Military Wiki
Victorio's War
Part of the Apache Wars, Mexican Apache Wars, Renegade Period
Victorio Chiricahua Apache Chief.jpg
Chief Victorio
LocationSouthwest United States, Northern Mexico
Result United States/Mexican victory
 United States
Commanders and leaders
United States Philip Sheridan
Mexico Joaquin Terrazas

For other conflicts involving the Apache see Apache War (disambiguation).

Victorio's War, or the Victorio Campaign, was an armed conflict between the Apache followers of Chief Victorio, the United States, and Mexico beginning in September 1879. Following his escape from the San Carlos Indian Reservation in southeastern Arizona, Victorio led a guerrilla war across the Southwest and northern Mexico. Many engagements were fought until the Mexican Army killed Victorio and defeated his warriors in October 1880. After Victorio's death, Chief Nana continued the war into 1881. Following the Battle of Cibecue Creek, in August 1881, Nana and his band joined Geronimo.[2][3]


The unhealthy conditions of the San Carlos Reservation was a main factor which led to the war, disease and lack of supplies plagued the United States Army stationed at various forts in Apacheria. The same was said of the Indian reservations that were difficult to maintain for most of the period. Extreme desert conditions also meant that the Apaches willing to become farmers would have a hard time growing their own food. Reservations meant the army had to send a constant flow of supplies to them and their own outposts, something which had always been a problem to military forces since the Spanish controlled the area prior to 1821. The desert offered few natural sources of food and water in most areas. Hunting was also an issue; at one point the San Carlos Apaches were allowed to hunt but after decades of massacres and battles, armed Apaches drew the suspicions of settlers so the army discontinued the policy.

Victorio, before coming in, was promised to be given the land around Camp Ojo Caliente for his reservation but ultimately he and his band were sent to San Carlos where other Apache bands lived. The Apache were not a unified tribe and many fought against each other so living at San Carlos meant living with enemies, something that also gave Victorio the incentive for leaving permanently which took place in late August 1879.

Battle of Ojo Caliente

Victorio and his followers, numbering around 200 men, women and children, headed for Ojo Caliente where on September 4, as they were nearing their destination, a small patrol from Company E of the 9th Cavalry was detected. In the ensuing skirmish, Victorio's warriors killed five Buffalo Soldiers under Captain Ambrose Hooker, before mutilating and staking their bodies to the ground. Other accounts say eight soldiers perished along with three civilians.[4][5] Five of the soldiers known to have died that day were Sergeant Silas Chapman and Privates Lafayerre Hoke, William Murphy, Silas Graddon and Alvrew Percival. Forty-six to sixty-eight army horses and mules were also taken by Victorio and the victory caused other Apache bands to leave the reservations and begin fighting. By September 10, nine American settlers had been killed by hostiles and the army had dispatched thousands of soldiers and scouts to search for Victorio. American militias also formed in Arizona and New Mexico.

Battle of Las Animas Canyon

After Ojo Caliente Victorio decided to head south. While traveling down the Animas River, the band encountered a militia made up of miners in between Kingston and Silver City. Ten of the Americans were killed and about fifty horses captured in another short engagement, Victorio then continued south into Las Animas Canyon, in the Black Range, where he positioned his warriors cunningly. The first significant battle of the conflict was about to be fought. There are several different accounts of the event but what is known is that on September 18 of 1879 Victorio was encamped at the canyon when two companies of cavalry under Captain Byron Dawson discovered them. About seventy-five men altogether, the Americans were apparently lured into the canyon by either an Apache woman or two warriors who opened fire on them as they headed down Las Animas Creek near the junction with the canyon. Victorio's forces, numbering at least sixty men, were positioned atop of a ridge overlooking Las Animas Canyon and the adjoining Massacre Canyon. When the Americans were inside the Apaches opened fire with their rifles and bows so the soldiers took cover behind boulders and other natural defenses. Two other companies from the 9th cavalry were in the area and proceeded to the battlefield. When the reinforcements entered the canyon, Victorio's warriors ceased firing until the Americans began a flanking maneuver towards the ridge. Victorio's men then opened fire again and repulsed the attack. Long range skirmishing continued for the remainder of the day and that night the Americans retreated. Accounts of casualties differ but at least five soldiers were killed and several wounded. Navajo Scouts also played a role in the battle; two or three are known to have been killed and are buried among the thirty-two graves at the site. Thirty-six army horses were also killed, while Victorio's losses were negligible.

Three American soldiers received the Medal of Honor for courage under heavy fire: Lieutenant Robert Temple Emmet, Lieutenant Mathias Day and Sergeant John Denny. Lieutenant Mathias received the medal for disregarding Captain Dawson's order to retreat so as to save wounded soldiers who would have been left behind. John Denny did the same and carried one man back to friendly lines under accurate fire from the ridgeline. Dawson was later removed of his company by his commander Colonel Edward Hatch.

See also


  • Michno, Gregory (2003). Encyclopedia of Indian wars: western battles and skirmishes, 1850-1890. Mountain Press Publishing. ISBN 0-87842-468-7. 

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