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North of Santa Fe, in the spring of 1854, the conflict intensified into a series of the largest battles of the decade in which the U.S. Army would face the Apache. When Lobo Blanco's Jicarilla rustled some cattle from near Fort Union, east of Santa Fe, Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke sent Lieutenant David Bell and a company of 2nd Dragoons in pursuit.

On March 5, the two evenly matched opponents met on Congillon Creek. Typical of many such encounters in the West, heated words were exchanged, then a shot was fired. When the dust had settled, Bell's casualties numbered six, and those of the Jicarilla were sixteen. Among those killed in action was Lobo Blanco. Most of the Apache escaped to fight another day, and that day would come soon.

As the month progressed, the Jicarilla continued their raids, attacking traffic on the road leading north from Santa Fe to Taos. Major George Blake of the 1st Dragoons, based near Taos, sent out a detachment of sixty men under Lieutenant John Davidson to deal with them, expecting an engagement along the lines of what Lieutenant Bell had encountered three weeks earlier. In fact, Davidson took delivery of the worst thrashing that the U.S. Army would suffer in the Southwest during the decade.

On March 30, Davidson was ambushed at Cieneguilla in the Embudo Mountains by two hundred Jicarilla led by Chacon. After an intense three-hour firefight, the dragoons managed to break out of the canyon where they had been pinned down. Davidson left twenty-two men dead on the battlefield, and only two of the remaining thirty-eight escaped without being wounded.

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