By John Hernandez
The Cañon del Oro, the “Canyon of Gold” in Spanish, is a remote canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. Through the canyon runs the perennial creek known as the Cañada del Oro. The creek is fed by rain and melted snow from the north face of Mount Lemmon. The creek flows northward towards the town of Oracle and then curves southward to the town of Oro Valley. It probably got its name from the Spanish explorers that discovered gold in the area in the 17th century. It has a history of mining activity after the Civil War when American prospectors began searching the area for gold. The legendary “Mine with the Iron Door/Lost Escalante Mine” is reported to be somewhere in the canyon area. The area during the Apache Wars was also the scene of a number of encounters with Apaches including battles between Americans, Mexicans, and the U.S. Cavalry.
Tully & Ochoa
Tully & Ochoa, later known as Tully, Ochoa & DeLong, was one of the premier freighting and mercantile companies in the southwest. Their freighting business extended from Tucson and Tubac to Santa Fe, New Mexico. They hauled freight into Mexico and for many of the military camps in Arizona. Pinckney Tully, and Estevan Ochoa became successful businessmen in Tucson. Ochoa became one of Tucson’s leading citizens and was an important part of its history. Sidney R. DeLong would be an important part of Tucson’s history and would be involved in the Camp Grant Massacre. Apache raiders took a toll on their wagon trains and made the cost of goods high as the freight trains had to hire men to protect them. One such train fought a battle against overwhelming odds along the Canada del Oro.
Santa Cruz Castaneda was an experienced teamster, wagon master and Indian fighter. He had worked for Tully & Ochoa for a number of years hauling freight and protecting it from Indians. Castaneda was an old veteran of a number of Indian battles. He was well respected and said to have a high reputation as an Indian fighter. Just one year earlier, he was in charge of a wagon train that was attacked by Apaches at the Cienega. Two men Barba and Soto were killed. Baregen, Moreno, Lucero and Castaneda were wounded. The Apaches were able to run off 38 mules but the wagons were saved.
In May 1869, Castaneda along with 14 men, nine 16-foot Murphy wagons (Murphy wagons could haul between four and eight tons depending on their length) and 80 mules left Tucson early in the morning on their way to Camp Grant. They were hauling government supplies for the fort and goods for the merchants in the area. Shortly before 8 a.m. they arrived near the Canyon del Oro. Castaneda saw signs of Apaches in the area. He ordered his men to circle the wagons. A large band of Apaches, estimated at 200 appeared in the surrounding hills. The Apaches had maneuvered themselves so that they had encircled the wagon train. A lone Apache moved out from cover waving a white cloth and speaking in Spanish called out Castaneda by name and asked to speak with him.
Castaneda allowed the Indian to approach the wagons. The Apache who Castaneda recognized as an Indian named Cisco from the reservation at Camp Goodwin spoke telling Castaneda that the Apaches did not wish to injure him or his party; that they were strong enough to take the train by force and advised Castaneda to leave everything and they would permit the whole party to go unharmed. Castaneda calmly replied that they could have the wagon train when he could no longer hold it.
The Indian returned to the hills and told the Apache leader what Castaneda had told him. The Apaches then let loose a volley of rifle fire and arrows upon the wagons. The teamsters had made bridgeworks from sacks of flour and grain and had taken cover behind and underneath the wagons. They only fired at the Indians when they had a clear shot or when the Indians attempted to charge the wagons which they did at intervals. Time and time again, small groups of Indians would rush the wagons, attempting to find a weak spot in the wagon trains defenses. The experienced frontiersmen made them pay with well placed shots, making them retreat for cover.
Santa Cruz Castaneda also had another strategy he used when the Apaches were brave enough to rush the wagons. He had somehow managed to obtain a small howitzer cannon. It was the only known time that a cannon was used by civilians in Arizona to battle Indians. The teamsters fought with the Apaches from 8 a.m. until close to sundown and were beginning to run low on ammunition. Some of Castaneda’s men were wounded and three were dead. The Apaches had suffered heavier casualties.
At that time, a detachment of seven soldiers on their way to Tucson from Camp Grant heard the gunfire and rushed to the scene. They surprised the Indians and were able to cut through the line of Apaches and reach the wagons. The Sergeant in charge of the soldiers conferred with Castaneda. The teamsters were almost out of ammunition and it was believed that more Apaches had arrived at the battle scene. As the sun set they decided to abandon the train and head for Camp Grant.
It was a hard decision for Castaneda to make, to give up the wagons and the freight, but even harder to leave the bodies of his comrades. The teamsters mounted some of the mules and followed the soldiers as they charged out of the wagons to a vulnerable spot in the line of Apaches. The soldiers laid down a volley of fire and everyone was able to charge through the gap they made in the line. Some of the Apaches followed them for a short way but soon lost interest.
The soldiers and teamsters made it to Camp Grant. The Indians took all the freight and the mules. They then set fire to the wagons. Tully & Ochoa estimated that they lost $12,000. Troops were sent to the Canyon del Oro but only found the bodies of the teamsters and the burned wagons. They followed the trail of the Apaches for two days but eventually lost it, and so returned to Camp Grant. The stand at the Canyon del Oro by Castaneda and the teamsters was a story of great courage and determination against heavy odds.
In Dec. 1870, another train being led by Castaneda would be attacked by 75 well-armed Apaches about 30 miles east of Tucson on the way to Fort Goodwin. Thirty head of oxen would be run off. Castaneda’s men pursued the Apaches and caught up to them at daylight. A fight ensued in which one man, Martin Rivera, was shot in the head and killed. Two more men were wounded. The Indians got away with the oxen.
Next month, the Israel-Kennedy Wagon Train attack at Camp Grant. If you missed the first article about Blood along the Cañon del Oro, you can read it online at