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Apache Depredations

In 1879, Victorio, who was an Apache warrior who had a sister who many believed had clairvoyant powers that allowed her to pinpoint the location of the enemy. A series of violent attacks within 150-mile of Silver City led to the death of over three hundred people. This would have put the Truesdell Ranch in the middle of harm’s way since it was isolated along a trail that led to Pinos Altos.

Sergeant James C. Cooney had been sent by the U.S. Calvary to take back part of the Wheeler Survey, which had been attacked by a band of Apaches. In 1876, he located claims, and three years later he was shipping silver-ore for processing to Silver City.

In April 1880, Victorio attacked the Cooney mine as the men were quitting work for the day. Three were killed, another, Mr. Taylor was shot in the leg. Taylor hid out in a cave...the rest of the men scattered into the hills.

According to Frances E. Totty’s account, “We children slept in the wagon as the only house we had were a lean to. When I went out to the wagon to go to bed, I heard a strange noise up in the hills. I ran into the house and said ‘there is something up in the hills.’

“The entire family came to listen, and when they didn’t hear anything, they tried to make me believe that it was the frogs in the swamp. After the family went to bed I could not sleep because I kept thinking about the noise in the hills. I heard some loud talking, and soon decided that it was over at the Roberts house.

“I was ready to wake up mother when I heard a horse coming. The horse came up the far side of the lean to, and I called ‘we are on this side of the house’ A man rode around the house and asked ‘where is your father?’ I replied in the house, asleep. ‘Go wake him, and tell him that the Apaches are out, that he had better get all of his stock in the corral at once and get ready for an attack. I haven’t the time to awaken him as I must go warn others.’

“I ran to the house to wake father...the family was soon busy. Father put the stock in the corral and went after my brother and uncle that slept in the store across the creek. When the men came back my uncle and oldest brother stayed at the corral to guard the stock. Mother and I started molding bullets for our old 44 Winchester. Mr. Cooney and another man called Chick came down from the hills, and told us that they had been hiding in the hills after the attack at the mine.

Apaches blended into the underbrush wearing buckskins while waiting to ambush travelers on horseback

Apaches blended into the underbrush wearing buckskins while waiting to ambush travelers on horseback

“When night came the Indians began to howl so the dogs would bark and they could get their bearing, thereby explaining the noise that I had heard. Mr. Cooney had been an Indian scout for five years, and said that we need not worry that the Indians would raid their cabins and not bother the settlers. We did not worry as we thought that Mr. Cooney knew what the Indians were likely to do.

“We laughed and molded bullets the rest of the morning Chick wanted to go back to the mine. Mr. Cooney said that the Indians will just raid the cabin, and that it is not safe to go up there now as the Indians are still in the country. Chick insisted that he was going, and finally rather than let him go alone Mr. Cooney consented to go if they could borrow some horses to ride.

“The Apaches raided James Keller’s and Jim Roberts’ ranch houses, and killed William Wilcox and seriously wounded James Murray. Mr. Ashenfelter of the Grant County Herald was pinned inside with the others, and wrote that there were 150 to 250 Indians. Eventually 85 men from Silver City and 20 from other parts mounted up and rode to their rescue. After several hours the horses returned rider less with blood on them...the men were ambushed by the Indians.

“The Indians feared Capt. Cooney and when they saw that they killed him they rejoiced. The warriors left the squaws to mutilate the bodies of Cooney and Chick.


When the horses  returned rider less the Roberts family decided to send out an alarm. A man rode over to our house and told us to hurry to the Roberts house. Mother insisted that we go on over to the Roberts brother said that he would stay with the stock at the corral. We finally got the two white mules to the wagon and started for the ranch.


“We saw some cattle standing still on a hill...the cattle were watching something. Mother said ‘Paw drive faster, the Indians are coming, the cattle are watching them.’ He said ‘Oh mother, there is plenty of time, those cattle are watching us. The Indians aren’t near yet.’ Paw would not hurry, and mother would urge him to drive faster. We were leisure driving along when we came to the top of a hill, and the cattle started to run and bullets starting flying past us as the Indians were coming towards us.

“I grabbed the old Springfield but Paw called ‘it isn’t loaded...the shells are in my belt.’ Paw was driving very fast...I was pointing the gun at the Indians in hopes that they would stay back if they saw a gun. If I had been able to load the gun I could never hit the Indians as the gun was bouncing around so, as father was really making a race for the Roberts ranch now. I yelled to the family to lie down in the wagon so the Indians couldn't hit them...bullets were whizzing all around us...the Indians were getting nearer all the time.

“My brother was standing at the corral watching the attack but he could not help us as his gun was not a long-range gun. The men at the Roberts Ranch saw the trouble that we were in and six of the men rode out to help us risking their lives. We had to pass by the house, and pulled up behind an old log shed. Just as we halted one of the white mules fell dead, the first shot of the Apaches to take effect for they were sure shooting wild.

“To get to the house we were going to have to leap a ditch, the men told us soon as there was a slack in the firing to make for the house. The firing ceased and we knew the Indians were surrounding the place. We made a dash for the house...there were thirty-one men in the house. Luck was surely with us for bullets hit all around us, and not a one was injured.

“The Indians were able to keep up a constant fire as fifteen would drive up and fire, then drop back to reload their guns, and another fifteen would take their place thereby keeping up a constant fire as they were always moving in a circle...there were two hundred thirteen warriors.

