Trapped! 31 Mexican Vaqueros VS Geronimo

Geronimo Mexican Vaqueros True West Magazine
A. Frank Randall photographs Naiche and Geronimo at Fort Bowie in Arizona Territory after their surrender to Gen. Nelson Miles. Notice the different hats and clothing than those they wear in the Embudos photos, especially Geronimo’s fancy boots, which he probably purloined from one of his many victims slain along the U.S.-Mexico border.
– Courtesy Robert G. McCubbin Collection –

Patricio Valenzuela, the hacendado (ranch owner) of the Agua Fria hacienda eight miles east of Cucurpe in Sonora, Mexico, is alerted by his vaqueros of raiding Apaches who have butchered one of his cows and an ox at Tapacadepe. Valenzuela hits the trail with 30 fighting men, along with a pack mule carrying extra cartridges.

Riding north, the armada reaches Cerro el Gusano and stops to water their horses. Fresh from the repast, the posse soon catches up to the Apaches who are resting on a ridge.

Geronimo (born Goyathlay) sees them first and gives the order for Apaches to abandon their supplies and flee. The Apache leader mounts a horse and takes with him a hostage he captured in April, a 12-year-old girl, Trinidad Verdin.

Geronimo Mexican Vaqueros True West Magazine
Well-armed vaqueros, riding 30 strong and led by rancher Patricio Valenzuela, lock on the trail of Geronimo’s Apache band. In a running fight, Geronimo is separated from the other Apaches, then unhorsed. He is forced to take refuge in a cave. He is trapped, and he knows it.

Valenzuela’s brave vaqueros charge the temporary camp and pursue the fleeing Apaches up a box canyon. In the confusion, Geronimo’s horse loses his footing on a loose boulder and stumbles, spilling both riders. As he heads deeper into the canyon, Geronimo calls out for Trini to follow him, but she sees her chance to escape and run toward the Mexicans who, thankfully, don’t shoot her as a hostile.

Valenzuela commands the only exit to the box canyon. He deploys his men to split up, rake the canyon and flush out their prey. Moving out, on foot, the two groups stealthily scour the canyon’s length to the end where a cave shelters Geronimo. He is trapped, and he knows it.

Outnumbered 31 to one, Geronimo hunkers down with his 1873, single-shot Springfield rifle and gets ready for the assault he expects at any minute. He no doubt vows to take as many Mexicans with him as he can.

Geronimo Mexican Vaqueros True West Magazine
Called “Jeronimo,” after Spanish troops prayed to their patron saint, San Jeronimo, to save them from the Apaches, Geronimo turns out to be a crack shot as well as a savvy guerrilla fighter.
– Illustrations by Bob Boze Bell –

One of the vaqueros gets careless: Francisco Valenzuela y Munguia pokes his head up to see if he can spot the elusive Apache, and a single shot from the cave hits him between the eyes. As the other attackers scramble to get an angle on the desperate Apache, two more shots ring out, then a fourth.

At dusk, Valenzuela calls his men back. Four of his men have been hit, three of them killed, with bullet holes in their heads. Disheartened, Valenzuela withdraws.

Geronimo escapes in the darkness. He has three more months to run.

Geronimo Mexican Vaqueros True West Magazine
Photographer A. Frank Randall is credited with taking the first photographs of Geronimo, including this one, at Arizona Territory’s San Carlos Reservation in 1884, after the Apache leader “surrendered” to Gen. George Crook’s campaign in 1883.
– Courtesy Cowan’s auctions, December 9, 2009 –

  A Bloody Trail of Death

After bailing from the Cañon de los Embudos negotiations with U.S. Army Gen. George Crook earlier that year, in March, the holdout Chiricahua Apaches, led by Geronimo and Naiche, embark on a reign of terror for five months. They leave behind a trail of death as they raid ranches and attack villages, killing more than 60 “civilians” before agreeing to surrender one last time. Here are a few of the bloody highlights of this killing spree:

• On April 3, 1886, Apache warriors raid several ranches near Fronteras, Mexico, stealing roughly 30 horses and a dozen or so oxen.

• Moving west, on April 20, they kill two men and three women. Three days later, they raid the Casita ranch, killing the owner and wounding his son. They kill two Mexican soldiers who found their trail. Moving north, they raid ranches, stealing cattle and horses.

