Crabb Massacre

Upon the disbanding of the Whig party and the organization of the Native American Know Nothing party, Henry A. Crabb became its leader in California. He was a man of scholarly attainments, of integrity and moral worth. In the fall election of 1855, the Know Nothing party carried the State of California and secured a majority in the Legislature. Crabb was a candidate for Senator and was endorsed in caucus by his party. Senator Flint from San Francisco refused to abide by the decision of the caucus because Crabb was a Southern man. This defeated the election at that session of the Legislature. In the fall of 1856, the Know Nothing Party was defeated and Henry A. Crabb, whose wife was a Miss Ainsa, and whose family had been prominent in Sonora, Mexico, through the persuasion of her brothers, entered into a compact with Ygnacio Pesquiera, who was then in revolt against the Gandara Government of Sonora, to aid him with five hundred to a thousand well armed Americans. These men were to be recruited in California, and were to espouse the cause of Pesquiera. Their reward was to be a strip of land along the northern portion of the State of Sonora for colonization purposes; the excuse to be given to the General Government was that these colonists would protect that State against the Apaches. In pursuance of this agreement, Crabb organized an expedition of about a hundred men, expecting to be followed by others from the State of California. With this meager force he crossed the Colorado and camped for several weeks on the Gila to recruit his animals, and from thence he pushed across the line into Mexican territory. In the meantime Pesquiera had succeeded in driving out the Gandara Government in Sonora, Gandara himself having sought refuge under the Stars and Stripes in Tucson. Under these conditions Pesquiera did not require the services of the Americans, and as the prejudices of the Mexicans at that time were very great against our people, and Pesquiera was criticized by his enemies for inviting the Americans into Sonora, he disavowed the entire transaction, and in a flaming proclamation, called upon all Mexicans patriotically to rally to their standards and drive out the invader. Crabb addressed a letter to the Prefect of Altar, saying that he came, not as an enemy, but as a friend, upon the invitation of many prominent citizens of the State to bring with “him a thousand colonists; that his company of one hundred was the vanguard and the rest would follow very soon; that he was well aware that the Prefect had given orders to poison wells and to resort to the most inhuman measures of barbaric warfare; that he came with arms in his hands because they had to pass through a country infested with Indians, and that it was customary for both Mexicans and Americans always to carry arms in those wild and unsettled countries. He declared that he would proceed to his destination, which was Altar. He diverged somewhat from the road to Altar to the little town of Caborca, still having faith in the plighted word of Pesquiera, and, surrounded by a multitude of enemies, he surrendered his command upon the assurance that he and his men would be transported safely across the line to their own country. As soon as they had surrendered, an order was received from Pesquiera to shoot them all. It is said that Gabilonda, who was in command of the Mexican forces, refused to carry out this order, and resigned his commission, taking with him a boy about 14 years old by the name of Evans, and retiring with him to Hermosillo. The Americans were divided into lots of ten, and all shot. The head of Crabb, it is said, was pickled in mescal and sent to the city of Mexico as an evidence of the patriotism of Pesquiera in expelling the Americans from Mexican soil.

In the meantime news was conveyed to Tucson of the desperate straits in which the Crabb party was, and an expedition of 27 men was organized by Charles Tozer and Grant Oury to go to their relief. Before they had formed a junction with Crabb, he and all his party had been executed, and the relief party fought their way back across the American line, fighting every inch of the way. They arrived in the most forlorn condition, many wounded and sick. Thus ended the last filibustering expedition, if such it can be called, from California. The friends of Crabb, in that state, will always hold the name of Pesquiera in abhorrence, being well convinced that his death was caused by deceit and treachery.

The following account of an expedition from Tucson to join Crabb, by one of its members, John G. Capron, will, no doubt, be of interest to the reader:

“In the winter of 1856-57, there was an agreement entered into between the Governor of Sonora, Judge Heydenfeldt and ex-Senator Crabb of California, which was about as follows:

“Governor Pesquiera was to furnish lands for settlement on the Yaqui River for over two hundred settlers. Judge Heydenfeldt was to take two hundred or more by vessel from San Francisco to Point Lobos, which is about ninety miles from the town of Caborca in Mexico. This was to be the meeting place of the two forces, Crabb to come down overland with not less than one hundred men, and there make their camp, and Governor Pesquiera would then inform his people that these men were to have a free pass to these lands on the Yaqui River.

