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Graydon Affair

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. Please consider reading our editorial policy to understand how and why we publish the resources we do.

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

Ca. 25 October 1862; Fort Stanton, New Mexico: In 1861, at the start of the Civil War, Union troops abandoned Fort Stanton and other southwestern forts, and Mescalero Apaches in the vicinity stepped up their raiding activities. To get the Indians back in line, in the fall of 1862 Brig. Gen. James H. Carleton directed Kit Carson, now commissioned by the army as colonel of he New Mexico volunteers, to take five companies of the 1st New Mexico Cavalry and reoccupy the fort. One company of Carson's command was to garrison Fort Stanton while the others were to hunt the Mescaleros down. Carleton's orders of 12 October were: "All Indian men of that tribe are to be killed whenever and wherever you can find them." He added, however, that if the Mescaleros begged for peace, their chiefs and 20 principal men must come to Santa Fe to talk.

Carson and his men arrived at the fort on 26 October, but before they had even unfurled the flag Carson learned that Capt. James Graydon and his advance company had run into a band of Mescaleros heading for Santa Fe. The Indians had signed for peace and a parley, but Graydon ordered his troops to fire, killing Chiefs Manuelito and Jose Largo, four other warriors, and a woman. Then, in a running pursuit, the cavalry killed 5 more warriors, wounded 20, and took 17 horses and mules. As soon as Carson arrived, other Mescalero bands began to surrender at the fort.

Word spread that Graydon had lured Manuelito's band into a trap with the help of civilian Charles Beach, who received some of the horses as booty. Carleton wrote to Carson, saying that if the fight had not been "fair and open," Carson should return the stock to the Mescaleros and remove Beach from the country. the incident grew increasingly controversial. Graydon was accused of plying he Indians with liquor then shooting them down, a scenario he captain denied.

J.W. Whitlock, a former surgeon, published the accusations against Graydon in the Santa Fe Gazette. At Fort Stanton, Graydon challenged Whitlock to a duel, in which both men were wounded. Afterward, as Whitlock was leaving the fort, Graydon's men shot him from his horse and pumped 130 bullets into him. Carson wanted Graydon to resign after this incident; Carleton wanted him to stand trial. It all became moot when Graydon died on 9 November from the wound he suffered in the duel.

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