By Bob Harner

Despite risking his life to successfully persuade Geronimo to surrender for the last time, Lieutenant Charles Gatewood remains largely unacknowledged today, primarily because his unyielding commitment to defending the rights of Apache  men and women (the term “Apache” includes what today are known as Yavapai) alienated him from his Army superiors and peers.

Lieutenant Gatewood came to Arizona in 1878 and became commander of the Apache scouts at Fort Apache. He immersed himself in understanding the Apaches, gaining their respect and friendship. When General George Crook assumed command of the Department of Arizona for the second time in 1882, Gatewood was considered the best “Apache man” in the territory. Recognizing Gatewood’s value, Crook appointed him military commandant of the White Mountain Apache Reservation.

Gatewood was a firm believer in justice for all.  He established a reservation police force of 50 hand-picked Apache scouts and created a Court of Justice, with himself as judge, using all-Apache juries to try both criminal and civil cases. 

This was a time of turmoil for the Apaches, as the Army and the encroachment of Anglo settlement forced them to give up their way of life and their traditional social structures.  Historically, Apache women had property and power, but this, too, was changing as Anglo patriarchal norms were imposed on the people. 

Gatewood defied this trend by insisting that Apache women were entitled to equal treatment under the law. Under Gatewood, Apache women gained the right to file legal complaints against men, including their husbands. Gatewood arrested Apache men for wife beating. He insisted that men share income from crop sales with their wives. Although he faced initial resistance from Apache men, their respect for him prevailed, and all-male Apache juries were soon bringing verdicts against men on behalf of women.

In his unfinished memoir, Gatewood describes an incident involving a man/woman dispute in detail. A young Apache woman named Summer Blossom complained to Gatewood that her father had promised her in marriage to an elderly Apache man with four wives, because the man was wealthy and could pay more for her hand than a younger suitor she preferred. Afraid she would become a virtual slave to a man she didn’t love and to his more senior wives, she threatened to commit any crime that would result in her execution in order to escape a fate she considered worse than death. Gatewood confronted the father and the elderly husband-to-be, both of whom protested that the arrangement was a simple business deal. Gatewood then brought in Summer Blossom and the young suitor and asked her to indicate the husband she preferred. Naturally, she chose the younger man, who promptly offered all his belongings in payment for her hand. Pressured by Gatewood, the father reluctantly accepted the lower price and the jilted older suitor didn’t object. Gatewood provided the newlyweds with a few farm implements to start their new life together.

Despite Gatewood’s success at managing the reservation and keeping the peace with the Apaches, his position there ultimately led to the decline of his military career primarily because he typically sided with Apaches against neighboring Anglo settlers. Finally, Gatewood arrested a territorial judge, F.M. Zuck, for cheating Apaches in a business deal. Because Gatewood’s tribal court had no jurisdiction over settlers, Zuck’s trial was held in Prescott with Gatewood the only witness. Zuck’s defense lawyer insisted the charges be dropped because of an “obvious technicality” in the law. Without referencing the law or specifying the “technicality,” the judge agreed and dismissed the charges.

Gatewood was transferred to New Mexico and the situation on the Apache reservation quickly deteriorated. Geronimo took a small band and fled to Mexico. Major General Nelson Miles replaced Crook in 1886 and dispatched 5000 troops to re-capture Geronimo. After months without success and knowing that Geronimo and Gatewood had been on friendly terms, a desperate Miles ordered Gatewood to Mexico to try persuading Geronimo to surrender. Amazingly, Gatewood succeeded, and Geronimo returned with him to the U.S. Miles promptly took credit for Gatewood’s successful mission. Later, when Tucson celebrated the end of the Apache wars, Miles took his entire company to the celebration, except for Gatewood, who was left behind to do routine paperwork.

Long in poor health, Gatewood died in 1896 at age 43, his fierce defense of justice for the Apaches and his role in Geronimo’s surrender largely unknown by the American public.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.