Updated: Sep 23, 2020
*story by Jinx Pyle, late Town of Payson Historian
Last week, we left the Meadows family at their Diamond Valley Ranch where they had just returned from Green Valley (later called Payson). The date was July 14, 1882 and the family was unaware that Nantiotish and his Apache followers were moving west under the Mogollon Rim. Their route of travel would bring the Apache band to the head of the East Verde River just two miles above the Diamond Valley Headquarters. They found everything at the ranch just as they had left it, except that a bear had visited their food storage room and left it in a mess. Soon after their return home, a visitor showed up.
Frank Prothero had hired on with the Army as a scout and came by the Diamond Valley Ranch in search of Charlie Meadows. The Army needed men who new the country to scout for them and Frank had recommended Charlie Meadows. Charlie was reluctant to leave. He still had concerns as to the welfare and safety of the family, but his father assured him that they would be fine adding, “There ain’t no bullet cast that can kill me.”
Charlie was more than willing to fight Apaches. Many of the men they had killed during their marauding spree were friends and neighbors of the Meadows family. John Meadows convinced Charlie that the family would be fine and that he should go with Prothero.
Charlie Meadows and Frank Prothero left that same night for Pine to join the sixth Division of the U. S. Cavalry under the command of Major Chaffee. They would serve the Sixth as Scouts under Al Seiber. Also serving as scouts under Seiber were Tom Horn and Mickey Free.
Charlie arrived at Pine Creek the night of the 14th to find his brother Henry had heard the news that Nantiotish and his followers were in the vicinity and was returning to Diamond Valley from Fort Verde. The two men talked briefly and Henry Meadows rode on to Diamond Valley that same night to find everyone sleeping safe and sound. He had intended to wake the household, but decided to catch some sleep himself and let the family know his concerns regarding the Indians early the next morning.
At two o’clock the following morning, the dogs began barking. John Meadows suspected the bear was back, but saw no use investigating until dawn. As John Moberly Meadows pulled his Long Tom .50 Caliber rifle from its resting place, Henry, still fearing there might be Indians about, joined his father to investigate. Henry crossed the East Verde River and the two men agreed to meet down the river where they could still hear the dogs barking. Margaret Meadows watched from the door with her son, Jake, 10, as the two men departed. As John approached a willow covered area about 70 yards from the house, a shot broke the morning stillness. The two watchers saw him throw his hands up and heard him yell “My God!”
Henry ran back into the house, and then he and his brother, John Valentine Meadows, ran with their guns toward where their father had fallen. They found themselves surrounded by Nantiotish’s bronco Apaches and returned to the house under the Indians deadly gun fire. Both were wounded, their cloths wet and red with blood. Henry fell on the steps and was dragged into the house by his mother and brother, Jake.
In a letter to a married sister, who still lived in Visalia, Charlie Meadows wrote, “In the first volley, John’s right arm had been shot through the elbow, and a shot hit him over the heart. The bullet struck a clay pipe that was in his pocket turning it to the left and saving his life. Henry was shot in the foot. The boys started to retreat when the Indians followed them closely and fired another volley. In this volley, John’s other wrist was broken at the wrist and a musket ball passed through the stock of Henry’s gun. Another shot hit Henry’s cartridge belt, exploding a cartridge into his groin that left a gaping hole.”
With the men shot to doll rags, the defense of the cabins fell upon Mother Margaret, Sarah Hazelton and the children. Maggie and James, 13 and 12 respectively, stood on tubs and sacks of flour in order to reach the gun ports and managed to shoot close enough to the Indians to drive them back from the cabins.
