On Aug. 9, 1892, Apache warriors from the Sierra Madres crossed the international boundary into New Mexico and raided the Frank Davenport ranch, southwest of Deming.
Owner Davenport was away at the time hunting horses. When he returned, he found the house torn apart and his foreman, Lee Hodgden, lying dead outside. A short distance away in the brush was the body of one of his Mexican cowboys.
A hastily formed posse followed the trail of eight Indians who were heading north toward the Mogollon Mountains and Stein’s Pass on the Arizona line. The raiders were well mounted, having stolen fresh horses, and they could not be overtaken.
A story in the Silver City Enterprise declared: “Doubtless this is the same band of renegade Apaches who have been operating in the Sierra Madre and in southern New Mexico ever since the Geronimo raid. A season has not passed when some citizens of Grant County have not lost their lives to this band of cutthroats.”
Geronimo and his small remnant of Chiricahua Apaches had made their final surrender back in 1886 and promptly been packed off to exile in Florida. Most people believed that event ended the Indian wards in the Southwest.
However, a few Indian holdouts remained hidden in the mountains of northern Mexico. They were joined periodically by stray recruits who wandered down from the San Carlos Apache reservation in Arizona.
Throughout the 1890s, little bands of these “Broncos,” as they were called, made their way north and launched attacks, as on the Davenport ranch. Americans along the border were outraged and demanded protection from their government.
As the country was settled up, after the turn of the century, the raids gradually declined. They flared anew, however, in the 1920s and early 1930s, showing that the Apache holdouts were still in business.
In 1924, a war party entered the southwestern corner of New Mexico and killed cowboy Frank Fisher in the Animas Mountains. Then the Apaches pillaged a couple of ranches and quickly slipped below the border for safety.
The armed posse that tried to intercept them presented a picture on horseback that seemed more appropriate for the 1880s than the 1920s. And something else.
A couple of the lawmen got a glimpse of the fleeing murderers. Astonishingly, they reported that the leader of the party appeared to be a tall white man, with flowing hair and a blonde beard!
This was not the first time that such a figure had been seen with the renegades. Southern New Mexicans had long speculated that this individual was Charley McComas, seized by Apaches near Lordsburg in 1883 when he was 6 years old and raised as an Indian.
For years, newspapers in El Paso, Silver City and Tucson ran stories about the white chief who was supposed to be leading the “lost Apaches.” In April of 1930, they attacked a Mexican village on the Chihuahua-Sonora border and scalped three persons.
During the mid 1930s, a Norwegian anthropologist, Dr. Helge Ingstad, got curious about the Broncos and tried to track them down. He interviewed people who had seen them and became convinced that their blue-eyed leader was indeed Charley McComas.
The last information on the white man surfaced in 1940. It came from a Bronco woman who was captured and interrogated. She claimed that the bearded one had been killed several years before.
He had been stabbed to death in a fight with another Apache over a girl. The Indians had thrown his body into an open pit, not far below the Arizona boundary. When some Americans expressed interest, she guided them to the site.
In fact, a skeleton was discovered and taken to Douglas for examination. Upon study, it was proved to be that of a white man. But whether, of course, the bones were those of Charley McComas, or someone else, could not be established.
In 1958, Jason Betzinez, a Chiracahua who had been with Geronimo, wrote in his autobiography that, as of that date, the Broncos and the descendants were still out in the mountains, and free.
Now in semi-retirement, author Marc Simmons wrote a weekly history column for more than 35 years. The New Mexican is publishing reprints from among the more than 1,800 columns he produced during his career.