Landscape between Benson and Dragoon, Arizona
When I lived in southern Arizona in 1972 I never imagined I would write a book, much less a story set there. Twenty-seven years later I was driving through my old Arizona haunts while researching a sixth historical novel, Ghost Warrior, about Lozen of the Apaches. As it turned out, “haunts” was a good description of the territory I was revisiting.
“Not all who wander are lost.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Between Benson and Dragoon I came to an intersection of two bee-line highways that seemed to extend to the horizon in all four compass directions. Unsure of my location, I drove a little farther, pulled over, got out, and spread my road map on the hot hood of the car. Glancing up, I saw an adobe building across the road. A large sign over the door read,
“Apacheria Native Culture Center
In the previous twenty years of research road trips I’d become accustomed to those sorts of lucky happenstances. I didn’t hear the Twilight Zone theme in my head right then, but now in retrospect, I do.
The building seen above originally had housed the Dragoon post office. In 2000, when I arrived, American Indian arts and crafts were on sale inside, and a large, gnarled tree trunk stood in the middle of the room. The natural shape of it resembled a woman’s body. Someone had carved a nimbus of wild hair, but the face itself had no features.
The only person in the shop was the proprietor who introduced himself as Nochita. I asked him where the Lozen Gallery was and he said, “This is it.” He added, “Lozen was our Joan of Arc.” After I told him I was writing a novel about her he shared the story of the tree trunk with the woman’s form.
Before Nochita moved the merchandise into the shop, he was doing some repairs on the outside. He glanced through the open door and saw a woman standing in the empty room. He said she wore the traditional Apache dress and many strings of beads. Her hair was windblown and her face had no features… no eyes, no nose, no mouth. He went around the building, planning to come in through the back door, but when he got there the room was empty. He was convinced he had seen Lozen.
He said that not long after the shop opened for business an Apache medicine man came in. He stopped abruptly where Lozen had stood and said he felt a strong presence there.
A while later Nochita found the fallen tree trunk with curves that resembled a woman’s body. He carved the hair, but left the face blank, and placed it where the vision of Lozen had stood. I wish I had taken a photograph of it.
Nochita told me another story. He said he used to work at a local dude ranch popular with German tourists. One day a group of them left to go sight-seeing. When they returned, they were so subdued that Nochita asked if anything was wrong. They said they’d been driving on a long stretch of deserted highway when three mounted Indians in traditional garb rode across it. As the Indians passed in front of the car the tourists could see that the horses’ bodies ended just behind the riders. They had no hind quarters. The driver swerved to avoid them and the car landed in a shallow ditch. They got out of the ditch, but they were all shaken by what they had seen.
An Apache Medicine Man
Nochita said he explained to them that the Indians probably were returning from the battle at Cibecue Creek. A shaman, influenced by missionaries’ stories of resurrection, had said he could raise the slain warriors. Witnesses claimed to have seen him do it, but he only was able to raise them and their mounts part way out of the ground before they sank back into the earth and disappeared. Nochita said the half-horses had become a popular image for Apache artists, wood carvers and sculptors.
These may or may not be likenesses of Lozen and Dahteste.
In 1886 Geronimo finally decided to surrender, along with his small band of men, women, and children. He sent Lozen and her friend Dahteste to represent him at the meeting with General Nelson Miles in Skeleton Canyon. After the surrender, Lozen was imprisoned with about 450 others at Mount Vernon Barracks in Mobile, Alabama. When I visited there I saw the massive oak and iron-banded door on the cell where Geronimo was kept.
In Alabama, many of the Apache captives became ill and Lozen helped care for them. She died of tuberculosis in 1890, at the age of fifty. Her people buried her where no outsiders could find her grave. As I wrote in the epilogue of Ghost Warrior, “She did not hear the wailing that went on for weeks. She was free to ride with her brother across every mountain and valley of the land she cherished. Those who revere her memory know she still rides there.”
This is artist Maria D’Angelo’s drawing of Lozen, Apache warrior, healer, and possessor of horse magic. It’s framed now and hanging in my house. Needless to say, I treasure it. You can see more of Maria’s extraordinary talent here: http://mariadangelo.com/
A special thanks also to Kenn Goldman of Dragoon, Arizona, for sharing information and photos such as this envelope celebrating Dragoon’s centennial. He also sent the photograph of the old Dragoon post office that later became the Apacheria Native Culture Center.
A thought always occurs to me when I write about Lozen. It’s a thought that gives comfort in troubled times… and let’s face it, all times are troubled given our species’ capacity for mischief and mayhem. The thought is that even in the worst of circumstances, individuals like Lozen, with extraordinary strength of character, appear and leave a legacy that persists. How fortunate we are that people made note of them and left a record for the rest of us.
Note: Any errors of fact in this piece are the result of lapses in my faulty memory.