“The old Indigo family had a claim on a large tract of land there, and his son-in-law Mr. Ainsa, confirmed the story told me by the two Crabb officers. When the officers told me this tale, I asked them why they should go down there in two separate parties instead of going directly by vessel, to the Yaqui River. Their reply was that they were in hopes of increasing their numbers as they went down by land; also it was the wish of the Governor of Sonora that they should make the trip this way, as he wanted to get as many as possible to go, even to the number of five hundred, as each of these men was to have one hundred and sixty acres of land.

“Two of Crabb’s officers left the party and came to Tucson hunting recruits to fill up Crabb’s number to one hundred if possible. He got some in Tucson and went on up the Santa Cruz River to Calabasas, where four companies of cavalry under command of Major Stein were camped. I was there with my team arranging to put in hay for the government.

“In my first talk with these two officers, I was a little skeptical about the success of their scheme. Colonel Tozier, who seemed to be the most intimate with Mr. Crabb, told me all the details of the plan, and the object. After consulting and talking it over with several men around there, we concluded that we would go down with them to Caborca, and there talk the matter over with Heydenfeldt and Crabb.

“Our understanding was that there would be no possible danger of having to fight our way through Sonora. If we had supposed that we had to filibuster Sonora, none of us would have thought of going. There were twenty-six of us who concluded fo accompany them. The names of these men I cannot give in full. Those I remember were: three men from Tucson – Oury, Woods, and one whose name I do not know. My party consisted of a German named Foulke, Green, Thomas, Wilson, and a man from Alabama named Reed, and two young men who were travelling through the country. By ‘my party’ I mean that we messed together, I having two pack animals. The party also included Chambers, a carpenter, who was the oldest man, a young Texan, called Wilkins – a royally brave fighter; and Forbes, Smith, Slater and Hart. Hart was from Texas, was about forty-five years of age, tall and slim, and a man who never got tired. The two officers, Major Woods and Colonel Tozier, brought the count up to nineteen of the twenty-six, leaving seven unaccounted for.

“The Yaquis had been very firm friends of the former Governor Manuel Gandara, and were constantly making trouble, and Governor Pesquiera believed that if he could get a large settlement of Americans down in their country it would be the means of controlling them. Don Fernando Indigo was at one time very wealthy and was called the Casa Fuerte of Sonora. He claimed large tracts of land in the Yaqui country and would willingly have given a large portion of these to have a strong American settlement there. This is what caused the making of the contract between Judge Heydenfeldt and Crabb, and there is no doubt but what it would have been successful if the number specified, two hundred or more men, had arrived at Caborca.

“This party of twenty-six left the fort, I think, about the middle of March, and at the first camp elected our officers. They were: Granville Oury, Captain; Forbes, First Lieutenant; Smith, Second Lieutenant. Capron was Sergeant and, of course, had all the work to do.

“Two or three of our party had been through that country before, so we had no trouble to avoid all towns. We found no dwelling places until we arrived at a large ranch called La Posa. The people had all gone into the house and barricaded the doors. We made camp there, and while we were eating our lunch a Mexican gentleman came riding up and saluted us. Our captain, speaking good Spanish, said: ‘Come and take lunch with us.’ He excused himself and asked where we were going. We told him. Then he asked our object, and we explained the whole matter to him, saying that we were in no way filibustering. He seemed reluctant to say anything, from which we could infer what our reception might be on arrival at Caborca. But we took it for granted from some things he said that Crabb was already there, so we hurried away as soon as possible, and made a rapid march to get there before anything could happen to Crabb.
“On our way we fell in with a young Mexican who had been raised in California and who spoke good English. We asked him to go with us to the town. He said he would rather not, for fear some of his people would think he was helping us. We informed him that we would take him prisoner, and that would relieve him. He said, very pleasantly, ‘All right, under that condition I will go with you.’

