When we move, or we consume foods from outside our region, we are thwarting adaptation. Our epigenome never gets in sync with the genetic resources of our region.
This year we were contacted by a friend requesting advice on a planned development for a Buddhist retreat center in the mountains of Southeastern Arizona. We agreed to make a quick trip and have a look.
To the untrained eye the area is about as arid and devoid of life as anywhere in North America. As we came up from the valley floor to the East of Tucson we saw a little more greenery tucked into narrow washes descending from canyons, along with sage, tumbleweed, nopale cactus and agave. We were told that there were once more trees here but that early in its history, Arizona decided it was going to be a cattle state and the trees were in the way of those plans, so they were cut down. They became cabins, railroad ties and fuel wood for locomotives.
Not surprisingly, many springs dried up.
Just as it takes 20 generations for a plant to adapt to a new ecology, it takes 20 generations for humans to adapt to a new environment. The Chiricahua for whom these mountains are named had just reached their 20th generation in this place when the White Eyes’ cows arrived.
When we move, or we consume foods from outside our region, we are thwarting adaptation. Our epigenome never gets in sync with the genetic makeup of our region. A 2015 study by Pueblo artist Roxanne Swentzell, of Flowering Tree Permaculture, showed that her people had been fully adapted to the local diet when the whites came. Her peaceful ancestors got caught up in the ethnic cleansing of the continent, were removed from their ancestral homes to squalid camps on reservations, and forced to eat subsidized rations of canned goods, flour and lard.
When the study returned her people to their original pre-contact diets it cured their chronic ill health of all types, including seemingly incurable diseases.
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As we come to the foot of the mountain range 116 miles east of Tucson, a dirt road takes us towards Fort Bowie, the least visited park in the National Parks system. The 1.5 mile hiking trail to the ruins of the 1862 army outpost travels over the route of the Butterfield Overland Stage, rising 200 feet as it winds past remains of the stage station, the fort’s cemetery, a recreated Apache wickiup, the site of the Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency, and the original adobe and stone walls built to deprive the Chiricahua of access to the spring.
Entering the pass, we paused to say a prayer for the spirits of the departed.
This mountain spring is the center of this ecosystem —its sacred heart. Whether you are here as a two legged, four-legged, one with wings or roots in the ground, you depend on this unceasing water to sustain you in hard times. Its health is your health.
The biome begins here. The birds, the mammals and the whole food chain of the arid ecosystem radiates from this center outward.
It is more direct and faster to go from Texas to Tucson through the valley below but there is no water there. The Butterfield company, ancestor to American Express, detoured into the mountains and built a coach station at Apache Spring. Butterfield negotiated that arrangement with the leader of the Chiricahua, Cochise. In exchange for the opportunity of trade, Cochise allowed the regular passage of the Overland Stage and the permanent coach station, set back some 600 meters from the spring. He grew to have a cordial relationship with the stationmaster.
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Jay W. Sharp writing for Desert USA Newsletter:
The Mogollon peoples discovered this secluded spring more than a millennium ago. In small nearby encampments, they constructed lodges, probably semi-subterranean pit houses. They manufactured plain brown pottery, raised corn and gathered wild plants. They used bows and arrows.
Those early people were gone before the Coronado Expedition of 1540–42 passed this way. No one really knows why they disappeared after having built irrigated orchards, earth-sheltered villages and fine roads.
The Chiricahua Apaches, drifting southwest from the southern Great Plains, found the spring in the sixteenth century, and they made it the center of their new homeland, which became known as Apachería, the desert basin and range country of southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and north central Mexico. In small encampments, the Chiricahuas constructed ephemeral brush or grass lodges called wickiups. They wove grass baskets. Sometimes, they raised a little corn. They gathered wild plants. They used bows and arrows and, later, rifles and pistols. They gloried in warfare and the raid.
Ft. Bowie’s Visitors Center is a small museum staffed by a single ranger. At appointed hours, a recording plays the bugle calls of the daily military routine over a P.A. system — First Call, Reveille, Assembly, Mess Call (morning), Sick Call, Drill Call, Assembly, First Sergeant’s Call, Officer’s Call, Mail Call, Mess Call (noon), Drill Call, Assembly, Mess Call (evening), Call to Quarters, Taps.
In a ravine which leads to a canyon which, in turn, descends to a pass between southeastern Arizona’s Chiricahua and Dos Cabezas Mountains, a small spring issues from the earth. Called Apache Spring, it delivers its stream — cool, clear, sparkling like a cascade of diamonds — into a sequestered rocky basin shaded by a few oak trees. Among exposed roots of the oaks, moss as green as emeralds clings to stone surfaces at the basin’s rim. The water flows from the basin and trickles down the ravine toward the canyon, to a place where it will play out and submerge back into the earth.
