Veteran on a mission to clean up the remote Apache War Memorial

(Press staff photo by Geoffrey Plant)
David Morrison, right, shows Doug Sitowski, a veteran of the armed forces, the overland transportation route from Kingston to Massacre Canyon, where a group of volunteers, led by Morrison, intend to rehabilitate a distant war memorial, three Medal of Honor recipients and one unknown Number of fallen honors Buffalo Soldiers who were ambushed by the Apache leader Victorio in the Battle of Las Animas Canyon in 1879.

You’re unlikely to find it on a map, but in western Sierra County, on 40 acres in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness on the eastern edge of the Gila National Forest, an unusually remote war memorial marks the place where dozens of Buffalo soldiers, their commanders, and an unknown number of Boy Scouts and Native American civilians waged a full-day battle with approximately 100 Apache warriors from Chiricahua Warm Springs, led by Victorio.

The memorial is one of only two in New Mexico dedicated to Buffalo Soldiers. The other is in Santa Fe.

After visiting Massacre Canyon with a friend, Silver City-resident Air Force veteran David Morrison said the state of the unofficial memorial, originally dedicated in 1997 with a bronze plaque of the Congressional Medal of Honor and two government tombstones, “dedicated sadly.” him.

※ We saw a broken flagpole [and] a torn New Mexico flag in the weeds and I thought, ‘This is pretty sad. We’re going to honor these Buffalo Soldiers. ‘”

One black soldier, Sgt. John Denny, and two white officers, Lts. Matthias Day and Robert Emmet, all of the 9th Cavalry Regiment based in Fort Union during the Apache Wars, received the Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest military honor – for the valor they demonstrated, while Victorio’s men shot them for most of them pinned down the day on September 18, 1879.

In addition to the deaths of three Buffalo Soldiers, two Navajo Scouts, and a civilian known by name, an uncertain number of unidentified Buffalo Soldiers were killed. According to a military report, between 40 and 60 mules and horses were said to have been shot that day. The bodies of those who died on the battlefield were never recovered.

※ We don’t remember these things, ”said Morrison. ※ The Buffalo Soldiers who built railroads, forts, camps and protected the settlers out here for 35 years know only the names of three of them. It’s sad that it’s difficult to find information about these black soldiers – it didn’t matter at the time. “

The battle at Las Animas Canyon, as it is officially called, took place in the Apache homeland Warm Springs in Tchihende, the Black Range, which was later renamed Massacre Canyon. It was part of a series of battles and brutal Apache raids on civilians known collectively as the “Victorio’s War,” which began after Victorio and his followers left the dire conditions of the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona in August 1879 and through October lasted in 1880 when the Führer was fatally wounded in Mexico.

Morrison said the logistics, tools and equipment, sacks of concrete and a 35-foot flagpole donated by the James Hamilton Construction Company along with various supplies, camping gear and groceries to get to the remote location would be complicated, however . The forest road, originally used in 1997 to access the grounds from private ranch land to the east, as well as the hiking trails that led to the canyon, were washed out or buried in the dead after the Black Range fire. which swept around in 2014.

He has hired the American Legion Post 18 in Silver City to sponsor the project and is recruiting volunteer veterans to help.

Morrison, a retired Air Force Rapid Engineer, Squadron Heavy Operational Repair Engineer, or RED HORSE, who currently specializes in the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions’ Disabled Veterans Outreach program for Grant, Catron, Luna and Hidalgo Counties, hopes that a The application for a military transport helicopter he has submitted to Maj. Gen. Kenneth Nava, Adjutant General of the New Mexico National Guard and advisor to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, will be received before a self-imposed deadline of May 14th.

Morrison’s general plan is for a military helicopter to take him and a crew of volunteer veterans, their supplies, cement, equipment, and the flagpole – which Morrison has already cut into sections for transport – to the field where the memorial is located from headquarters off is the ladder ranch, which owns the property on which the memorial is located.

The manager of the Ladder Ranch – owned by billionaire media mogul Ted Turner – has already given Morrison written permission to continue with the project as long as he makes every effort to contact the tribes involved for their contributions. “

“I’m waiting for someone to take this request,” said Morrison for the helicopter. ※ It could be six months or a year, but I don’t want to wait that long. If it’s not backed by the military, we’ll have to do it the hard way. “

Morrison’s Plan B is to cross 17 miles overland in late May starting on NM 152 west of Kingston. Trucks and trailers would drive up a forest road to a property where horses and mules would be unloaded. From there, all-wheel drive vehicles and only horses and mules for the final 6 miles will bring the volunteers, flagpole segments, cement and equipment to the site.

※ We’re looking for mules, outfitters, to help, ”he said.

Morrison said it was the recipients of the Medal of Honor and the Unknown Soldiers honored at the site who originally piqued his interest in the monument’s restoration. His intention is to add to the story by adding a new plaque describing the truth about the country in an unbiased and apolitical way ”, with an Indian perspective -“ that is the goal. “

※ This can bring people together, “said Morrison, adding that he has tried to get as much support as possible from the various Indian tribes and other Apache groups whose ancestors took part in the battle to make sure whatever he adds – or what is already there – is ※ appropriate. “

※ We want to remember people, but what about the Navajo? ” he said. ※ You may not want markings on the graves of “Navajo scouts who were killed in Massacre Canyon.

Morrison hasn’t heard from the Navajo nation yet, but he’s gathered plenty of input from Warm Springs Apache descendants who live in Grant County, including Joe Saenz and Emilio Tapia.

※ It’s hard to put into words and I’m a little one-sided but the soldiers came in and they were brave and brave but they were just out here risking their necks and doing what they were told. “Said Tapia, who was born in Sierra County and currently lives in Mimbres. ※ I think it also needs to show a little respect for the Apaches who fought so fiercely for the land, the land that was theirs and that said, ‘We will fight to the end.’ “

The battle of Las Animas Canyon was an overwhelming victory for Victorio, whose men are said to have emerged unscathed. The land on which Victorio had lived since he was born, some 55 years earlier, was inundated by home residents and prospectors, many of whom came into conflict with the local population. After Victorio baited them by driving directly through Hillsboro Township, he led the two cavalry companies into an ambush near the source that feeds Animas Creek. A third cavalry company arrived later that day and helped repel the Apaches until the soldiers withdrew after nightfall.

※ The soldiers chased Victorio from Hillsboro into Animas Canyon – and then Victorio led them into what is now Massacre Canyon and ambushed them, ”said Tapia, who co-authored several articles on the Apache Wars. ※ And that was because it was one of his best strategies. Victorio knew what to do, when and how to do it. The US Army pursued him for 25 years and never caught him.

※ This war is a long, drawn-out story, “added Tapia. ※ And Native American culture collapsed right there at the end of the Victorio War. This is an unresolved situation. The thing is, her whole world was changed, it went upside down. And it’s changed because of progress – by which I mean money, gold. Sierra Counties and Grant Counties had a lot of gold. Prospectors came in and said, “We have to get rid of these Indians.”

Tapia said it was time to remember both sides of the conflict.

※ The soldiers received the Medal of Honor, the highest honor there is, but there are also a few Navajo scouts who were killed there – they did not receive any medals, ”he said, adding that he is convinced with a little work can tell the monument a more complete story. ※ I think the memorial is great and what David does is commendable. I especially appreciate what he does for the recipients of the Medal of Honor. The point, however, is that the Native American story is that these guys fought for their own land because the Anglos moved in and stole it. “

Geoffrey Plant can be reached at [email protected]

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