Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Archaeology, Archives and Apaches
Abstract: The purpose of the panel is to outline how archaeology and history have been combined to reinterpret events within the Apache Wars of the 1860s to 1880s. It will be argued that an understanding of 'landscape', if we refer to the geographic/environmental definition, is essential for both the archaeologist in the field and the historian in the archives, if they are to understand how the Apaches thought and fought.

Karl Laumbach will present a revisionist history of the Ninth Cavalry's role in the Battle of Hembrillo Basin, 5-7 April, 1880 during the Victorio Campaign. Previously unpublished Ninth Cavalry accounts by Lt. John Conline completely contradict Sixth Cavalry reports that the Ninth Cavalry "stumbled" into Hembrillo after drinking bad water. Conline's account also led archaeologists to the site of Conline's skirmish which preceded the larger fight in the Hembrillo Basin. Archaeological data provides a detailed record of the skirmish and reveals how Conline downplayed the intensity of the Apache attack.

Robert Watt will expand on Laumbach's archive work to show that while the geography/ environment was to blame for the failure of the Hembrillo Canyon operation, the US army tried to present a false impression of the landscape as part of an effort to explain their lack of success. Archive research shows that a combination of poor intelligence and communication and poor logistical organisation, much of which was avoidable, led to failure.

Deni Seymour is currently documenting the site of an 1871 ambush of Lt. Cushing by the Apache leader Juh and his warriors. Knowledge of Apache landscape use and ambush behaviour allowed discovery of this long-sought-after site. This work has demonstrated how the Apaches used their knowledge of the terrain and the cavalry's behaviour to influence and direct their enemy's actions into a trap.
Robert Watt, University of Birmingham
Participant's Paper Title: The Perils of Dihydrogen Monoxide: A Reinterpretation of the Hembrillo Canyon Operation, New Mexico, March-April 1880
Participant's Paper Abstract: The Hembrillo Canyon campaign of early April 1880 was inspired by the failure of earlier efforts to subdue hostile Apaches led by Victorio, in 1879-80. Colonel Edward Hatch, commanding both the Ninth Cavalry and the District of New Mexico, organised his troops into three battalions and planned a three-pronged attack upon Victorio's camp in the San Andres Mountains in late March or early April 1880.
The widely accepted version argues that the Second Battalion launched a premature attack upon Victorio due their having imbibed gypsum laden water producing severe sickness. This forced the Second Battalion into Hembrillo Canyon in search of fresh water. Here they encountered Victorio's warriors who attacked and besieged them overnight before they were rescued by the arrival of the First Battalion. The overall operation was presented as well-organised but foiled by a problem encountered in the landscape: water.
This version has already been challenged by archaeologist Karl W. Laumbach. There is also no contemporary account of the battle which supports the argument that poisoned water was the reason for operational failure.
I shall argue that a combination of archive and archaeological research supports this argument. The operation failed as a result of three combined factors; failure to pinpoint the location of Victorio's camp; an inability to coordinate the movements of the three battalions (due to distances and difficulty of the terrain) and failures in logistic support concerning forage and water.
Thus, while the landscape did result in failure, through lack of geographic knowledge, difficulty in traversing rough terrain and problems in supplying sufficient fodder and water, its role was minimised to produce a false accounting for the failure to trap and destroy Victorio.
William Dobak, U.S. Army Center of Military History (Retired)
Lance Blyth, University of New Mexico
Deni Seymour, Independent Researcher
Participant's Paper Title: Stalking the Lieutenant: The 1871 Juh-Cushing Ambush Site
Participant's Paper Abstract: Following Apache footprints across burnt-over terrain, Lt Howard Cushing met his fate with history in May 1871. Unbeknownst to this celebrated officer, renowned for his effectiveness and tenacity in campaigning against the Apache, his route was shadowed, even choreographed by the legendary Apache leader Juh and his warriors. Primary documents tell us that he fell with two others at this quintuple Medals of Honor site in Arizona Territory, but until now the location has been obscured by time and the seeming clarity of narrative accounts of survivors and a recovery team. Aided by understandings of Apache landscape use and ambush behavior learned from archaeological research these accounts take on fresh meaning, providing a clear association between historical accounts and the on-the-ground location. New perspectives on Apache tactics and battlefield organization result from examination of assumptions we bring to our interpretation of narrative accounts, battlefield behavior, landscape references, and weapons in use at the time. This battle location has been identified, providing fresh new information on this well-known skirmish from the Apache Wars.
Karl Laumbach, Human Systems Research Inc.
Participant's Paper Title: Conline's Skirmish: The Forgotten Prelude to the Battle of the Hembrillo Basin
Participant's Paper Abstract: On April 5th, 1880, a veteran Lieutenant led an undersized company of 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers into the San Andres Mountains of southern New Mexico in search of Victorio's Apaches. After an overnight camp at Malpais Spring in the Tularosa Basin, Lt. Conline was ordered by Captain Henry Carroll to separate from the other three companies and forge ahead to find the location of the Apache camp. Arriving at the mouth of Hembrillo Canyon, Conline's company soon found tracks of Apaches driving cattle up the canyon. Following the tracks, the company soon came to a place where "the canyon boxed up". Sensing an ambush, Conline picked a position and waited. Soon they were involved in a full skirmish with an equal or greater number of Apaches.
Until the 1990s and the Hembrillo Battlefield study, Conline's skirmish was virtually unknown. Provided to the author by the late Dr. Charles Kenner, Conline's extensive account provides the only first hand, contemporary account of Captain Henry Carroll's actions leading to the larger Battle of Hembrillo (April 6th and 7th 1880). In 2002, a team that included archaeologists, Mescalero Apache tribal members, and volunteers located Conline's Skirmish based on his descriptions. A metal detector survey recovered numerous cartridges as well as other artifacts. Forensic analysis of the cartridges by Dr. Doug Scott allowed the definition of position and movement by both troopers and Apache during the course of the two hour battle. Conline's account also provided insights that debunk the prevailing story of how "bad water" from Malpais Spring was responsible for the predicament that Captain Carrol and two companies of the 9th found themselves late the following day. Laumbach's presentation links history and archaeology to provide a detailed account of Conline's Skirmish and its impact on the history of the Hembrillo Battlefield.

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