7. Fighting Apaches: Offense and Defense, 1778–1782


Up: Contents Previous: 6. Founding the Royal Spanish Post of San Agustín del Tucson, 1766–1779 Next: 8. Harassing the Western Apaches, 1782–1792

SUPERVISING CONSTRUCTION OF FORTIFICATIONS at a new post did not absorb all of Captain Pedro de Allande's energies. Fighting Apaches constituted the primary mission of frontier presidial forces in the latter 1770s, and he was quite aware of that fact.


Militarizing the Northern Pimas

Allande began his anti-Apache campaigns, apparently, by hiring Native American reinforcements because he had too few troops. He dipped into his own pocket for a month's pay for Indian warriors.1 This was likely a May 1779 sortie ordered by Pedro de Tueros,2 commandant of arms of Sonora. Allande took out 79 troopers, militia and auxiliaries.3 He found a number of Apache trails, but achieved no success in combat terms. On 1 October, Apaches ran off five horses and a mule, but the troops failed to catch them.4 Allande then began to move. Six years later it was chronicled:

The year 1779 he made another campaign in the Santa Catherina mountains in which he attacked two rancherías. They killed some warriors, women and children, and captured six prisoners. He has similarly arranged for Pimas, Papagos and Gileños to make some campaigns. They have always achieved in these some victory against the Apaches. He has regaled and made them gifts from his salary to motivate them.5

Within three years of the founding of the Tucson post, its commander had assumed an active role leading to a progressive militarization of Northern Piman society, including that of the Gila River Indians well to the north of Tucson. Thus, its influence spread widely among frontier Indian allies.

On 6 November 1779, an Apache force that Allande estimated at 350 approached the post itself. He formed a command of 15 men to sally forth and engage the enemy. The Spaniards defeated the Apaches in a long running battle. Allande cut off and brought back the head of a slain chieftain carried on a lance as a trophy, after waving it at the surviving Apaches. They reportedly broke and fled at this sight, abandoning their plunder. The Spaniards killed several Apaches, including a brother of Chief Quilcho.6


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Captain Allande and his men made three scouts in all during the final four months of 1779, and “with the assistance of the Pimas of San Xavier del Bac and the heathens of Aquituni, they killed six Apaches, three women, and captured seven prisoners.” This expedition moved the Apaches to retaliate against Piman Tucson, where they killed one trooper and captured another, losing two of their own men in the process.7

Northern Piman Indian participation in the expedition is significant evidence of the extent of military cooperation of these Native Americans with Spanish troops only 28 years after they rebelled against Spanish colonial rule. This marked the beginning of integration of significant numbers of Northern Pimans into Spanish frontier forces.

One modern author has commented upon Sonoran acceptance of Papagos as soldiers after Mexican independence,8 and another has detected a progressive militarization of Gila Pima society in the 1800s with an accompanying professionalization of the soldiery.9 The 1779 records of the Tucson presidio, the Spanish military post nearest to the Gila Pimas and most Papagos, disclose a much earlier European militarization of Northern Piman culture. The Pimas and Papagos gained 40 years of direct experience in the Spanish army, learning European patterns of warfare and military organization as well as the Spanish language10 before Mexico gained its independence. Mexico did rely heavily on the military prowess of loyal and friendly frontier Native Americans, following a colonial pattern. Colonial accounts make clear that the Spaniards paid Native American warriors, so that their progressive professionalization is not at all surprising.


Supporting Colonial Expansion

The Tucson post played its expected role in supporting Spanish colonial expansion to the Colorado River. Frontier Provinces Commandant General Teodoro de Croix ordered Tucson to supply 11 of the troopers to be assigned to the two new settlements. Sergeant Juan de la Vega led this contingent, aided by two corporals. Three more troopers came from the Altar presidio along with Ensign Santiago de Yslas, the military commander of the project. Buenavista supplied six troopers. The Tucson garrison drew three replacements from Altar, five from Buenavista and seven from San Miguel de Horcasitas.11 By replacing the contingent drawn from the Tucson garrison for the Colorado River settlements, Croix could keep the Tucson unit at full strength. Thus he was able to report to the king's minister, José de Gálvez, that he had drawn a subaltern, a sergeant, 2 corporals and 18 men from the presidios of Altar, Horcasitas and Buenavista. This reduced the complement at each of those posts to 64 officers and men.12

