On this date, April 30, in the year 1871, more than one hundred Apache Indians in Arizona were murdered by local settlers in what became known as the Camp Grant massacre. 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.
The Indians were living in a designated refuge that had been created after five elderly Apache women came to Camp Grant looking for a son who had been taken prisoner. The women were fed and treated with care by the United States Army, and soon hundreds of other starving Indians peacefully surrendered and took up residence. The Army set up a camp to support the group of Indians along Aravaipa Creek, five miles from Camp Grant.
Local settlers soon began blaming the Indians of various crimes. With local newspapers calling for the extermination of the Apache, many sett;ers were angry that the Camp Grant commander had allowed the Indians a safe place to live. William Oury, an instigator of the Camp Grant Massacre and leader of the attackers, made it plain he hated Apaches. At various times he had been sheriff and mayor of the city of Tucson.
Whether or not the Apache Indians living at the Aravaipa Creek Camp were responsible for criminal activity is impossible to determine. It is also irrelevant, as revenge was acted out on the innocent.
At dawn on April 30, 1871, while the Apache men were off hunting, a group of angry settlers surrounded the remaining sleeping Indians. The vigilantes came upon the slumbering Apache camp and began a systematic slaughter. They used clubs to murder those asleep and rifle 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 soldiers from Camp Grant buried approximately one hundred and twenty woman and children in two trenches on one of the nearby hilltops. All but eight of the corpses were women and children. Many of the bodies had been mutilated and nearly all of them scalped.
Many of the settlers in southern Arizona considered the attack justifiable, but President Ulysses S. Grant called it a massacre and ordered the arrest of the vigilante attackers. The trial lasted five days. The local jury deliberated for 19 minutes and acquitted every defendant. Not one person was ever punished for the these criminal acts committed on April 30, 1871.
Sources and more information:
The Camp Grant Massacre, by Bill Norman, The Desert Leaf, October 2009