Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria
16 December 1863; Fort Sumner, New Mexico: After the Mescalero Apaches began living on the Bosque Redondo Reservation near Fort Sumner, they were constantly raided by Navajos. After Navajos swept through the area in December, running off thousands of sheep, Bosque Redondo agent Lorenzo Labadie and a chaplain named Joseph Fialon requested help from Maj. Henry D. Wallen, 7th Infantry, in command at Fort Sumner. Detachments of infantry companies C and D and eight men of Company B, 2nd California, prepared to go out after the raiders, but Labadie and Fialon could not wait.
At 5:30 a.m. on 16 December, Labadie and Fialon left the post with 30 Mescaleros, soon joined by the mounted Californians. They picked up the Navajos' trail and overtook them about 30 miles northwest of the fort. There were about 130 warriors, but only about 20 had rifles. In the ensuing fight, which was severe, the whites and Mescaleros finally routed the Navajos. Lt. Charles Newbold, 5th Infantry, and three others pursued the fleeing Navajos for three miles before giving up.
The soldiers and Mescaleros killed 12 Navajos and wounded several others. They also took one Navajo prisoner and recovered 13 burros and 5,259 sheep. The Mescalero Alazan was fatally wounded.
9 July 1867; Fort Sumner, New Mexico: On 8 July, Theodore H. Dodd, agent at Bosque Redondo, learned that Navajo outlaws had hidden a herd of stolen horses in a canyon 25 miles south of Fort Sumner. Temporary commander Capt. Elisha W. Tarlton, 3rd Cavalry, sent out Lt. Henry M. Bragg, 3rd Cavalry, with 18 troopers to recapture the horses.
Bragg found the canyon in the morning and talked to the Navajos through a Mexican interpreter. The interpreter was not certain these were stolen horses, but Bragg had his orders and began driving about 100 head back to the fort. The Navajos, believing the soldiers were stealing their herd, stampeded the horses. The persistent Bragg tried again, collecting 50 horses and heading back to Fort Sumner. Five miles from his destination, the Indians caught him again and took the horses back. Bragg sent three men after the horses but the Navajos fired at them, and Bragg wisely returned to the post.
At the fort, Tarlton had been drinking with Lt. Charles Porter, 5th Infantry. Perturbed at Bragg's failure, Tarlton ordered Porter to take 20 men from Companies G and I, 3rd Cavalry, to round up the horses. On the way, Porter found 200 Navajos, some under Chief Narbono, blocking his path. This time without an interpreter, both sides ended up gesticulating and shouting without communicating. When an old Navajo rode up and apparently demanded to know why the army was taking his horses, a soldier fired at him. The Indians returned the fire and drove Porter away.
The Navajos chased the soldiers all the way to the hill overlooking the fort, killing five soldiers and wounding four, including Porter. The affair was patched up over the next few days, preventing a major conflict.
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