By Allan and Cathie M. Englekirk

In February 1864, Governor Goodwin contacted President Lincoln for authority to recruit volunteer infantry to combat Apaches in the Territory.  After his request was granted, Hiram Storrs Washburn, a merchant from Patagonia, was made a Second Lieutenant (later Captain) and organized recruiting.

By late fall 1865, five companies of over 300 volunteers were formed.  Among the citizens recruiting them were Primitivo Cervantes, a Mexican miner from Prescott, and Manuel Gallegos, a Sonoran from a prominent Mexican military family.  Recruiting for Company A fell to 34-year-old 2nd Lt. Cervantes.  Twenty-six of the 35 men recruited were Mexicans from Sonora.  In October 1865, that Company moved to Camp Lincoln (later Camp Verde).

Companies E and F, totaling 130 and essentially all-Mexican units (only three men were not Mexicans), were recruited, principally by 2nd Lieutenant Gallegos.  The Sonorans were eager to fight, as Apaches had staged devastating raids in their home country.  In December 1865, they proceeded to Fort Whipple, a 183-mile journey, taking 25 days and accomplished under wretched conditions, including bitter cold weather and the deaths of two men en route.

In January 1866, Company E also was ordered to Camp Lincoln. The 60-mile trip, over rugged terrain and in frequent rainstorms, took a month, and when they arrived, one observer noted that the condition of these men was wretched beyond description; many of the volunteers had tied rags to their bare feet.  Captain Washburn had written to Governor Goodwin asking for shoes, clothing, and blankets, but this equipment did not arrive before they departed.  Company E was prohibited from building any shelter there to protect them from the winter. The rationale was that the troops should never become comfortable so as to prepare them for arduous combat conditions.  Company F moved to near Skull Valley.  Their mission was to protect travelers on the road from La Paz to Prescott.  In general, they escorted wagon trains.

On January 31st, Washburn was given command of Companies A and E to battle Apaches.  Despite being grievously underequipped, a significant victory occurred on February 13, 1866.  With Washburn’s second in command, Lieutenant Gallegos, leading Company E in the battle of Cinco Cuevas, they attacked an Apache ranchería,inhabiting five caves.  The confrontation lasted three hours.  The outcome:  30 Indians were killed, 12 prisoners were taken, and only seven soldiers were wounded.  Gallegos’s success was noted in a letter of praise from Acting Governor McCormick in the Arizona Miner on February 28.  “Manuel Gallegos,” he stated, “has reason to be proud of his latest fight.  A few more such will forever quiet the hellish Apache.”

Second Lieutenant Cervantes fervently advocated better conditions for Company A.  In a letter of February 1866 to the commander of Ft. Whipple, he respectfully states, “… it is my wish that my Company should receive what the Regulations allow them.”  He requested simple basics: candles, vinegar and rice.  Another letter relates the difficulty of procuring ammunition.

The following month, a battle at an Apache camp led by Cervantes secured another victory for the volunteers. The April 11, 1866 Arizona Miner declared that the volunteers had “behaved admirably” and that “this second important victory has won for them a proud name, and their praises are everywhere shouted.”

From January through August 1866, the First Arizona Volunteer Infantry subdued Apaches, protected farms and secured safe travel. Their actions earned them numerous accolades.  Dr. Edward Palmer, the surgeon accompanying Company E, commented in his journal: “During the occupation of the Valley by the Arizona Vol. Inf., the Indians found more than their match.”  Captain Washburn made a special trip to Fort Whipple to reward his volunteers monetarily.  The Territorial Legislature praised them for securing the region for settlers.  Finally, the Army Adjutant General wrote in his 1866 report that “taking into consideration the fact that the troops were composed of men coming from a hot climate and arriving in this portion of the Territory in the middle of an unusually severe winter … it is a great wonder that the officers and privates bore their hardships as patiently and manfully as they did.”

Despite their outstanding service, the War Department rejected extending the enlistments of the five companies.  Therefore, between August and October 1866, the Volunteers were all mustered out and the continuing task of subduing the Apaches fell to the regular U.S. Army.

 “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.