• On April 26, they kill three Mexicans and one American, before crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. They kill one American and chase another into the Arizona town of Calabasas. The next day, they attack the Peck ranch, killing Peck’s wife and slamming her baby’s head into an adobe wall. After burning the house and taking a 12-year-old girl, Trinidad Verdin, hostage, they ride out to locate the owner. They kill his hired hand and, strangely, spare the life of Artisan Peck, allegedly because he wore red-sleeved underwear, which Geronimo found humorous, calling him “Mangas Coloradas.” They strip Artisan of his clothes and boots.

The bloody raids continue all summer; Naiche even takes a raiding party north into Arizona, killing at least 13 people in 18 days. By late August, the killing subsides, and Lt. Charles B. Gatewood convinces Geronimo to come in one last time. This time, the surrender sticks.

Aftermath: Odds & Ends

After his escape from the cave fight north of Cucurpe in Sonora, Mexico, Geronimo joined other Apache stragglers as they tried to reconnect with Naiche’s band. All of them, evidently a party of five, headed south, where they hooked up with the main group near Tepache.

Geronimo Mexican Vaqueros True West Magazine
Historically, one of the worst places to defend is a cave, especially one made of rock. The problem is that attackers merely have to fire random rounds into the cave, as the ricochets are deadly. The worst case of this happened in the Tonto Basin, in December 1872, when elements of the 5th U.S. Cavalry surrounded a cave on the north wall of Salt River Canyon in Arizona Territory. Attacking at dawn on December 28, soldiers fired volley after volley into the cave (see illustration). About 75 men, women and children were slain, most of them from the ricocheting bullets. This makes Geronimo’s defense in the cave fight near Cerro el Gusano even more amazing.
– True West Archives –

Hot on Geronimo’s trail were several squads of soldiers, including Capt. Henry Lawton and his crew. On July 12, Lawton’s scouts found a small trail from the south merged with a larger one from the north. The next day, they located the hostile camp, on a low saddle between two buttes overlooking the Yaqui River. A two-pronged, flanking attack failed as the wary Apaches fled once again in different directions. However, they left all their equipment, provisions and mounts, which numbered 19.

On July 13, Gen. Nelson Miles took the train to Albuquerque to meet with Lt. Charles B. Gatewood, then stationed in New Mexico Territory. The general offered Gatewood the job of going into Mexico to get Geronimo. Gatewood said he thought the “mission sounded like a fool’s errand,” but took the job. After more than a month of trailing dead ends in Mexico, Gatewood, along with two scouts Kayitah and Martine, met with renegade Apaches and talked them into meeting Gen. Miles.

Geronimo Mexican Vaqueros True West Magazine
After their imprisonments in Florida and Alabama, Geronimo and Naiche are transferred to Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory, in 1894; they are shown, working cattle there. On one of his trips off the reservation, Geronimo visits the 101 Ranch, in 1905, which inspires the Miller Bros. to put on their own Wild West show. From warrior to cowboy is a long stretch, but Geronimo makes it seem smooth as pie. As author Paul A. Hutton puts it, “The man was a chameleon.”
– True West Archives –

On September 4, 1886, Geronimo and Naiche surrendered to Gen. Miles at Skeleton Canyon in the Peloncillo Mountains in Arizona Territory. On September 8, the U.S. military put Geronimo and Naiche on a train at Bowie Station to the prisoner of
war camp in Florida.

Six months and dozens of deaths after Geronimo and Naiche fled from the Embudos negotiations, the Apache Wars were finally over.

Geronimo Mexican Vaqueros True West Magazine
Several of the Apaches with Geronimo do not surrender to Gen. Nelson Miles at Skeleton Canyon and continue raiding. One of them is Adelnietze, who is finally run to the ground in 1896. Others fight on, well into the 20th century.

Recommended: From Cochise to Geronimo: The Chiricahua Apaches, 1874-1886 by Edwin R. Sweeney, published by University of Oklahoma Press, and The Apache Wars by Paul Andrew Hutton, published by Crown Books

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Bob Boze Bell

In 1999, Bob Boze Bell and partners bought True West magazine (published since 1953) and moved the editorial offices to Cave Creek, Arizona. Bell has published and illustrated books on Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, as well as Classic Gunfights, an Old West gunfight book series. His latest books are The 66 Kid and True West Moments.