In the pass, called Apache Pass, about a mile above the level of the sea, nature has stirred a cocktail of ecological systems, a blend of two deserts and two life zones. Here, the high, hot Chihuahuan Desert to the east, in southern New Mexico, merges with the lower and even hotter Sonoran Desert to the west, in southern Arizona; and both deserts, marked by agave, yucca, sotol and cholla, merge with the higher woodland, distinguished by mountain mahogany, oak, juniper and piñon pine.
Along the stream — the only source of water for all seasons near the pass and its adjoining mountain slopes — mountain lions, bobcats, gray foxes, coyotes, coatimundl and mule deer quench their thirsts in the cover of the night. The red-capped acorn woodpecker rattles the morning stillness. The dusky-eyed Mexican jay whenks querulously at other birds. Plumed Gambel’s quail scurry through late spring undergrowth, plumed puffs of down — their chicks — in close pursuit. Hummingbirds, glittering like rubies in dappled sunlight, pause at the spring during their annual journeys north and south. Turkey vultures wheel through the summer skies above the spring.
Along the 990-acre National Monument’s northern border, from near the top of the pass down, are private ranchlands acquired by Diamond Mountain Retreat Center. As we begin our permaculture observations, we start in the same place that the rain does, at the ridgeline, and walk down.
There are ghosts here. It is curious that newcomers would build remote cabins for silent retreats, hermitages, and meditation temples in such a place. We will explore that more, but this first installment must begin by taking you to the dark side.
It was here in the winter of 1861 that the Apache Wars began. The white eyes called it “the Bascom Affair.” To the Apaches it was known as “Cut the Tent.”
In January, 1861, a 12-year-old boy was kidnapped from a ranch in southern Arizona Territory by Apache raiders from a band to the north, most likely the Arivaipa, Pinal or Western White Mountain Apache. The boy’s father reported the kidnapping to Fort Buchanan and the commander dispatched Second Lieutenant George Bascom, 24, from Kentucky, to search for him. Bascom graduated 26th in a class of 27 at the U.S. Military Academy in 1858, the year after freshman George Armstrong Custer arrived. He had been at his western post less than 90 days when he got the assignment. The National Park Service tells the story this way:
Morrison assigned Bascom a force of 54 newly arrived mounted troopers. The inexperienced lieutenant proceeded to lead his inexperienced troopers into the field. Finding tracks of the raiders’ ponies leading eastward from Ward’s ranch towards the Chiricahua Mountains, he assumed Cochise’s band was guilty of the raid. Had he known Chiricahua Apaches were not known at that time for kidnapping and that the livestock raiding they engaged in then was limited almost entirely to south of the border, Bascom may have approached the chief in another way.
Bascom’s force camped at the Butterfield Stage Station and sent word via the stationmaster that he wished to speak with Cochise. In 1861, the chief of the Chokonen band of Chiricahua Apaches was then about 50 years old. Tall and handsome, he was second only to Mangas Coloradas among all the chiefs. The son of Apache Chief Juh, Asa Daklugie, told author Eve Ball that Cochise had a profound sense of honor. “Cochise was very proud of making his word good…Apaches hated liars.” Cochise was a man not accustomed to anyone questioning or doubting his word.
Cochise eventually did come to Bascom’s camp, at dinner time. Because Cochise brought several of his family members to Bascom’s tent to share a meal, he obviously believed this was a social visit. At some point during this meeting, Bascom accused the chief of kidnapping the boy. Though Cochise denied the accusation and told the officer he did not know the whereabouts of the boy he did say he would try to locate him and secure his release. However, the lieutenant told the chief he would not allow him to leave until the boy was returned.
Cochise rushed for the door but was blocked by sentries with bayonets. He wheeled and ran to the back wall of the tent, slashing it open with a single swipe of his Bowie knife. As he ran for the hills a bullet went through his leg but he did not slow until he reached safety in rocks near the summit. It was then that he noticed that he was bleeding and that he was still holding the tin cup of coffee Bascom had given him.
Cochise’s warriors then attacked a wagon train coming into the pass along the Overland Trail, killing the Mexicans on it, and taking the Anglos hostage. His warriors also captured Wallace, the Butterfield employee. The chief then attempted to trade his hostages for Bascom’s. Exchanging hostages was something Mexicans and Apaches had engaged in routinely and was a common practice of the time. In Cochise’s mind, he probably saw this as a logical solution to the problem.
Again the lieutenant insisted he would not release his Apache hostages until the boy was returned. And again Cochise denied having any knowledge of the whereabouts of the boy, still offering to help find him if Bascom would let his relatives go. What was going on in the minds of all involved, we can only wonder now. Each of us can only try to imagine what we might have felt, and done, had we been in the situation ourselves. Can you imagine the anger Cochise must have felt after having trusted his family would be safe in Bascom’s tent? Was he angry at himself for letting his guard down? Did he feel betrayed by Bascom’s initial pretense of hospitality?
