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Mays’s Fight

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

11 August 1861; Marathon, Texas: Mescalero Apache chief Nicolas and his band frequented the Fort Davis area, occasionally receiving rations but at other times raiding the post's beef herd. On 5 August, Nicolas's band attacked the ranch of Manuel Musquiz, six miles southeast of the fort. They killed three herders and stole horses and cattle.

A detachment of Capt. James Walker's Company D of Lt. Col. John R. Baylor's 2nd Regiment, Texas Mounted Rifles, was stationed at Fort Davis. Lt. Reuben Mays of Company D took 14 soldiers and civilians to track down the Apache raiders. The Indians' trail led south from the Davis Mountains to the Big Bend country.

On the night of 10 August, camped in a mountain valley, Mays's men heard horses nearby. Quietly, they herded up their own horses, then went to investigate. They found an Indian camp about three miles away, and at sunrise they attacked. Soon Mays and his men discovered they had bitten off more than they could chew. More than 80 Mescalero Apaches put them to flight. The Texans holed up behind a large rock, Mays fighting with a broken arm. His Mexican guide Juan Fernandez, realizing they were trapped, found a way out and brought word back to Fort Davis, but it was too late for a rescue.

Fernandez was the only survivor; 14 soldiers and volunteers were killed. Apache casualties are unknown.

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