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The Battle of Dragoon Springs
May 5, 1862, in Arizona
DRAGOON SPRINGS, ARIZONA: At this lonely spot in the Arizona desert are four long-forgotten graves. The graves are the final resting places of four members of Captain Sherod Hunter's Company of Arizona Rangers (also known as Company A, Governor John R. Baylor's Regiment of Arizona Rangers): Sergeant Sam Ford, a private known only as Richardo, and two other soldiers whose names have been lost to history (one of these is probably John Donaldson, based on an obituary which appeared in a Tucson newspaper. However, there is nothing at the gravesite itself to indicate this, and it is unknown as to which, if either, of the two unmarked graves is that of Donaldson)..
How did these men come to be here? This was a tale that began long before the battle in which they met their end. The people of Arizona had long desired to be separated from the United States Territory of New Mexico, of which they were then a part. After repeated attempts to petition Congress for the creation of a separate Arizona Territory had failed, they noted with interest the events which unfolded beginning with the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States in November 1860. Beginning on December 20, 1860, seven Southern States left the Union. In February 1861 delegates from these States met at Montgomery, Alabama, to form a new nation, the Confederate States of America. On March 16, 1861, a Convention of the people of Arizona met at Mesilla (a town located near the present-day city of Las Cruces, New Mexico) to declare the secession of their territory from the rule of the United States and to ask for annexation by the Confederate States of America. On March 28, 1861, a second Convention met at Tucson which ratified the proceedings of the Mesilla Convention, and elected a delegate to the Confederate States Congress. However, the presence of large garrisons of Federal troops prevented the Arizona secessionists from immediately translating their plans into reality.
In July 1861, Confederate military forces under the command of Lt. Colonel John Robert Baylor invaded the U.S. Territory of New Mexico. John Baylor was a famous Texas lawyer, politician, frontiersman and Indian fighter who had served as an ardent advocate of secession at that State's Secession Convention in February 1861. On August 1, 1861, after defeating the Federal garrison of Fort Filmore (located near Mesilla), Baylor declared the creation of a new Confederate Territory of Arizona and installed himself as Governor.
One of the most serious problems Governor Baylor faced when he assumed power in Arizona was the depredations of the various Apache bands, who were at the time engaged in what one contemporary source has called "a saturnalia of slaughter" so severe that "the last glimmer of civilization seemed about to be quenched in blood." Apache raiding parties (such as the one shown above) burned wagon trains, raided and looted mines and ranches, and even besieged sizeable towns such as Pinos Altos and Tubac. Prisoners taken by the Apaches were often tortured horribly. The entire Territory was in a state of terror and chaos, and it was up to Baylor to find a way to restore order.
Taking a page from the history of his home State, Baylor decided to raise a regiment of Rangers for frontier defense. Like the famous Texas Rangers with which he was familiar, this regiment of Arizona Rangers would consist several companies of cavalry, which would patrol the frontier areas of the Confederate Territory of Arizona. Recruiting for this regiment began in December 1861, with Sherod Hunter (a native of Tennessee who had settled near the present town of Deming, New Mexico, in the mid-1850s) commissioned as Captain of the first Company. The company was enlisted for "three years, or the war," and was composed of (to quote the MESILLA TIMES, the largest newspaper in Arizona at that time) "picked men, inured to the hardships of frontier life, and conversant with its details." The company was mustered into the Confederate service on January 25, 1862 at Mesilla. Sergeant Ford and the two unknown soldiers who lie buried here today probably joined the company during this period
Captain Sherod Hunter and Company A, Baylor's Regiment of Arizona Rangers, were ordered to proceed to Tucson on February 10, 1862. They arrived on February 28, 1862, and held a formal ceremony at which they raised a Confederate First National Flag over the town plaza on March 1. It was probably in a rush of patriotism following this ceremony that Private Richardo, a Hispanic youth from Tucson, joined the company.
It is unknown if any of the four men buried at Dragoon Springs took part in the engagements which Captain Sherod Hunter's command fought against the Union California Column during March and April of 1862. Probably they did not, as most of Hunter's command remained in Tucson as a garrison throughout the campaign.
On May 5, 1862, these men were among a foraging party which had been sent from Tucson to gather stray cattle in the vicinity of the abandoned Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Station at Dragoon Springs, located about 16 miles east of present-day Benson, Arizona. As they entered a narrow box canyon wherin the springs are located, the party was ambushed by a large band of Apache warriors (such as the one shown above), numbering as many as 100 men and commanded by the great war chiefs, Francisco and Cochise. Most of the Confederate force managed to escape with their lives, but they left behind 25 horses, 30 mules, and four of their comrades...the men who have found their eternal rest at Dragoon Springs. They are the most westerly Confederate battle deaths of the war, and the only such to occur within the confines of what is today modern Arizona.