Sat, Jan. 18

Verde Heritage -- 1866: THE BATTLE OF FIVE CAVES, February 13, Part 1.


Beaver Creek is one of several streams flowing from the Mogollon Rim (the Indians called "Black Mesa"). Each stream entering Beaver Creek carved a canyon and some of these canyons became the home or hideout of the Indians. One of those canyons was the site of a famous 1866 battle. [Does anyone know the location? Is it marked as a battle site?]

Dr. Edward Palmer came to the Verde Valley during August of 1865. He wrote or asked someone to write about some of his experiences. Dr. Palmer explained: "As I was post surgeon, [I] would receive orders to go into the field. These scouts were always undertaken afoot and without any pack animals, each one carrying his pack, consisting of army dried beef, 'penola' or meal made from roasted corn and mixed with 1/3 sugar; this was to be mixed with water. It is very refreshing. Sugar and coffee (ground), a quart cup to be used to prepare and drink the coffee in; a canteen for water and one blanket, which served as a bed by night and by day the means of carrying the necessities of the trip."

"This limited supply of food, clothing and ammunition at the disposal of the officer in command poorly provided his men for the hard duty of scouting on foot. Each one had to provide himself with a pair of shoes for the occasion called by the Mexicans 'teguas,' made from untanned hide, tops laced after the manner of the government infantry shoes; somewhat turned up to the sides, so that the sides will not wear out so quickly and also to render the soles broader; the toes rather sharp, long, and turned up at the toes. A hole is made to let out the gravel and sand."

FEBRUARY 11, 1866: "We start at 7 1/2 p.m., with 5 days rations on our backs, and Lt. [Manuel] Gallegos in command, and myself as surgeon and with 45 men of Company E, 1st Arizona Volunteer Infantry. We left Camp Lincoln and during the night traveled N. E. in front of Cathedral Bluffs. [We] laid up all day and no fires lit as the smoke would betray us; no noise was made. Each one would make with sticks a small blaze to boil his coffee and then put it out. The second night traveled E and by day lay up on the South Fork of Beaver Creek in a ravine. At evening the trailers were sent out and espied the Indians. They returned at 9 p.m. They had gone close enough to see their fires and returned to camp after satisfying themselves as to the mode of attack."

"How, in this rough country at night by moonlight, they could find their way back to camp is astonishing."

Captain Hiram S. Washburn reported: "There were no shoes on hand, and but a small supply of provisions. By means of buckskin and rawhide, moccasins were soon substituted for shoes, and on the 11th, Lt. Gallegos and 45 men, Company E, left the post with 5 days' rations, to go back on their last scout to the Indian trail running east, and following it in search of the enemy. The second night out Indian fires were discovered and preparations made for an attack."

Dr. Edward Palmer continued: "Soon after their return, the party resumed the march over every species of hill, valley, smooth and rough; the later predominating, so much so, that sometimes it seemed almost impossible to crawl along over these volcanic rocks and not make a noise. But our shoes were well adapted as they made no noise."

"Just before day dawned, we arrived at the edge of what the moonlight showed to be a very steep and rough descent to a stream of water, and there were fires distinctly seen."

THE BATTLE OF FIVE CAVES, February 13, 1866.

"The command was formed into 3 divisions, which suddenly assailed the foe, whom they found in caves arranged one above the other. The fighting became general on both sides; arrows and rifle shots came from every direction in this natural fortification. They soon found out whom they had to fight, for being called upon to surrender [the Indians] replied that they would die first. They made a stubborn resistance and from the moans, shrieks, and yells in the caves, many must have been shot. Only 2 were seen to escape."

Captain Hiram S. Washburn reported: The "attack, which commenced just after daylight, lasted for some 2 or 3 hours. The Indians being fortified in caves, had greatly the advantage. The lower caves, however, were all taken, and every occupant killed or taken prisoner. Lt. Gallegos, finding that the upper caves could not be taken without some sacrifice, concluded to withdraw. Thirty [30] Indians were killed outside the caves, and nearly as many within [just less than 60, total]. Twelve prisoners were taken, two of whom afterwards died. Six men were wounded, none dangerously. A large number of buckskins and other articles of Indian use were taken. Their commissary was found to be much better supplied than ours, but we were unable to pack off more than was needed for present use, for lack of transportation; indeed no transportation was used on this or any other scout. The scout occupied but 4 days' time."

"Dr. Edward Palmer continued: "The caves presented a horrible sight, as dead of all ages and sexes, with household goods and provisions, lay mixed with the dirt from the caves brought down by firing of the guns, while the blood of the dead freely mixed with all."

"Thirty [30] Apaches were killed; 2 women and 10 children were taken prisoners. Seven of the soldiers were slightly wounded. At this fight 275 rounds of ammunition were used."

"Feb. 15 at 11 a.m. the command marched with their prisoners back into camp." As the command neared camp the 16 Mexican mistresses of the soldiers welcomed them. Dr. Edward Palmer continued: "These women formed into a procession, carrying a picture of St. Guadalupe, and marched out to meet the soldiers. They took the prisoners as friends and baptized the children, and uttered many prayers. ... One of the children was wounded and 2 days afterwards it died in camp. The females of the camp laid it out after their custom and covered it with wild flowers and carried it to a grave, chanting a Catholic hymn, and at the grave imitated a regular Catholic burial. They hid it so completely that its body could not be found."

The Battle of Five Caves was considered to be a great victory in Arizona's Indian War. Lt. Gallegos and Company E were praised in the newspapers. A letter in the "San Francisco Bulletin" stated: "This truly meritorious officer, who in one scout, while his men were without shoes, and living on half rations, killed more Indians in three hours than all the other officers in the Territory have killed in the past year." (San Francisco Bulletin; March 6, 1866.)

(Dr. Edward Palmer Manuscript. / Captain Hiram S. Washburn, general report to Adjutant-General W. H. Garvin, dated September 20, 1866, from his Headquarters Camp on Clear Creek.)

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