Ensign Yslas led the troops and settlers to the Colorado River by December 1780.13 The Yumas received them well. The colonists paid little attention to Yuma land rights in selecting their settlement sites and fields. Worse still, they let their livestock destroy Yuma crops. Consequently, the Yumas refused to sell the colonists supplies when they exhausted their provisions. A California-bound expedition grazed its animals on Yuma fields and mesquite groves, triggering a very effective Indian uprising in July of 1781.14


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Portents of Warfare

Meanwhile, the year 1780 brought portents of Indian warfare later in the decade for San Agustín del Tucson. Late June proved to be most eventful. On 26 June, Apaches approached the post stockade. They took two girls captive, but presidial gunfire drove them off, and they abandoned the girls.15

On that same day but far away, the garrison lost its military chaplain by enemy action. Friar Francisco Perdigon went south to Bacanuchi for the festival of St. John (23–24 June). He returned toward Arizpe with an escort of 11 armed men. When they were attacked by some 30 Apaches four leagues from the provincial capital, the escort broke and ran. The Apaches slew two members of the ineffective escort, captured one, and killed the priest, wounding him from head to foot. When survivors reached Arizpe and notified the authorities, the latter sent 50 dragoons after the Apaches. The cavalrymen were unable to overtake the attackers.16

At other times during the early summer of 1780, Apaches killed a friendly Native American at Tumacacori, a Papago and a Gileño. On 10 July a Tucson Pima managed to escape from his Apache captors.17

The year of disaster on the Colorado River, 1781, opened with excitement on the Apachean frontier. Early in January, four Apaches tried to steal sheep from Tumacacori Mission with the aid of three captives. The foreman heard them and they fled — save for one of the captives, who hid until daylight, when he was apprehended and conducted to the presidio for questioning. Next came an Apache sortie against Tucson's supply lines:

The 22nd of the same January the Apaches attacked a pack train of the aforementioned Presidio which was carrying supplies from the Mission of Saric escorted by a corporal and a dozen soldiers. They valorously resisted the attack. They killed two of the barbarians, and the rest retired to a nearby hill. The corporal of the party, fearing a second attack on terrain more advantageous to the enemy, dispatched three soldiers to the Presidio seeking aid and munitions. They were cut off by seven Apaches, but dismounting they tied their horses and defended themselves bravely, killing two more barbarians and obliging the other five to flee. They carried out their mission, and the reinforced escort conducted the pack train happily to the presidio.18

That civilian Hispanic settlement began at Tucson very soon after the military post moved there seems clear from the fact that Allande could take militiamen into the field in 1779 along with his troops and Native American auxiliaries.

An unexpected and sad female reinforcement came to San Agustín del Tucson in 1781. The Yuma Indians on the lower Colorado River had rebelled against Spanish colonization in their territory in July. The Yumas successfully surprised two settlements and missions which had been founded, killed the men (including Friar Francisco Garcés) and carried women and children off into slavery. A Spanish expedition under Lieutenant Colonel Pedro Fages in December of that year rescued these survivors.19 At least some of the rescued women went to Tucson. Lieutenant Josef M. Abate wrote on 2 May 1782 that


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“the women who were on the Colorado say that those nations paint their faces with colors,”20 indicating the presence of these women at Tucson. Probably they came originally from Tubac, and returned to live with relatives who had moved to Tucson from the former post.

The colonial contretemps at the Colorado River crossing the year Spain invaded Minorca and Florida ended Spanish efforts to maintain overland communication between Sonora and California. That frontier lay too far from the theaters of decision for the empire to divert resources there. Consequently, Tucson remained the most advanced military post on this sector of the frontier of New Spain.


May Day! 1782

That Apache Indians on occasion attacked the Spanish garrison at Tucson has been known for some time. In his study of Juan Bautista de Anza as governor of New Mexico, A. B. Thomas noted that Gila Apaches allied with Navajos stormed both Tucson and Janos in 1784 in retaliation for a Spanish strike deep into Apache territory.21 That was not, however, the first Western Apache attack on the Tucson post. At least two years earlier, Apaches assaulted the Tucson post with the clear hope of capturing it. The following account of this 1782 assault, reinforced with translations of eye-witness reports, contributes directly to our knowledge of the long-range problems of defending New Spain's northern frontier provinces against marauding tribesmen.22

May Day in 1782 dawned peaceably over the Royal Post of San Agustín del Tucson and its neighboring Northern Piman village. There was little to distinguish May Day from any other day in post routine save that it was Sunday. Such of the garrison as was on the post went about its accustomed duties.

