Red Canyon

August 1 was the date Nana gave the Chloride posse a painful lesson in irregular warfare in Red Canyon. The Fort Bayard Story adds some details I had not previously uncovered. While the Anglos from the mining camps of Chloride and Fairview were led by Frank Mitchell, the Hispanic contingent was gathered by Bentura Trujillo at San Marcial, which was then the second largest town in Socorro County thanks to the arrival of the railroad the previous year. It makes sense that volunteers would have been drawn from along the Rio Grande, where Nana’s raiders had struck in passing a few days previously, rather than from Cuchillo, Placitas and Monticello farther up the Canada Alamosa, which had not yet been harmed and were in any case more inclined to be in sympathy with the Apaches.

According to the Fort Bayard book, the posse was on its second day in the field when attacked, which supports my view that the ambush was in West Red Canyon (or possibly Red Rock Canyon, as Bennett told Lummis) rather than East Red Canyon. The Fort Bayard version also reinforces my opinion (contra Wellman’s account) that the posse was not tracking the hostiles and in fact had no idea the Apaches were anywhere in the area.

That scarcely excuses their carelessness in releasing their horses to graze under the care of just one guard, of course. If the horses had at least been hobbled, the disaster might not have been so complete. Eight were wounded as the possemen “remained all day long, pinned down by the bullets fired by the Apaches from above,” according to The Fort Bayard Story (p. 151) but no mention is made of the defeated civilians meeting up with Lt. Guilfoyle afterwards, or the shepherd killed at the mouth of the canyon. The only man killed in the ambush was Pedro Vallejos, who had the bad luck to be left guarding the horses while his comrades snoozed under the trees.

Together with the later defeat Nana inflicted on the Lake Valley posse, the Red Canyon ambush helped convince the people of southwestern New Mexico of the need for an organized militia force that would (at least theoretically) be better organized, trained and disciplined to respond to future raids.

 

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