Blood along the Cañon del Oro – Israel-Kennedy Wagon Train

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013 (2).tif

The map above shows the location of the Israel-Kennedy Wagon Train incident.

By John Hernandez

 Newton Israel and Hugh Kennedy were partners on a ranch about one mile down the San Pedro River from Camp Grant. They were some of the first white American settlers along the San Pedro River. After the Civil War and the return of the military presence in Arizona, people began to settle in the San Pedro River Valley near Camp Grant and at Tres Alamos. Israel is known to have lived near Camp Grant as early as 1866. In December of that year he wrote a letter addressed to H.A. Bigelow, a member of the Territorial Legislature, and to the editor of the Arizona Miner newspaper at Fort Whipple near Prescott. In the letter he asked that they not move Camp Grant and requested more of a military presence in the San Pedro Valley. He said that there were currently nine farms under cultivation near Fort Grant. Israel added that General Mason had promised the settlers in the area protection by the military forces.

 In Jul. 1867, Newton’s ranching partner C. Tommalson would be killed by the Apaches near Camp Grant. Newton Israel established the Camp Grant Store with his partner George Cox in Oct. 1868. The store advertised that they sold dry goods, groceries and hardware. Their ad also announced that “those persons desirous to settle upon the Lower San Pedro, that we are proprietors of a large asequie and will allow water to be taken from it by actual settlers free of charge.”  Asequie is a community-operated water system  consisting of ditches and canals.

 Israel and Cox would end their partnership Sept. 1, 1869 with Israel retaining ownership of the store. George Cox had become the first postmaster for the Camp Grant Post Office established on Aug. 19, 1869. Part of his job was transporting the mail between Tucson and Camp Grant and Camp Grant and Florence. The partnership may have ended on unfriendly terms. A newspaper article dated Apr. 23, 1870 in the Weekly Arizonan out of Tucson reported that “A lively game of fisticuffs came off Wednesday evening between Newton Israel and a man named Cox, formerly in his employ at Camp Grant. The doctor bills, will perhaps amount to 50 or 60 dollars.”

 In May 1870, Hugh Kennedy and Newton Israel had gone to Tucson searching for workers for their ranch along the San Pedro River near Camp Grant. Israel also still owned the Camp Grant Store. They were returning to Camp Grant with workers and supplies. There were two women, some children and 21 men, mostly the Mexican workers that had been hired for the ranch. The wagon train only had four guns among them. Somewhere between what is now Oracle and the Canyon del Oro, fifty to sixty Apaches ambushed then attacked the wagon train. Israel was killed in the first attack but managed to kill his assailant with a rifle shot. The armed men put up the best fight they could, allowing the women, children and Mexican workers to flee into the surrounding hills where they managed to find shelter behind some rocks.

 The odds were too heavy and Kennedy knew their only chance was to flee. Kennedy had his left thumb shot off in the first volley but managed to cut the harness loose from one of the mules hooked to a wagon and mounted it. He attempted to charge through a group of Apaches who fired at him with guns, bow and arrow. He was hit in the chest with an arrow but managed to continue riding the mule. The mule burst through the group of Apaches who continued to fire at him. He was over 100 yards away when a bullet hit his mule in the rear end causing it to buck him off. Kennedy landed hard on the ground but managed to crawl away and hide himself. The Indians then turned their attention to the wagons and began looting them. They took all the supplies and the mules. They then burned the wagons. When the women, children and Mexican workers saw that the Apaches were looting the wagon and ignoring them they escaped down an arroyo and eventually made it to safety at Camp Grant guided by one of the Mexicans familiar with the trails.

 One of the Mexicans had fled ahead of the group and made his way on foot to Camp Grant some 30 miles away. The Mexican’s clothes were torn and tattered from scrambling through thorny bushes and cactus while running away from the ambush. His shirt was covered with blood from a wound caused by a bullet that had scraped his ribs. He ran across the parade grounds straight to the Camp Commander’s office where he reported what had happened. Sergeants John Mott and Warfield had been standing nearby when the Mexican came into camp. The experienced soldiers saw the condition of the Mexican and knew they would be in action soon. The Sergeants saddled their horses and immediately began organizing their troops. Sergeant Mott would later earn the Medal of Honor for heroic actions in a battle with Chiricahua Apaches in the Whetstone Mountains.

 Every available soldier who could mount a horse saddled up and within 20 minutes was crossing the San Pedro River on their way to the Cañon del Oro. It was dark when they arrived in the area of the canyon and they could not see the remains of the wagon or any bodies of the members of the wagon train. They heard a sound which they first thought were coyotes barking, as they got closer a feeble voice was heard calling out for help. It was Hugh Kennedy and he was in bad shape. Kennedy pointed out the direction of the location of the wagons. When they arrived at the site the wagons had been burned to the ground and were still smoldering. Lt. Bourke reported that it was a “ghastly sight.” Newton Israel’s naked body was lying on the ground with his burned legs in the ashes of some of the wagon. His head had been bashed in with brain matter spilling out of the skull. He had a number of lance wounds, had been partially scalped and his heart had been cut out and lay near the body.

