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Rattlesnake Springs

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

6 August 1880; Van Horn, Texas: Mimbres leader Victorio was turned back to Mexico at Tinaja de las Palmas, but several days later he was back, heading north to join other Apache bands still in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico. Col. Benjamin H. Grierson believed Victorio and his band would pass Van Horn's Well, so he concentrated his troops there. But the wily Apaches bypassed the well on 4 August.

Grierson figured Victorio would head for Rattlesnake Springs, in the breaks of the Sierra Diablos, about 65 miles north. He sped his men there, covering the distance in 21 hours. The colonel placed Companies C and G, under Capt. Charles D. Viele, in Rattlesnake Canyon. At 2 p.m. on 6 August, Victorio and his band approached. The soldiers held their fire, but Victorio, suspecting a trap, did not come close. When Viele opened up on them, the Apaches fell back to the canyon walls. Seeing the small number of troops, however, Victorio regrouped and counterattacked. The arrival of Capt. Louis H. Carpenter and Companies B and H brought a standoff, and Victorio again went back into the mountains.

At about 4 p.m. Capt. John C. Gilmore and men of the 24th Infantry rode in with supply wagons for Grierson. About eight miles from the springs, Victorio, unable to resist the temptation, attacked the wagons. Soldiers hiding in the wagons threw back the covers and put out a heavy fire, killing one Apache, wounding others, and driving back the rest.

At dusk the Indians made one more attempt to get to the water hole, but the soldiers again repulsed them, this time with Capt. Louis Carpenter pursuing them. The Apaches turned back to Mexico.

Grierson reported three men killed, three seriously wounded, and several minor injuries, with one trooper missing, presumed dead. He believed he had killed or wounded 30 warriors.

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