Account of the battle taken from
- Sweeney, R. Edwin (1998). Mangas Coloradas, chief of the Chiricahua Apaches. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3063-6. pp 350
The Indians had stolen the horses of a Mr. Garretson, deputy surveyor of the territory. On March 8, 1957, First Lieutenant Alfred Gibbs of the Mounted Rifles, with sixteen men and two civilian guides (Garretson and a man named Dickens), followed the trail that crossed the Rio Grande about ten miles north of Dona Ana. By noon the next day they discovered the spot where the Indians had rested; there were seven in all, four mounted and three on foot. Though Gibbs feared that the Indians had escaped his grasp, since they were close to the Mimbres Mountains, he tenaciously continued his pursuit. About 1:30 that afternoon Gibbs’s soldiers spotted the Indians. A script writer could not have written a better story. The leaders of the two sides, the Apache chief and Lieutenant Gibbs, personally led their men into battle. The spirited engagement was climaxed by a duel between the two stalwart and courageous men. Both were doing their duty as they had been trained: one an Apache chief trying to bring home stock to feed his hungry people and the other a military officer seeking to recover stock stolen by Indians. In the words of Lieutenant Gibbs, this is what happened:
Ascending a little rise, we saw an Indian about fifty yards off coming to meet us, and at the same moment we saw the mules at the bottom of a little arroyo and six Indians looking at us and then beginning to run. The men were immediately dismounted and we commenced on them with rifles. As fast as the rifles were discharged, the men loaded and mounted, and followed at a gallop the Indians, who ran like wild turkeys. It was evident that the game was up. Three were badly wounded though running still, and there was a mile before they could get to the mountains. The men were urged to be steady and to keep their revolvers till the last. As we rode on, the chief who was badly wounded, kept encouraging his men, whenever he did this they turned and charged us furiously. As I passed near him, he was making at one of the men on foot, whose horse had been shot, and I stopped and shot him a fifth shot with my revolver. He turned on me, and as my horse reared, he passed his lance into me although parried with my pistol. One of the men then brought him down. Riding forward then about a quarter of a mile, beyond, I came upon the rest of my party close up with the Indians, and the shot telling continually. Here, becoming very faint from loss of blood, I dismounted to prevent from falling off, and giving my horse to Corporal Collins, whose horse had been shot from under him, directed him to keep up with the party, until he killed all the Indians, or until the pursuit was hopeless, and then to rally and return to where his horse fell where he would find me. I found the chief dead with ten balls in him, and the five men left behind with the animals reported they had one horse, five mules, bows and arrows, knives, blankets, etc. of the Indians. In about a half an hour Corporal Collins returned with his party, and reported six Indians dead, and the other one severely wounded (and likely dead).
Lieutenant Alfred Gibbs
On March 8, 1857, eight Chiricahuas stole horses from an American deputy surveyor named Mr. Garretson who reported the incident to the garrison of Fort Fillmore. In response, First Lieutenant Alfred Gibbs led a detachment of sixteen cavalrymen and two armed civilians on the Apache trail which crossed the Rio Grande about ten miles north of Doña Ana and headed northwest. Hours of pursuing went on until Gibbs caught up with the natives at noon the following day next to the northernmost slopes of the Mimbres Mountains. The Americans came within sight of the natives an hour and a half later where they saw one warrior fifty yards away appearing to be coming towards them and seven others resting next to Cook’s Spring, an arroyo one mile from the mountains. (View GEO Location) At that point, the Americans dismounted and started the battle with a volley of musket fire before remounting for a charge. Three warriors were wounded but continued to run like “wild turkeys” according to Gibbs. When the Apache spotted the approaching soldiers they fled for the high ground but the Americans were right behind them. The Apache chief, either Itan or Monteras, was one of the wounded but he rallied his men throughout the battle and led countercharges against Gibbs’ command.
During the fighting, the chief was moving to attack a corporal named Collins who was on foot after having his horse shot out from under him, but was intercepted by Gibbs who shot him a fifth time. The chief thrust a lance into the lieutenant’s side but just after he was hit again by an enlisted man and died after receiving ten gunshot wounds. Gibbs was wounded but he was able to stop some of the lance’s force with his right arm, he survived to become a Union Army brigadier general during the American Civil War. Gibbs was losing blood so he dismounted to prevent falling from his horse and gave it to Corporal Collins with orders to continue the fight. The chase then continued and the cavalrymen caught up with the remaining Apaches and killed five more of them at the foothills of the mountains. One warrior escaped though he was badly wounded and presumed to have died after the encounter. First Lieutenant Gibbs was the only American casualty. The stolen property was recovered by Garretson who was one of the two armed civilians involved, several mules were also captured.