The chaplain probably celebrated early Mass in the post chapel. Then he went across the Santa Cruz River to Piman Tucson to visit the missionary from Bac who had come north to the Native American settlement to celebrate Mass for its inhabitants. The company's ensign also crossed over to the Northern Piman village, along with a soldier. The company's lieutenant slept late in his house outside the post stockade. A soldier wandered on who-knows-what errand through the brush a short distance away from the post. Some women and children went walking in the cultivated fields in the valley toward the Indian village.

About 10:00 A.M. a strong force of Apache Indians intruded upon this peaceful frontier scene, achieving nearly complete surprise. They raced for the open entrance to the post stockade and nearly won through. A valiant personal stand by post commandant Captain Pedro Allande y Saabedra held the opening for the Spaniards. The sleepy lieutenant provided an important tactical diversion from his rooftop. The ensign and soldier visiting in Indian town across the river tied down another portion of the Apache force.

Thus, the tactical surprise the Apaches achieved in their initial attack was frittered away by their dispersion of forces against the two settlements,


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and the unforeseeable pinning down of many of their effectives in the housing outside the stockade. Apparently the Apaches attacked in accord with a pre-concerted plan, but without unified field command.

Certainly the Spaniards fought without a unified battle command. Their senior officer held the stockade gate more by personal efficiency in killing Apaches than by intelligent orders. Each of the other officers also fought virtually on his own, breaking the Apache attack by personal accuracy with firearms, which gave each one some edge in firepower over the bow-and-arrow-armed Apaches. The luck of the position of the various commissioned officers at the beginning of the battle also insured that they would be able to immobilize two large forces of Apaches away from the gravely threatened stockade entryway and thus prevent an all-out Apache mass assault on that weak point. Yet the officers fought independently and without real knowledge of what the others were doing during the conflict.

The next day, Captain Allande ordered his company ensign to collect eye-witness accounts of the battle from its several participants in order to reconstruct events for a report to higher authority.23 The Spaniards' segmented, personal views of the battle showed clearly in the resulting affidavits. Some of these reports have been translated here to provide a sense of the battle isolation and an understanding of the individual emergency behavior displayed by these men under enemy surprise assault.


Delgado: a Trooper Who Hid In a Tree

In obedience to the order of my captain, I had appear the soldier José Antonio Delgado, whom I interrogated upon his knowledge of the following points:

Asked, where he found himself when the Apaches fell on this post?

He replied that he found himself in the low brush which is near the post.

Asked, how he escaped from the Apaches?

He replied that as soon as he saw them, he fled through the wheat and hid himself behind the back of a ditch and climbed up a cúmaro tree.24

Asked, what he saw from there?

He replied that first some thirteen Apaches passed, and that these were carrying three dead bodies, and that they were resting underneath where he was hidden.

Asked, if he saw anything else?

He replied that when the cannon fired he saw that other Apaches passed with three of them being carried already dying.

Asked if he knew whether the dead and those who carried them were Apaches?

He replied, yes, he knew the living to be because they were talking under the tree, and the dead wore the same clothing as those who carried them.

Asked if he saw anything else?

He replied that he saw nothing more than what he has declared, and that this is true, and he ratified and signed it with me.

YGNACIO FÉLIX USARRAGA

JOSÉ ANTONIO DELGADO25


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The Apache surprise, in other words, was complete so far as this trooper was concerned, and he contributed nothing to the Spanish defense, being quite immobilized up in his cúmaro tree. One imagines that Delgado suffered considerable mental torment in his leafy hiding place, while the Apaches removing bodies of slain comrades from the battlefield paused to rest and converse under his tree. What if they had glanced up, or he had moved or sneezed?

Because of the number of literate, educated Spaniards visiting in the Native American settlement of Tucson that morning of 1 May 1782, several eyewitness accounts of the battle for the bridge between Indian town and the post were obtained in the next few days. In addition to offering various views of the battle, these documents make clear that much more water flowed in the Santa Cruz River then than did a few decades later, and that the spring which flowed from Sentinel Peak also contributed far more water than in later decades.

