Chiricahua ( Apache ) Chief

1793? - 1863


Mangas Coloradas, as well known as "Red Sleeves", was born into a society that subsisted by hunting and gathering, as well as raiding.

The Apaches were divided into several tribes, one of them being the Chiricahuas, to which Mangas belonged.

That tribe, in turn, was subdivided into bands, Mangas being a member of the Eastern Chiricahuas, whose homeland stretched west from the Rio Grande to include most of what is present-day southwestern New Mexico.

We know virtually nothing about his early years, and his later career is the subject of much conjecture.

It is generally agreed, however, that he was a powerfully built man, over six feet in height, who was courageous, wise, and generous.

Mangas and his wife, Tu-es-seh, had a large family. One of their daughters married Cochise of the Central Chiricahuas, a chief in his own right by the 1850s and an ally of Mangas in some of his operations against Mexican and Anglo-American settlers.

For generations before the United States claimed sovereignty over most of the Chiricahua homeland, these Indians alternately terrorized and traded with the settlements of the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora.

In the 1840s the official correspondence and the newspapers of these states were already identifying Mangas as a leading Chiricahua chief.

In 1846, the first year of the Mexican war, Mangas and other Apaches conferred with General Stephen Watts Kearney. Mangas offered to support the American campaign against the Mexicans, but Kearney declined the offer.

At Las Vegas, New Mexico, Kearney had already committed the United States to a policy of confrontation by pledging that the U.S. government would assume responsibility for defending New Mexicans against the Apaches.

Nevertheless, until the growth of the Anglo-American population in the area constituted a real threat, the Chiricahuas chose to view the settlers as their nominal allies against the Mexicans and to continue raiding widely in Sonora and Chihuahua.

Nevertheless, American horses and cattle proved to be an irresistible temptation to a raiding people such as the Chiricahuas.

Mining settlements, outlying ranches, travelers through the area and stagecoach stations reported increasing losses and a Chiricahua agent was appointed in 1851.

Mangas then manifested some willingness to persuade the Chiricahuas to take up farming, but he insisted that he would not give up raiding in Mexico.

The 1853 Gadsden Purchase transferred to the United States Mexico's claim to lands south of the Gila River and miners and ranchers were attracted to the region.

Mangas and his fellow Apaches, whose own claims the purchase had not extinguished, found themselves desperately trying to prevent ruthless Americans from overrunning their homeland.

For attempting to divert miners from their operations in his band's territory, a group of Americans badly beat Mangas, an insult no Apache could forgive or forget.

Sometime between 1858 and 1860 Mangas concluded that resistance was the only response possible to American expansion.

His efforts to improve relations with the Mexican authorities, so as to enable the Apaches to concentrate their efforts on resisting the Americans, came to naught.

Mexican troops killed two of Mangas's sons as well as other Chiricahuas and these deaths had to be avenged.

Mangas and Cochise were active throughout northern Sonora and Chihuahua in 1858 and 1859, sometimes driving large herds of stock into the United States to be sold to American citizens.

But Apache thefts of American stock also continued to mount and some of these animals were driven into Mexico to be sold.

By 1860 a full-blown war was under way between the Chiricahuas and the United States, with Mangas playing a major role.

The Apaches attempted to shut off all traffic through their territory, ambushing small parties and wagon trains and attacking stagecoach stations.

Mangas even led a war party into the streets of Los Pinos, a mining camp in the heart of the Eastern Chiricahua homeland, but was driven out after a hard fight.

The outbreak of the Civil War made little difference to the Apaches, and they attacked and were attacked by, both Confederate and Union troops.

The Chiricahuas made movement of all but large forces through their territory very hazardous.

In a major engagement in July 1862 resulting from the Chiricahuas' effort to block Apache Pass, Union forces ultimately fought their way through, but with substantial losses.

Mangas was severely wounded in the fighting and was taken to a presidio in Chihuahua, where he received medical attention. The chief, however, who was now about seventy, never completely recovered.

His weakened state may have contributed to his willingness to negotiate with the Americans in January 1863.

At the time, General James H. Carleton, commanding the forces charged with pacifying the Apaches, had demanded the tribe's unconditional surrender, ruling out any negotiation with Mangas. "I have no faith in him," the general had declared.

This statement had encouraged a military subordinate to track down the old chief and use a flag of truce as a ruse to capture him.

Uncharacteristically, Mangas did not resist. He died sometime during the next forty-eight hours, under suspicious circumstances.

The official report was that he was shot while attempting to escape, but according to an eyewitness account he had been forced to resist by means of torture with heated bayonets.

John C. Cremony, who personally knew Mangas and is the most frequently cited biographical authority, denounced the chief for exhibiting "the ferocity and brutality of the most savage savage."

Nevertheless, he also described Mangas as "the greatest and most talented Apache Indian of the nineteenth century."

By the very nature of Apache society, Mangas could not command even the members of his own band.

Nevertheless, his reputation for bravery and sagacity enabled him to recruit large war parties, which he led effectively against both Mexicans and Americans.