Searching for stories of friendship, part 4
A trip to Washington
By Veronika Ederer
Special to the Daily
The Indian agent — determined to stop the native game gunesnane-tu on the Mescalero Apache reservation — rode straight to the playground and was about to cross it with the interpreter and some soldiers when the Apaches protested loudly and stopped him. Within seconds, all men were pulled down from their horses and their hands and feet bound. The Apaches dropped them in the grass and examined the playground. They realized that the ground was not destroyed by footprints, otherwise, the agent and his men would have paid their trespassing with their lives.
Meanwhile, Santana explained the dangerous situation on the reservation in Fort Stanton and asked the commanding officer to support him. The officer understood the seriousness of the situation and accompanied Santana back to the reservation where they found the Apaches in great unrest. They had stopped the game to discuss the fate of their guarded prisoners. Santana leaped from his horse, grabbed two of the guards by their hair and knocked their heads together. The two other guards left in a hurry so Santana could cut the ropes of the agent and his men. All men mounted their horses and left.
The remaining Apaches restarted their game. Santana saved the tribe from suffering massive consequences following that incident. He arrived at the right time before the Apaches could come to a decision. Everybody was content about the outcome.
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The story goes that Santana and some Mescalero went to Washington D.C. to see the president, but there are no official documents of this visit. If this trip was made, it may have happened in 1868, during the tenure of Ulysses S. Grant. It was common to invite Native Americans to the capital to impress them with the “greatness of American civilization and the supreme technology of the whites.”
According to the stories told, Santana liked the idea of going to Washington, since he believed it would be the best for his people to know as much as possible of the “White Eyes.” He and the eight Mescalero who accompanied him packed their best clothes and prepared presents for the president. First, they rode in wagons to St. Joseph along the Missouri River, then they boarded a steamboat to St. Louis.
Riding across the prairie, the Mescalero were amazed by the flat country and the remaining bison herds. As they arrived at the Missouri River, they were concerned something happened to their eyes — they had never seen a huge river like this. So they walked out into the grassland for a while to convince themselves that their eyesight had not failed them. Returning, they were scared to get on the boat on the Missouri since they could not believe that anyone could master these waters.
Finally, they were convinced to board, after talking to some Lakota who just returned from their trip to Washington. They got even more scared when they arrived in St. Louis and realized that it was not possible to see land on the other side of the Mississippi River. One lieutenant told Santana about a huge body of water near Washington where one could set out and never see land for an entire month. Santana, growing up in the desert, didn’t believe him. They stayed some days in St. Louis to get used to the huge houses, the lack of space and the crowds of whites. The last part of their trip was made by train to Washington.
In Washington, the Mescalero Apache were treated to guided tours leading to certain places, which was supposed to show them the might of American civilization. Visiting these places, such as armories and parade grounds, the stoic expressions on the faces of the Apaches didn’t give away if they were impressed or frightened. They also met the president and they were able to give him their presents. Santana was very proud that their beautiful objects were placed in showcases to be conserved for future generations.
While meeting the president, Santana was recognized as head chief of all Mescalero because he had proven himself to be a wise and peaceful man. He was promised to receive a document saying so and a peace medal. The president explained that there were just too many white people, and — because of that — they needed so much space. It was not planned to wipe out all Native American people, but to give them time and food to adjust to a new way of life. Santana was very happy to hear that. It explained to him why the army hadn’t killed all the Apaches when they had the chance to do so.
During their last days in Washington, they also took part in a dance and were very impressed by the uniforms of the soldiers and the airy dresses of the women. Finally, the train took them back to St. Louis where they once again rode the steamboat back to St. Joseph. Filled with the experiences and impressions of their trip, they arrived safely in Fort Stanton.
Meanwhile, Santana’s half-brother Cha kept causing trouble, and the army was determined to stop him, with or without Santana’s help.
To be continued …
Ederer received her PhD from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in cultural anthropology. Originally from Germany, she has worked several years in Switzerland in museums such as the North American Native Museum in Zürich and with the gifted program “Universikum” in Zürich. Ederer first visited the Mescalero Apache Reservation, 70 miles southwest of Roswell, in 2013 and has since witnessed Apache coming-of-age ceremonies and even was allowed to participate in a traditional mescal agave plant roast at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, south of Carlsbad. Ederer recently visited Roswell’s Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives for research purposes.