Introducing: Mangas Coloradas

When John Baylor invaded New Mexico Territory on behalf of the Confederacy in the summer of 1861, the Chiricahua Apache chief Mangas Coloradas had already been at war with the U.S. Army for several months. U.S. soldiers had tried to take his son-in-law Cochise prisoner during a parlay at Apache Pass the previous February, and all of the Chiricahua bands had declared a war of revenge on the Americans. 

In the months since, they came together to attack military and civilian wagon trains across Apachería, Chiricahua territory that extended from the Dragoon Mountains east of Tucson to the Rio Grande, and south across the border into Mexico. For Mangas Coloradas and the Chiricahuas, the Civil War was part of a much longer history of their own engagements with American and Mexican soldiers, fought in defense of their territory and their sovereignty.

Mangas Coloradas had not reached his 70th year in 1861 by resorting only to warfare in his interactions with foreigners, however. Depending on the circumstances, he negotiated with the soldiers, gold miners, surveyors, and other travelers who crossed his lands. Sometimes he charged them fees to pass through, other times he traded with them. Sometimes he sat down with their leaders and discussed treaties of peace. Whatever action he took, Mangas Coloradas always did so for the benefit of his people, the Bedonkohe and Chihenne bands he had led for more than fifty years. 

Mangas Coloradas and his people were a serious challenge to both the Confederate and Union Armies’ campaigns to gain control of New Mexico in the early 1860s. In The Three-Cornered War, readers will follow Mangas Coloradas from his stronghold in the Mogollon Mountains in eastern New Mexico to Apache Pass in the west, south into Mexico, and then to the mining town of Piños Altos as he fights to defend Chiricahua territory against Confederate and Union incursions.

Readers will also notice that Mangas Coloradas is the only protagonist in The Three-Cornered War who is not represented by a portrait photograph. He never sat for the few photographers who traveled through the Southwest in the 1850s and 1860s. And although he was one of the most well-known people in the region during this time period, he was only rarely depicted in contemporary illustrations; the latter are profoundly racist. Several historians have used a photograph of his son, Mangas, as a stand-in for him but this only confuses matters, so I decided not to use it. The only other image of Mangas Coloradas that I could find was a dual image of his skull, produced by an American phrenologist in 1873. Because I did not want that egregious postmortem image to represent Mangas Coloradas and his leadership of his people in the Civil War West, I chose to go without any image of him in the book.

The photograph I have used for this post is one that I took of Apache Pass, the place where everything changed for Mangas Coloradas and the Chiricahuas in the summer of 1862. 

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To tell Mangas Coloradas’s and the Chiricahuas’ story, I used Edwin Sweeney’s definitive biography (University of Oklahoma Press, 2011); Apache oral histories collected by Eve Ball (Indeh (1988) and In the Days of Victorio (1970)); the autobiography of Geronimo; diaries and other accounts written by American surveyors, explorers, gold miners, and soldiers in the Southwest in the 1850s and 60s; Paul Hutton’s The Apache Wars (Crown, 2016); Lance Blyth’s Chiricahua and Janos (University of Nebraska Press, 2012); military records of the Union Army’s Apache campaign collected in the OR and in Records of California Men in the War of the Rebellion; and a site visit to Apache Pass, much of which is preserved as part of Fort Bowie National Historic Site in Arizona.

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