge and George Parsons. It almost seemed as if both sides of the Cow Boy/Law Man, local territorial, Democratic Republican divides joined the militia to keep an eye on each other. And now armed, they set out to defend the region from marauding Apache.
Except they did not ride north, toward the White Mountains and site of the uprising. Instead the Tombstone Militia headed in exactly the opposite direction, southwest, across the Sulphur Springs Valley. Their first day out they were caught in an afternoon monsoon cloud burst and were forced to seek shelter on a local ranch. Luckily for the militia's reputation, the owner - a Mr. Edwin "old man" Frink - had just suffered an Apache raid. The "savages" had made off with 20 horses. Not that the Tombstone Militia ever bothered to look for the missing mounts. The equine would eventually be discovered 20 miles to the east, in the Chiriahua mountains, in Horse Shoe Canyon. So perhaps the thieves were white raiders out of one of the Mexico - old or New.
Instead, the next morning the posse - er, militia company - rode further west, stopping for brunch at the McLaury ranch. The lawmen were greeted by outlaw leader Curley Bill Brocius, "Arizona's most famous outlaw at the present time." George Parson noted that Virgil Earp and Curley Bill shook hands "warmly." Shortly there after Brocius rode off to attend to some business, pausing just long enough to steal a pair of spurs from Wyatt Earp. They party stopped that night at Soldier's Hole, where they met up with a patrol of 6th cavalry out of Fort Huachuca. After a night spent drinking, the militia company returned to Tombstone, dusty and weary, but certain they had made the region safe from an Apache attack that was never contemplated.
The town they returned to seemed to have settled into a slightly bizarre normal. On 15 March, 1881, the Arizona Telephone Company began to installing poles and wires between the Mining Exchange building, the mines and the stamping mills in Charleston and Fairbank. That spring Episcopal minister Endicott Peabody challenged a Methodist minister to a public boxing match. The Episcopalian won. Bartender Frank Leslie, ranch owner in the distant Chilihaura Mountains, became renown for drawing his lady friends' silhouette's on walls - with bullet holes. And at any time, day or night, the most infamous characters could be found strolling up and down Allen Street - named for baker, John "Pie" Allen, whose shop sat at Fourth and Allen Streets.
East of Sixth Street on Allen, was the red light district, whore houses run by Blond Marie, Irish Mag, Crazy Horse Lil, China Mary, Madame Mustache and Big Nose Kate. West of Third Street on Allen were the opium dens of "Hop Town". In between, in a town where a quarter would buy you a warm beer, a chip in a faro game, 2 buckets of water or a single egg, the most frequented shops in town were the saloons, The Oriental, The Crystal Palace, The Eagle and The Alhambra. As a local historian writes, along Allen Street, "...the sweet odor of opium hung in the air. Chips clinked and roulette wheels whirred..." It seemed as if the energy generated in Tombstone might go on forever, always bigger, always richer.
But underneath, the town was facing a growing crises. Late in 1880, the Tough Nut Mine had begun to suffer seepage. And in March of 1881 the Sulphuret Mine, half a mile south of Tombstone, had struck water at 520 feet below the surface. With silver still worth a dollar an ounce, the decision was to keep digging. It was even imagined the water could be pumped to the surface to drink and to power stamp mills on site, avoiding the expensive transport to the San Pedro River. But not enough water seeped into the mine to justify such investment. And besides, as the Sulphuret's name implied, the water proved not potable. However, as each mine reached below the water table, each in turn encountered seepage. It was clear that eventually large pumps would have be brought in - raising the cost of mining the silver, eating into the profits that justified the entire, bizarre desert oasis of greed that was Tombstone, Arizona.
It first occured to the most fervent of Tombstone's boosters, that the end of the boom might be in sight.