The Battle of Cookes Spring was a typical Indian War skirmish which took place in 1857. Apache raiders were tracked through the frontier by a party of United States Army cavalry who intercepted the native warriors at Cooke’s Spring in the Black Range of New Mexico.
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. 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 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 counter charges 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 men 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.