Arts & Culture » Book Feature

Enemies and Neighbors

'Shadows at Dawn' documents the Camp Grant massacre--an event all of us should know more about

by

comment
Today's community leader cannot marry a 13-year-old orphan girl and then go on to supply the guns used by his friends to slaughter scores of defenseless women and children--at least not without risking fatal damage to his reputation and electability.

If you were one of the small cadre of Anglo and Mexican elites in Tucson after the Gadsden Purchase and before the railroad arrived, however, such life choices were seen as pragmatic and heroic, respectively.

And they certainly didn't hurt a man's reputation: One of Tucson's more charming midtown neighborhoods is named for Sam Hughes, a successful merchant and former adjutant general of the territory who, in 1863 at the age of 35, married 13-year-old orphaned Tucson native Atanacia Santa Cruz. Later, on the eve of the infamous Camp Grant massacre of 1871, Hughes--while declining to get his hands bloody in the surprise attack on a group of Apaches camped at Aravaipa Canyon north of Tucson--"furnished the raiders with a wagonload of Sharps and Spencer carbines from Arizona's armory along with ammunition and other provisions."

It was generally agreed in this hot, arid corner of the world for generations that the only good Apache was a dead Apache; that enslaving children, or turning them to prostitution, or simply cutting off their heads and hanging them from the nearest tree, was a respectable way to live (as long as those children were Apache); and that the generally accepted virtues of fair play and honesty did not apply when dealing with indigenous people, just as one can guiltlessly lie to a child about a reality right before their eyes. Few books on the American Southwest--and the Spanish, Mexican and Anglo colonization thereof--display more thoroughly the hidden implications of this kind of frontier-bred, cross-cultural moral pragmatism than Karl Jacoby's Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History.

The book endeavors to tell the notoriously shifty truth of the Camp Grant massacre as that "truth" was created by the four distinct cultures involved in it--the Tohono O'odham, Los Vecinos (Mexicans of Spanish decent who had settled in the Tucson valley before it became part of the United States), the Americans and the Apache (called the Nnee, as they called themselves). Jacoby gives each culture its own voice, and chapters, switching perspective to tell the story of the lead-up to the massacre and its aftermath as it appeared to each player.

For the O'odham--farmers and herders who were always being raided by the less-sedentary Apache--who participated in the massacre on the side of the Mexicans and the Anglos, the event was just another in a never-ending war with the Apache, and many villages didn't even record the event on their calendar sticks for the year. For Los Vecinos, the massacre was later seen as the closing of an era, one in which they were valued by the increasing Anglo majority as business partners, Indian trackers and fighters. After the Camp Grant massacre, the local battles with the Apache became more of a job for the U.S. Army, and less a frontier affair in which citizens had to fight for themselves. For the Anglos, the massacre was whitewashed through the burgeoning "pioneer" movement that saw the creation of what is today the Arizona Historical Society. For the Apache, the massacre was a kind of death blow, the beginning of the end for them as a free people.

The stories of the cultures that fought and died and tried to live in these borderlands come through as never before--their histories, their motives and their contradictions are illuminated through Jacoby's thorough research, elegant writing and deft storytelling. Except for the Apache, but that's not really Jacoby's fault.

The Anglos and Los Vecinos never really understood Apache culture. The Anglos especially never quite understood that the Apache weren't one monolithic tribe, and that making a truce with one band wasn't the same as making a truce with all of them. In the aftermath of the largely unprovoked massacre, Tucson's murderous elite didn't even bother to attempt to name the victims during the laughable trial that saw all of the perpetrators acquitted; instead, they listed them as John Doe Apache, or Mary Doe Apache--names that reveal just how unknown the Nnee were to their neighbors.

The Camp Grant Massacre isn't much talked about in the histories of this area--at least not to the extent that it is in Jacoby's essential new book. This is an event that we in the borderlands should know more about, for it reveals the misconceptions, the hypocrisies and the violent protectionist tendencies that are still with us today.

Add a comment