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The Real Fort Apache

I grew up on John Wayne westerns. Among my favorites was the 1948 production of Fort Apache starring John Wayne as Captain York and Henry Fonda as Colonel Thursday.

Captain York is the sensible officer who understands the Apaches and is sympathetic to them. Colonel Thursday is arrogant and contemptuous of the Apaches. He clashes repeatedly with York on strategy and tactics.

Eventually, Thursday leads the regiment into an ambush. He details York to guard the supply train. Except for the supply train the regiment is wiped out by the Apaches.

There seems to be a clear parallel to the Custer story and the Little Big Horn. Fonda’s character is arrogant and underestimates the Apache and like Custer seeks glory for the regiment. The problem is that unlike the Little Big Horn the event in the movie when the regiment is wiped out never happened.

The history of Fort Apache shows that an entire regiment of cavalry was never stationed there nor did the soldiers who were stationed there ever fight more than a large skirmish with the Apaches.

Recently, at a rummage sale I found a copy of Frontier Military Posts of Arizona (1960 edition) by Ray Brandes for the sum of $2.00. Ray was a historian and archaeologist that did a lot of work in the field of Arizona’s western history. Frontier Military Posts of Arizona is a fascinating little book that discusses all the army posts in Arizona during the time of the Apache Wars. Fort Apache is the first entry in the volume.

It has a beat up cover and worn pages but at $2.00 I could not resist. Used copies on Amazon go for around $12.00. The book was reissued in 2012 shorty before the death of the author in 2014. Hard copies are quite expensive.

In the Spring of 1870 an army post was established by Major John Green. He called the post Camp Ord after the general responsible for the Arizona Territory. By August of the same year the camp’s name was changed to Camp Mogollon after the nearby mountains. In September it was changed yet again to Camp Thomas after Major General George W. Thomas, a Civil War general known as the “Rock of Chickamauga” for his heroics at that battle.

The name lasted until 1871 when it was changed to Camp Apache. Cochise, the great Apache leader had visited the camp in 1870 and as a token of friendship the camp’s name was changed to honor him. The camp remained Camp Apache until 1879 when it was upgraded to Fort Apache. In 1924 the fort was turned over to the Indian Service for use as a school.

Just because the fort and its garrisons were never involved in anything like the Little Big Born doesn’t mean it didn’t serve an important role. It also doesn’t mean the soldiers garrisoned there didn’t see any action at all.

The fort served as a base of operations when Apaches left the reservation. This included the famous Geronimo, Nachez and others who often left the reservation to raid and terrorize throughout Arizona and northern Mexico.

Frontier Military Posts of Arizona is a survey type of book. Brandes devotes about the 3 pages to the history of Fort Apache. As a result details surrounding the numerous skirmishes with the Apaches are lacking which is to be expected in a survey volume like Frontier Military Posts of Arizona.

Brandes does devote a couple of paragraphs to an incident that occurred on August 30, 1881. By 1881 the army was employing Apache scouts that served as part of the regular army garrisons. The idea was “it takes an Apache to catch an Apache.” In fact, the army had employed Indian auxliaries and allies since colonial times. The army simply took a divide and conquer approach to things and exploited tribal rivalries.

Dandy Bill was an Apache scout. The scouts often wore Army clothing along with their native dress. The army equipped scouts with rifles and ammunition. Although called scouts they were more of an Indian police force..

By and large the contingents of Apache scouts were loyal and effective but on occasion things back fired often because the government rarely kept its promises and that combined with the warrior ethos of the Indians could lead to trouble.

Such was the case in 1881 when an Apache holy man by the name of Nocky-del-klin-ne led ghost dances that had the objective of raising dead Apache warriors back to life. The army tried to arrest Nocky-del-klin-ne using their Apache scouts. The scouts revolted and joined forces with malcontents; both becoming hostiles and taking to the hills.

The incident rang a bell having come across it in other books I’ve read about the Apache Wars. The incident may have also been the inspiration for the movie Fort Apache with Wayne and Fonda since it’s the closest thing I can find that even remotely resembles the battle in the movie.

At the time of incident Fort Apache was in the charge of Col. Eugene A, Carr, Sixth Cavalry. Carr did not think Nocky-del-klin-ne was especially dangerous with his ghost dance. The Indian agent at the fort did however and he was chummy with the commanding general in Arizona-Maj. General Orlando Wilcox.

