The warrior Victorio, one of the greatest Apache military strategists of all time, dies this day, in 1880, in the Tres Castillos Mountains south of El Paso, Texas.
Born in New Mexico around 1809, Victorio grew up during a period of intense hostility between the native Apache Indians of the southwest and encroaching Mexican and American settlers. Determined to resist the loss of his homeland, Victorio began leading his small band of warriors on a long series of devastating raids against Mexican and American settlers and their communities in the 1850s.
After more than a decade of evading the best efforts of the Mexican and American armies to capture him, the U.S. Army managed to convince Victorio to accept resettlement of his people on an inhospitable patch of sunburnt land near San Carlos, Arizona, in 1869. But with summer temperatures reaching 110 degrees on the San Carlos reservation (an area also known as Hell’s Forty Acres) and farming nearly impossible, Victorio decided the new reservation was unacceptable and moved his followers to more pleasant grounds at Ojo Caliente (Warm Springs), thus again becoming an outlaw in the eyes of the United States. In 1878, the U.S. Army attempted to force the Apaches back to the San Carlos reservation, but Victorio eluded capture, disappearing into the desert with 150 braves. Surviving by raiding the towns and farms of Chihuahua, Mexico, Victorio and his men began to take bloody revenge against their enemies, ambushing U.S. troops with devastating effect and killing any Mexican or American sheepherder unfortunate enough to cross their path.
In 1880, a combined force of U.S. and Mexican troops finally succeeded in tracking down the wily Apache and his warriors, surrounding them in the Tres Castillos Mountains of Mexico, just south of El Paso, Texas. Having sent the American troops away, the Mexican soldiers proceeded to kill all but 17 of the trapped Apaches, though the exact manner of Victorio’s death remains unclear. Some claimed an Indian scout employed by the Mexican army killed the famous warrior. But according to the Apache, Victorio took his own life rather than surrender to the hated Mexicans. Regardless of how it happened, Victorio’s death made him a martyr to the Apache people and strengthened the resolve of other warriors to continue the fight. The last of the great Apache warriors, Geronimo, would not surrender until 1886.