There were two stream channels or very large irrigation ditches which created an island on which Piman Tucson was located. The eastern stream flowed so heavily that it was bridged with a permanent structure to carry traffic between the military post and Native American town. Apache horsemen did not attempt to ford or swim this waterway in order to outflank the Spanish defenders of the bridge.

The fact that this heavy streamflow existed on the first day of May emphasizes the difference between the aquatic ecology of the Santa Cruz River Valley in 1782 and that of a century and a half later. The month of May is part of the driest season of the year in southern Arizona, after the winter rains have ended and long before summer thunder showers begin. While the hydrology of the area must be inferred from brief references to the streamflow in accounts of the battle, these references are quite clear.


Non-Combatants: The Missionary and the Chaplain

Father Belderrain of Bac, whose peaceful Sunday visitation was violently interrupted, was able to observe the various encounters from a position at Piman Tucson:

As for what I saw from the Pueblo of Tucson on the first, between it and the presidio there were many Apaches on foot and some mounted. Those on foot, judging from the body which the Pimas, Papagos and Gileños who are collected for campaigns make, that we have counted, I judge to have been about 180. I did not pay much attention as to how many there may have been on horseback. I judge that these had taken up a position at that site in order to hamper the relief of the Pueblo, because I observed that they were not receiving Your Honor's attention, because I saw that the fire came from the northwest to the northeast, so I inferred that those in those directions were more numerous than those who made an all-out effort to enter inside the stockade.…

…The battle lasted until the remount herd approached near the Pueblo. This was so far as I know quite distant and nearly an hour passed in collecting and herding it.26


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Very likely Father Belderrain's estimate of the number of Apaches on foot was the most accurate one made that May morning. Apparently the number of mounted enemies was not large, so this estimate is significant in comparison to the higher guesses of combatants who were pinned down where they could see only small portions of the total Apache force, but who probably were more emotionally involved in the battle. Significantly, Belderrain implied that he consciously estimated Apache numbers by comparison with his memory of the bulk of Native American allies when forming to go on campaign, giving his estimate a real base.

The other priest in Piman Tucson that morning was the chaplain of the Tucson presidial garrison. Inside when the first shot was fired, Father Gabriel Franco immediately climbed up onto the mission roof where he could see what was going on. Yet,

…“he was unable to see what the number of enemies who attacked this presidio might have been. Despite the distance, he was able to hear the first shot, and climbing to the roof he immediately commenced to see the Apaches who surrounded the presidio in such numbers that not only was the presidio surrounded, but also one wing occupied the field.

They came straight for the mission cited, for which reason it was unable to give aid, because Ensign Usarraga and the distinguished27 Don Juan Phelipe Beldarrain who wished to come to the Presidio were attacked by the enemy on the bridge. Without doubt they restrained there the advance of the Apaches onto the island and pueblo. It is certain that although he was unable to distinguish perfectly the number that there might have been, never has there come such a numerous body of enemies, nor have they attacked with such pertinacity and by such places.

Without doubt the number of troops who resisted the assault was very small because really very few were present, and even fewer of them were in the Presidio. The cited Ensign Usarraga, the distinguished Don Juan Phelipe Beldarrain, and a soldier who had gone for grass were in the Pueblo. The latter was unable to enter the Presidio, so entered the Pueblo, from which I watched with Father Velderrain the multitude of enemies who assaulted the north side of the Presidio, where they were met with the major force of fire, while equal case was not made against those to the south and west who were numerous enough.

The time that the battle which I was watching from the Pueblo lasted would have been around two hours.…28

Even the two priests became too excited during the battle to pay attention to the passage of time. One estimated one hour while the other guessed nearly two hours as the duration of the engagement. Both agreed that the Usarraga-Belderrain defense of the bridge saved Piman Tucson and its mission as well as themselves from attack. Usarraga, with his bravery, clearly made a key contribution to the Hispanic institutions struggling to survive on the banks of the Santa Cruz River.

