In 1837, John James Johnson lured his trusted friend, the Apache chief Juan Jose Compa, into an ambush near present-day Cliff, New Mexico. Johnson and his friend Charles Gleason arranged for the visiting Apaches to assemble in front of a hidden cannon which they discharged into the crowd of Indians. More than 20 Indians were killed including Juan Jose Compa. This treacherous act resulted in a storm of Apache vengeance. Shortly after Juan Jose's death, the enraged Apaches massacred a party of trappers led by Charles Kemp. From this day forward, no American was safe in the Gila River country.
The year 1837 also witnessed the arrival of a party of trappers led by Joseph Walker in northern Arizona. Walker's party, which included Jack Ralston and Powell Weaver, explored much of northern and central Arizona. In a ravine near the Little Colorado River, Ralston discovered flakes of mineral that looked like gold. More than 22 years later, in an uncanny exhibition of dead reckoning, Joe Walker would guide a party of prospectors to the exact site of Ralston's discovery!
The years following Juan Jose Compa's death were marked by constant Apache raids on the few remaining white enclaves in New Mexico and Arizona. A great war chief named Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves) came to power among the western Apache in 1836. Mangas Coloradas would prove to be one of the greatest Apaches in the history of that tribe. His subchiefs included Delgagito, Ponce, Pedro Azul, Coleto Amarillo, and Cuchillo Negro. In addition, three upcoming warriors of future fame followed the great Mangas. Cochise, Victorio, and Geronimo would all figure prominently in the coming years.
In 1840, Mangas Coloradas forced the evacuation of the Santa Rita copper mines in New Mexico. Apache war parties appeared in New Mexico, Arizona, Sonora, and Chihuahua. In 1842, the Franciscan missionary effort in southern Arizona finally came to an end. The priests were recalled and the two remaining missions in Arizona, Tumacacori and San Xavier del Bac, were deserted. The Apaches ruled the land.
1846 was a pivotal year in the history of the Southwest.
It was during this year that New Mexico and all of Arizona
north of the Gila River became American possessions. The Mexican
War of 1846 brought General Stephen Watts Kearny to the Gila
River country of Arizona. Guided by Kit Carson, Kearny's Army
of the West invaded California on November 25, 1846. Shortly
after Kearny's visit, the Mormon Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant
Colonel Phillip St. George Cook, captured Tucson without firing
a shot. (Cooke's expedition was guided by Powell Weaver and
Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacajawea.) Most of the Southwest
was now in American hands.
1849 was the year of the great California gold rush. The Gila River trail to California proved to be a popular route for many of the 49ers. During that momentous year, the famous
scalp-hunter John Joel Glanton drove the Yuma Indians from their ferry service on the Colorado River. The Yumas had traditionally maintained a crude ferryboat on the Colorado River dating back to Spanish times. Glanton took over the service for himself, but only briefly. On April 23, 1850, Glanton was killed by the Yumas.
The early 1850's were marked by relentless, widespread raiding by Apache war parties. In 1850, the Apaches even raided the Pacific coast town of Mazatlan, in central Sinaloa, Mexico. The northern and central parts of Sonora were virtually "abandoned to the Indian" as a result of Apache raids. On March 19, 1851, the family of Royce Oatman was attacked by Apaches west of Tucson. The Indians killed 6, wounded one, and kidnapped Olive and Mary Ann Oatman. (The children were eventually traded to the Mojave Indians. Mary Ann died in 1853 and Olive was finally rescued in 1856, after 5 years of captivity.) In April of 1851, the U.S. Boundary Commission, led by John Russell Bartlett, arrived at the Santa Rita copper mines. They found the mines abandoned.
On June 30, 1854, the southern quarter of Arizona, south of the Gila River, officially became United States property. The Gadsden Purchase added nearly 30,000 square miles of mountains and desert to the United States. This mineral-rich region was acquired for only ten million dollars! There was only one problem - the Apaches controlled most of the area. In April of 1856, a detachment of troops led by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel T. Chandler entered the rugged Mogollon Mountains in search of hostile Apaches. (This party of soldiers was accompanied by Dr. Michael Steck, probably the best agent the Mimbres Apaches ever had.) The soldiers attacked a camp of hostiles, killing some and scattering the rest. Unfortunately, Chandler's destruction of the hostile camp merely increased the retaliatory raids of the Coyotero, Mimbres, Mogollon, and Chiricahua Apaches. In November a band of hostile Apaches operating in Zuni and Navaho country, killed the Navaho agent Henry Linn Dodge. The following year, Colonel Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville led a military expedition deep into Apache country to avenge Dodge's death. That spring, a detachment of troops commanded by Colonel Dixon S. Miles killed 42 Apaches in the mountains near the headwaters of the Gila River. Another detachment led by Colonel William Wing Loring killed 7 more. (One of Colonel Loring's victims was the famous chief, Cuchillo Negro.) Captain Richard Stoddert Ewell's command attacked a Coyotero camp near Mount Graham, killing 24 during the assault.
In 1858, the Apaches launched a series of retaliatory raids throughout Arizona and New Mexico. An ominous pattern was developing in the Southwest. Throughout the Gila River country, warfare was steadily increasing in a series of raids and counterattacks by both whites and Apaches.