1889: Two Apaches in Arizona

Two of eight Apaches — Nacod Qui Say and Rah Dos La, among other possible transliterations — who murdered an Arizona sheriff and deputy while escaping from a transport to the penitentiary were hanged on this date in 1889.

According to White Justice in Arizona: Apache Murder Trials in the Nineteenth Century, the documentary trail for this remarkable case is surprisingly thing, with “no indictments, subpoenas, jury lists, witnesses, trial notes, or prosecutor’s notes extant.”

The vituperation of many surviving news accounts, however, gives us an essential fact that the judiciary’s papers surely wouldn’t. After decades of war with the Apaches in the Southwest, white settlers were set on edge by a native revolt against settler authority and from the first reports of the incident began ruminating about “the treacherous red man.” (Tucson Daily Citizen, Nov. 4, 1889)

When five were condemned to hang in this affair — three would cheat the executioner by committing suicide two days before the hanging — a newspaper in Florence where the gallows went up remarked that “should a few bands of Apaches be taken from the war path and suspended by the necks, where the other Indians on the reservation could get a good, fair look at them, there would be no more Apache outbreaks.”

This sort of rhetoric would rate as positively liberal beside the cruder commentary. For example, a few days before the execution, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison had said in an address to Congress that as the white man “can no longer push the Indian back into the wilderness,” it had become essential “to push him upward into the estate of a self-supporting and responsible citizen.” The Tombstone Prospector found some Khruschchevian merriment mulling its preferred form of “support.” Harrison must not have been too put off, since he denied clemency.*


Tombstone Prospector, Dec. 6, 1889.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of the old saw that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” a wag at the following week’s San Diego Weekly Union did Tombstone one better in the racist headline department.


San Diego Weekly Union, Dec. 12, 1889

* Arizona didn’t attain statehood until 1912; prior to that it was federally administered and the last word on clemencies and commutations belonged to the U.S. President.

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