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Controlling border violence the old fashioned way

25 March 2010

In 1786, recognizing that the Crown could claim few lasting victories against the Apache despite almost a century of bitter warfare, the recently appointed viceroy for the northern frontier, Bernado de Gálvez, adopted a pacification plan based in part on Spanish imperial policies in North Africa.  Arguing that “[p]eace is founded, as everything else, on private interests,” Gálvez… proposed the Crown bestow weekly rations… to Apaches who settled peaceably near Spanish presidios.  In exchange, these Apaches would be expected to serve as auxiliaries against hostile Indian groups.  While this program did not portend the complete subjugation of the Apache… it did promise to reduce the violence of recent years to a more tolerable level:  “[A] bad peace with all tribes which ask for it would be more fruitful than the gains of a successful war.”

Karl Jacoby. Shadows at Dawn: An Apache Massacre and The Violence of History, 2008. Page 55

Gálvez was a hard-ass, basically bribing favored cartels bands to leave legitimate businesses alone.  Sonora — which included what is now Arizona (where the 1871 massacre of Apache women and children Jacoby writes about occurred) — was, if not completely peaceful, at least prosperous and less dangerous than most of the northern frontier for the next fifty odd years.  What finally undid the program, leading to economic disaster and violence in the borderlands was not just that the new Mexican state was unable to keep up the payments to the “pacified” Apaches, but that more violent marauding Apache and Comanche bands were able to obtain arms and found a ready buyer for fruits of their labor in the United States.

Of course, the uptick in violence in the late 1830s was nothing compared to what happened once the United States intervened militarily in Mexico a decade later.

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