Eugene Asa Carr. Carr may have been the inspiration for the Capt. York character played by Wayne. Carr was a Union general in the Civil War as were a number of frontier officers. Carr won the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern in 1862. His service during and after the Civil War appears to be have been exemplary.

Wilcox appears to have something in common with Colonel Thursday from the movie. For one he didn’t appear to be too adept at understanding Apaches or appreciating the difficulty of governing them. Besides all that he and Carr did not get along. Carr could have been the inspiration for Wayne’s character of Captain York in the movie. So, rather than deferring to Carr’s judgment that caution was in order Wilcox sided with the agent and ordered Carr to arrest the holy man.

Here’s what Robert M. Utley has to say in his excellent book, Frontier Regulars about the engagement at Cibecue.

Carr’s apprehension appeared justified. On August 30 he marched into Nakaidoklini’s [Nocky-del-klin-ne] village on Cibecue creek, about thirty-fie miles northwest of Fort Apache, with two troops of cavalry, eighty-five men, and a detachment of twenty-three White Mountain [Apache] scouts. In a tense confrontation, the mystic submitted and placed in the custody of Sgt. John MacDonald, was warned that if he tried to escape he would be killed. His angry followers, about one hundred strong, dogged Carr’s march down the valley. As the command bivouacked for the night, they suddenly attacked. At the same moment the scouts mutinied. The first volley caught Capt. Edmund C. Hentig in the back and cut down six soldiers. Nakaidoklini tried to crawl to safety, but Sergeant MacDonald, down with a bullet in his leg, and a trumpeter shot and killed him. A hastily formed skirmish line swept the assailants across the creek, and the two sides exchanged fire until nightfall. The encounter had cost Carr Capt. Hentig and four men killed and another four wounded, two mortally. He was surrounded by a growing body of warriors and had lost most of his horses. Under the cover of darkness, therefore, he led his command in a stealthy withdrawal from the battlefield that undoubtedly averted a disaster the morrow.

Frontier Regulars by Robert M. Utley, pg. 372

Utley adds this fascinating detail.

Held by only a handful of infantry, Fort Apache lay under the threat of retaliation by outraged Apaches. Several killings in the area warned of an attack on the fort itself-a tactic to which Indians rarely resorted. The arrival of Carr’s battered column on the afternoon of August 31st lessened the danger. Even so, on September 1st warriors opened fire on the fort, wounding an infantry officer and shooting Carr’s horse from beneath him. Assault parties pressed in on two sides and gained some of outlying buildings. They were driven off, however, and the effort to take the fort collapsed…Garbled reports reaching San Carlos told of the massacre of Carr and his entire command at Cibecue. Eastern newspapers spread the word with sensational headlines reminiscent of those that proclaimed the Custer disaster.

Frontier Regulars by Robert M. Utley, pg 372-73

It was hardly the the battle in the movie where an entire regiment was wiped out; yet it was drama enough and perhaps the reason Fort Apache was an active post until the 1920’s. Today the remains of Fort Apache is a historic park and tourist attraction run by the White Mountain Apaches.

White Mountain Apache Culture Center and Museum


American Civil War in 1\72 Scale

This is an experimental post as I work with pages on the blog site. I just want to see of it works.

Confederate Infantry hold a fence line

Forming a firing line

Two Squadrons of Union Cavalry

Union Infantry supported by an artillery section

A large Union Regiment moves up

The Confederates refuse their flank

South Carolina Infantry
Hampton’s Legion engages the 2nd US Cavalry
Union infantry support the cavalry


Pencil Art from Yank Far East: Dec.15, 1955

Yank Magazine was a WW2 weekly that was initially intended for US servicemen serving overseas. It quickly became a weekly for servicemen serving anywhere. It came out in 15 editions (according to the magazine issue below) each for a geographical location.

The edition featured here in this blog is the Far East Edition as you can see from the cover. Note that the price is in Centavos (Spanish speaking Philippines ) and Guilders (Dutch Far East possessions).

I thought the pencil sketches were interesting and have reproduced them here. I could not find who sketched them but the link to the Wiki article will give a number of possibilities.

