During the long Apache wars (app. 1846-1886) there were many U.S. Army officers who served in Arizona. Some had distinguished records, for example, from the Civil War, while others were real scoundrels. Some of the most interesting I outline below: Most of the information on this page is from Dan L. Thrapp's Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography.


George Stoneman was born 8 August 1822 in Chatauqua County, New York state. He was trained at West Point, and first served in the Mormon Battalion during the Mexican War as a quartermaster. After arriving in California, he stayed in the San Francisco and Sonoma areas, where he served as a scout. In 1851-1852 he was already in Arizona, where he served in an expedition to the Gila River. During this expedition he had a skirmish with Yuma Indians near the Colorado River. He then was assigned to frontier duty in Texas.

When the Civil War erupted, Stoneman served in the Union Army in many capacities. He was promoted to Major General. Then he was assigned to Arizona Territory, 1866-1871. General Stoneman's attitude toward the Apaches was basically that they deserved extermination if they refused to cooperate. After the wrenching massacre of about 136 defenseless Apache women and children at Camp Grant in 1871, although Stoneman was not actually responsible, he was sent to California, where he built a lavish estate near Los Angeles. He was Governor of California 1883- 1887, but he died in Buffalo, New York, on 5 September 1894.

A natural lake in northern Arizona (south of Flagstaff) is named after General Stoneman.

Cabin of Gen. Crook at Fort Apache


One of the most important U.S. Army officers to have ever served on the American frontier was General George Crook. General Crook was a most remarkable individual, generally self-effacing, but extremely competent. Although he was occasionally severe in his treatment of Indians, he was actually quite sympathetic towards them. The impact of his service in the West was enormous. In a lot of ways what now exists here is a result of his efforts.

George Crook was born 23 September 1829 in Taylorsville, Ohio. As a young man he entered West Point. After earning his commission, in 1852 he was assigned to California. He was in numerous scouts and expeditions policing in California. It was at this time that he became quite distressed by white's attitudes towards Indians. However, he soon learned to deal with Indians fairly and honestly, for which he usually quickly gained their respect.

When the Civil War broke out, Crook served the Union Army in many ways. After the war he was assigned again to Idaho and California. In 1871 he was assigned to Arizona to replace General Stoneman after the Camp Grant Massacre. General Crook quickly determined that the best method to fight the Apaches was to hire Apache Scouts. He believed that only an Apache could successfully find another Apache. Crook was very successful with this strategy, as his opponents became demoralized when they saw other Apaches serving him. Crook basically desired to end warfare and strife of whatever stripe in Arizona. He believed that if he ruthlessly punished renegades, people would soon see the advantages of peace. His methods were usually quite successful.

Crook was most effective in his campaigns against the Tonto Apaches. Most of this work took place from November 1872 to April 1873. I explained some of this on my page about the Apache Wars.

By the spring of 1875 Crook had basically accomplished what he came to Arizona to do. Consequently, he was transferred to the Army's Department of the Platte on 11 May 1875. He then was in the campaigns against the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. He was not very successful in these campaigns, however. He was used to the guerrilla tactics of the Apaches, not the head-on onslaughts of the Sioux. Crook's largest battle in the Dakotas was at the Battle of the Rosebud on 17 June 1876. The battle was basically a stalemate. It was shortly after this battle that General George A. Custer was defeated at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Throughout the next few years Crook continued to serve in the northern Midwest.

By 1883 conditions in Arizona were becoming quite intolerable for Indians. There was much strife--mostly because of bad management, broken promises, unfair treatment, etc. Crook was therefore reassigned there in the spring of that year. He went throughout all of Indian country in Arizona, listened to the complaints, and soon put everything back in order--except for the Chiricahua medicine man Geronimo. Crook tried to treat Geronimo fairly, but was not always successful. He just couldn't make Geronimo see the advantages of peace. I explain more about Geronimo's story on my page about the Apache Wars. Nevertheless, Crook finally resigned from trying to capture Geronimo in 1886, because he felt that General Phillip Sheridan was not supportive of his efforts. Sheridan quickly obliged Crook and assigned General Nelson Miles to replace him. Crook was then sent back to the Department of the Platte. He was in command of the Division of the Missouri until he died 21 March 1890.


