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Avenging Victorio

258 pages, 16 photos
$24.95 hardcover (ISBN 978-1-890689-26-1)


Albuquerque Journal
Avenging Victorio was reviewed in the Albuquerque Journal on December 2, 2007:

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Apache Leader's Legend Grows Under Close Study

By Reviews by Fritz Thompson

    "Victorio" by Kathleen P. Chamberlain
    University of Oklahoma Press, $24.95, 272 pp.
    "Avenging Victorio" by Dave DeWitt
    Rio Grande Books, $24.95, 258 pp.
    Fifteen years after the end of the Civil War, the U.S. military found itself engaged in another conflict, this one in southern New Mexico. It was a messy, brutal struggle that sent U.S. generals chasing elusive ghosts across a vast, unsettled battlefield encompassing thousands of square miles.
    The military men— many of them veterans of the War Between the States— were at once outmanuevered, confounded, left empty-handed and rankled by frequent failure.
    It was 1880, and their foe was the Apache Tribe, whose warriors had held out longer against surrender than any other tribe in the country.
    Specifically, the generals were up against the legacies of Cochise and Geronimo, and later and less heralded, against an oft-neglected third chief now thought to have had a greater impact on his people than those two leaders combined.
    His name was Victorio.
    He left no documents, made no recorded speeches, and made only a few appearances in the white man's world. Yet he looms large in the Apache insurrections of 1880, and his legacy fueled the avenging raids and depredations carried out by his surviving compatriots the following year.
    His ancestral home was Warm Springs, northwest of Las Palomas on the Rio Grande in the New Mexico Territory.
    Beginning here, Victorio emerges as a most central character in the sad history of the subjugation of the American Indian. The reasons for those vicious and often tragic encounters, gleaned from military records and from oral histories in New Mexico, have been uncovered and preserved in two new books about Victorio.
    "Victorio" is a biography of the life and times of this until-now obscure chief written by a history professor. "Avenging Victorio" is a work of historical fiction whose author, however unlikely it might seem, is an authority on chile.
    Both works have photos and maps, and provide a fascinating glimpse into a frequently forgotten event in New Mexico.
    Great reading, good antidote against the winter cold. Read "Victorio" first, if you want your history chronological.
    Although Southwestern attitudes toward Apaches in the 1880s were racist and rancorous, the Warm Springs band led by Victorio was more than a bunch of renegades on a rampage through the New Mexico Territory and northern Mexico. The chief by that time had carried on a fruitless, frustrating effort to convince the U.S. authorities that Warm Springs held deep religious, social and cultural significance to his people and that plans to move them elsewhere would doom the tribe to destruction. Victorio was at first cautiously agreeable to peace, but when the Warm Springs pleas went repeatedly unheeded by a disconnected U.S. Indian policy, he saw no other course than to force the argument with bullets and strike attacks on the Territory's white citizenry. Records of his tactical brilliance during this time are counterbalanced by Kathleen P. Chamberlain's characterization. Chamberlain, author of "Victorio," found him "an introspective, quiet and complex chief ... a man who valued peace but whose patience with incompetence and deception had its limits." Military records of the time portray Victorio's band as being able to appear suddenly, conduct a deadly raid, and vanish just as quickly. American generals felt as if they were chasing a ghost. Chamberlain gives flesh to this ghost, this enigmatic man whose legacy now looms as large as the myth. She goes beyond the violence and the conflict and sees him through the eyes of his people and those who sought to capture him.

    The death of Apache chief Victorio at the hands of Mexican troops in 1880 did not alleviate the terror that continued to grip the Territory as rampaging Warm Springs Apaches swept across southern New Mexico. Military annals provide a picture of both the brutal raids and the disconnected way the U.S. chose to deal with the problem. No one chronicled the lives of the Apaches, and the Indians left no written records. Dave DeWitt's "Avenging Victorio" has set about to fill this hole in New Mexico's history by combining the records and remembrances with historical probability in his fictional account of what happened after Victorio's death. DeWitt has taken a radical turn in this historical novel, spurred by a longtime obsession with the Warm Spring Apaches and the events of 1881. The narrative details the interchange of what the military was doing about the Apaches in 1881, and how the Apaches were responding— and vice versa. The book provides notes on authentic and little-known practices and beliefs of the Apaches, juxtaposed with the thinking and strategies of the Army officers. His novel provides biographical insight encompassing all the main characters in this epic uprising. -- Fritz Thompson is a former Journal staff writer and editor.