The sketches accompanied an article written by Sgt. Mack Morris. The content for Yank was provided by enlisted personal although officers did serve as managers. The article (Titled: 2-Front Fighter) written by Morris was about Maj. General J. Lawton Collins who served in the Far East prior to his transfer to France. The sketches illustrate some of the points in the interview with Collins. You can read about Collin’s service at the link.

Comments from the General included the fact that the Japanese never surrendered and were more fanatical than the SS. Having served on both fronts General Collins knew what he was talking about. He also commented on the horrible weather and inhospitable terrain that was common in the jungles.

The cover of this issue of Yank features a Grumman Avenger Torpedo Bomber. It’s the type of aircraft the late President George Bush flew when he was shot down.

I found this issue with three others in an antique store. All are in rough condition and the owner let them all go for $10.00. I have a quite a few in my collection.

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Reconnoiter the Town

This is an example of what my friend and I call Grand Manner wargaming after the late Peter Gilder. The game board is 16′ by 4′ and as you can see contains an enormous amount of detail. The scale of the miniatures is 1/72 (slightly under one inch).

Grand Manner wargaming takes an enormous amount of effort and clearly a large space is required. Not all of our war games on done on this scale given our varied interests and time commitments. Nevertheless, a Grand Manner game is the pinnacle of a great game experience on a detailed lay out.

You can read about it in a little more detail here: Reconnoiter the Town.

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Private Michael Fuchs, Bavarian Death Card, 1915

Death cards were given to friends and family as a keepsake after a loved one died in service. They usually were religious and in Germany had either a Catholic or Lutheran theology in mind. German southern states like Bavaria were Catholic while the northern states were Lutheran.

Private Fuchs hailed from the south Bavarian village of Unterhohenstetten.

The cards are sentimental and religious and I think touching. See translation below.


Death card of Michael Fuchs. Michael was enlisted in the 11th Company of the 2nd Bavarian Landwehr Regiment. The Landwehr were a type of reservist.

I could make out some of the German words but am limited so I asked my friend Brittany who was a teacher in the local German Immersion School to give me a translation.

Here’s what she wrote:
This was difficult. Apparently this old script is called Fraktur, and it really throws a loop in the translation! I did the best I could… it seems to make sense… ha. Here goes:
A farmer from Unterhohenstetten (a place in Germany)
Owner of the Iron Cross
Who, in the fighting of the war in France, in Rheims,  on the 7th of March, 1915 died a hero’s death.
He is at peace! Honor his memory!
Do not look for me on earth! I greet you from the stars!
(Poem Translation)
O wife and beloved children of mine,
I will not come to you at home again
The last thought, the last picture,
Have hastened back to you.
As I die in enemy lands,
No one reached for my hand
As my eye was broken
I already saw the heavens opening.
All of you who have known and loved him in life, commemorate him with pious prayers.
My Jesus, be compassionate!
Sweet heart Jesu(s), be my love!
Sweet heart Mary, be my rescue (deliverer)!

Brittany went over the translation one more time and said she thought, “my eye was broken” is a figure of speech, something like “the light in my eyes is dimmed” or some other other death euphemism.

I think she is right and the difference is probably due to modern German versus the Bavarian German of a 100 years ago.

I belong to Ancestry.com so I ran a search for Private Fuchs. I was curious about how old he was when he died since there was not any birth date given on the card. The first entry that turned up is below:

Name: Michael Fuchs
Birth Date: 1 Nov 1884
Birth Place: Saldenau Wolfstein Bayern (Bavaria)
Combat Arm: Infanterie
Type of Unit: Ersatztruppenteile der Reserve-Infanterie-Regimenter
Unit: bayer. Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment No. 11 (Regensburg) Ersatz-Bataillon
I am relatively certain this Michael Fuchs is the same person on the death card. The birth place of Saldenau Wolfstein Bayern (Bavaria) is in southern Bavaria and the infantry regiment Private Fuchs was in (Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment No. 11 (Regensburg) Ersatz-Bataillon) is correct.

Private Fuchs would have been 30-31 years old when he died in a battle near Rheims, France in 1915. His age makes sense given he was in a reserve regiment classified as an Ersatz Battalion. I believe this meant he was what we might call a third or fourth tier reservist.

