Big Dry Wash

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Apacheria

Bill Yenne gives the following version from his book, Indian Wars.

The coming battle was going to be a classic instance of the outcome hinging on the quality of intelligence. Natiotish could see Captain Adna Chaffee's single company of 6th Cavalry troopers coming as he climbed the Mogollon Rim, moving toward General Springs, an important water hole on the trail that led northwesterly across the Tonto Basin. He knew that his intelligence was good, because his people knew the lay of the land so intuitively. His mistake was overconfidence. He thought, incorrectly, that he had the whole picture.

Natiotish's observers had missed seeing Major Andrew Evans, as he joined Chaffee at the end of the day on July 16 with five companies of the 3rd and 6th Cavalry. As Natiotish prepared an ambush for the following day on East Clear Creek, his intelligence was nearly a day old. Meanwhile, Chaffee's own scouts, led by the veteran Al Seiber, had spotted Natiotish, and had figured out that the Whit Mountain leader was under the impression that he would be springing a surprise attack.

Chaffee proposed, and Evans concurred, that he lead a flanking movement to outflank each of the Apache positions overlooking the trail with two companies. When the Apache attempted to spring the trap, the troopers would be behind them.

On July 17, as Evans moved into the canyon with two companies, Natiotish struck from both sides, believing that he was attacking the entire U.S. Army force. Suddenly, each of his flanks was, itself, under attack. The usual endgame for an Apache ambush had been for to simply pull back and fade away. This time, Natiotish found his exit route blocked. Chaffee had forced him to fight to the finish.

This fight-known as the Battle of Big Dry Wash although it occurred on East Clear Creek-was a major victory for the U.S. Army, and a major defeat for the Apache. The estimates of Apache dead range from sixteen to twenty-seven, with Natiotish himself among them. Virtually all of the rest were captured.

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