This subaltern had transferred to Tucson from the Flying Company of the Province of Sonora, in which he also held an ensign's rank. He replaced the deceased José Francisco de Castro. Usarraga's formal commission as first


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ensign was not signed by the king until nearly a year after this battle.29 The following report gives Usarraga's own first-hand impression of the bridge defense that saved the Pueblo:


Usarraga: The Ensign Who Held the Vital Bridge

My Dear Sir:

In compliance with Your Honor's order of the second of this month, and in accordance with the questionnaire that accompanied it, I expound the following under my word of honor:

The first day of the present month when the enemies fell on this presidio, I found myself in the Pueblo of Tucson on my own affairs and with Your Honor's permission, accompanied by the distinguished Don Juan Phelipe Beldarrain. At that time, despite the distance of the shots and disturbance, I attempted to return to the presidio. I did not reach it, however, because when I arrived at the Bridge with the distinguished person mentioned, the enemy was already in possession of that site in great numbers. They tried forcefully enough to advance over the Island to the Pueblo, but seeing that those who had come there were many, and that, moreover, if I won through them I should find it necessary to enter another multitude who were covering the lake and ditch, I decided it would be well to make a stand with the distinguished person mentioned, firing on said Bridge as much to impede their advance on the Island and Pueblo as to succor some women and children who found themselves in the ditch. From there we saw the presidio surrounded and notwithstanding that there were very many on all sides, the major resistance from the presidio was directed to the north of it, which made me decide that the greater part of the enemies were there.

When they had abandoned their intention of entering the Pueblo, I returned to it and asked Father Friar Juan Baptista Beldarrain for some Indians whom he gave me immediately. With them and the distinguished person I was able to enter the presidio after the battle ended, although the enemies were still gathered not far distant.

As for their number, I am unable to say definitely (inasmuch as I was not present) what it might have been. Yet I can assure you under the faith of my word that I have not seen such a body in the battles in which I have engaged, nor have I heard said that they have made such an attempt to enter any other presidio.

The troops who were in the presidio that day (including the captain, cadet, and sergeant, who was sick) were eighteen men and two citizens.

The enemy losses [were as follows]: …From the Bridge I saw one fall in the Ojito (spring) and the Apaches picked him up and carried him. Another among those whom the distinguished one and I were firing on at the Bridge fell and the Pimas continued shooting arrows at him and and yelled to us,

‘We are going to get him.’

Inasmuch as we did not foresake the Bridge, we left him, and I am sure that this Apache is the one whose head the Pimas cut off which Your Honor placed on the gate of the stockade, because he had a ball in the chest and two arrow wounds in the side according to what those who went to see the body say.30


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Allande made a practice of cutting the heads off Apaches his troops killed and setting them on the defensive wall of the post “causing terror to the barbarians and an agreeable perspective to this most affectionate and humble vassal of Your Grace,” as he wrote to a superior officer.31

Ensign Usarraga's account makes clear that although his defense of the bridge with Beldarrain saved Piman Tucson from invasion and pinned down one wing of the Apache force, the battle really was won elsewhere. The one Apache killed for certain near the bridge, and the second either killed or mortally wounded near the spring, discouraged the attackers, but not enough to cause them to disengage.


Lieutenant and Servant: A Key Flank Diversion

Another pair of defenders caught outside the stockade by the surprise Apache attack caused more casualties and pinned down a significant portion of the Apache assault force close to the threatened stockade entrance. In Lieutenant Josef María Abate's own words:

The Apache attacked this presidio on the first day of May about ten o'clock in the morning while I was dressing. My servant arrived, saying to me,

‘The Apaches are here.’

I grabbed my weapons and climbed to the parapeted roof of my house. I saw that the enemies had it completely surrounded. Inasmuch as the latter were not expecting harm from the roof, I was able to kill one with my first shot without being seen. My servant took the opportunity to fell another with an arrow. The Apaches, seeing that those who were firing were only two, and those who had surrounded the house were about a hundred and fifteen, rather more than less, commenced to shoot at us. Returning their fire, I felled another.

Frightened by seeing that I had killed two and my servant one, they retreated and with the bodies of the dead they entered a house which was back-to-back with mine. Although they had retired, it was in such a manner that they remained at a distance which enabled them to shoot arrows at us, but because we were protected by the roof parapet, the wall resisted their arrows although the multitude was large. Firing where they were, my servant with his arrows and I wounded many because every shot was unerring. Continuing to fire, I reached my tenth round when the barrel of my gun plugged up. I ordered my servant to descend to bring me another rifle which he brought me despite having been wounded since the middle of the battle. When I opened fire again they retreated, but, forewarned, I took advantage of this last shot, but only wounded my target, although he fell.

