Thursday, June 14, 2007

June 14, 2007 Bonus Bonus Blog
I made a poor estimation on space for this issue's Classic Gunfight featuring the Battle of Big Dry Wash. I only slotted it for four pages, thinking I could get it all in, but there's too much rich detail, not to mention great photos. Subsequently, you are going to get to see some stuff that won't be in the magazine version.

A week ago today, I drove up to the Mogollon Rim to meet Dr. Sam Palmer who has studied this fight for 25 years. A mutual friend of ours, Garrett Roberts (you can see him on the last page of CGI in Hays City Crew) joined us for a personal tour of the battlefield, which is about seven miles south of the doctor's summer cabin.

It was about a mile hike into the site, and by the way the monument for this battle is not even close to the actual battlefield. I think Sam said the monument was erected in the 1930s, after Senator Carl Hayden got $500 tacked on to a pork bill to get the monuments paid for. As Sam speculates, the workers who set the marker, just looked around and said, "Who'll know?"

In this first photo we see Dr. Sam pointing across to the ridges where the soldiers were. In the beginning of the fight they were firing from 600 to 700 yards across the canyon at each other. The soldiers had an advantage because they were firing .45-70s which have a range of 3,000 yards. In the second photo Sam is pointing towards the slight saddle between the point where two Apaches were firing from and where a troop came up the draw from below in a flanking move:

Once again, Sam points to the U.S. Army's primary postion on the ridgeline south of Big Dry Wash. If you're like me, you might have assumed the fight was in an arid place (Big! Dry! Wash!), but as you can see this is tall pine country. However, the underbrush is much thicker today and several of the battle veterans commented on the site being "park like." The flanking troops led by Captain Lemuel Abbot got about to the top of the draw when they ran into a group of Apaches trying to do the same thing, going the other way. A hailstorm of lead filled the draw where Sam is pointing:

Over on the main Apache rock formations bones and artifacts have been found everywhere (some 17 horses were killed in the fighting, however, these bones are elk related). In the second photo we are looking right into the Apache position where the warriors had built stone firing pits and stacked rock wings adjacent to the large pine trees. Researchers have found some 4,000 artifacts on the site:

The Apaches commanded a high cliff, although not as high as I expected. Lt. Cruse wrote that one Apache who was shot and fell over the edge, fell for a long time, we kept waiting for him to hit, or words to that efffect. A little over-dramatized, but then you got young bucks full of testosterone telling the story, what do you expect? The photo on the right is in the vicinity of the pony herd which is up the draw. This is where Chief of Scouts Al Sieber came up and wiped out the guards, capturing the entire herd, which consisted of 94 animals, horses and stock they had stolen as they plundered all the way up Pleasant Valley. But Sieber didn't stop there and kept running and tumbling, shooting as he came up. Some believe Sieber killed half the casualties in the fight (some eight kills).

The soldiers firing from across the canyon, sent volley after volley into the Indian camp and the trees have dozens of balls sunk in them. In one tree there are five bullets in a very tight pattern, with two bullets coming to rest touching. Some souvenir hunters have dug out bullets, as seen here and you can still see the impression of the spent bullet. The fight started at about 3:30 in the afternoon and by the final phase, the light was draining from the draws, just like this, at right. Each large tree in this photo had cartridges at the base, mostly on the right side, which would be predictable since most shooters are right-handed. About five percent of the trees had cartridges on the left, although it must be said, it could have been right-handers shooting around the left side. Just like at the Custer Battlefield, researchers with metal detectors have tracked individual shooters in the fight as they ran from tree to tree, firing and ejecting cartridges.

In addition to the bullets, horseshoes, boot nails, money (soldiers running and grabbing for bullets probably pulled up coins which dropped to the ground) researchers have found other amazing artifacts, including two Green River knives like this one (it belongs to Garrett Roberts and was not found at Big Dry Wash).

Like I said, this is not in the article and is a treat for all of you who get your news where it counts.

"Don't play the saxophone. Let it play you."
—Charlie Parker

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