The Bosque Redondo Reservation was initially set aside for the Mescalero Apache. General Carleton promised them food and protection. But the Mescalero were not sowers of seed by any stretch of the imagination. They were wanderers, and every attempt to settle these people in closely supervised villages failed.
With the arrival of the Navajos at Bosque Redondo in late 1863, the problems of the Mescaleros were compounded. Insult was added to injury when the Army halted Apache planting and ordered the Mescalero to dig irrigation ditches to water Navajo farms.
By September 1864, the minority Apaches considered the Navajos enemies, and if the Army could not provide a separate reservation from them, then they’d much prefer take their chances gainst the Comanches and Kiowas.
As fall approached, the Mescaleros’ discontent with conditions at Fort Sumner was at an all time high. They decided that if General Carleton couldn’t keep his promise to adequately provide for the Apaches, then they should no longer be bound by their promise to stay on the reservation.
Chief Cadete and his people put a carefully crafted plan into action. If everybody left at once, he decided, most might get away. By late October, before winter set in, they were ready.
On November 3, 1865, all 400 Mescalero Apache deserted the fort and began their exodus back to their own country. As the normal evening campfires burned, they slipped away into the night. Only nine people, who were either too old or sick to travel, remained to keep the campfires burning to fool the military into thinking that all was normal.
On the morning of November 4th, the military realized the Mescalero were gone. Carleton initiated several pursuits, and several accounts indicate numbers of Mescalero men, women, and childern were killed, but most escaped. The Apaches used the tactic of scattering to create many trails and frustrate their pursuers. As one Mescalero stated, “So that some might live, they scattered and don’t stay together. Families were separated so that some might live.”
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“When General Carleton met with Chief Cadette, and told him that he was going to place them on the reserve in Bosque Redondo, he promised that they would only be there for two years and all of the things that they were supposed to do for the tribe. However, none of
these things were kept, none of these promises were kept, and the problems that were going on continued, so Chief Cadete informed General Carleton’s people that they would be
leaving because he did not keep his promises, and he told them on several occasions. However, they didn’t believe that anything that he had said, so one night, I guess with all of this being planned for some time, they completely left the reserve—everyone except for nine
people. Nine people were left there to keep the fires burning and walk back and forth and make the appearance that everything was o.k.”
—Frederick Peso, N’de