From the roof of my house I saw that in a little space the Apaches took possession of a very large number of houses near the guard, and tried with the greatest perserverance to enter the entryway to the stockade which I thought they had gained because I saw them within less than ten paces' distance and I saw very few of ours in it, although these between the cloud of smoke from powder and dust kept up an unceasing fire.


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I did not see how many enemies were killed in the presidio, but I heard that they yelled when they were forming the line that three Apaches had been killed.

I am ignorant of the troops that were in the presidio but I conceive that they would have been very few because at the bulwark which was the most favored there would not have been over six who were in the gate of the stockade. There seemed to me to have been fewer because of their small mass.

I never have seen such a large number of enemies, but it seems to me that those who attacked the presidio were not fewer than 600 and I have heard said that no other presidio has been assaulted with such persistence nor by such large numbers.32

The importance of the diversion created by Lieutenant Abate and his Indian servant was very great because they forced a considerable number of Apaches to take cover in houses outside the stockade where they were no assistance to the assault force trying to storm the entrance. Abate could hardly have fought better had he known that his promotion was before the king and that his lieutenant's commission would be signed in far-off Spain on May 14. He had recently been transferred from Altar to Tucson, and promoted from first ensign to acting lieutenant.33


Captain Allande: The Entryway Engagement

The bridge defense and roof-top diversion seriously weakened the Apache thrust at the stockade entrance, but the defense of that point clearly proved to be the key to the battle. The man who held the stockade entryway for Spain was none other than the post commander, Captain Pedro Allande y Saabedra:

The first day of May of 1782 six hundred Apaches approached this presidio (which was without a wall) reaching to the stockade itself, and entering many houses. The deponent found himself with only twenty men including the cadet, his son, who is today ensign of this company, during the first attack which he resisted at the entrance of the presidio. They dangerously wounded three men, one of whom died, running the deponent through the right leg, until he remained with only one soldier.…34

Apparently the commanding officer felt constrained to exhibit modesty about his brave role in defending the post, leaving it to others to emphasize his fighting efficiency and bravery. Another of his summaries of the action adds but little to that above:

The first day of May of 1782 I defended the presidio with twenty men including the Cadet, my son Don Pedro María de Allande, against 600 Apaches who tried to dispose of all the inhabitants, taking possession of many houses to attack us and to defend themselves. These served them


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at the same time as a hospital in which to put their dead and wounded. They reached the stockade which was without doors nor guardhouse, in their first assault, wounding a soldier, an invalided one and a citizen. They shot the deponent's right leg through and through, despite which he killed two by his own hand after being wounded, continuing to direct from the bulwarks and stockade (a soldier serving him as a support) such a heavy fire that they were obliged to retire with heavy losses. Although the wound weakened the deponent's forces inasmuch as it hit the nerves, nonetheless because of his anxiety that the arms of Your Grace should shine with the greatest brilliance, he did not retire for treatment until the battle ended.…35

At the very end of the battle, Captain Allande actually remained alone at the stockade entrance despite his serious wound. He sent the soldier supporting him, José Domingo Granillo, who was himself still sick from wounds he had suffered on January 30, to fire the cannon which apparently completed the demoralization of the Apaches and signaled the virtual end of their assault. According to Granillo:

“finally he remained alone with his captain in the entrance to the stockade and his captain ordered him to climb to the bulwark to fire a cannon. The numerous arrows gave him pause for a while, but his captain turning to see, said,
‘Climb! I will protect your rear!’
He climbed up and fired the cannon.”
36

The troops that participated in the defense of the stockade and its entrance concurred in the captain's account. Of the Apache main attack, they said,

“They made the utmost effort to gain the entrance to the stockade in order to enter the guardroom, but the heavy fire the captain with four men directed at them dissuaded them.”
These defenders also estimated that the battle lasted for two hours, and judged from the blood found afterwards in the houses where the Apaches took cover that many of them had been killed, “but those who fell in the view of all were three. The Captain killed two of these and the Paymaster Don Francisco Núñez one.” During the key struggle for the entryway, the Apaches “wounded the captain, shooting his right leg through and through, the invalided Juan Espinosa and the trooper Baletín de la Peña. The latter two retired when they were wounded, and only the captain kept up his fire and animated those who accompanied him, without ceasing to attend to all the bulwarks until the battle ended, at which time he issued forth supported by Sergeant Juan Fernandez and a soldier to examine the slaughter which our arms had wrought among the enemy.”37

