Carrying to the Mail to El Paso
A Moment in History
By John P. Ryan
May 1, 2005
In 1873, Sergeant Jacob Wilkes set from Fort Quitman with twelve men to deliver the mail to Fort Bliss in El Paso. Each man carried a mail pouch. The men carried the Spencer repeating rifle carbine, which the Army had recalled in 1867. At Eagle Springs the detail encountered a large band of Apache Indians. The Indians attacked and the detail, which was in an area that provided no cover or concealment, dismounted, held their horses together by the reins, and sent a furious fusillade into the Indian ranks. After several charges by the Indians one man, Private Johnson mounted his horse and charged the Indian formation, shouting for his comrades to join him. Johnson rode in amongst the Apaches and was killed. After several more charges the troopers managed to drive the Indians away.
The Indians’ route suggested to Sergeant Wilkes that they planned to ambush his party in Buss Canyon, which lay along his route. The sergeant decided to take an alternate route. About five or six miles from the scene of the fight the troopers found an area of soft and sandy soil and, using their belt knives, dug a grave and buried Johnson before continuing on toward Fort Bliss. Upon reaching the Rio Grande the soldiers came upon a wagon train loaded with military supplies and headed for Fort Bliss. They warned the wagon master that there was a large Indian raiding party headed his way, explaining that they had been fighting them all day. The sergeant instructed the wagon master to corral his wagons as quickly as possible, which the wagon master did with the help of the troopers. Just as the work of corralling the wagons was completed, a large force of Indians attacked furiously. After a fierce battle the troopers drove the Indians off and endeavored to pursue the attackers, who fled across the river into Mexico, where United States troops were forbidden to enter. After the battle the wagon master thanked the troopers profusely for saving his train.
Trooper Johnson may be one of the troopers still buried near Fort Quitman or at Pine Springs Camp. You may have also noticed that Colonel Grierson was waiting at Eagle Springs for Victorio when Lieutenant Henry Flipper warned him that Victorio was returning to Mexico by way of Rattlesnake Springs in time for Grierson to move and intercept him.
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