“He talked very freely about the situation in the town; said Crabb had been there for three or four days, and that there were at least eleven hundred armed men surrounding the town; Crabb had thrown himself into the church and barricaded the doors the best he could. We had heard several cannon shots, and he told us that they had two cannon there and that if they had not already done so, they would soon demolish the church doors and kill Crabb and his party.

“As we marched down the ravine we came to an open place of about four hundred or five hundred yards, and on the opposite side of us the timber was full of armed men. A man, finely mounted, rode out, holding up his hand, came within about one hundred and fifty yards of us, and asked us to send one of our men to meet him and have a talk. Our Captain Oury met him. They talked for some ten minutes, when Oury returned to us. He said they had Crabb secure, and were going to send him under escort out of the country, and if we would deliver up our arms, they would do the same by us. Whether he told us Crabb had already surrendered, I do not remember, but my impression is that he did. We entered into a consultation and told them plainly that we would never deliver up our arms; that if we could get Crabb to go with us, all right, but under no other condition.

“We then asked the young man with us the best way to get into Caborca and get Crabb, if he had not already surrendered. He told us he thought the best way was to wait until dark, then go down the ravine where the church stood on the bank. We asked him how to get into the church. He said there was, he believed, a door by which we could get into the back end of the church. We tried to induce the young man to go to Crabb and let him know where we were so that he could come out the back door and join us. He said that it would be an impossibility for him even to attempt it. We then concluded that we had no possible way of getting to Crabb, for even if we could reach the rear of the church, how could we enter it? They knew that we were close at hand and would be watching every movement we made.

“Some of our party criticized Crabb very severely for placing himself in such a position, knowing as he did that the enemy’s forces would be constantly augmented and that the enemy would soon murder the last one of them, while by keeping in the open field, he could have made his way through to the Arizona line.

“While waiting in the river bed for night, we were comparatively well protected from their shots, as the brush was thick and the bank of the stream nearly twenty feet high and steep. But we could not keep our horses from moving, and whenever they would see a movement, they would shoot; consequently all our horses were killed. We were returning their fire, however, and soon they became very cautious how they put their heads over the bank.

“Our first lieutenant, Mr. Forbes, was a little distance from me, and I saw him make a peculiar motion to get near me. I asked him if he were shot. He said yes. I reached him and found he was wounded in the fleshy portion of the thigh. He had a musket ball there, but it was not very deeply imbedded in the flesh. I took out my butcher knife, caught up the ball and flesh, pressed the ball as near the skin as I possibly could, and gave the flesh a slash; but I did not succeed in cutting deeply enough to reach the ball. He said, ‘Your knife is the sharpest knife I ever heard of. ‘ Smith told him I should have to give another slash. I cut it again, and out came the ball.

“I cleaned the wound out the best way I could, stopped it up with his handkerchief round his neck, then bound it up as tight as I could with another big black handkerchief.

“We got together as soon as it was dark and concluded we would cut our way out and go as far as we could before daylight. There was a cattle trail leading up the bank, and as soon as we got on to the level, we would shoot at anything we saw moving. The result was the rest of us all got out without being hurt. We then started on the back track as near as we could see, leaving the town of Piticuito to our right.

“Our man Hart from Texas said that he had never been lost in his life, and we believed that he could lead us through the woods, which were very dense, making it almost an impossibility to have anything to guide us by. We travelled all night, and as the day began to break we heard the roosters crowing and found that we were only about a half mile from the town of Piticuito. Here we found that the whole of our party was not with us. It seems as we charged up the bank some of them became separated from us – three men with Oury in one party, eight men with Mr. Reed and two boys in the other, leaving sixteen with us. But they had made no mistake in the woods, and were all ahead of us.

“There was a gap in the hills at which we had stopped to get water as we went down. This we could see from the plains and knew they were some place ahead of us on their way to the water.

“About two o’clock we were hurrying along to the best of our ability. Fifty-two of the National Lancers of Sonora overtook us. They came up first on our right, halted, front-faced, and the order of charge was given. They came on to within three or four hundred yards of us when, with five of our longest shotted guns, we picked off two or three of their number. This made them a little sick, and they retreated, then came around as they supposed to get out of the arroyos on the other side of us, or rather in front of us, and made another charge, repeating the same tactics, hallooing and yelling and shooting with their old muskets.

