The fate of such notorious Indian chieftains as Geronimo, Sitting Bull, and Mangas Coloradas is generally known. However, one historian wrote that the infamous Indio Juan, as he was called in Mexico, or Indian Joe, as he was called in the States, “disappeared into the vast mountains of northern Mexico and he was never heard of again.”
In 1994, while working with the public schools in El Paso, Texas, I organized an expedition for art teachers into the Sierra Madre Mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico.
While preparing for the trip, I recruited an old Mormon “mountain man” by the name of Herman Hatch to guide me into the rugged area known as Cave Valley.
As we were crossing a stream in a remote, boulder strewn wash surrounded by tall pine trees, he stopped his battered old pickup and told me that this was the place where Indian Joe had been ambushed and killed by Mexican vigilantes. At the time, I knew very little about Indian Joe so I let the comment pass without much inquiry.
Since then I have been regaled with stories about his deprivations on both sides of the Rio Grande and about the fear he and his band engendered at the ranches and in the villages in and around the Sierra.
Herman’s brother, LeRoy Hatch, became a medical doctor in the 1940’s and served as a physician in the remote mountain villages as was required by law of all who would obtain licenses to practice medicine in Mexico. “Doc Hatch” was an avid hunter.
“One evening,” he reported, “six of us hunters huddled in our jackets and toasted ourselves around the blaze of a crackling pitch pine fire that sent sparks leaping high in the air, dispelling the blackness of the night. We had set up our camp in the isolated wilderness on a high ridge on the border between the states of Chihuahua and Sonora.
“At seven thousand feet, and late in the month of November, as it was, it could get mighty chilly at night. Although it was time to crawl into bed rolls, no one cared to abandon the warmth of the cozy fire. Besides, there was always one more yarn to be told.
Suddenly, the stillness of the black night was shattered by a bass voice calling, ‘Hola el campamento!’
“A tall, gaunt mountaineer walked slowly into the circle of our blazing fire… ‘Cayetano Fimbres, a sus ordenes,’ he said.”
The two Hatch brothers perked up. For years they had heard their mother tell of this famous man’s exploits with the renegade Apaches that roamed the vastness of the high Sierra Madre Oriental south of the U.S. border. At their insistence, Sr. Fimbres reluctantly related the incident of Indio Juan’s kidnapping of his nephew, Gerardo.
It took place very close to where the hunters had set up their camp.
He said that in the early 1920’s his brother had taken his wife and two small children horseback to shop at Agua Prieta on the Mexican side of the border across from Douglas, Arizona. On the return trip to their mountain ranch, eight-year old Gerardo was riding behind his mother while his little sister was mounted behind his father. They were separated briefly while the little girl got a drink from the stream. A shot rang out.
Mr. Fimbres’ brother raced to the sound of the gunfire. He found his wife lying dead by the side of the trail. She had been shot through the chest and scalped. Eight-year old Gerardo was nowhere to be found.
For several years the father searched for his son. People told him that they had seen the Indians and they related stories of a young Mexican boy who traveled with “those wild savages.” Some years after young Gerardo disappeared, the Indians ambushed a Mexican family. Several family members were killed and their pack mules were stolen.
Sr. Fimbres decided to join the men that went in pursuit of the renegades.
“I suppose you could call us a posse,” said Sr. Fimbres. “I didn’t realize it then, but I felt a need for vengeance. My heart was sore.”
They tracked the Indians and determined their direction of travel. They laid an ambush. Two Indian women who were leading stolen mules were shot and killed. Indian Joe, who had been robbing a bee hive, took refuge in some rocks where he could fire at the attackers.
“Indio Juan was wearing a light colored skull-cap made of buckskin,” said Sr. Fimbres. “As I carefully lined up my rifle, I said to myself, ‘I’ve never before killed a man, but today, vengeance is mine.’ The next time Indio Juan stuck his head out, I pulled the trigger and blew the top of that renegade’s head off.
“We dragged the dead bodies of the Indians together and at a fairly wide place on the trail, we scalped the three and left them there on the trail. Several days later, one of the posse was riding through the area with a friend who wanted to see the exact place where the Indians had been killed.
“Much to the surprise of the two men, when they reached the site, the three Indians had been carried away. In their place was the scalped body of a young man.”
Sr. Fimbres looked up at each of the hunters and his black eyes looked dull, as though the pain he had felt was still in his heart and mind. “You have guessed right,” he said. “It was my little nephew, Gerardo.”
(Medico: My Life as a Country Doctor in Mexico, by E. LeRoy Hatch, M.D., Mesa Arizona, 1995.)