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Brown's Peak
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mini location map2016-03-06
6 by photographer avatarDennisWilliams
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Brown's PeakPhoenix, AZ
Phoenix, AZ
Hiking avatar Mar 06 2016
Hiking5.20 Miles 2,064 AEG
Hiking5.20 Miles   3 Hrs   15 Mns   1.78 mph
2,064 ft AEG      20 Mns Break10 LBS Pack
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Linked none no linked trail guides
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Headed out late for Iron Mountain but got hung up in the traffic to the #%&*$@# Renaissance Fair. Decided to go for something else and doubled back. Turned north at Idaho Rd. thinking something on the north side of the Supers but then chose to visit familiar territory. Figured I still had enough time for Brown's Peak. I had recently concluded some research on the place name and thought it fitting to pay a visit to the peak named for Major William H. Brown, 5th US Cavalry. A complicated guy. Here is his story. I hope I have done him justice.

Brown was born in 1840. Like many US Army officers in the west William H. Brown was a veteran of the Civil War. He had progressed in rank throughout the war starting as 2nd Lt. in 1862, to 1st Lt. in 1863, to Major in 1864. I have not yet been able to find specifics of Brown's service but his regiment fought valiantly at Fairfax Courthouse, Falling Waters, Martinsburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Shenandoah Valley, among many others. He mustered out in 1865 at war's end but was commissioned again in 1866 as a Captain, though throughout the US it was customary to refer to officers by their brevet rank during the war. In fact, General George Crook of Tonto Basin fame was at the time a Lt. Col. in actual rank, like his erstwhile comrade in arms George Armstrong Custer.

Brown was posted along with the 5th to Camp Grant around 1870. By 1872 he was a senior officer reporting to George Crook and preparing for the Tonto Basin winter campaign of '72 - '73 launched that November. His command of 130 officers and troops and 30 Apache scouts left Camp Grant around December 10th as part of a coordinated series of movements originating at Camps Grant, McDowell, Verde, Apache, Date Creek, and others to scour central Arizona and keep pressure on the natives until they gave up and agreed to live on one of the several reservations located throughout the territory. Word had been sent out roughly a year earlier that all needed to register at a reservation and any found in the field after November 16th would be considered hostile and fired upon and taken by force. Roughly half of the natives had come in but the rest felt secure in the mountain fastnesses of the Mazatzals, Superstitions, Pinals, and Bloody and Tonto Basins. His command left with 30 days rations and by December 27th were camped on Alder Creek after scouting the Four Peaks area. His scouts reported a rancheria some miles to the west along the Salt River and they set out on foot at night to get into position for attack. Upon approach in the early hours of the 28th his forward elements surprised a small group and made a charge, driving them back into a rock enclosure a few hundred feet below the rim of the canyon and roughly 1000 feet above the Salt River. Calls to surrender were met with scorn and threats that it was the soldiers that would soon be dead, an unfortunate masculine bravado that would cost the entire group dearly, men, women, and children. Brown's troops surrounded the cave and began to pour fire into it. This lasted for several hours. When it was over all of the men were dead as well as scores of women and children. Reports range from 57 - 80 killed in total. The eighteen survivors were taken to Camp McDowell but several succumbed to wounds along the journey. Brown went on to campaign throughout the Superstitions and Pinals over the next month, fighting numerous small engagements. The site of the cave fight was soon forgotten but was found 30 years later by a cowboy who reported a cave where piles of human skeletons lay in the open. It is now remembered as Skeleton Cave, though the Yavapai at the Fort McDowell reservation have long since removed the remains of their relatives for interment at the fort cemetery.

In early February 1873 Brown was sent by Crook with several troops of the 5th Cavalry on a mission to meet with Cochise to discuss the terms of the treaty that had been arranged by General O.O. Howard for a reservation. Brown was one of few non-natives to meet Cochise face to face. Brown was suffering from an undisclosed illness during this mission. Cochise was also ill and would die from cancer the following year. Brown was also Acting Inspector General for the Arizona Territory reporting to Crook and later stationed at San Carlos. Throughout 1873 Brown reported suffering from stress and fatigue, and requested leave. He was granted leave in 1874 and traveled to New York. In June of 1875 the last act of Brown's life played out when the woman Brown was in love with and wanted to marry became the wife of Lt. General Philip Sheridan. Brown took his own life the day after the wedding.

It is tempting to view Brown through the prism of the 21st century. Today the action at Skeleton Cave would not be seen in a favorable light but we must remember that Brown was a man of his time, not ours. His generation was steeped in the mythology of the frontier. Every family history had many members killed by native Americans, though of course the natives too were slaughtered and had every cause to hate the newcomers and meet violence with violence. Brown was lauded for the action at the cave but it was probably not lost on him that these people were essentially sitting in their living room when surrounded and fired upon by the army. Arizona had been part of the US since the early 1850s and these people were Americans too. It is not my place to diagnose Brown from this remove but it would be easy see how the horrific sights found in the cave after the fight might affect anyone with a conscience. His behavior afterward suggests something we might call PTSD today, but if I have gone too far with this line of reasoning I apologize here and now. Brown drew hard duty and he did it, knowing that someone else would have to do it if he did not. The wars with the natives were the result of policy set in Washington, not commanders in the field. That doesn't make it right, but perhaps we can muster thanks for his gallant service in the Civil War and maybe some sympathy for Brown and the anguish that led to his tragic end, though if you are a Yavapai it would no doubt appear more like poetic justice. If not sympathy, then at least remember him with charity.

Think upon these things when you look up and to the east.
Fate the willing leads, the unwilling drags along.

- Marcus Tullius Cicero
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