Vinson: Dog soldiers last stand


EAR: 1924

LOCATION: "Boot-Heel" region of Hidalgo County, New Mexico

Approximately a dozen Apache Indians, astride horses, carefully negotiated the rugged mountain ranges that defined the region, located in far southwestern New Mexico, bordering Arizona and Mexico. Using savvy logistical foresight, the 'red men' had brought along a mule pulling a travois, a simple vehicle consisting of two trailing poles connected to fabric or hide, creating a platform with which to carry the spoils of the hunt: wild game, clothing, weaponry, jewelry, human beings, or any other items deemed worthy of salvaging.

Alas, the Apaches happened upon a lone 'pale face'! The warriors quickly dismounted their steeds and attacked the white man, killing him in brutal fashion. The Indians then took possession of the dead man's mule and gun, and, as a final act of degradation, dumped his body at nearby "Smuggler's Trail Pass."

Having been alerted to the cold-blooded killing, the Hidalgo County sheriff formed a posse and, along with other posses, initiated a manhunt for the murderous renegades, who seemingly were on a crazed mission to decimate and terrorize the white man by any method possible. Immediately after the incident at Smuggler's Trail Pass--with the Hidalgo County sheriff and his posse in hot pursuit--the Apache culprits went on a spree of running off herds of cattle and horses, and robbing and vandalizing homes, employing psychological tactics such as slashing open pillows and mattresses and scattering the feathers.

The Hildago County posse tracked the fleeing Apaches to their camp at Big Hatchet Peak, located in Hidalgo County. The posse enclosed the camp and rushed in, weapons drawn. However, the alert Apaches had seen, or heard, the incoming posse. The scrappy villains, subsequently, fled on foot in a southerly direction, leaving behind many horses and mules, as well as meat sizzling on a fire. The posse followed the Apache's tracks but, low on supplies and fatigued, the posse aborted pursuit at the Mexican border.

However, as indicated at the beginning of this column, the year was 1924. Therefore, the action described above must have been taken from a scene in a Tom Mix western movie, cowboys fighting Indians. After all, Geronimo, the greatest Apache chief & warrior, ever, had surrendered for the last time back in 1886. For all practical purposes, the Indian Wars against America and Mexico had ceased with Geronimo's surrender, correct?

If, indeed, such is your assumption, you are incorrect--partially, at least. Although the Indian Wars had diminished greatly with Geronimo's 1886 surrender, credible history asserts in 1924, in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, Apache Indians, in fact, did murder a white prospector & cowboy named Frank Fisher and absconded with Fisher's gun and mule. Still, the same history claims the culpable Apaches were hunted by the Hildago County sheriff and posses.

Further, Apache attacks on Americans and Mexicans carried on at least into the next decade. During the 1930s, Francisco Fimbres, a roughhewn rancher in Sonora, Mexico (to the north, it shares the Mexico-U.S. border with the states of Arizona and New Mexico), spearheaded a litany of eradication crusades against the Apaches. Fimbres had good reason for retribution: "They [Apaches] had murdered his wife in front of him [Fimbres] and stole and later killed one of his small children."

By all accounts, there have been no recent reports of red men and white men fighting to the death using tomahawks, knives, spears, bows-and-arrows, and guns as weapons. These days, most controversy involving Native American Indians stems from gambling casinos on Indian reservations.

However, in 1995 Carolco Pictures released a film titled "Last of the Dogmen," starring Tom Berenger and Barbara Hershey. Berenger's character is a rough-and-tumble bounty hunter, and Hershey's character is an archaeologist. Set in modern day, Berenger and Hershey are searching for Cheyenne Indian "Dog Soldiers" in an unchartered area of the Montana Wilderness ... and I'll let you figure out the rest.

Thus, who's to say somewhere in Montana, the Dakotas, or Extreme Appalachia, there still aren't a scant few "Dog Soldiers" dressed in loincloths, bare chested, barefooted, knives and spears at the ready, merely trying to survive and making a "last stand" against modern society?

(SIDE NOTE A: Two Arizona cowboys, the Hunt brothers, claimed they saw the Apache pillagers--in the flesh--a few days after the Smuggler's Trail Pass murder in 1924. The Hunt brothers told that the leader of the marauding Apaches was "a big white man with a long beard and a mane of blond hair, riding in front and wearing a deerskin breech clout." Many Old West historians have theorized the "the white man with a long beard and a mane of blond hair" was Charlie McComas. The theory is plausible, because, according to solid history, Apache Indians killed Charlie's parents in 1883, and took 6-year-old Charlie as a prisoner. Charlie McComas's ultimate fate is unknown to this day.)

(SIDE NOTE B: To avoid confusion, there exist the following: Hidalgo County, New Mexico; Hidalgo, Texas; Hidalgo State, Mexico.)