“Those who don’t…”

“Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everybody else repeats it.” An old New Yorker cartoon, one of very few both funny and true.

Belated RIP, Ed

Re-reading the Feb 2019 issue of  Wild West I found an obit I should have noted at the time. My respects to Edwin R. Sweeney, the most prolific (and readable) author on the Apache Wars, who passed away Sept. 16, 2018. My copy of From Cochise bristles with bookmarks.,

Human Remains

Readers with more vivid imaginations may want to skip this post, but it’s kind of a necessary bookend to my previous post on the risks of White Sands. In re-checking some of the links in that piece, I turned up a recent Park Service release on a body found out near 49 Palms in Joshua Tree National Monument. Identity unknown, and I wondered whether the deceased might be the woman who disappeared out in Mohave Nat’l Preserve last summer. More likely the dead person will prove to be a 51-year-old hiker who disappeared in that area in July of 2018. But I was interested to note the Joshua Tree remains were discovered in steep, rocky terrain well away from the nearest hiking trail by an un-named “cooperating agency” examining aerial photos taken this past summer. Curious to know more about that mysterious agency and why it would be conducting a detailed aerial survey of the desert back country, I tried a web search for “human remains” and instead turned up a couple of equally interesting stories on an unrelated subject.

Most recent of these is that of the three mountain lions recently put down by Arizona Game and Fish rangers who caught the cats dining on a recently deceased human about 50 yards off a popular Tucson hiking trail. The rangers don’t believe the lions killed the dead person, but it’s somehow more disturbing they were feeding on the body, since mountain lions are predators, not scavengers. More ominous, the cats “repeatedly showed no fear” in the presence of the officers.

Arena Blanca Promoted

Effective just before Christmas, the 275 square miles of New Mexico desert formerly known as White Sands National Monument became the nation’s newest National Park. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Although both are run by the Park Service, it’s been my experience Parks tend to accumulate petty rules and officious functionaries more rapidly than Monuments. But maybe that’s simply a result of visitation, with the most beautiful and famous sites so overwhelmed by nature-loving daytrippers that a corresponding bureaucracy is needed to handle the crowds.

Although it’s been some years since my last visit, I hope the Arena Blanca is still a considerable way short of the sad condition of Zion, Yosemite and the South Rim. Kids can still have a lot of fun in the Sands without venturing beyond sight of the parking lot, and desert rats like myself can immerse themselves in the trackless expanse of the dunes with a ten-minute hike from pavement. That access can make the dunes quite dangerous, however. Please keep the risks in mind if you’re following Nana’s trail.

Old Shatterhand

According to my latest royalty statement, I’m selling books in Europe as well as the U.S. Tracking Nana has found a market in Britain and Spain, and I was surprised to find it selling in Germany as well. I’ve seen German tourists around the Southwest over the years but didn’t realize many of them share an interest in the Apache Wars.

A friend steered me toward enlightenment in the works of Karl May, a turn of the (last) century author who might be described as Germany’s Edgar Rice Burroughs. Like Burroughs, May was an enormously prolific and popular writer in his time, selling 200 million copies of his works worldwide. He wrote page-turners set in other exotic locales, but his most popular and enduring creations were the Apache chief Winnetou and his bloodbrother (May’s alter-ego) the intrepid German-American frontiersman Old Shatterhand. Unlike Burroughs, who is only vaguely remembered today as creator of Tarzan, May’s books remain popular in Germany more than a century after his death in 1910, spawning stage plays, TV shows, comic books and movies.

Although May visited America once it was for just six weeks late in his career and he ventured no farther west than Niagara Falls. His Westerns were entirely the product of his vivid imagination, and bore little more relation to the reality of the frontier than Burroughs’ Martian potboilers did to the real Red Planet. In May’s stories Winnetou rises to become first chief of the Mescalero and then leader of all the Apache bands as well as the Navajo — an ambition that would have daunted Old Nana himself.  Some of May’s adventures are available online, but I’m not sure whether those listed are English translations or in the original German.


I’m temporarily between travels and adventures, hoping for a quiet winter, precariously perched between river and desert at the sharp end of Nevada. Last year was too full of alarums and excursions for a man my age, and ’20 looks to be even more hectic. But “time enough to rest in the grave,” as the man says.

In the brief interval before greenup (and it’s already sprouting in my back 40) I hope to catch up a little on this website. Even with my clumsy and sporadic efforts at promotion, the book is selling well. I’m especially pleased to be the best-selling author in Hillsboro, NM. I’d rather that honor than to make the NYT list.

Road Closed

An important update for those planning to retrace the Raid today: on my last trip into the Gila I found the road through the Monticello Box closed. A cowboy (who showed up so promptly that I suspect there are cameras as well as a sturdy chain and padlock guarding the gate) advised me the county abandoned the road through the canyon some time ago. Too bad — the drive through the box was one of those adventures I wouldn’t nave wanted to miss.

Datil Well

Just back from a three-day excursion into what I think of as Nana’s Country. Lot to digest in that, but one quick note I want to share on Datil Well. My old piece in the Warpath lists it as one of my favorite campgrounds in NM. Based on my latest visit, I have to retract that recommendation. Once a pleasant and little-visited getaway, it’s become a dump, and I wound up boondocking in the NF rather than spend a night there.  On the plus side, the Joe Skeen CG up near Grants has been really turned around by the BLM after a couple of years when it was sliding into becoming a homeless squat/colonia, so I can unhesitatingly recommend that as an overnight stop. Also, for travelers in that part of the country, there’s a decent free CG in Pie Town if you find yourself benighted.

“For every Apache killed, he took many lives.”

I’ve been re-reading Lance Blyth’s Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880. It offers fresh insights into the Apache Wars from the perspective of the people of northern Mexico.

I hope to have more to say about the book’s overall theme in a future post, but first I want to focus on the short passage (p. 196) devoted to Nana’s Raid. Blyth adds a couple of interesting details, noting that Mata Ortiz was in pursuit of the raiders when they crossed the border. Presumably the Mexicans had taken the field in response to the attacks on the surveying party and other travelers along the Chihuahua Road as the raiders set out from the Sierra Madre at the end of June.

Beyond that, Blyth offers precise statistics on the raid: seven fights, 12 ranches and towns attacked, five soldiers and 30 civilians killed and “at least” 25 wounded.

He doesn’t specify these events so I don’t know if he counts the cluster of ranches around Garcia and the tent camp of Gold Dust and (possibly) an attack on Seboyeta as towns, but certainly the raiders struck at least a dozen ranches. I would list eight encounters as fights involving U.S. military personnel or civilian possemen: Alamo Canyon, the San Andres Mountains, Red Canyon, Monica Spring, Carrizo Canyon, the Cuchillo Negros, Wild Horse Canyon and Gavilan Canyon.

I count 8 soldiers and 64 civilians killed in New Mexico Territory by Nana and his raiders, another 25 wounded (some so badly they never fully recovered) and 14 taken captive – only about half of those ever reported recovered.

Whatever the exact count, we can all agree with Kaywaykla that, “Usen had not commanded that we love our enemies. Nana did not love his; and he was not content with an eye for an eye, nor a life for a life. For every Apache killed, he took many lives.”