FOLLOWING THE WARPATH: Round Mountain
Since we can’t trail Nana and Guilfoyle into the San Andres Mountains, we’ll have to backtrack from Aguirre Springs, northeast on US70 to Alamogordo and north from there on US54, where there’s another Apache story to relate.
Round Mountain is about nine miles east of Tularosa on US70
Round Mountain, also sometimes called Tularosa Peak, is no mountain by New Mexico standards, rising less than 300 feet above the surrounding terrain. It was once known locally as Dead Man’s Hill, commemorating an encounter between Mescalero Apaches and a small cavalry detachment aided by local Hispanic settlers. The widely varying accounts of that incident illustrate the all but insurmountable difficulties in determining the historical truth of the Indian Wars in the Southwest.
According to the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division’s 2007 Annual Report:
“The history of the 1868 Battle of Round Mountain is contradictory and its exact location an open question. The Mescalero Apache recount the attack in their oral history as a peace-making expedition gone sour. A medicine woman had a dream about preparing herself and the tribe to make peace. As they approached Tularosa, they were fired upon and again faced gunshots from soldiers who retreated to their fort, and the battle ended. Historic accounts tell a different story
“The morning of April 16, Sgt. Glass and four cavalrymen patrolled a wagon road between Nesbitt’s Mill and Tularosa. Glass reported Apaches attacked five soldiers who escaped to Tularosa and returned April 17 with the 26 citizens of Tularosa. The party was attacked again and retreated to a nearby hill—Round Mountain. A six hour battle left 10 Apache dead and the Mescalero withdrew to their camp. Tularosa celebrated victory by building a church, where the town’s defenders still are commemorated each year.”
Dar Sharp gives a very different version of the event. According to Sharp, Sgt. Glass and five troopers of Co. H, 3rd Cavalry, were not patrolling the road but escorting a supply wagon from Fort Stanton toward Fort Selden on the Rio Grande. As his little detail descended the pass to within a few miles of Tularosa, Glass judged that they were out of danger. He sent the wagon on alone and turned back to Fort Stanton with his men.
“Near the base of Round Mountain one of the soldiers thought he heard hoofbeats. They paused. Soon they all heard, and they knew what was coming. Instinctively they looked around for cover just as two hundred Apache warriors, led by the fierce war chiefs San Juan and Cadette, rounded the side of the mountain and swarmed towards them.
“The partially intact wall of an abandoned adobe was close by. It was only about chest high. The soldiers took shelter there. With the little time they had before the Indians would charge they pulled their mounts down to the ground and hogtied them so they wouldn’t be standing targets.”
“Several hours later the soldiers saw the Indians looking and pointing off to their left. A contingent of twenty-six armed Hispanic settlers was riding towards them at full gallop. Cesario Duran, Alcalde of Tularosa, led the group. Sheriff Jose Candelaria and his deputies were right behind him. Firing volley after volley they were able to ride into the enclosure where the soldiers were under siege.
“The Apaches didn’t like the odds. They made a fainthearted rush on the barricade. An arrow pierced Corporal Niever’s wrist. A large Apache made it to the wall where he was shot, dragged inside and scalped. Then, as quickly as it had begun, the battle ended. When the dust settled behind the retreating Indians the soldiers and citizens maintained their positions for a long time, as if they couldn’t believe their good fortune. It was over.”
Sherry Robinson (Apache Voices pp. 153-57) relates yet another version of the incident, drawn from Eve Ball’s interviews with aging residents of the Mescalero Reservation in the 1960s. According to Ball’s informants, it was a young girl who had a dream about making peace with the people at Tularosa, there was just one Apache killed, not 10, and the man wounded in the wrist was not a soldier but one of the volunteers from Tularosa. Numerous other details in Ball’s version differ from the other accounts.
So which of these tales is “true”? It’s possible that, as with the X-Files, “the truth is out there somewhere,” but even if months of dusty research unearthed contemporary newspaper accounts or military reports, there’s no reason to believe those might be more accurate than the oral histories of the Mescalero or the folk-memory of the people of Tularosa. I’m no scholar, and my time here is too short to undertake that kind of research in any event. I’m inclined to agree with Hillary Clinton that, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
What’s indisputable is that the church the Tularosanos built to commemorate their victory is still there, shaded by ancient cottonwoods, on the main road through town. Beautifully preserved and maintained, San Francisco de Paula is a testimonial to the faith and the stubborn, enduring courage of the people who have made their lives here, precariously balanced between the desert to the west and the mountains to the east. If you visit – and I highly recommend it – tread reverently. The names of the 26 brave men who rode out to do battle that day are inscribed on a bronze plaque in the churchyard.