Mangas Coloradas was the great chief of the Chiricahua Apache. He was also a New Mexican, born at the headwaters of the Gila River. And he was murdered near Silver City after he had traveled to attend a peace conference and was taken prisoner. Cultural historian Paul Andrew Hutton dives into this subject in a free talk, “The Head of Mangas Coloradas: Mimbreño Apache Chief,” part of the Friends of History lecture series sponsored by the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.
“It was very unusual for there to be an overall chief because the Chiricahua were a very disunited people,” Hutton said, “but Mangas managed to unite most of the western Apaches, including Chiricahuas, in both New Mexico and Arizona, under his leadership, He had tried to keep peace with the Americans ever since the Mexican War of 1846-1848. The sticking point was the continual raiding, which the American government wished the Apaches would cease.”
The irony of all this is a bit much, admitted Hutton, who is the author of The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History (2016) and is a distinguished professor of history at the University of New Mexico. “This had all been going on for 300 years; it’s just the way it was. The Apaches had done their best since the Americans arrived [in 1846] to keep peace, and in fact had sort of considered themselves allies of the Americans in the Mexican War.”
But then gold was discovered at Pinos Altos near Silver City. That led to a rush of outsiders into Apache territory. “Almost simultaneously is the Confederate invasion of New Mexico,” Hutton said. “Then the Union troops arrive from California, and Brigadier General James Carleton [commander of the U.S. Army’s New Mexico department] is looking for a fight.”
Find out more at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 4. Hutton speaks in the auditorium at the New Mexico History Museum, 113 Lincoln Avenue. Call 505-476-5200 or see nmhistorymuseum.org for more information. Donations are welcome.