Book Review: ‘With My Face to My Bitter Foes’

“With My Face to My Bitter Foes”: Nana’s War, 1880–1881, by Robert N. Watt, Helion & Co., Warwick, U.K., 2019, $49.95

Robert Watt’s masterly work deals with the struggle by Chihenne Apaches for the return of their reservation at Ojo Caliente, N.M. Following the death of their revered leader Victorio, the Apaches were led by Nana, described as a “scarred and wrinkled little Apache” in his mid-70s. Despite his age, he harried the U.S. Army and covered at least 1,500 miles in July and August 1881.

In late June 1881 Nana’s Raid—one of the most spectacular forays of the Apache Wars—began with a flurry of attacks to the south of El Paso, Texas, that killed surveyors, railway and stagecoach passengers, and teamsters. The body of one teamster, named Hayes, was discovered with its right arm severed—having admired his courage, the Apache wanted to inherit his skill and bravery. However, the Apache had no shortage of bravery.

It is difficult to determine how many warriors accompanied Nana on his six-week foray, as they traveled in small groups, often raiding independently. Likewise, previous authors have overstated the number of 9th U.S. Cavalry troops and Apache scouts engaged in pursuing Nana and his warriors. In his detailed reappraisal Watt suggests no more than 67 scouts and 340 cavalrymen were engaged, with perhaps no more than 50 participating in any single engagement.

One of the author’s reasons for writing his trilogy was to highlight sophisticated strategies and tactics used by Apaches, led first by Victorio and then Nana, who between September 1879 and August 1881 defeated most U.S. and Mexican forces sent against them. The Apaches also temporarily crippled the 9th Cavalry by targeting its horses and mules. Watt concludes by evaluating the campaign and lessons learned from the small wars of the 19th century.

—David Saunders

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