Howard, Part 18: The Seminoles and the Apache
KID WONGSRICHANALAI, STAFF WRITER
Second Lieutenant Oliver Otis Howard, fresh out of
the Military Academy at West Point, stepped off the ship and surveyed
the town of Savannah, Georgia. He had never been to the South before,
and his assignment in the Department of Florida seemed filled with adventure.
It was 1856, and young Oliver had no idea that eight
years later he would be at the head of an army of thirty thousand men
poised to burn Savannah to the ground. His career in the Union Army, however,
was far ahead of him.
As an ordinance officer, he reported to General William
S. Harney, his department commander, and settled down to a routine of
handing out and collecting weapons. At that time, there was a sort of
running war going on in Florida as General Harney attempted to conquer
the Seminole Indians.
Stationed at Fort Brooke, Howard paid little attention
to the Seminole War, which was being fought all around him. He was more
concerned with his young family, which he had left North. Feeling ever
lonely, he turned inward and began to study the Bible. Within a few months,
Howard would become a true believer in the gospel.
As General Harney left the Department of Florida, a
new officer assumed control, and this new commander sent Howard, along
with a few companies of men, an interpreter, and a guide, to find Seminole
Chief Bow Legs. Howard was to offer the Chief a peace agreement.
Searching high and low, the small expedition failed
to encounter Chief Bow Legs, but after Howard left Florida, a treaty was
made. Howard believed that the treaty came partially as a result of his
efforts in trying to communicate with the Seminole chief. After
his first assignment dealing with Native Americans, Howard went on to
become a math instructor at West Point, and soon enough, the Civil War
was upon him. After his successful career in the Western Armies, Howard
accepted the position of Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, charged
with helping to bring four million former slaves into freedom.
This assignment turned out to be a bad career move for
Howard. He was assailed from all sides for his actions as Commissioner
and the problems would continue into the 1880s.
There was, in 1872, an assignment that would place Howard
back in the field and away from the headache of Washington politics. The
government needed Howard to help negotiate a peace treaty with the warring
Apache Indians under Cochise in the Arizona desert. Howard accepted the
task, and on March 7, 1872, he left Washington for Arizona.
All hell had broken loose in the desert. The story was
a common one. Settlers had been pushing westward in search of a better
--for some that meant gold, and for others that meant a ranch or land--when
they encountered Native Americans, who had been living on the land for
Both sides became violent, and soon a war was on. This
time it was courtesy of Cochise, chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, and
General George Crook, a hard-fighting Civil War veteran who subscribed
to General Phil Sheridan's maxim: the only good Indian is a dead one.
In a last-ditch effort to prevent a war, the Government
sent Howard west to try to calm things down. Arriving at Fort McDowell,
Howard met with General Crook and persuaded him to halt his campaign until
Howard had tried his hand at peace negotiations.
Howard's efforts soon brought peace with a number of
tribes, including members of the Apache, Papago, and Pima. Howard's visit
to different tribes and efforts to create a new reservation in which the
Indians could be happily settled, helped smooth things out considerably.
With his new friends, Howard returned to Washington
in June 1872. Still, a major portion of his assignment had been left unaccomplished.
Cochise was still on the rampage, and in May, Howard gave up hope of finding
him. He ordered Crook to begin again his war against Cochise. This was
music to General Crook's ears.
However, President Grant didn't like the idea very much,
and as soon as Howard reached Washington, the President sent him back
Howard returned and began his search for Cochise yet
again. This time, however, he had the aid of a "scout" named Thomas Jeffords.
Howard assured Jeffords that he meant no harm to Cochise and was willing
to travel anywhere to find him, with or without military escort.
This being said, a strange cast was assembled in the
desert. Howard, the scout, and two Native American guides rode into the
heart of Cochise's territory. The general was going out on a limb, knowing
full well what became of intruders who displeased the Apache Chief. Still,
he went along in search of peace.
It must have been an interesting sight to see. Two Indians,
a rugged cowboy-type scout, and a major general in the United States Army
crossing the desert in search of a legend and in a quest to prevent bloodshed.
This was the stuff of great Western adventure movies, minus, of course,
In late summer 1872, Howard was in the middle of nowhere,
surrounded by thousands of hostile Indians, without an escort, and with
no escape plan whatsoever. His willingness to come thus far must have
proved his worth to Chief Cochise who soon came to a satisfactory agreement
with Howard. A new reservation was carved out on the Mexican border and
the Apache promised peace.
However, his agreement was not written down, and in
time, misunderstandings of the terms of the treaty would cause some trouble
for General Crook, but in the meantime, Howard had accomplished his mission
and was heading home.
The people of Arizona did not especially enjoy his return
from the desert, however. They wanted blood and kept demanding that Crook
go in with guns blazing and sabers drawn. Controversy would arise in the
years following the agreement as Indian raids into the Mexican border
and Cochise's claims of immunity from U.S. military control made the settlers
fear for their livelihood.
Meanwhile, Oliver Howard was in the Department of Columbia,
commanding the Washington Territory, Alaska, Oregon, and Idaho. It was
1874, and there was peace throughout his department. But in 1877, he would
be on the campaign trail again, this time following the path of a desperate
Nez Perce Indian by the name of Chief Joseph.
To Be Continued.
Next Time: Land of the Free
Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver
Otis Howard. Fordham University Press, New York. 1999
McFeely, William S. Yankee Stepfather: General O.O.
Howard and the Freedmen. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
Howard, Oliver Otis. Nez Perce Joseph: An account
of his ancestors, his lands, his confederates, his enemies, his murders,
his war, his pursuit and capture. Lee and Shepard Publishers, Boston.
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