 The next morning they loaded Hugh Kennedy onto the back of a wagon and made him as comfortable as possible. Israel’s body covered by a blanket lay next to Kennedy on the wagon. Kennedy made it to Camp Grant where he was taken to the infirmary. He would die a few hours later. Israel and Kennedy were both buried at Camp Grant. The entire garrison turned out for their funeral. The pursuit of the Apaches that attacked the Israel-Kennedy train would become known for introducing Lt. Howard B. Cushing,  to the people of Arizona.  

 The troop’s scouts picked up the trail of the Apaches which led through the Catalinas down to the San Pedro passing near Camp Grant. Their trail had been easy to follow as there had been a case of patent medicine on the wagons. The Indians, believing it to be alcohol, drank the medicine. There were signs of people that were stumbling and walking in circles from the intoxication.

 At Camp Grant, Lieutenant Howard B. Cushing was preparing “F” Troop to pursue the Apaches involved in the attack. Cushing and his troops were new in Arizona and this would be the first major campaign for him. Cushing and his troops had gained a reputation as exceptional Indian fighters, winning battles against the Mescalero Apaches in Texas. Lt. John Bourke who served with Cushing said in his book, On the Border with Crook, that Cushing “who with his troop, ‘F’ of the Third Cavalry, had killed more savages of the Apache tribe than any other officer or troop of the United States Army has done before or since.”  Cushing would become known as the “Custer of Arizona.”

 Joe Felmer, who had a ranch near Camp Grant, and Manuel Duran, an Apache, were selected to guide the column of troops. Felmer was also the Camp blacksmith and was married to an Apache woman. They followed the trail of the raiders which left the canyon of the Aravaipa and headed straight for the mouth of the San Carlos.

 The troops followed the trail for three miles when, all of a sudden, it disappeared. Manuel Duran, being an Apache, knew many of the tricks used to avoid the pursuit of enemies. Duran patiently studied the ground, looking at every stone and bush in the area. He then took the troops west, headed for the mouth of the San Pedro, across the Gila River, up Disappointment Creek in the Mescal Mountains to the foothills of the Pinal Mountains. They crossed the Pinal range at its highest point. Looking below them from the mountain, they spotted smoke rising in the valley to the north and east. They waited until dark to approach the Apache rancheria. Duran had scouted the area and the troops had dismounted and snuck quietly to their positions surrounding the Apache encampment.

 An older Apache had awakened and walked to a campfire to stir the embers and build a warmer fire. He approached the area where Lt. Cushing was hiding in the brush to search for wood. As he came towards the brush, he apparently felt something wasn’t right. He turned to run and began to let out a yell warning the camp when the order was given to fire. The Apaches awakened by the gunfire fled out of their wickiups seeking cover from the deadly rifle fire. Many of the Apache warriors fled towards the rocks to find cover and make a stand, but only found soldiers waiting there who opened fire on them at close range, killing many. Manuel Duran fired at a figure running by him and discovered that he had killed an Apache warrior and a small child that the warrior had been carrying with the one shot. In Cushing’s report, 30 Apaches were killed and a few women and children captured. No casualties were reported by the cavalry. Some of the captive women told the interpreters that they were Pinals and had been returning from a raid in Sonora when they ran into the Israel-Kennedy wagon train. They also said that their warriors would have put up a better fight but many of them were sick from drinking the medicine they had taken from the wagons.

 Lt. Cushing and his troops would have many more successful engagements against the Apaches. He became well known for his willingness to pursue and attack the Apaches. He would be transferred to Fort Lowell near Tucson. There he was given orders to take the field against the Apaches wherever he could find them. The Apaches he would be fighting were now Chiricahuas led by the great chief Cochise. Some historians said that Cushing had an obsession to capture or kill Cochise.

 On May 5, 1871 he led 22 men into the Whetstone Mountains following a trail left by a group of Chiricahuas. As they approached an arroyo, Sgt. Mott and a civilian scout named Simpson advised Cushing that they believed they were being led into an ambush. Cushing disregarded their advice and led part of the troops into the large arroyo. While passing through the arroyo, Mott noticed some Apaches in the nearby hills maneuvering to get behind them. He warned Cushing and they started to back out of the arroyo towards their troops. Apaches then appeared from behind rocks and commenced firing at them. Mott said that they seemed to be concentrating their fire at Cushing. Cushing was wounded and fell. Upon seeing Cushing fall, the Apaches charged them.

 Mott and his troops fought hand to hand with the Apaches. While the wounded Cushing was being carried to the rear, an Apache bullet struck him in the head killing him. The civilian scout and another soldier were killed. Mott and some of his men fought their way out of the arroyo and made it back to the men they had left with the rear guard. The Apaches chased them and the troops fought a running battle for over a mile before the Apaches stopped their pursuit. The troops made their way back to Camp Crittenden. Thirteen Apaches were killed in the battle. Cushing, Simpson and three soldiers were killed. It was said that if not for the actions of Sgt. Mott and some of his men, the whole command of 22 men may have been wiped out. For his actions Mott received the Medal of Honor.

 It was believed that Chief Juh led the Apaches that killed Cushing. Juh had heard of the depradations that Cushing had done to a Mescalero rancheria killing men, women, and children and his attacks on the Apaches in Arizona. He had sworn to get him one day. It was said that an Apache woman had deliberately set a trail for the soldiers to follow making sure moccasin tracks and signs would be noticed by the cavalry scouts. Chief Juh and his warriors had counted on Cushing’s aggressiveness and bravado to be led into the ambush.

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