“They did not get very close to us, but one of the balls struck me on the right arm about six inches above the wrist. The wound bled very freely, and when Wilkinson saw me stumbling along covered with blood, he nabbed the horse which Forbes was on and which I had taken from a tree as we charged out of the woods, and said: ‘You get off, Capron is badly wounded.’ He brought the horse to where I was and threw me on, putting little Foulke up behind me to keep me from falling off. He did well for a little time, but at last I fainted from loss of blood and he dropped me. They looked at me and concluded I was dead, so that they took my six shooter and gun on with them, leaving me with no weapons. Of course, as soon as I fainted, the blood stopped flowing, and I came to. I got to my feet and ran into a little flat ravine away from the track as far as I could, when the blood started and I fainted again. How long I lay there, I do not know, but the first thing I heard was the sound of a galloping horse coming toward me. You can rest assured that I hugged the ground very close. It was a wounded man, returning and seemingly looking neither to the right nor to the left.

“I again got under way and went on some little distance when I fell down into an arroyo about three feet deep. I lay there until I got thoroughly rested, and found that this arroyo led directly to the pass in the hills where I wished to go. I hurried on as fast as I possibly could, suffering very much from thirst. As I neared the pass, I saw the dust of the Lancers returning homeward. I felt much relieved at this, as I knew the way was open to the water. As I entered the pass, I saw someone moving upon the first rise of the ground, and I soon found it was some of our party. I pushed on. Some of them saw me and hastened down the side of the hill and helped me up, as they saw I was wounded.

“There is growing all over that country a cactus called a vianaga. We took our butcher knives and cut the thorns from the outside. The plant grows in ridges and we cut the ridges in strips and sucked the water from them. No one can ever perish from thirst in that country who knows this fact.

“After resting for some little time, we started on, not knowing what had become of the party I had been with. Two of the men, finding me so weak, helped me along, one on either side of me, and by taking a slow and easy pace; we got to the water about sunrise. The first thing we saw as we reached the water was the dead body of Woods who was with Granville Oury when he came from Tucson. Our party soon made a hole in the sand and buried him, covering him with all the stones we could find in the immediate vicinity.

“We found a wounded horse, took the meat from the neck and roasted it. I could eat and drink” very little. We stayed here until the rest of the party came up, when we counted them and found two missing – the old carpenter, Mr. Chambers, and Mr. Thomas. I accounted for their loss from the fact that Thomas had talked with me two or three times and asked me to leave the party and go with him; he said he knew the people would not injure us. I told him pointblank ‘no’; that they would kill us in a minute. And sure enough we found afterwards that that was their fate.

“We stayed there all that day and night and the next day until it got cool in the evening, when we started on our way back across the country.

“Before starting we took the entrails of the horse, tied the ends with horsehair, and threw them across the back of a mule we had found there – unhurt as we supposed, as we could see no wound. In the panniers of the saddle we found some pinole, two panoches and some tallow. They gave me one of the panoches and the pinole to eat, but I could not swallow. I carried it on with me.

“That night was dark but stars were visible. We had travelled about three hours when I gave out. They put me on the mule with the water bags and held me there. We went on about one hour, when the mule laid down and died as a result of a bullet wound he had received. The water all leaked out of our bags by hitting against the cactus and oozing out.

“We travelled for some little time, when I lay down seemingly exhausted. Soon after our man Hart came back to where I was lying and gave me a terrible kicking which angered me so much that I jumped to my feet and hunted for my six shooter; but, lo, I had none. After that I had no trouble travelling along with the rest.

“About three o’clock in the morning we arrived at the River Altar, just below the Town of Tubutama. We built a fire and roasted some of the old horse. I ate some, finished my pinole and felt much relieved. We stayed there probably an hour, and moved on up the river to a place called Estanque. As we came to this place, we found a large fire with a large bed of coals and women and children asleep in some open sheds. The men had left their guns standing around some chairs. We took the guns and threw them into the river. They had killed a beef, which was cut up and piled on the hide. We immediately threw some on to the coals and commenced as fast as we could to cook and eat it, the women giving us salt and a few tortillas.

