The Youngest Prisoners: General Nelson A. Miles’s Photographs of Apache Children
In the May 2013 issue of True West magazine, Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Haozous gives a compelling account of the Apache Wars (1849–1886) from an Apache perspective. To illustrate his article, “The Apache Wars in Apache Words,” Mr. Haozous selected two photographs from the museum’s Photo Archives collection. Significantly, General Nelson A. Miles owned these and other Apache War photographs in the collection. Written in collaboration with Mr. Haozous, within the context of his True West article, this post explores a few additional Apache War photographs that belonged to Miles.
In September 1886, Geronimo, Naiche, and other Chiricahua Apache men, women, and children surrendered to Miles in Mexico. In breach of the terms of surrender, the U.S. government separated their prisoners—the men were sent to Fort Pickens and the women and children to Fort Marion. Soon after their arrival in Florida the children were removed to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Mr. Haozous explains that many of these children died at Carlisle. To protect its reputation, the school began to send sick children back to their mothers in Florida.
— Heather A. Shannon (Photo Archivist, NMAI) & Jeff Haozous (Fort
Sill Apache Tribal Chairman)
How does the fraught history recounted by Mr. Haozous influence the interpretation of the “before-and-after” portraits made of the young Apache prisoners in Pennsylvania? And what associated significance does General Miles’s ownership of two sets of these same photographs have? It is likely that Miles either received as a gift or acquired the photographs as a congratulatory testament to his pivotal role in “civilizing” these Apache children. Mr. Haozous’s history, however, particularly challenges the civilizing narrative intended in the “after” photograph. In this photograph, the coifed hair, full cheeks, noticeably whitened skin (a common photographer’s trick, but put to frightful ideological use in this context), and meticulous uniforms flawlessly conceal the bodily trauma—removal, illness, death—recently experienced by these young people.