New take on the Bascom fiasco

Latest edition of True West has an excellent piece by Doug Hocking with a new look at the infamous 1861 encounter between Cochise and Army Lt. George Bascom at Apache Pass. In the popular histories, Bascom generally comes across as an arrogant and inexperienced fool. Hocking somewhat mitigates that judgment, although he doesn’t challenge the accepted version of the key event: Bascom violated the rules of parley (as recognized by both the whites and the Indians) by attempting to seize Cochise and his companions after inviting them to attend a conference under a flag of truce. What’s worse, his treachery was so inept that he allowed Cochise to escape the trap.

Fire in San Mateos

Forest Service reports a lightning caused fire in the San Mateo Mountains. As of July 7, the Red Canyon fire on the Magdalena Ranger District remains at 17,843 acres. Burning since July 3, the fire is 2 miles southeast of Grassy Lookout and 27 miles southwest of Magdalena,  With luck the monsoon rains will keep it under control, reducing dead wood and underbrush.

Face in the Rock

Still struggling with the final chapter/epilog. Too many ends to tie up. So instead I went for a walk yesterday to a petroglyph site out west of Albuquerque. Nothing to do with Nana, but another of my favorite places.


The Old Gringo

Ambrose Bierce (June 24, 1842-1914?) was never my favorite writer. I grew up myself on Mike Royko at the old Chicago Daily News, and what I’ve read of Bierce’s newspaper work doesn’t impress me much. For short stories, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge has a memorable Twilight Zone twist (and I believe it was made into an episode) but I don’t class him with Bret Harte or Mark Twain for sheer entertainment. And although you can’t spend a career in newspapers and later PR without becoming either a cynic or an alcoholic – or both – I found the Devil’s Dictionary a little too relentless for my taste.
What makes Bierce memorable is his end. While it’s not uncommon for historical figures to sport a question mark beside their birth date (Nana is one of those) it’s comparatively rare to see a “?” marking a man’s demise. But Bierce just vanished like Amelia Earhart or Judge Crater, leaving behind an enduring mystery. Not a bad way to go.
“Good bye. If you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease and falling down the stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico – ah, that is euthanasia!”
Gregory Peck did an interesting movie with Jane Fonda and Jimmy Smits based on Gringo Viejo, a novel by Carlos Fuentes, I haven’t read the book yet, but the movie is an excellent treatment both of the Mexican Revolution and Bierce.

Stars ‘n Bars

There’s a little campo santo about 60 miles west of Albuquerque, untended if not abandoned. The fence is down, and the ground is overgrown with weeds; I couldn’t find a stone dated later than 1910. But at one end there’s a little area surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, marking the graves of three men of the 7th Texas Mounted Volunteers, dated 21 March, 26 March and 5 April 1862. Sibley’s men obviously. There may be Confederate war graves farther west in southern Arizona, but as far as I know these three lonely rebels mark the high water mark of the Confederacy’s march to the western sea.

cubero 1

writer’s block

I’ve been neglecting the chase after Nana for weeks now, for several reasons:
(a) I allowed myself to be enticed into briefly resurrecting an earlier incarnation as a journalist. My latest and what’s most likely my final effort in the genre is now available at the Carlsbad Current Argus.
(b) The 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, coincidental with the triumph of the new caliphate in the Mideast and followed closely by Memorial Day (a sadder occasion than Dia de los Muertos) left me too depressed to write. It occurs to me that in my lifetime this country has never won a war. I blame my own feckless and self-indulgent generation.
(c) Most important, I’m still struggling with Chapter 13, the final chapter in Nana’s epic. Too many loose ends to tie up, and more important, some larger sense to be made of the whole story.


Dan Herrera does a thoughtful column in today’s Journal on the importance of local history and closes with a quote he attributes to Napoleon: “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”  In its own small way the Nana Project is an attempt to achieve that consensus on just one relatively obscure corner of New Mexico history. As an ex-reporter and editor, the discrepancies I found between the various accounts of Nana’s raid stirred my old compulsion to “get it right” and separate fact from fiction. Not easy after more than a century,

Lincoln & the Chihene


Today being the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Pres. Lincoln,  try an alternate history scenario: would the ultimate fate of the Apaches have been any different if Lincoln had lived to finish out his second term?

Certainly his energies and attention would have been focused on reconciliation and reunification with the South, and most of his  political capital would have been spent in reining in  the radicals in his own party. But Lincoln had compassion and wisdom to spare; it’s not likely he would have entirely ignored the rapid deterioration of relations with the Native American peoples to the west. He pardoned many of the warriors sentenced to be hanged after the 1862 Sioux uprising in Minnesota, and that may provide a clue as to how he would have dealt with the Indians during the turbulent years after the Civil War.

The economic and demographic forces driving events would have been almost impossible to control, but Lincoln was above all a master politician. Given the popular surge of Eastern sentiment following first  Sand Creek and then Fetterman’s disastrous encounter with Red Cloud,  it’s possible he could have crafted some kind of accommodation with the tribes. That would almost certainly have cost them their land in the end, but it might have avoided the bloodshed.