A searching study of one of the American West’s signature massacres, distinguished by the multiethnic nature of its perpetrators and the legal case that ensued.
As Jacoby (History/Brown Univ.; Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation, 2001) observes, the so-called Camp Grant Massacre, which took place on April 30, 1871, outside of Tucson, “is neither the biggest nor the best known of the flurry of brutal massacres of American Indians that occurred during the closing decades of the nineteenth century.” What sets the slaughter apart was not its target—Apaches who, though accustomed to being killed on sight, had nonetheless come to a kind of accommodation with the U.S. government—but its planners, a group of Anglos, Mexicans and Mexican Americans who had various commercial and ideological reasons for wishing the Apaches dead. The bulk of the force, though, was made up of other Indians, O’odham people who called the Apache simply ’O:b, “the enemy.” Jacoby skillfully examines the mixed makeup and motivations of this force, walking the thin line between history and legend and the thinner line between sympathy and objectivity. The perpetrators of the massacre, which cost the lives of 150 Apaches, most of them women and children, earned renown nationally in a time of social Darwinist campaigns to deracinate Indians. Though tried for murder, they were swiftly acquitted. Jacoby seeks to assign authorship and responsibility in a time of endemic violence in the outback, but of putative civilization-building in the nearby cities. Longtime Southwesterners remember the massacre today, but it seldom figures in the history texts and in conversation, learned or otherwise. As Jacoby notes, even the descendants of the Apache victims seldom mention it, “out of respect for the…custom of not discussing issues that might exacerbate others’ despair.”
A lucid, well-written work of regional history that opens necessary conversation and has broader implications—essential for students of the American West.