A Seneca Ghost?

Despite his popular moniker John Mosby can be eliminated as Lozen’s “Gray Ghost.” But are there any more likely candidates? As the tale came to Eve Ball, the mysterious stranger who captured young Lozen’s heart was a Seneca warrior. The Seneca homeland was far distant in upper New York, but in 1838 they were swept up in the Great Removal, following the Five Civilized Tribes to Indian Territory.

The Territory was a battlefield from the beginning. The tribes already on the land resented the newcomers, who brought with them their own inter-tribal rivalries and intratribal conflicts. They carried these bitter feuds into the Civil War, dividing the tribes between those who supported the Union and those who believed they might get better treatment from a victorious CSA than they had experienced from the USA. Those who wanted nothing to do with the white man’s war and wished only to rebuild their lives in peace were ridden down, burned out and trampled in the ensuing conflict.

The Seneca were among the tribes allying themselves with the Confederacy, and it’s likely some of their men were among the hundreds of Native Americans to take the field.. The best known is Brigadier General Stand Watie, whose Cherokee Mounted Rifles are renowned for capturing a steamboat on the Arkansas River. Watie, whose Indian name is better translated as “Standfast,” was the last Confederate general to surrender, laying down his arms on June 23, 1865.

Although the war ended, violence and lawlessness continued to plague the Territory for another 30 years. While most Indians stayed to fight for their lands, others moved on still farther from their original homelands. For example, Kickapoo and Potawatomi established villages across the Rio Grande in Mexico. So while the story is improbable, it’s not impossible that a Seneca veteran might have passed through New Mexico Territory “seeking some place where his people would be safe from their many enemies.”

Who Was the “Gray Ghost”?

One Apache story that has always fascinated me is the strange tale of Victorio’s sister Lozen and “the Gray Ghost.”

Lozen was in the first blush of her beauty when a strange man came riding into their territory. He was an Indian but dressed all in gray, escorting a closed carriage. Lozen loved him from the moment she saw him. He stayed with the Chihenne for several nights, asking questions about Apacheria and the country to the west. There was a woman in his closely guarded wagon, but she was rarely glimpsed. Lozen begged her brother to declare her love for the man they called the Gray Ghost, but the stranger said he was seeking some place where his people would be safe from their many enemies and he could not linger. Early one morning the little party rode on, and the Gray Ghost was never heard of again. Lozen never married but went on to become a great warrior, using her Power to defend her People.

In “Apache Voices,” Sherry Robinson dismisses this pretty Victorian melodrama as the invention of a Seneca woman living in El Paso. But what if there was some truth buried beneath all the embroidery? Given her age in the 1880s, it’s not unlikely that Lozen reached womanhood about the time the Civil War was winding up. Could the Ghost have been a Confederate soldier, cast adrift by defeat? There were a great many such men on the roads west in the summer of 1865.

First candidate to come to mind is the original Gray Ghost, Colonel John Singleton Mosby, a daring young cavalry commander in the mold of J.E.B. Stuart and George Custer. Subsequently immortalized in a short-lived 1950s TV series and a later Disney movie, the handsome, dashing Mosby had the honor of being among the last rebels to quit the field, finally laying down his sword nearly three months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Unfortunately for this theory, by December 1865 the former colonel had returned to lawfare in Virginia and so was unavailable for a tour of New Mexico Territory.

Where was Lozen?

July 25 marks the anniversary of Lt. Guilfoyle’s clash with Nana’s raiders in the San Andres Mountains. It’s a good moment to revisit one of the many intriguing puzzles surrounding the Raid: was Victorio’s sister Lozen with the raiding party, or did she stay behind to guard the women and children in the Sierra Madre?

I have never seen a complete roster of Nana’s original followers. There were said to be 13 when the war party crossed the Rio Grande below Fort Quitman, but Sweeney lists just five: Mangas, Bacutla, Jatu, Sάnchez and Suldeen. Kaytennae was certainly another, but it’s uncertain who the others were (and if there were only 13).

When the raiders departed their camp in the Sierra Madre Lozen was probably back from her heroic trip escorting a young woman and her newborn baby to the Mescalero Reservation. It’s hard to believe she would not have been remembered and noted if she were among the raiders, and equally hard to believe she would not have been in the forefront of a war party setting out to avenge her brother’s death.

But she had accepted the responsibility of guarding the women and children on earlier occasions, and Nana may well have believed she was indispensable in that role while he led most of the men off to the north. Her mysterious ability to “sense” the enemy threat at a distance would have greatly increased the security of the camp.

As far as I know there’s only one mention of a woman (other than captives) in contemporary accounts of the Raid. Reporting his attack on the hostiles’ camp in the San Andres on July 25, Lt. Guilfoyle claimed to have hit two hostiles and captured two horses and 12 mules as well as “cooking utensils” and other equipment. In the last line of his dispatch he mentions that the band included “eleven bucks, one squaw and one child.”

“Squaw,” like “buck” was not necessarily a derogatory term in those days, but simply a short-hand descriptive to distinguish native males and females. No one who saw her in action would describe Lozen as a “squaw,” however, and Guilfoyle strongly implies the woman he saw came from the Mescalero Agency. It was not unusual for Apache raiding parties to bring along one or two women to cook and keep the camp, chores that otherwise fell to any apprentice warriors in the group.

There’s no authenticated photo of Lozen that I know of, although she’s said to be one of the women pictured in the group behind Geronimo in the picture above.

‘Awake! Arouse, Sir Billy!’

