March 15, 2013

Nicholas Galles and the 1885 “Geronimo Campaign”


Mark B. Thompson, III
Almost ten years before his death, the Santa Fe New Mexican ran a front page article about Nicholas Galles on June 21, 1902, with the banner “Men of the Hour in New Mexico.”  The article contained a long paragraph detailing his “five years” as a captain in the New Mexico Territorial Militia, the predecessor of the New Mexico National Guard, during the “Indian Troubles.” Surprisingly, the article did not mention his work in the 1885 campaign, probably the best documented of any of the Galles military experiences. Perhaps not surprisingly, this neglect of the 1885 events, not to mention the several other “errors and omissions,” were carried over into numerous obituaries after his death on December 5, 1911. Had Galles decided that “1885” was “no big deal?”  
N. Galles obit, 1911

On June 5, 1885, Galles wrote a letter* to New Mexico Territorial Governor, Edmund G. Ross, a former U.S. Senator from Kansas, later included in John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage for his part in the trial of Andrew Johnson for impeachment. This letter, accompanied by a petition signed by 36 willing volunteers, sought creation of a militia cavalry company for the Hillsboro area.  They did not get a cavalry appointment, but on June 10, 1885, Galles took the oath of office as a captain of Company G of the 1st Infantry.  (I wonder if they nevertheless rode horses?) The muster roll for Company G shows that 40 men in addition to Galles were enrolled, including the once and future Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, Frank W. Parker, as well as the soon to be convicted felon, Julian L. (“Junee”?) Fuller. The four documents referred to can be found in the New Mexico Territorial Archives, together with a report from Galles which accompanied the eventual request for payment.  

What prompted the June letter and what was the role of Company G in the 1885 campaign? Fortunately the original of the report was later read and “relied upon” in Washington, but the microfilm version is almost illegible. I believe we must turn to the historians, something we needed to do any way, to get the basic “facts.”  The writers on the Chiricahua Apache “wars” are legion, and I have relied primarily on one recent publication: Edwin R. Sweeney, From Cochise to Geronimo: The Chiricahua Apaches, 1874-1886 (Norman: U. of Okla. Press, 2010).  Sweeney does cite his sources in detail and each paragraph of his 580-page book is so crammed with facts that you almost have to outline each paragraph in order to have some confidence that you know what you just read. If not the last word on the subject, it certainly seemed like a good place to start.

Sweeney tells the 1885 story partly through the eyes of General George Crook of the U.S. Army. Sweeney, (p. 430), describes how on May 28, 1885, Crook left Prescott, Arizona to establish his field headquarters at Ft. Bayard, southeast of Silver City and west of Hillsboro, not knowing that Geronimo (and Chief Mangas) had left New Mexico for Mexico. Although the Galles letter to Gov. Ross is vague and general about the looming threat, it seems reasonable to assume that the prospective volunteers in Hillsboro were probably aware of Crook’s concerns and that Hillsboro might need to be defended. In fact, as described in detail by Sweeney, the focus of the story shifts to Mexico during the summer of 1885, but about September 5, 1885, it was determined that Geronimo was headed back into New Mexico (Sweeney p. 460).

At that point it was assumed that the Chiricahuas were probably headed to Ojo Caliente, north of Hillsboro, and the home of the Chihenne band before they were removed to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. The first sighting was apparently in the Cooke’s range, the southern part of the Mimbres Mountains, about September 9, 1885. At that point neither U.S. troops nor militia were following Geronimo (Sweeney p. 462).  On September 11, 1885, Geronimo’s men showed they were in fact traveling north when they attacked in several places, killing Brady Pollock near today's Pollock Canyon west of Lake Valley, then heading down Gavilan Canyon into the Mimbres drainage killing Martin McKinn and kidnapping his brother Santiago "Jimmy" McKinn. Geronimo then attacked further north in Gallinas Canyon, southeast of San Lorenzo.  (Today you can roughly follow this path, and the Mimbres River, by traveling north on State Highway 61.)  Finally, at least by September 12, 1885, the U.S. Cavalry from Ft. Bayard, militia from Hillsboro, and a small party of ranchers were in pursuit (Sweeney p. 464). Sweeney does not identify anyone in the militia from Hillsboro.

