The Hidden Apaches: The Story of the warrior Adelnietze

(Apaches in Camp at Canyon de Embudos, March 1886, Photograph Courtesy National Archives. The man in the center, front row, with the white strip on his face is Adelnietzi)

This post continues a series of historical stories about the Apaches hidden in the Sierra Madre of Mexico, some say to this day, and provides some of the historical background for the novel Knight’s Odyssey and a novel to follow.

After Geronimo and Naiche surrendered to General Crook at Skeleton Canyon, September 4, 1886, the government announced the end of the Apache wars. However, what the government failed to recognize was there were small bands of Apaches still living in the northern portions of the Sonora and Chihuahua Sierra Madre Mountains. They primarily raided Mexican villages and the great estates of the hacendado families, but on occasion slipped across the U.S. border to take what they needed when they needed it. The historical record suggests that about ten years after Geronimo surrendered, Apache raids out of Mexico began to significantly decrease but continued well into the mid 1930s. The decreased raiding activity was in no small part due to the ambush death of Adelnietzi, one of the three warriors and three women and a boy who slipped away from Skeleton Canyon back to Mexico refusing to accept General Miles terms of surrender. Linda Sánchez names the warriors who went south rather than north with Geronimo, Naiche, and General Miles as: Adelnietzi, Natculbaye (aka José Maria Elias), and Satsinistu who all disappeared back into the Sierra Madre to continue living wild and free. They probably never knew they had chosen a life that while hard, was wished for by their warrior friends who had been hauled off to Fort Pickens, Florida, on Santa Rosa Island in Pensacola Bay and a year and a half later to Mount Vernon Barracks in the swamps thirty miles north of Mobile.

Adelnietzi was a tough, experienced warrior who had left Fort Apache with Geronimo and Naiche in the May 1885 breakout. In early November, 1885, Ulzana (aka Jolsanny), Chihuahua’s brother, led a ten-man diversionary raid into southern Arizona and New Mexico to draw attention away from Geronimo and Naiche who had slipped back across the border and into San Carlos to get back their wives and children who had been captured by Captain Wirt Davis on August 7. Adelnietzi was with the Ulzana raiders who struck Fort Apache on 23 November. They hated the Chiricahuas who had stayed behind and who joined the scouts to help the army find the renegades. Ulzana’s raiders killed five men and boys, eleven women, four children, and captured six women and a child. The next day two herders in charge of reservation beef were killed and the raiders got away with Benito’s horses. Chatto with eighteen scouts gave chase, but managed to bring back the head of only one raider. All through December Ulzana’s and his warriors continued to raid spreading death and destruction across the southwest and evade pursuing Blue Coats. At the end of December they slipped back into Mexico on excellent horses. General Crook said the raiders probably traveled twelve hundred miles, killed thirty-eight people, and captured and wore out about two hundred and fifty head of stock.

In late March 1886, Geronimo and the breakout chiefs including Naiche, Chihuahua, and Nana met with General Crook in the Cañon de los Embudos. There, C.S. Fly, Tombstone, Arizona, photographer made the rare historic pictures of Geronimo and armed warriors and the meeting of Geronimo with Crook. One of Fly’s photographs, included with this post, shows a group of Apache women and warriors in camp at this meeting. Standing in the center of the front row with a white strip across his face is Aldenietzi. According to Lynda Sánchez to Aldenietzi’s right is the wife of Naiche, Hah-o-zinne, and to the far right in the first row in Bi-ya-neta a San Carlos woman taken in Geronimo’s raid of San Carlos looking for his wives and children.
Kidnapped Bi-ya-neta married Geronimo’s “brother” (actually cousin) Perico. They were together nearly forty years. To Adelnietzi’s left are Laziyah, Cathlay, Nat-cul-baye, and Kanseah. An enlargement of the picture will show Adelnietzi armed with a revolver with a bird’s head grip of ivory or pearl and a lanyard dangling from the butt. As Jim Cornelius rightly described him, Adelnietzi was a hard man and a killer, a true warrior.

With his wife with him and hidden in camps with other Apaches in the deep Sierra Madre canyons or on the high ridges, Adelnietzi and the other two warriors who had escaped with him, spent the next ten years enjoying the wild and free life the Apaches had known for many years in the Sierra Madre. However, by 1896, as times had changed along the borderlands with more troops on patrol and settlers streaming into the wild lands. As Lynda Sánchez put it, “Raiding was easy, but escape was no longer guaranteed.”

On December 3, 1895 Apache raiders near Solomonville, Arizona, murdered settlers Horatio Merrill and his sixteen-year-old daughter Elizabeth. On March 28, 1896, Alfred Hands was killed at his cabin on the eastern side of the Chiricahua Mountains near Portal Arizona. There were several possible culprits including Apache Kid and Massai, but the circumstances pointed to Adelnietzi who was then raiding with Massai.

After Hand’s killing, infuriated settlers and the newspapers were demanding the army give the countryside safety. The army made a sweep of the borderlands determined to wipe out the raiders. Apache scouts with the famous interpreter and scout Merijildo Grijalva located an Apache ranchería in rugged Guadalupe Canyon, a major north-south passageway the Apaches used from Arizona into Mexico. Two patrols of 7th Cavalry and a posse led by Texas John Slaughter converged on the ranchería early on the morning of 17 May 1896. The men were under orders not to harm the women who were expected to give up when the men were killed. In the early morning light, a woman spotted a trooper and called for Adelnietzi. In the ensuing hail of bullets Adelnietzi was hit. The Apaches responded as they had been trained and scattered to hide in rough terrain, brush, and side canyons. The patrols were not well positioned and the women and Massai got away without a scratch. A few days later, following a blood trail, the scouts found the body of Adelnietzi where he had bled out from his wound.

A few days earlier, on 8 May, a little Apache girl about a year old, was taken when the joint army patrol and posse found and destroyed Apache cached supplies wounding an Apache man and woman in the Peloncillo Mountains near Lang’s Ranch, southwest of Cloverdale, New Mexico. The child was found to be wearing a dress made out of Elizabeth Merrill’s “muslin election poster”. John Slaughter and his wife Viola adopted the child and named her Apache May for the month in which she was found. In 1901 May’s dress caught on fire (there are several versions of how this happened). She was severely burned and died the next day. She is buried at the Slaughter family cemetery, located on John Slaughter’s San Bernardino Ranch, now a national historic site.

The killing of Adelnietzi was the last major military engagement with the Apaches in Mexico and the “end” of the Apache Wars. In the years that followed there were a number of violent clashes between civilians and Apaches in Mexico, but the army was not involved. One of the hidden Apaches who brought much grief to the Mexicans with his raids lasting well into the twentieth century was Natculbaye and later his son, Indio Juan.

Next Week: The Hidden Apaches: The Story of the Warrior Natculbaye

Most of the information presented here is from Adelnietzi’s Hit and Run Race with Death by Lynda Sánchez in True West Magazine, 5 June 2017; The Wild Ones––Part 1––Adelnietzi by James Cornelius in; Chronicles of War by Berndt Kuhn; Apache Campaign (1896), Wikipedia; and, Soldiers vs Apaches: One Last Time at Guadalupe Canyon, by Britt W. Wilson, October 2001, Wild West Magazine

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