The Spanish officers on the post were unanimous in expressing their admiration for their commander's stand. According to Ensign Usarraga:

The trail which the Apaches left demonstrated that they had reached within eight or ten paces of the guardhouse and exercised every diligence to enter it. Everyone with a single voice says that Your Honor without paying attention to the wound which you received in the leg continued to direct with great animation those who accompanied you without leaving the bulwarks, and that with only four men you defended the entrance to the stockade notwithstanding that it was necessary for you to avail yourself of a soldier to keep yourself on your feet. I myself testify


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that after I reached the presidio Your Honor left the stockade, supported by the sergeant, to reconnoitre the havoc which had been wrought by the enemy. Despite our having urged on you going for treatment, only much later did you wish to do so, after seeing that the enemy had retired.38

The troops who defended the stockade besides the captain, Paymaster Francisco Núñez, and troopers Juan Espinosa, Baletín de la Peña, José Domingo Granillo and Sergeant Juan Fernandez already mentioned, were Corporal Ygnacio Arias and troopers Joaquín Ortega, Miguel Antonio Talaman, Francisco Xavier Castro, José Antonio Fuentes, Martín Mascareno, Juan María Olvera, José Jesus Baldenegro, Antonio Miranda, Manuel María Mallen, Vicente Pacheco, Procopio Cancio and Thomás Ramón Amesquita. The citizens who joined in defending the presidio were Juan de Dios Marrujo and Pascual Escalante.39 The commandant general of the Frontier Provinces of New Spain authorized Captain Allande to enter on the service record of every participant in the battle his official commendation.40


New Tactics by a Nameless Strategist

While the Spanish estimate of 600 Apaches in the attacking force41 may have been inflated by fears generated in the stress of battle which affected perception, there can be little doubt that the royal Spanish Fort of San Agustín del Tucson had been savagely attacked by one of the largest Apachean armies ever to attempt to take a frontier post. This 1782 battle was noteworthy for its divergence from customary Apache tactics. Usually the Apaches ambushed isolated, small parties of troopers guarding remount herds or conducting pack trains with animals or goods of immediate economic value to the aggressors. In other words, the southern Athapascan Indians became “raiding robbers” of Spanish herds and flocks in New Mexico, Sonora and Chihuahua.42 The southern Apaches did not then raise cattle, although they kept horses to ride on their raids. They slaughtered cattle, donkeys and horses soon after capture to cure the meat for later consumption. They thus remained “parasitic” on Spanish livestock,43 and continual hostilities with Spanish forces thus ensued.

This means that the most noteworthy aspect of the Apache attack on Tucson on May Day in 1782 was that it amounted to a frontal assault upon a Spanish presidio and its associated friendly Native American town. In a complete departure from usual Apachean battle tactics, the attackers struck directly at the poorly defended post and ignored its remount herd. The eyewitness accounts clearly credit the troops guarding the cavalry post's animals with helping to halt the Apache attack on the presidio, in a reversal of the usual roles.

The attack described in the eye-witness accounts translated in this chapter prove that for a brief period, at least, some anonymous Apache leader succeeded in mounting what must be termed a strategic Apache offensive against the Spaniards. Economic raiding was suspended while the Apaches tried an all-out attack on Spanish military posts. Apparently some Apache military genius had perceived that the customary hit-and-run raids harassed


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the Spaniards but did not stop their northward advance. He perhaps realized that the only way really to halt the Spanish advance and effectively to defeat the Spaniards was to assault and capture their frontier military installations. Then, too, the posts held far more plunder than a single pack train conveyed.

That nameless Apache strategist was undoubtedly correct. Had the Tucson post fallen to the attackers, they could have mopped up the Northern Piman Indians of Tucson at their leisure, and swept west to wreck havoc in the exposed rancherías of the Papaguería. They could have advanced south to annihilate the civilians left at Tubac and the unprotected missions and towns farther south of the frontier. Consternation would have reigned on the Sonoran colonial borders.

In the trials of deadly conflict, superior fire power evidently won the battle of 1 May 1782, combined with a disposition of Spanish officers when the battle opened that prevented effective concentration of Apache forces against the presidio entrance.

