I became so engrossed in the maps cited in my last post and in recapping this year’s rainy season that I never quite got around to the point I wanted to make: the key role the 1881 monsoon played in Nana’s Raid.
Having spent more than 70 years living outdoors in the Southwest he needed no calendar to track the seasons. The monsoon traditionally runs from around the Fourth of July to the end of September, and the old fox planned his foray to take advantage of those rains. Filling springs and waterholes otherwise dry during much of the year offered the raiders a much wider selection of watering places for themselves and their stock. The Army had the advantage in manpower but a shortage of horses; by using his infantry to guard water sources, Col. Hatch might hope to thwart the raiders’ progress or even trap them as Col. Grierson had trapped Victorio at Rattlesnake Springs in Texas the previous year. Multiplying the number of water sources scattered across the territory greatly reduced the effectiveness of that tactic.
While the summer storms made the roads and trails more difficult to travel in localized and unpredictable ways, this affected their adversaries far more than the Apaches, who were justly famous for their ability to travel fast over the worst terrain. The Army’s wagons and heavy cavalry horses were more restricted in the routes they could travel, and so more likely to get mired in the muddier low country.
The newly-constructed railroads were particularly vulnerable to the rains as well, although Nana probably did not realize that at the time. The crude trestles bridging the numerous arroyos cutting across the right of way were washed out by local flash floods and as a result Hatch was unable to bring two companies of the 9th down from Colorado to join in the chase.
2 Replies to “The Monsoon and the Raid”
Very interesting. Living in Magdalena and exploring the surrounding environs I can attest to the watering holes being dry most of the year and ubiquitous during the monsoon season. Nana was perhaps the greatest irregular fighter in the Northern Hemisphere.
I wouldn’t go quite that far, but he was certainly much more of a strategic thinker than historians give him credit for. He clearly planned the raid to coincide with the monsoons because he knew the rains would give him far more options for watering his force than the Army could possibly hope to guard. I’ve also read one Apache account that credits Nana with the idea of cutting telegraph wires and splicing the breaks with blackened rawhide strips to make the breaks more difficult to locate. (I don’t have any indication that happened during the raid, but it was a trick used during the Cibecue uprising.)