O. O. Howard was born 8 November 1830 in Leeds, Maine. He entered West Point as a young man, after which he operated against the Seminoles in Florida in 1857. When the Civil War broke out, he served the Union Army, distinguishing himself at the Battle Gettysburg. In 1872 President Grant sent him to Arizona to present a peace plan to the Indians of the region. General Howard was a rather peculiar individual in his extreme religious nature. He considered himself almost to be a "Moses" for the American Indian, hoping to "lead them to a better land." Often, other Army officers in the West, including General Crook, considered him quite foolish. Nevertheless, in some ways he was really quite successful. It was General Howard who established the great San Carlos Reservation in 1872, after conferring with the Aravaipa Apache leader Eskiminzin at old Camp Grant. Howard also bravely rode into the camp of Cochise in the Dragoon Mountains and established peace with him. Unfortunately, just four years later, the reservation given Cochise and his people was terminated after Cochise's death.

After his successes in the Southwest, Howard was sent to the Oregon country, where he, unfortunately, took a bloody part in the Nez Perce Campaign of 1877. In 1878 he was then in battles against the Bannocks and Paiutes. He also was the Army General who defeated the great chieftain Chief Joseph. General Howard then served in various commanding positions in the army until his death on 26 October 1909 in Burlington, Vermont.


Nelson Miles was born 8 August 1839 in Westminster, Massachusetts. He served in many Civil War engagements as a member of Union Army. He earned a Medal of Honor. From 1869 to 1884 he was engaged in many Plains and Far West assignments. He was often in battles with Indians. After General Crook resigned his position of trying to capture Geronimo, Miles replaced Crook. However, Crook had already done most of the most important work. Geronimo, nevertheless surrendered to Miles at Skeleton Canyon 4 September 1886. Miles, shamefully, never kept his word with Geronimo. He sent not only Geronimo back East, but even the peaceful Chiricahuas--including scouts who had sought out Geronimo! General Crook, consequently, often feuded with Miles about treatment of the Chiricahuas and other Indian questions. Basically, Crook became an advocate for better treatment, but Miles seldom relented.

After Miles "took care" of the Geronimo question, he was sent to the Northern Plains, where he commanded affairs until the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. In 1895 he became Commander in Chief of the Army, but during the Spanish-American War led no forces. He was in constant intrigues in Washington. Theodore Roosevelt considered him a "brave Peacock"--vain and pompous.

Nelson Miles died in Washington, D.C., on 25 May 1925.

One interesting tidbit about Miles's command in Arizona was his establishment of "Heliograph Stations" throughout the Southwest. By means of mirrors at stations on mountain tops he tried to monitor renegade movements. One of the heliograph stations was located on Mt. Graham, near what is now Safford, Arizona. The peak is still called Heliograph Peak. Another station was located on a peak in the Pinal Mountains, about 15 miles from this author's home. The peak is still called Signal Peak.


One of the most interesting Army Officers to serve in the old West was John Gregory Bourke, a most remarkable individual. Bourke was born 23 June 1846 in Philadelphia. He entered the army while very young and earned a Medal of Honor at the Battle of Stone River, Tennessee, during the Civil War. He was only 16. After the War he entered West Point. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of the Third Cavalry on 15 June 1869 and sent to Fort Craig, New Mexico. In 1871 he was sent to Camp Grant, Arizona, where he served as an aid to General Crook. He became a Captain in the Army on 26 June 1882. He was an aid to Crook from 1871 until 1883. In that year he married, and was the father of two daughters.

Bourke was quite remarkable in that he kept a copious diary of detailed observations. Later, he used the diary to write what are now considered "Western Classics," of which one of the most important is On the Border with Crook. Bourke was astute, even scientific, in his observations and writings. His opinions are quite relevant to important issues in the West even to this day.

In 1891 Bourke served against Mexican marauders, and then he was assigned to Fort Ethan Allan, Vermont. He died 8 June 1896.


The Army officers of the old West served under many trying circumstances. It is difficult to imagine the hardships they faced. Some were real scoundrels, but some were of the highest calibre. Many of these officers were constantly in this region of Arizona, and their contributions to history should be more widely recognized. For a better understanding of these individuals I recommend the books:

Ogle, Ralph Hedrick. Federal Control of the Western Apache 1848-1886. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1970.

Reedstrom, E. Lisle. Apache Wars: An Illustrated Battle History. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 1990.

Thrapp, Daniel. The Conquest of Apacherķa. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1967, 1988.

Worcester, Donald E. The Apaches: Eagles of the Southwest. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1979.

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