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Rio Penasco

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

18-19 January 1855; Mayhill, New Mexico: In December 1854, Mescalero Apaches stole 2,500 sheep from a ranch on the Pecos River. Brig. Gen. John Garland ordered two forces in pursuit. Capt. Richard S. Ewell, later a Confederate general, led 81 men of the 1st Dragoons out of the town of Los Lunas and marched up the Pecos River, then to the Bonito River, joining Capt. Henry W. Stanton with 29 dragoons and 50 infantry out of Fort Fillmore on 7 January.

The combined force marched south to the Rio Hondo near its mouth and followed it up toward the mountains, into country their guides had never seen before. On 9 January they cut south to the Rio Penasco and moved upriver. On the night of the 18th, Mescaleros attacked the soldiers' camp, showering them with arrows and trying to burn them out.

The next morning, the dragoons chased the Indians upstream into the Sacramento Mountains. Progress was slow however, for a persistent rear guard of Mescaleros harassed the soldiers at every step. The Indians' delaying tactic cost them 15 casualties. In the late afternoon, Ewell found an abandoned camp. Stanton had meanwhile taken 12 men to investigate another camp in an adjoining valley about 500 yards distant. He rode into a trap. As his soldiers fell back, Stanton covered the retreat with his Sharps carbine. The Mescaleros cut off and lanced one dragoon, a Pvt. Dugan of Company B, and shot another, and Stanton took a bullet in the head. All three died.

The Apaches had been able to hold off the dragoons long enough for their families to escape, and Ewell lost the trail. After heading south toward the Guadalupe Mountains, he finally gave up the chase. Returning to the Rio Penasco camp, where they had buried the three bodies, the soldiers found the graves open and the remains strewn about. They burned the bodies and carried the bones with them as they returned to the Rio Grande.

Ewell's men had killed about 15 Apaches, including the war chief Santa Anna.

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