Sweeney says that Geronimo and his men spent the night of September 12, 1885, “near the confluence of Sapillo Creek and the Mimbres” (p. 464).  Given the route Geronimo was taking toward the northwest, Sweeney could have meant either the confluence of Sapillo Creek and the Gila, or another creek on the Mimbres. Sapillo Creek is on the Pacific side of the Continental Divide and drains to the Gila. In any event, Geronimo now realized that he needed to put some distance between himself  and the pursuers and by the evening of September 13, 1885, he had arrived at the Black Canyon, about eight miles southeast of the Gila Hot Springs. On Monday, September 14, 1885, the Apaches had reached the junction of Little Creek and the West Fork of the Gila.  According to Sweeney, the army and militia at that point gave up the chase (p. 464).

Geronimo and his men made it to Arizona by September 19, 1885, but by September 27 they were back in New Mexico, killing a merchant, A.L. Sabourne, at Cactus Flat, about five miles northwest of Buckhorn. (Today U.S. 180 runs through Buckhorn.) Apparently they camped in that area for about a week and Sweeney relates that “Geronimo’s party left for Mexico about October 6, 1885” (p. 471).  As we shall see, the period between the September 27 and October 6 is important for the Galles story, but Sweeney does not give any indication that Geronimo had moved east toward Hillsboro from Buckhorn during this period.   

Perhaps because Congress passed another pension provision for veterans (and widows) of the “Indian Wars” on March 4, 1917, the widow of Nicholas Galles, Harriett Stocker Galles, filed an application for a widow’s pension on January 12, 1918.  The application said that Galles had served in the territorial militia “in 1885 and perhaps 1886.”  This application was rejected on March 5, 1919, on the grounds that the “muster rolls in the State Archives fails to show the period of service.”  The records in Santa Fe were eventually found and apparently a request for “reconsideration” was filed with the federal authorities. A preliminary decision was made on August 29, 1923, indicating that the service was “pensionable if period of 30 days is shown.”  By November 13, 1923, it was determined that the period of service was only eight days, from September 30, 1885, through October 7, 1885, and a final decision rejecting the application was issued on  August 26, 1924. Harriett Galles filed yet another application in June of 1927, but it does not recite any additional facts.
Harriet Stocker Galles

The dates of September 30 through October 7 are consistent with a return of  Geronimo to New Mexico on September 27 and his leaving for Mexico on October 6. It would make sense that the militia was “activated” on the September 30 because of the possibility of Geronimo moving toward Hillsboro, but, as we know (or believe), he stayed to the southwest of Hillsboro and then soon moved on to Mexico. What about the period of September 12, 1885 and September 14, 1885, when the militia had joined in pursuit of Geronimo up the Mimbres, etc?  Was the militia, referred to by Sweeney, in fact Company G headed by Galles? As a matter of law, adding three or four days to the eight used for the pension application would have made no difference on the pension decision—it was still short of the required 30 days of service.

Even if the record had shown two-plus weeks of “active duty” during the 1885 campaign, Galles may have concluded that it was nothing to “brag about.” Sitting around and a few days chase on horseback obviously resulted in no encounter with Geronimo. Given the inclination of politicians to trumpet their “Indian Fighter” status, the absence of any mention of 1885 in the 1902 Santa Fe New Mexican article should give us pause.  I have not confirmed that Galles served five full years as a captain in the militia during the period 1877-1882, as alleged in the 1902 article. There is, however, evidence of his participation in encounters with the Chiricahuas in 1879 and 1881, both of which, with mistakes, etc., are recited in the 1902 article and the subsequent obituaries. Geronimo was, and still is, the big name in this genre, but Galles may have decided it was better not to embellish his limited involvement in the 1885 encounters.

*You can read the referenced 1885 letter to Ross is the book, Around Hillsboro.

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