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Apache Indians at the Castillo

Apaches at the Castillo

Over 100 conical tents crowded the ramparts of Fort Marion, as the Castillo was named from 1825 to 1942, in September of 1886. Smoke of Indian cooking fires drifted over the walls, strips of meat were banging on poles drying in the sun, and from the watchtower each evening came a wailing chant. Had the old fort been captured by Indians? No, but it was serving as a gathering point for a tribe of Apaches, over 500 of them, led by the famous Geronimo, who had been making life miserable for the settlers in Arizona and had been removed by the U.S. Army to a place where they could be watched and kept from doing any more damage. Geronimo himself was not sent to Fort Marion (he was in stricter confinement at Fort Pickens), but two of his wives were, and one of them gave birth the the first Indian child born in the Fort who was named (what else?) Marion.

The Apaches grew to like their 18-acre prison and the local people liked them. Soon the Sisters of St. Joseph were teaching the children and other kindly adults started classes in English for the adults. The good local ladies sewed red flannel shirts for the braves, which they promptly gambled for, giving some real meaning to the phrase "lost his shirt." The visitors to St. Augustine that winter were delighted with the added attraction and paid top dollar for the souvenirs the squaws industriously turned out. Little boys took up the bow and arrow and were taught by real experts in the art of archery, who entertained the townspeople by shooting a dime out of a forked stick at 20 paces, and got to keep the dime, of course.

Each Indian family had its own tent and the women managed quite well at keeping house. Although it was a bit crowded with so many tents on the terreplein, there was plenty of fresh air and sunshine. They received regular army rations and fresh meat every day. Mr. V. D. Capo, who delivered the meat, describes his first day's work: "By the time I got through the entrance to the fort, my hair began to stand on end, as the Indians gave a whoop and started running toward me with knives in their hands, which were used to divide the meat. I first thought they intended to divide me!"

The prisoners, although described as being a bit smelly when they arrived (understandable after a trip by daycoach from Arizona), made good use of a huge bath tub provided for them and were often joined by local lads who were so friendly with the red men they liked to come down to the fort and bathe with them. Army doctors took such good care of their health that the medicine men among the group soon began to lose their practice. However, they clung to their burial customs and since there was nowhere else to put the blanket wrapped corpses they were accustomed to putting in niches and covering with branches, they somehow sneaked their dead to a secret burial ground on North Beach.

On April 27, 1887, the Army decided to move them to a reservation near Mt. Vernon, Alabama. Over 100 children had already departed for the Indian school at Carlisle, Pa. There was much mourning and wailing when the news came that they were to leave Fort Marion, and the people of St. Augustine were equally sorry to see the Apaches go.


 
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