Just possibly an Apache strategist had been able to persuade band chiefs not only to concentrate forces for an all-out attack on the presidio, but also to experiment with a unified battle plan. The accounts of the battle by the priests and officer caught in the Pueblo of Tucson by surprise suggest that that Apaches had split their forces foolishly in a twin-pronged assault on both Indian village and military post. It is possible, however, that this was precisely what the Apaches wanted the people at Piman Tucson to think. The fact that the Apaches concentrated on the bridge, suggests that they, like Ensign Usarraga and Don Juan Phelipe Beldarrain, were fighting a holding action there to dissuade the Tucson Native Americans from attacking the rear of their main force striking the presidio. Such an interpretation suggests that the Apache assault on the presidio failed principally because of superior Spanish fire power of firearms over bows and arrows, and the unforeseeable bit of Spanish luck in having a sharp-shooting lieutenant and his accurate bowman-servant outside the stockade in a parapet-roofed house on the Apache flank.

Eventually Apache casualties simply mounted too high for them to maintain the attack, having lost the advantage of initial surprise. The Spanish accounts indicated a minimum of eight Apaches killed—two by Allande, one by the paymaster, two by Lieutenant Abate, one by his servant, one by Ensign Usarraga or Beldarrain, and one by an unknown hand near the spring. Thus, the Apaches sustained far higher proportional casualties in killed and wounded than Apaches customarily suffered before they disengaged in economic raids on flocks and herds.

The total attacking force was probably in the neighborhood of 300 warriors. The priest's estimate of about 180 Apaches on foot based on comparisons of mass with a known number of friendly Indians carries more weight than the guesses of 600. All the Spanish accounts suggest that mounted Apaches numbered fewer than those on foot, who carried the brunt of the battle. Probably the horsemen were deployed to ride rapidly around the post to give the Spaniards the impression of being effectively surrounded while the Apache infantry struck for the entryway. The 8 claimed Spanish kills amounted to some 2.6% mortality for a force of 300, and many other Apaches


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were badly wounded, as evidenced by Spanish descriptions of bloody houses where the Native Americans were pinned down. Ensign Usarraga took particular note of this bloody evidence of Apache casualties: “The enemy dead, judging from the abundant blood which they lost, were many. In the house of the soldier Juan Santos Lopez (where they deposited the cadavers while the battle lasted) I saw many fresh pools of blood, and the same in that of the soldier Baptista Romero and that of the corporal Francisco Espinosa.”44

The Spanish casualties consisted of three wounded defending the gate, so amounted 12.5% of their 24 effectives. Yet the Spaniards had no choice but to continue fighting or die. The attackers could choose, and they admitted that their supreme effort failed. The Spaniards did not stress their own losses, and the death of one of their three wounded was mentioned only in passing. Even more casually, the chaplain's comments on possible Apache allies revealed that a woman had also died at the hands of the attackers: “I have heard said by women that the Chacon boy has said he did not flee because he recognized that the one who killed Dona Thadea was a one-eyed Papago Indian.45

When interrogated, the Chacon boy replied “that he who wounded him was a one-eyed Indian who wore Guaraches [sandals] and for this reason he did not flee. Although he was not acquainted with him, the Indian resembled a Papago whom he had seen a few days before in the Pueblo, but he does not affirm that it was he.46 Thus, a brief hint in the post-battle accounts raises the possibility that Apaches captives operated as part of the attacking force. At any rate, the presence of hostile warriors wearing Mexicanstyle sandals rather than Apache boots shows that there was some cultural diversity among members of the assaulting forces.


Battle Epilogue

One of the results of this sanguinary battle seems to have been the completion of the adobe fortification wall by one of the Spanish officers engaged. In rating the post's officers in December of 1783, the adjutant inspector had this to say about the man who fought from his house roof during the battle:47

Lieutenant Don José María Abate has managed the finances of this company with integrity and disinterest enough. He had obeyed the captain's orders according to what the latter tells me. He is capable of disciplining troops, and I believe he would try very hard to carry out any commission with which he were charged, inasmuch as he has walled the presidio at his cost on the same terms which he offered.

Thus, the wooden stockade Captain Allande had thrown up in 1777 and defended in 1779 and 1782 has been replaced by a permanent adobe wall by the end of 1783, making the Tucson post rather more secure against attack. Eight years after the garrison arrived on the Tucson site, its post was physically secure, and it was ready to go over onto the offensive.

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