“The nights in the month of March are quite chilly and I, having torn the sleeve from my wounded arm and burned off one of the legs of my pantaloons from hugging the fire, was in a very dilapidated condition. One of the women got up and gave me a blanket to wrap myself in. I thanked her, of course. We took what meat we could and started on our way.

“Several times during the day, we would see horsemen on the hills, and one of our sharpshooters would drop a ball very close to them. They got cautious about showing themselves after a few shots had been fired. We got along very well until we were nearly up to the Euzne Ranch, going through a cut that had been made through a ridge of land going down to the river. Here we were fired upon, and one of our men by the name of Hughes was killed. We went on past the ranch into a very dense monte with only a trail through it, and camped. We there killed a beef and cooked it in some large copper kettles which we found at the ranch. We stayed there a day and a night, then proceeded on our way. We found that beef without seasoning did not satisfy hunger very long.

“During the shooting when Hughes was killed, a man by the name of Slater was shot through the leg in the muscle under the knee, and it was, no doubt, very sore. I had taken a prickly pear, thrown it on the coals, heated it thoroughly, cut it in two, and bound it on my wound. Every time we stopped, I would have a fresh one put on. Of course, as the plaster got dry, it would stick very tight, and pulling it off would necessarily hurt some. They did the same with Slater’s leg, using two prickly pears, putting one on each side of the limb. The second time he was to be dressed, he shouted for me to come and take of the plaster as I knew how it hurt. I said to Slater: ‘Why not jerk it off yourself?’ He said: ‘ Oh, I can’t. ‘ I went over to where he was lying on the ground, took hold of the plasters – one in each hand – gave a quick jerk, and with a yell from Slater, it was all over.

“As we were going along, we spied a man leading a mule and riding one. We soon saw that it was Dodson, and never was a man more welcome than he. Oury, who was ahead of us, had told him we were on the way, probably not far behind. We quickly unsaddled the mule carrying the provisions, and at once made coffee, and what a feast we had. We stayed there and all went to sleep while Dodson kept guard for us at least three hours; then went on and that evening, about dark, arrived at his ranch. We passed two days there, and had a good deal of pleasure rolling one another over in the sand and picking out the cactus. Our feet were in a very pitiable condition, mine especially.

“Here our party scattered, Tozier, Woods and several others going down the Santa Cruz River to Tucson; others, including myself, going up the river to Calabasas. About a mile below the post was a store kept by Hayden, and a good friend of mine he proved.

“Foulke, Green and Wilson of my party got there one day ahead of me, and had made camp in a deserted jacal built against a long leaning willow tree. The long sacaton grass placed on poles leaning against this tree made a very comfortable house. Mr. Hayden told me I could have anything in that store I needed. No man could be poorer than I was at that time, for I had not one whole garment left; but I was soon relieved of all my trouble with the exception of my sore feet.

“There was considerable travel coming and going to the post, and I made arrangements to entertain anyone who might wish for food or shelter. Little Foulke was a first class cook, and Major Stein, commander of the post, was very kind to us, as were all of the officials. We soon had provisions in abundance, with fresh meat whenever I sent for it.

“Some months after I returned to Arizona, I met two Mexicans who were present at the killing of Crabb and party. They said Crabb had surrendered on the day that we were there, and the following morning all were taken out to the cemetery, placed against the wall and shot. Only one small Mexican boy who had come with them was spared.

”When they were being arranged for the shooting, an ex-sheriff – from Tuolumne county, I think – who had opposed the idea of their giving up their arms, said: ‘Now, Governor,’ (meaning Crabb) ‘see what your faith in Mexican officials has cost us all. Goodbye.’ ”

Notes About Book:

Source: History Of Arizona Volume 1, By Thomas Edwin Farish, 1915, Printed and Published by Direction of the Second Legislature of the State of Arizona, A. D.

Notes about Online Publication: This manuscript has been ocr’d and heavily edited. Many of the Native American words have been reproduced as clearly as online publication will allow us, but not all are exactly the way they were in the original work. The structure of this manuscript has been changed to allow better online presentation.

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