Searching for stories of friendship, part 6
By Veronika Ederer
Special to the Daily
Santana waited until the time was right for hunting bison in the plains, and for this occasion he asked the commanding officer for passports for 100 men and 40 women to leave the reservation. This would allow his men to hunt bison, but also to take revenge on the Comanche for raiding and stealing women and horses without causing problems with the commanding officer in Santa Fe. It took a while for the major to agree, but finally the dance for a successful hunt could be held during the day, and the war dance could be held secretly during the night. After that the hunter and the warrior departed in two separate groups.
Luckily the warriors discovered a Comanche village with several hundred horses — they attacked it at dawn. Without any loss they caught a huge amount of horses and some women. The horses they hid in the Guadalupe Mountains, and they took the women back to the reservation, since the soldiers couldn’t tell the difference between a Mescalero and a Comanche woman. Of course, after a while, the Comanche accused the Mescalero for stealing their horses, but since neither the soldiers nor the Comanches could find the horses on the reservation the case was dropped. The bison hunt had been successful, too, and so everyone was very busy during the late fall and early winter. The tanning of the hides and the tipi-making kept the Mescalero so busy that even the illegal trade with liquor slowed down. This gave Santana a very quiet time.
In 1875, the boundaries for the Mescalero Reservation were formally acknowledged. However, during the time when most of the Mescalero had been in Bosque Redondo a lot of white settlers build their homes on the Apache hunting grounds. The government paid the settlers a compensation for the land, and so they were willing to leave. Only Blazer’s Mill stayed within the reservation boundaries, the Indian agency was established within the mill and Joseph Blazer became an “Indian Trader.” The native women got their rations there and brought their baskets and beadwork for trading.
In spring 1875, Santana’s first wife U’ah died. He grieved immensely and spent a lot of time with Blazer whom he visited frequently at the agency. Both Santana and Blazer would be sitting in two rocking chairs enjoying the company of the other, even if they could hardly understand each other.
In 1876, many Mescalero were infected by smallpox and died. Santana was also sick, but was cared for by Blazer until he seemed to be on the mend. Blazer had to take off for some days and left Santana. The chief, still weak and sick, went back to his tipi where he died of pneumonia. After Blazer returned, finding Santana dead, he buried him close to the agency — the exact location of the grave remains unknown.
Blazer’s son Almer Blazer, who later wrote the book about the friendship between his father and Santana, arrived 1877 in New Mexico — after Santana had passed away. Almer Blazer lived with his father until his death, and he also became friends with the Apaches. He learned their language, went hunting with them and was very interested in the history of the area. After the mill was closed in 1922, Almer Blazer returned in 1931 at 66 years to Mescalero and started publishing stories about Apaches. In 1943, he sold most of the land. Only his family is permitted to live on what is left of the property. Almer Newton Blazer died in 1949 and was buried in the Blazer cemetery.
In 1999, the book “Santana: War Chief of the Mescalero Apache” was published with the help of Arthur Blazer and A.R. Pruit. The academic publishing houses didn’t want to take the manuscript since there was too much oral history and not enough evidence for many incidents.
In a way, the friendship story didn’t stop here. One son of Almer Newton Blazer married and continued to live on the reservation, and also his two sons. And a grandson of Almer Blazer married a woman of the Mescalero Apache tribe — because of that their four children were tribal members.
The owner of the cemetery and the house of Almer Blazer — which is on private land — Arthur Lee, alias “Butch” Blazer, grew up on the reservation, graduated from NMSU in Las Cruces and in 2003 became the first Native American state forester in New Mexico. He was an active council member in Mescalero and in 2011 he became USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. After retiring from Washington D.C. Butch Blazer ran for tribal presidency in Mescalero in November 2017 and won the election. As a descendent of Joseph Hoy Blazer he was inaugurated in January 2018 and able to help his people in many ways — what an end for a friendship story.
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 visited Roswell’s Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives in 2019 for research purposes and is already planning her next visit to the Land of Enchantment.