“The Indians surrounded the house, some shooting down the hill and many shots lodged on the dirt roof. Others knocked holes in the wall making it unsafe to move about as the Indians could see any movement inside the house through the cracks. I asked ‘brother do you want me to take your place for a while?’ He said ‘no, it is too dangerous as the Indians have nearly hit me several times through the cracks in the wall.’

Indian dance. Picture courtesy of Native American Customs.

Indian dance. Picture courtesy of Native American Customs.

“Mr. Wilcox was standing on the other side of the cupboard spoke up and said, ‘Agnes, when you start back across the room you go as fast as possible. Those Indians are shooting at everything they see move.’ Before I started back Mr. Wilcox saw his partner out in the yard trying to get to the house. Mr. Wilcox stepped to the door to aid his partner in getting to the house by exposing himself. Mr. Wilcox cried ‘my God, boys I'm shot.’ He stood his gun down by the door, and walked over to the fireplace and lay down...before anyone could reach him, he was dead.

“Mr. Murray had gone into the hills early that morning to round up some cattle, and when he heard the firing, he knew the Indians had attacked and hid out in the hills. Late in the afternoon he decided that it was time to try to make it to the house, but he tried to come in too early. The boys sure did have to do some real shooting to make the Indians stay back in order for Mr. Murray to get to the house.

“Mr. Foster understood the Apache language and signs, and he told the boys that Victorio 

was trying to get his warriors to rush down to the house. The warriors made several rushes for the house but the boys made it too hot for them to get too close. The Apaches are superstitious about fighting at night, and when dark came the Indians made camp at the present site of Alamo. That’s when the yelling and whooping started...they really danced and made merry for they had the white settlers penned.

“Our man soon became tired of their merry-making, and sent a few shots over in their direction. The Indians moved a little farther away, and no more was heard of them. We figured we were in for a siege, and had better fill everything with water. If the Indians were to cut the ditch we would probably have to give up the fight from thirst.

"Two men volunteered to try to get through to Silver City for help and ammunition but to go there they must go by the Indian camp. The men came around and told us good-bye...they never expected to come back and I don’t think anyone in the room expected to see them again. The men arrived in Silver City early the next day and gave the alarm, and rushed over to Fort Bayard.

“Captain Madden had been out on an Indian scouting trip and was just returning to the post with thirty-five of his troops, and ordered his men to turn and march to the Frisco Valley. The men marched by Silver City where seventy-five citizens joined the troops. The men were tired but they never let this hinder their rush to the settlers. The morning after the...Apaches sent a runner over to the San Carlos reservations for more warriors.

“The men decided to try to bury Mr. Wilcox...they built a wooden coffin and decided to bury him on the hill behind the house. If the Indians were seen a shot was to be fired from a pistol. The men were carrying the coffin up the hill when a shot was heard and the men hastily placed the body under a tree and made a run for the house. When the men had gathered at the house it was discovered that one of the men had accidentally dropped his gun, and made it go off. Many days later we laughed about it but it sure wasn't funny then.

“When Captain Madden came in sight he could see the ranch with his field glasses... ‘we are early enough for I see white men.’ The cry of rejoicing went up from that group could be heard for many miles. The Indians had moved into the hills for they apparently heard that soldiers were coming. They went where the Mexican sheepherders were and killed thirty-five men. The Indians were angry because the sheep men had told them that the new settlers could be easily taken.

“Sheriff Whitehill was in the valley at the time of the attack and came on to the ranch, and father sent us back to Silver City with him. Sometime after the fight an Apache scout came into the mining camp with Chick's coat on...the one he had on the day he was killed.

“The boys took the scout as prisoner and took possession of his horse. One morning the boys told the Indian that he was to follow them. The Indians asked ‘where are you taking me?’ One of the boys answered ‘going to show you the trail.’ The Indian said ‘yes, I know the trail that you will show me, and it will be a long one.’ The boys took the scout out and hung him.

“Over at Copper Creek miners and ranchers had to ‘fort-up,’ with Sheriff Whitehill and his son Harry who just happened to be in the area on business. They remained trapped for ten days while the Apaches raided and set everything on fire.”

Forty-year-old Jim Cooney was one of the casualties, and G.J. Truesdell, Tom Lyons and others saddled up and went looking for his corpse so they could give him a decent burial. When they found poor old Mike, the stench from his body was so bad the men had to cover their noses with a handkerchief, dig the grave, and push him into a grave with poles. When the men returned to town, they buried their clothes and took baths but the stench still lingered. Tom was told to cut the hairs in his nose and only then did the stench of death go away.

Cooney wasn’t the only casualty that year. Richard Knight and John Connors had a contract with Fort Bayard to deliver hay for their horses. While driving along a deserted trail just after sundown, they discovered the king bolt from a wheel had come loose and was missing. They unhitched their teams, and knowing that it was unsafe to spend the night along the trail, rode back to Silver City where they spent the night.

At daybreak they returned to look for the bolt, bringing Connors’ son and a Mexican to help. Once they reached their wagon John Connors was shot and killed in an Apache ambush. When the Indians saw an abandoned wagon, they knew it belonged to white people, and after waiting in the brush for hours they shot and killed the entire party. Chauncey Truesdell recalled hearing about this ambush from his father.

John Connors and a Mexican helper were not far from Knights Ranch, when a nut came off the axle and pretty soon the wheel came off. “Mr. Conner went back down the road to look for the nut, and when he did not come back for quite a spell, the Mexican went back to look for him. He found Mr. Conner dead of Indian poisoning. The Indians had not torn his guts out with cactus the way the Mexicans did to Mike Cooney at Cooney’s pass. But they had to rope Conner’s dog before they could lift the corpse into the wagon.”

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