Most certainly, he was deeply offended the lieutenant did not believe he did not have the boy. Being a leader held in such high regard by his people it must have been incomprehensible to Cochise to have his word doubted. Try to imagine the mortification Bascom might have felt when the whole situation spun out of his control and escalated into violence. Was he ever really concerned about the missing boy or was he consumed with a sense of duty, an ambitious desire to carry out orders and advance his military career?
What about the hostages? Can you imagine the terror they were experiencing as the drama played out, knowing they were caught in the center of it? Why didn’t Bascom exchange his hostages for Cochise’s? Some historians believe even Bascom’s soldiers were asking among themselves this very question. At some point, Cochise’s frustration with Bascom’s inflexibility turned to resignation, as he abandoned hopes of a peaceful resolution. At what point that frustration turned to murderous rage, we can only guess.
Eventually the higher-ranking officers who arrived decided to hang the male Apache hostages — Cochise’s family — from high trees, along with three other Apache men of another band not involved with the incident. Cochise’s wife and young son were taken back to Fort Buchanan.
Some reports state the bodies hung over the Overland Trail, swaying in the wind, until the skeletons finally fell apart. It was a symbol of intolerance and vengeance, not easily ignored, and the die was cast. Cochise never forgot the incident, or forgave those responsible for the execution and imprisonment of his relatives. For the next 11 years, Chiricahua warriors attacked settlers, travelers, miners, mail carriers, virtually every white in their territory.
The only Civil War battle where the Confederate Army was not a participant took place in Southeast Arizona when a legion company of the Union Army, on its way to engage Confederate regulars in Texas, wandered into Apache territory and poked the hornet’s nest.
When they reached Apache Spring after marching dozens of miles across the hot Arizona desert they were met by several hundred well-armed Chiricahua warriors led by Mangas, Cochise and Geronimo. Low on water, and unable to retreat without water, Captain Thomas L. Roberts chose to fight.
The Apaches had thrown up rock breastworks on the cliffs, and waited until the soldiers came within 30–80 yards of their positions before opening fire. After a few minutes of intense combat Roberts ordered retreat, regrouped and unlimbered the mountain howitzers. A local history says:
This was one of the first times the United States Army had been able to use artillery against the Indians in the Southwest.
Roberts advanced with his howitzers and had them open fire. Their effectiveness was limited by the fact that they were 300–400 feet below the Apache defenses. Roberts moved his guns ahead to a better position, all the time under heavy fire. Once the guns were in effective range, the artillery opened fire in earnest.
John C. Cremony, who commanded the howitzers, said, “I afterwards learned from a prominent Apache who was present in the engagement, that sixty-three warriors were killed outright by the [howitzer] shells, while only three perished from musketry fire.” He added that he was told, “We would have done well enough if you had not fired wagons at us.’” They called the fight the Battle of Apache Pass.
Within days, Brigadier General James Henry Carlton ordered the California troops to build a post at Apache Spring to control the water supply and the mountain pass.
In late 1872, frontiersman Tom Jeffords and Cochise negotiated an agreement of peace, which called for a Chiricahua reservation surrounding Fort Bowie and Apache Spring. “Hereafter,” said Cochise, “the white man and the Indian are to drink of the same water, eat of the same bread, and be at peace.” Jeffords became Chiricahua Indian Agent.
After Cochise’s death in 1874, Washington determined to consolidate all the western Apache bands. The US removed the Chiricahuas to the reservation at San Carlos. The Chiricahuas bolted, took to Mexico’s Sierra Madre and went back to raiding and plundering on both sides of the border.
Mangas Coloradas, in his 60s but still a virile figure well over 6 foot tall, came to negotiate for peace and was taken hostage and assassinated. His skull is believed to be in the Smithsonian.
Geronimo followed Mangas as principal chief of the Chiricahua. He surrendered and died in prison. He is buried in Apache Indian Prisoner of War Cemetery, Fort Sill.
When Geronimo and his people departed Ft Bowie in chains, the post band struck up Auld Lang Syne. The Indian wars were over. Right or wrong had nothing to do with the outcome. Mulberry bows and arrows were no match for howitzers.
In the ravine that leads to the canyon that in turn, descends to the pass between southeastern Arizona’s Chiricahua and Dos Cabezas Mountains, Apache Spring still issues from the earth. Its bubbles rise to the surface and sparkle like diamonds.
We are traveling at the moment and don’t have regular opportunities to post, so we have written this ahead of time, to release in the place of our regular weekly installments. This is the first of a series. Next week we will look at the man who opened the Tibetian Buddhism retreat center here.