Tuesday, 28 February 2017

And yet another forgotten colonial war

Even when I was young, we didn’t play Cowboys & Indians any more and Westerns have declined as a movie theme. But despite the relative neglect, the Indian wars remain a fascinating colonial conflict.

By the time the U.S. army took on the Apache tribes in the middle of the 19th century, the issue was no longer in doubt. The demographic and industrial weight of the US totally overshadowed that of the hunting and farming Apache who number in the tens of thousands.

This was a war of relatively small battles, neither side bringing more than several hundred combatants to the fight. However, each Apache killed had long term consequences for the survival of his tribe, while there was a steady flow of new recruits for the cavalry.  At the same time, expanding settlement reduced the hunting grounds on which the Apache depended, thus forcing them into raiding.

Nevertheless, the struggle was a long and bitter one, which could only be brought to an end by employing Apache versus Apache. This although the cavalry itself made significant strides in its counter guerilla capabilities. Equipment and tactics were adapted to the climate and Apache warrior society.

Likewise the Apache adapted to the western world, improving their weaponry, and finding ways to sabotage telegraph communications. They also used their superior knowledge of the terrain to move and live undetected.

The only way to really get at them was to use scouts from rival tribes. There was little sense of common cause between these tribes and for many warriors the opportunity to stick to their warrior lifestyle, plus a gun and free meals, was too good to be missed.

McLachlan does an excellent job using first hand accounts from both sides to illustrate the challenges that both sides faced and how the social-political dynamics of the Apache and white settler society made conflict inevitable. The narrative flows well, the analysis is crisp and the illustrations fit the narrative. Probably the best Osprey book that I’ve read on ‘non-western‘ armies.

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