In a letter to Charlie from his sister, Maggie Meadows Beach, she describes the scene inside the main cabin. “We had rifles and pistols and Henry loaded everything with cartridges while he lay on his back. Mother ran out and got water and she and Sarah Hazelton were very busy trying to keep John from hemorrhaging to death. He was in a faint most of the time. Henry was unable to move from the waste down. He would not own up to being wounded until the Indians quit firing. I stood by his side while he showed me how to shoot, how to aim and how not to shoot until I saw the whites of their eyes. Jim (James) had two guns and already knew how to shoot. He stood six feet from me on the same side of the house. We were very busy. Henry drank a lot of water and demanded a pair of scissors which I got for him, so he could cut off the fat and flesh that was hanging from his groin. They did not shoot off his cartridge belt as some have said. He was carrying it in his hand and they shot his own cartridge into his groin. The surgeon cut it out the next day.”
At intervals the Indians would send a volley of gun fire toward the cabins, but their bullets had little effect on the log walls. Soon the Apache raiders were entertaining themselves by firing on the milk cows as the terrified animals ran about in the pasture.
The firing ceased about eight o’clock and the Indians could be seen gathering the Meadows horses. They drove the animals into a fenced corn-field which destroyed the crop. This activity went on for most of the morning with at least one or two Indians keeping an eye on the cabins. Jake Meadows described the scene as he later testified, “Their dark, lean bodies were almost completely naked – their faces streaked with antelope blood, and their black, stringy unkempt hair adorned with feathered headdresses made a hideous sight.”
At last the Indians took their booty of terrified horses and cattle and pushed them north up the East Verde River in a frenzied herd.
Later that day Johnny Grey and Doc Massey, who were located on the Cold Springs Ranch, just a few miles southeast of the Diamond Valley Headquarters rode up the river to check on their neighbors. Mother Margaret told them of the battle and Doc Massey stayed to attend the wounded men. Johnny Grey traded time for distance arriving in Green Valley (Payson) at 4:30 on a jaded horse with the news of the raid on the Meadows Ranch. A courier was dispatched to Pine to find Charlie Meadows. The courier wrongfully told Charlie that his father and all his brothers had been killed.
Charlie was stunned then burned with rage both at the Indians for their dastardly deed and at himself for leaving his family at such a time. Charlie immediately rode for Diamond Valley in the company of Frank Prothero and Marion Derrick, an old and wise Indian fighter.
“We reached the Ranch at sundown,” Charlie said. “The boys were still alive, thank the good Lord. They were suffering from their wounds but complained little.” The rest of the family had been badly traumatized, but all were made of sturdy pioneer stuff and were pretty well able to “cover the ground they stood on.”
The body of John Moberly Meadows was placed in a temporary grave under a covered porch area between the two cabins (dog trot.) The dog trot had a dirt floor and the grave was tamped and made to look as natural as possible. This, in case the Indians should return during the family’s absence.
On the morning of the 16, the family left Diamond Valley for Sidella (Flowing Springs). Charlie said in the letter to his sister in California, “We placed feather beds in the wagons and the wounded were made as comfortable as possible. The road was rough and the heat intense, and the last two miles Henry had to be carried on a litter to prevent reopening of his wounds.
They rested at Sidella through the heat of the day and arrived in Green Valley (Payson) that evening. There, a surgeon removed the cartridge from Henry’s groin and cleaned and sutured John Valentine’s wounds.
On the morning of July 17, 1882 Charlie and Frank Prothero returned to Diamond Valley. The once tranquil and beautiful ranch now reeked with the stench of death. The two men rode up the river on the trail taken by Nantiotish as he and his band of hell-bent Apaches exited the ranch headquarters. Buzzards flew from the rotting carcasses of dead animals; many horses Charlie had ridden and thought of as friends were among the carnage.
The men rode into the tall timber along side the trail and began finding horses lost by the Apache raiders. Others whinnied a greeting glad to see friends once more. Charlie had been driven by the ravages of the Apache into manhood and vowed revenge for the brutality inflicted on his family. But first he had to repair the damage, put the ranch back on solid footing and help his war-torn family heal. As he looked at the few milk cows left in the ruined corn field, he must have also wondered how he would provide a living for his mother and the children.
More on Charlie Meadows next week.
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