Arizona December 23, 2016
This Place In Arizona Has A Dark And Evil History That Will Never Be Forgotten
The land certainly has a way of surprising us. The drive to the entrance of the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness is a quiet one, surrounded by tiny towns, farmland, and incredibly rugged mountains. It’s a perfect picture of the romanticized ranching history that lives most comfortably in Arizona’s recent past without the tell-tale signs of the violence that took place in order for that lifestyle to thrive.
Little remains of the old Army fort that briefly stood near the present-day Central Arizona College Aravaipa campus, about 12 miles south of Winkelman. You could probably easily mistake what’s left of the ruins for average desert rubble. There also isn’t a sign of the massacre that took place a short distance away in the early morning hours of April 30, 1871. On that morning, one of the bloodiest days in Arizona history occurred within a short 30 minutes.
Just two months earlier, hungry and weary, a band of Apache surrendered and essentially became prisoners of war of the fort. Surrendering their weapons and uttering promises of living peacefully along the banks of Aravaipa Creek in exchange for food rations without having to relocate to the White Mountains. The group grew to some 150 Aravaipa and Pinal Apache, who enjoyed a short time period of living without running after giving up their weapons.
It didn’t last long, though. Mid-19th century Arizona was a time of frontier settlement, mining, and other commercial endeavors. That meant removing its Indigenous peoples in some rather violent ways following raids, attacks, and retaliation from both parties.
In the weeks leading up to the massacre, Tucson residents, ranchers, and others living nearby formed a committee after becoming increasingly frustrated by what they perceived to be growing raids from various bands of Apaches and the lack of help from the U.S. Army. At one point, the committee decided the raids were being carried out by members from the Aravaipa camp, living about 60 miles away, and decided to take matters into their own hands.
Prominent Tucson citizens, like William Oury and Sidney DeLong, organized and prepared to lead a vigilante group of about 140 men to attack the recently settled Aravaipa and Pinal Apache. A mixture of American, Mexican, and O’odtham residents slowly began leaving Tucson on April 28 to travel to Camp Grant, trying to avoid raising suspicions.
Just before sunrise on April 30, the vigilante group surrounded the makeshift village (estimated to be in the area of the yellow circle) and opened fire. Some went in with knives, clubs, and other weapons for a more brutal killing. Within 30 minutes, it was all over.
The Camp Grant massacre culminated in the horrific deaths of 144 Aravaipa and Pinal Apache, nearly all women and children. The bodies were stripped and mutilated. In some cases, it was apparent that women “were first ravished and then shot dead,” according to an account in Dee Brown’s Bury My Heat At Wounded Knee. The children who survived were gathered up to be sold into slavery.
Despite all their efforts, the vigilante group didn’t go completely unnoticed. News of the impending attack didn’t reach the leaders at Camp Grant until 7:30 a.m., a short time after the massacre concluded, with medics and interpreters arriving to an awful scene.
Eventually, the attack came back to haunt the vigilante group, if only briefly. In December of that year, 104 of the men were indicted and tried, but they were all eventually exonerated of all charges. It quickly came to be known around the country as one of Arizona’s worst moments in history only to be just as quickly forgotten.
No marker sits at the site to identify the old fort or the massacre site, and the topic certainly isn’t discussed in most history classrooms. The attack is briefly mentioned in the historical books like
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and in some recent articles. In recent years, several books have been published including Massacre at Camp Grant: Forgetting and Remembering Apache History by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh to detail the event for future generations.
If you want to read about another event in Arizona history, you may want to start with our recent article,
A Terrifying, Deadly Storm Struck Arizona In 1967 And No One Saw It Coming.