“There’s forage in the plain. Ah, leave your little filly, And open the campaign!” runs a satiric couplet mocking British General William Howe’s delay in taking the field against the rebels in the Revolution. (Gossips in Boston attributed Sir William’s tardiness to his infatuation with a pretty American woman in that city.)

I mention that ditty only because it runs through my head every July 17, the date when Nana officially opened his campaign in New Mexico Territory by jumping a small Army supply column in Alamo Canyon. The two packers lost their mules but escaped with their lives. They carried the news of the ambush to Fort Stanton and to Lt. Guilfoyle, who was in the mountains with a company of Apache scouts hunting Mescalero renegades. “The game’s afoot!” as Shakespeare had Henry V say (and Conan Doyle’s Holmes later echoed more famously).

Although July 13 is generally cited as the date Nana’s raiding party crossed the Rio Grande into West Texas, at least some of his warriors may have been across the river as early as July 8, when two railroad employees were killed at a spring below Fort Quitman.

Nana & (not) Victorio

Interesting piece by Daniel Aranda in the June 2021 issue of Wild West on the famous but incorrect picture of the great Victorio. Included in the photo galleries of most popular histories of the Apache Wars (and even featured on the cover of Dan Thrapp’s seminal 1974 biography of the Chihenne chief) the image above has now been correctly identified as the portrait of a handsome young Mojave named Beitero. No authentic photograph of Victorio is known to exist, although Aranda believes one may have been taken before the chief’s death at Tres Castillos in 1880 and a copy may still exist somewhere.

If unearthed, such a photo would help resolve the differing written descriptions of the man. Some of those, like Lt. Charles Gatewood’s unflattering depiction of “a palsied, aged and decrepit chief who was barely able to accompany squaws and children in their forays,” likely confuses Victorio with his much older uncle Nana.

“die like a hero going home.”

“Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
~ Tecumseh

The Earth is Weeping

I’ve been a compulsive reader ever since I struggled past the banality of Dick and Jane and discovered the wider world of literature. I’m usually immersed in two or three books at a time, dipping into first one and then the other as my inclination directs. Some books are just too difficult to digest without an occasional divergence into less demanding reading.

One I’m currently struggling with is The Earth is Weeping. Cozzens’ accounts of the Great Sioux War, the Modoc War, the Nez Perce’ anabasis and the Victorio War make painful reading. The courage, self-sacrifice and stubborn determination displayed on both sides of the conflict cannot redeem the cynicism, greed and bureaucratic indifference that precipitated so much bloodshed.

Apologies to Lt. Bascom?

Sorting through old notes, I find this link for a book recommended by a source I can’t recall. I haven’t read the book, but according to the review it offers a compelling case for exonerating Lt. George Bascom of long-standing charges of brash arrogance, youthful stupidity and conduct unbecoming an officer of the United States Army.

Bascom’s violent collision with Cochise and his Chiricahua followers at Apache Pass in February 1861 is frequently cited as the proximate cause of the Apache Wars. Dozens of chroniclers have described those dramatic events with differing details, but all agree that Bascom first invited Cochise into his tent and then attempted to seize the chief and a half dozen of his followers with the intention of exchanging them for a young boy taken by Apache raiders a short time before. Although the soldiers succeeded in corralling three warriors and the chief’s own wife and young son, Cochise himself escaped the trap.

Matching treachery with treachery, Cochise then attempted to snare Bascom himself under the ruse of a second parley. The Apaches failed to net the young lieutenant but did succeed in capturing several other white men, who they offered to trade for their own people. Bascom stubbornly refused to negotiate for anything but the young boy he had been sent to recover. Unfortunately, that boy was a captive not of the Chiricahua but of the Coyoteros and was not even on the scene.

The stalemate ended when more soldiers arrived to relieve Bascom’s besieged detachment and the Apaches withdrew after murdering their own captives. In the final act of the tragedy the soldiers hanged six of the Apaches they held as they marched back to Fort Buchanan, carrying with them Cochise’s wife and son. Those soon escaped or were released, but the damage was done. As the Mexicans had learned long before, the Apache were not a forgiving people and would extract payment with interest for any insult or wrong inflicted on them.

Hutton, who structured his 400+ page Apache Wars around the life and times of the kidnapped boy who was the central figure in the Apache Pass drama, places the primary blame for the tragedy on Lt. Isaiah Moore, who outranked Bascom after he arrived at the besieged stage station with his Dragoons, and on Asst. Surgeon Bernard Irwin, who commanded the rescue force sent from Fort Buchanan and who had captured three of the hostages facing the rope.

Hutton credits Bascom with protesting their determination to summarily execute the hostages and sketches a macabre scene in which the officers played a game of cards to settle the issue while the doomed men watched. Moore won the hand and the six died where Cochise and his men had earlier murdered their own captives.

Rather than being censured for this sordid episode, Bascom was universally praised at the time and shortly won promotion to captain. A year later he died fighting Confederate invaders in New Mexico and was memorialized in the naming of a temporary fort erected in the northeastern part of the territory.

Unless the new book presents previously unreported evidence, I don’t see how it could clear the young lieutenant’s name for today’s readers. Although the fact that Moore was senior officer on the scene might somewhat mitigate Bascom’s responsibility for the hangings, Bascom was certainly solely responsible for the first act of treachery that initiated the whole cycle of violence.

An 1858 graduate of West Point, Bascom was probably a Plebe when R.E.Lee was still superintendent of the school. It’s too bad the young man didn’t absorb Lee’s own principles and standards of conduct for an officer and gentleman even when facing a savage foe.