The German armies of the time were organized into regular regiments and divisions of the first tier and they were backed up by the second tier reservists although the second tier were often as well trained as the first tier. The third tier was the Landwehr. They were called up in early WW1 as garrison troops and\or to replace the regular divisions that had been burnt out in the fighting.

When Private Fuchs was killed that war was only a little older than a year. It says something about the horrific casualties that were sustained by every nation in the Great War. I’m uncertain about the meaning of “ersatz” but I think it basically means “substitute” and that would account for the third or fourth tier (Landstrum-much older that 30+) status.

We can also see that Private Fuchs was a farmer from his small village (population in 1987 was only 152) and that he was married and had children. In other words Private Fuchs is representative of the of the millions of men killed on all sides during the war.

I wonder if Private Fuchs family still has in their possession his death card.
Typical German soldiers in 1915.

They Shall Not Grow Old

On December 17th myself, two friends and my son went to see They Shall Not Grow Old-a powerful movie\documentary that chronicles the experiences of the average British soldier in the Great War.

The movie will be again shown on the 27th in the US.

The Imperial War Museum gave director Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame access to all the footage taken in their archives as well as the audio files from the veterans of the Great War (recorded in the 1970s).

The product was amazing. It was compelling on so many levels and the colorized 3D experience made as if you were watching something happening now. It is not a war movie but a powerful human interest story set in 1914-18.

I would not wish to issue any spoilers so will settle for the following:

The film was upgraded by Jackson and his crew. Here’s an example…


At the end of the film Jackson explains why they colorized the originals. As I noted above the colorization (and how they figured out movement) made it appear as if you were watching a contemporary event.


This in my opinion is one of the most compelling images. This is a sergeant in the middle of a line of men moving along a trench line. The sergeant realizes that they are being photographed and turns to hold a brief stare at the photographer.

He almost looks angry or full of disdain for being photographed. I wonder what he was thinking. Given the horrors of trench warfare and the casualty rates (nearly 1,000,000 British and Empire soldiers killed) I speculate that he is upset about the photographic intrusion.

They are very possibly marching to their deaths and the good sergeant sees it as a violation of their privacy as they march towards the afterlife.




War is Hell

Over the years I’ve seen the below picture pop up on social media many times. If it had a caption the caption usually read “an unidentified soldier in Vietnam” or something to that effect.

In one case it was labeled as a soldier from a South American country; something it clearly is not.

It popped up again so being the researcher that I occasionally am I ran a search for “war is hell photo.”


As it turns out the soldier has now been identified as Larry Wayne Chaffin from St. Louis.  According to the blog The Few Good Men Mr. Chaffin was in the 173rd AB Brigade and was guarding an airbase when the picture was taken by AP photojournalist Horst Faas. Larry was 19 at the time of the photograph.

The photograph was identified as Larry in 2012 by his wife Fran Chaffin Morrison. Larry passed away in 1989 from complications of diabetes possibly brought on by Agent Orange.

The 173rd AB served in Vietnam from 1965-71 suffering 1,800 over the course of those years.

The unit would have been an elite fighting force and is still today seeing action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The picture is iconic especially for men my age. I was 18 in 1971. By then the universal draft was no longer in effect but the draft lottery was. My lottery number was low and I would have been drafted so I enlisted thinking I’d get a better deal. I should have joined the Navy-one of life’s regrets I think.

The army took me despite many health problems and eventually I got out with an honorable medical discharge. The major who made it happen wondered how I got accepted in the first place. I’ve always had mixed feelings on getting out.

I did serve for about five months and I can tell you that no one I ever had contact with wanted to be the last one killed in Vietnam. By early 1972 it was clear we were pulling out and everyone I served with hoped they would get stationed anywhere but Vietnam.

I was in basic training in the fall of 1971. Morale was rock bottom and frankly, you could get high on the MJ fumes in the barracks during basic training! Chaffin’s “war is hell” message certainly resonated and apparent in the training units I was in.

I make it a habit of thanking every veteran I meet for their service but I’m especially grateful for those that served in Vietnam and wear their Vietnam caps. They served in an unpopular war that wasn’t even classified as a war. Many were spit upon when they returned home. It so bad that many would not even wear their uniforms when they arrived back in the States.

I think many would have agreed with Chaffin that war is indeed hell but probably would have added so was coming home.

Thank you Vietnam War veterans.