Shadows at Dawn
A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History
In the predawn hours of April 30, 1871, a combined party of Americans, Mexicans, and Tohono O’odham Indians gathered just outside an Apache camp in the Arizona borderlands. At the first light of day they struck, murdering nearly 150 Apaches, mostly women and children, in their sleep. In its day, the atrocity, which came to be known as the Camp Grant Massacre, generated unparalleled national attention—federal investigations, heated debate in the press, and a tense criminal trial. This was the era of the United States’ “peace policy” toward Indians, and the Apaches had been living on a would-be reservation, under the supposed protection of the U.S. Army. President Ulysses Grant decried the act as “purely murder,” but American settlers countered that the distant U.S. government had failed to protect them from Apache attacks, and they were forced to take justice into their own hands.
In the past century, the massacre has largely faded from memory. Now, drawing on oral histories, newspaper reports, and the participants’ own accounts, prizewinning author Karl Jacoby brings this horrific incident and tumultuous era to life. What brought this party together on that fateful April morning, and what led them to commit such a stunning act of violence? Shadows at Dawn traces the escalating conflicts, as well as the alliances, that transpired among the Americans, Mexicans, Apache, and Tohono O’odham living in the borderlands over the course of several hundred years, beginning with the seventeenth-century arrival of the first Spanish missionaries. The American presence brought further transformations, especially after the Gadsden Purchase transferred a large swath of Mexican territory to the United States, leaving many Mexicans feeling like foreigners in their own land. By recounting the events from the perspective of each of the four parties involved, Jacoby challenges the dominance of the American version of the western story and also reveals the way each group has remembered, or forgotten, the massacre.
Prodigiously researched and powerfully written, Shadows at Dawn examines a forgotten atrocity and in doing so paints a sweeping panorama of the southwestern border lands—a world far more complex, culturally diverse, and morally ambiguous than the traditional portrayals of the Old West.