The Last Indian Battle

flagstaff-1883-blogOne of those post-Indian Wars gunfights, almost lost in history occurred in northern Arizona on November 11th, 1899, long after the Indian Wars had ended. For several years the band of Navajo Chief B’ugoettin had been fighting an undeclared war with local cattlemen over grazing land north of Flagstaff around Padre Canyon.

It was mostly non-violent. Both sides took turns stealing the others livestock and when a rustler, Navajo or cowboy, was caught he was roughed up and sent on his way. This time it turned deadly.

Trouble began few days earlier when a party of Navajos accused Bill Montgomery, a young “leatherpants” as the Navajos called cowboys, of stealing four of their horses. Montgomery was employed by rancher William Roden. After roughing him up they turned him loose.

Montgomery went into Flagstaff and persuaded Coconino County deputy Dan Hogan to issue warrants on the Navajo who beat him up.

On November 11th the two along with one of Roden’s sons and another cowboy rode to the Navajo camp near the junction of Canyon Diablo and Padre Canyon. A wild gun battle ensued in which Montgomery, two Navajo were killed and another wounded. The deputy was wounded slightly and Roden was shot in the groin.

News of the gunfight spread quickly around the country but the federal government delayed taking action. Fearing a full scale war the citizens of Flagstaff mobilized the militia. Chief B’ugoettin gathered some 300 heavily armed men and gathered them in the woods around Flagstaff. For a time it looked like the town might be burned to the ground but cooler heads prevailed. The Reverend William Johnston convinced the chief to let justice take its course. Judge Richard Sloan, later governor of Arizona presided. One of the wounded Navajo spoke eloquently before the court and Johnston’s nine-year-old son Philip acted as interpreter. Sloan was so impressed the three Navajo on trial were found innocent. The Navajo Reservation by Executive Order, was granted the disputed rangeland and Johnston was allowed to build a church on the new acquisition.

Now, the rest of the story: Years later, during World War II, interpreter Philip Johnston, convinced the Marine Corps to form the legendary Navajo Code Talkers. The Japanese never broke their intricate code saving thousands of American lives during the war.

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