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The History of the Aravaipa Apache

Big Sycamore Standing There
or the Camp Grant Massacre

By John Hartman
San Carlos Apache Reservation

This mass murder of Apaches at Aravaipa has become known in the historical literature as “The Camp Grant Massacre”. The Apaches refer to the site as g’ashdla a cho o aa or “big sycamore standing there,” with the unspoken understanding of what took place.

In 1871 the bands of Chief Ezkiminzin and Chief Capitan Chiquito came into Camp Grant on Aravaipa Creek. Their people had been attacked and harassed by the U.S. Army with great vehemence since the end of the Civil War in 1865. The Army had killed many of their braves and their crops of wheat and corn were burned everywhere they were found.

The two bands came into Camp Grant on the point of starvation. They agreed to turn in their weapons and place themselves under the protection of the Army, if they would be left in peace in Aravaipa Canyon, a traditional seasonal settlement. The Army agreed they would be allowed to grow crops there and hunt in designated areas, and the Army would supplement their food supply.

Yet certain Anglo-American merchants from Tucson, Tohono O’odham from San Xavier del Bac Mission and Mexican American ranchers had old grudges with the Aravaipa Apache. They claimed that Apaches from this band were continuing to raid their ranches, so they planned a retaliatory raid on their camp.

With local newspapers calling for the extermination of the Apache, many Tucsonans were also angry that the Camp Grant commander had instead brokered a peace treaty with Chief Chiquito and Chief Eskiminzen.

Whether or not the Aravaipa Apache were responsible for the continuing raids near Tucson is impossible to determine. It is also irrelevant as revenge was acted out on the innocent.

At the time of the attack, many of the men had left to hunt game for an upcoming celebration of the new peace arrangement with the Army. The rest of the men were unarmed and slept apart from the women and children on the dance ground, where they had been already celebrating late into the night.

In the early morning hours of April 30, 1871 the Tucson vigilantes came upon the slumbering Apache camp and began their systematic slaughter. They used war clubs to kill those asleep in their wikiups and rifles fire from the hills above to shoot down those trying to flee the camp below. Among the few survivors were 26 children, who were captured and sold into slavery in Mexico.

The following day the soldiers from Camp Grant buried approximately one hundred and twenty woman and children in two trenches on one of the nearby hilltops.

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Chief Capitan Chiquito Bullis lost two wives during the Camp Grant Massacre. Afterwards, he returned to Aravaipa to farm and live, marrying the woman portrayed here.

These two were among 23 children were captured during the massacre and enslaved. From Apache Wars: An Illustrated Battle History by E. Lisle Reedstom (1990).

Their fires have died out and the wind sighs.

Their waters run with blood and the earth cries.

Click here to read an oral account of the massacre, reproduced from Massacre at Camp Grant by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh.