Civil War Wiki
Battle of Pinos Altos
Part of the American Civil War
Apache Wars
File:Pinos altos.gif
The Battle of Pinos Altos
Date September 27, 1861
Location Pinos Altos, Confederate Arizona
Modern Day: Gila Wilderness, New Mexico
Result Confederate victory
File:CSA Flag 2.7.1861-28.11.1861.svg Confederate States Apache
Lieutenant Thomas J. Mastin
First Lieutenant Jack Swilling
Chief Mangas Coloradas,
Chief Cochise
~15 militia,
1 artillery piece
~300 warriors
Casualties and losses
5 killed,
7 wounded
~10 killed,
~20 wounded

The Battle of Pinos Altos was a military action of the Apache Wars. The combatants were settlers of the currently abandoned Pinos Altos mining town, the Confederate Arizona Guards, and Apache warriors. The town was located about five to ten miles north of the present day Silver City, New Mexico.


Conflict between the Confederates and Apaches was at its height in September 1861. Since the 1860 discovery of gold in the nearby Pinos Altos Mountains, thousands of white settlers had flocked to the region. This infuriated the Chiefs Mangas Coloradas and Cochise who by 1861 had formed an alliance with each other's band and vowed to destroy all of the Americans and Mexicans encroaching on their land.

Apaches attacked several towns, killing many settlers. Pinos Altos, being one of the major mining towns in the area, formed its own two militia companies for garrison duty. The first company under Captain Thomas J. Mastin called themselves the "Arizona Guards", the other under Captain William Markt, called themselves the "Minute Men". The founder of Phoenix, Jack Swilling was a First Lieutenant of the Arizona Guards, he is believed to have fought in the Pinos Altos enagement. Most of the Arizona Guards were ranchers and miners from around Tucson and Tubac who had abandoned their homes due to the Siege of Tubac and the withdrawal of Union troops from Fort Buchanan.

Over time, all Arizonan volunteers became known as "Arizona Guards" or "Arizona Rangers." Unfortunately for the rebel cause, half of the Minute Men deserted just after their induction, the others were poorly equipped. This meant the Arizona Guards had to provide most of the protection for the Pinos Altos miners.


The combined force of Mangas Coloradas and Cochise, numbered well over 300 strong when they turned their attention to Pinos Altos in the early morning of September 27, 1861. The Apaches hoped to achieve another victory as they did at Tubac and attempted at Placito. The native army attacked simultaneously the nearby mining camp and the town itself.

The assault completely surprised the town's population. Many miners, at their camp, were trapped in their diggings and subsequently killed. Some survivors stayed underground, too afraid to venture out, thus contibuting nothing to the town's defense. Unfortunately the Arizona Guards were on patrol when the Apaches attacked, two forces, Mastin commanded one while the other portion patrolled elsewhere. The Apaches, first attempted to burn several log cabins which ran along the perimeter of the settlement, this failed and the natives were repulsed.


The Gila Wilderness; image shows the type of terrain in which Pinos Altos is surrounded.

Fortunately for the miners, Mastin's squad of fifteen men, arrived back at the town, not long after hostilities began. The other portion was still on patrol. Captain Mastin ordered his men, the remnants of the Minute Men and the towns civilian defenders to take up defensive positions in the center of the settlement. For a while the two sides fought at medium to long range until the natives launched a full attack at about 12:00 noon. At this time the Apaches and Arizonans were fighting hand to hand.

With the battle at its climax around 12:30 pm, Captain Mastin realized something must be done to aid his overwhelmed militiamen. So he ordered the old cannon, which sat in front of the famous Sam and Roy Bean's store, to be loaded with nails and buckshot. This was done due to the lack of cannon balls, the cannon was only there in front of Roy Bean's store for show.

After finding some old rusty nails and some buckshot, the gun was wheeled into the defenders position and fired on the wave of oncoming Apache warriors. Many natives fell, dead or wounded. The Apaches decided to cease their effort and began to retreat. So the Arizona Guards mounted their horses and gave chase, while the civilian fighting men fired muskets from their house windows. The engagement was over by 1:00 pm, the Apaches fled to the Gila River or to Mexico.


File:Traditional az map.gif

Map of the traditional boundaries of Arizona and the later Confederate Arizona south of the 34 parallel.

Within the last half hour of the battle, Captain Thomas Mastin managed to turn an almost certain defeat into victory with his simple order to bring up the old cannon. At least ten Apaches were killed and left on the battlefield after the Apaches had retreated. Over twenty dead and wounded were picked up and dragged away by the Apaches, according to Confederate accounts. Captain Mastin was mortally wounded, sometime while leading the cavalry charge that decided the battle, he died a few days later at Pinos Altos. Other accounts say Mastin was killed by an Apache bullet, before the cannon was ever in use. Five Confederates were killed, including the Captain, seven other settlers or militiamen were severely wounded. Command of the Arizona guards passed to Lieutenant Thomas Helm.

Apache tactics changed at this point, other than at the Apache Pass engagement, Apaches ceased massing in large numbers and continued their cause by means of guerilla warfare. They stopped attacking well defended settlements, or settlements with large bodies of Confederate troops. Instead they continued attacking mining camps and smaller isolated communities. Captain Peter Hardeman of the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles with twenty-five men were near Pinos Altos immediately after the Apaches retreated. Hardeman's troop came across the Apache trail and tracked them for days, all the way to the Gila River before turning back due to their rations which were running low. Confederate forces chased Apaches into Mexico several times in 1861 and 1862. The Arizona Guards penetrated as far as Lake Guzman in Chihuahua, without ever catching the elusive natives.

As for Pinos Altos, most of the settlers ended their stay at the camp. Despite their victory, many were afraid the Chiricahua would attack again. On October 8th, Governor Baylor received a distress message from the miners of Pinos Altos so 100 men were sent to reinforce the Arizona Guards, the largest Confederate force ever sent to relieve a town threatened by natives. The Apaches never attacked again so the reinforcing company was withdrawn. Only about seventy miners remained in Pinos Altos after the battle, the Arizona Guards continued their garrison duty.

See also[]


  • Cochise, Ciyé "The First Hundred Years of Nino Cochise" New York: Pyramid Books 1972
  • Kaywaykla, James (edited Eve Ball) "In the Days of Victorio: Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache" Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1970
  • Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1987.
  • Thrapp, Dan L. (1979). The Conquest of Apacheria. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806112867. 
  • Williams, Albert N. Rocky Mountain Country. N.Y.: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1950.
  • Etulain, Richard W. New Mexican Lives: A Biographical History. University of New Mexico Center for the American West, University of New Mexico Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8263-2433-9
  • Haley, James L. Apaches: A History and Culture Portrait. University of Oklahoma Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8061-2978-6.
  • Sweeney, Edwin R. Mangas Coloradas: Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches. University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8061-3063-6

Coordinates: 32°52′02″N 108°13′11″W / 32.86726°N 108.21980°W / 32.86726; -108.21980