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SANTANA: War Chief of the Mescalero Apache

SANTANA: War Chief of the Mescalero Apache
SANTANA: War Chief of the Mescalero Apache SANTANA: War Chief of the Mescalero Apache
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By Almer N. Blazer
Edited by A. R. Pruit
317 pages 8.5" x 5.5"
24 historic photographs

ISBN: 0-09718658-1-7
(cloth) $24.95 US $24.95 Canada

ISBN: 0-09718658-0-9
(paper) $14.95 US, $14.95 Canada

SynopsisIntroduction by Jerry D. Thompson Drawn from previously unpublished firsthand accounts of the years 1862 to 1880, this book tells the story of a great Mescalero war chief who was targeted for death by the U.S. military as a dangerous renegade. Because of his gifts as a leader and negotiator, Santana eventually won the confidence of the government, saved his people from extermination by the military, and secured a reservation on their traditional homeland in the mountains of south-central New Mexico. The manuscript on which this book is based--written by Almer N. Blazer in the 1940s--recreates the stories of both Santana himself and the beleaguered tribe that looked to his leadership during their gravest crisis. A neighbor and close friend of the Mescalero, Blazer writes sympathetically of the tribe's struggle for survival and gives detailed, authentic descriptions of Mescalero life before it was forever changed by contact with European culture.

Author - Almer Noel Blazer arrived in New Mexico at age 14 grew up at his father's flour mill, an isolated white outpost in Mescalero territory near Tularosa, New Mexico. The story of Santana's life and achievements comes from the recollections of the author's father, Dr. Joseph H. Blazer, who was Santana's close personal friend and his official mediator in important negotiations with the government. In his manuscript, Almer Blazer presented a vital picture of daily tribal life, customs, and religious beliefs. He faithfully transmitted what he saw, heard, and experienced, preserving oral history and cultural information that might otherwise have been lost during the Mescalero's brutal transition to "modern" life. The book includes rare early photographs of the Mescalero Apache, many of which are from the Blazer family collection. Also included is a recent photograph of rocking chairs used by J. H. Blazer and Santana, respectively, that still exist in the Blazer family collection.

Almer N. Blazer spoke the Mescalero language fluently from his early years and participated in hunting, tracking, and other activities with the tribe. Later in his life, he achieved a modest reputation as a writer but was acknowledged by historians Eve Ball and C. L. Sonnichsen as the foremost authority on the Mescalero Apache and their turbulent history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Editor A. R. Pruit, through archival research, substantiated Blazer's account of Santana's life and achievements and provided further documentation that was not available to the original author.


Santana: About The Man
- Anonymity is often the fate of peacemakers. And so, until now, Santana, among the most brilliant of all the chiefs of the Mescalero Apache, has been virtually unknown in recorded history. Known in his early years as the most cunning and vicious of the Mescalero leaders waging war against the Anglo invaders, it is ironic that Santana's most notable contribution related to making peace rather than war. He understood in the 1860s, earlier than most of his contemporaries, that the probable ultimate result of continued struggle with the white man was the annihilation of his people. Recognizing that he would be among the first to die as punishment for his warlike behavior, he disappeared into the mountains for 10 years, until the heat was off and the Army's attention was focused on a new generation of war chiefs. After his reappearance, he led his followers into peace to prevent their disappearance as a people and negotiated for them a reservation in their traditional homeland in the mountains of south-central New Mexico.

Santana needed a friend from whom he could learn about the ways of the white world and who would intercede for him with the alien culture. He found that friend in J. H. Blazer, who operated a mill, La Manquina, later to become known as Blazer's Mill, on the Rio Tularoso at a site one-half mile downstream from the present-day Mescalero Agency. After their tension-fraught initial meeting in late 1867 or early 1868, the two men learned to like and respect one another and developed an abiding friendship that lasted until Santana's death from pneumonia in the winter of 1877.

The author of the manuscript that forms the core of this book, Almer N. Blazer, the son of J. H., was 14 when he arrived at La Manquina in 1878, the year after Santana's death. Almer Blazer spent the greater part of his life on the Mescalero reservation. He lived among and became friendly with its people, became fluent in Apache and Spanish, becoming in his early years "as much Indian as white man", in the words of a grandson. C. L. Sonnichsen and Eve Ball, both noted historians of the Mescalero, said of him that he knew and understood the Mescalero better than any other Anglo.

The manuscript itself contains both accounts of J.H. Blazer's interactions with Santana and descriptions of certain aspects of Mescalero life and culture supplied from the experience of the author and from stories told him by his Mescalero acquaintances, some of whom were contemporaries of Santana.

This is not an academic history. Any reader expecting such an account will be disappointed. Many of the events and conversations related herein cannot be verified because they come from the memories of people who had no written language (and who, it should be noted, had far better memories as a result). Yet what has resulted is a very believable account, verifiable in many important particulars, of a remarkable man and certain aspects of the Mescalero culture which spawned and shaped him.

Perhaps it should be more correctly be called an oral history. Like the Mescalero people he lived among, Almer Blazer was a storyteller. Like all good storytellers, he, by his own admission, sometimes fleshed out stories with elements derived from his experience that seemed reasonable and appropriate, with the purpose of making the fundamental elements of the story more comprehensible to his audience. While these characteristics may disappoint the academic-minded , a different kind of reader may find the manuscript more alive and hence more appealing than a conventional historical account.

Santana's absence from the historical accounts of the time led to numerous early rejections from publishing houses. "Did Santana even exist ?" they asked. In the late 1980's, A. R. Pruit, assisted by Dr. Jerry Thompson, successfully undertook the task of investigating Army records to see if Santana's existence after 1868 could be documented. Dr. Pruit's comments and biographical notes on A.N. and J.H. Blazer are incorporated in the current volume.

Santana was a remarkable man for any age or time. Recognizing his own limitations in dealing with an Anglo juggernaut bent on overwhelming and destroying his culture and his people, he was able to step outside his cultural heritage of war and conquest and use his exceptional skills as a tactician, negotiator and leader to find a way to preserve both with a minimum of bloodshed. In this age of increasingly violent cultural and religious conflicts in many parts of the world, surely his story deserves substantial recognition.

 

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