We’re wrapping up our month-long celebration of the work of archivists and the importance of archives for American Archives Month. Today’s post comes from Tavis Anderson, an archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis.
In the holdings of the National Archives at St. Louis sits a Deceased Veterans Claim File for a veteran named Kayitah, also known as Kateah, Kaytah, and Ka-et-ta. This record mentions that Kayitah served with the Indian Scouts of Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood’s 6th Cavalry, the unit that convinced the Native American Apache Chief Geronimo to surrender to Brig. Gen. Nelson Miles during one of the last Apache uprisings of the late 19th century. Lt. C. B. Gatewood credited Kayitah with being instrumental in the surrender and capture of Geronimo.
Kayitah is said to have been born on December 31, 1856, in Arizona Territory. A pension document described him as being 5 feet, 7½ inches tall, with brown eyes, black hair, and complexion copper.
Kayitah enlisted at San Carlos, Arizona Territory, about November 9, 1885, and served until May 8, 1886. He enlisted again on July 7, 1886, with Company E, Indian Scouts of the U.S. Army.
This was the second of his five enlistments with the U.S. military. The third was as a scout for Company L, 7th U.S. Cavalry (1895–1897), the fourth at Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory, with the Indian Scouts, U.S. Army, from 1897 to 1900. Finally, Kayitah enlisted at Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory, with a detachment of Indian Scouts with the U.S. Army (1911–1914).
He was discharged honorably on October 31, 1914.
The Apache Campaign of the American Indian Wars (1870s–1886) was a series of brief conflicts within a larger military campaign to control Federal government interests in westward expansion and resources available after the Mexican-American War.
Chiricahua Apache Chief Geronimo led a unit of Apache warriors in resistance to Federal interests and forced resettlement on reservations. In 1877 Geronimo was captured and forced to settle on San Carlos Reservation.
In 1881 Geronimo fled to Mexico with several hundred Apache warriors after fearing military action for prior involvement in hostilities. Gen. George Crook returned Geronimo to the reservation in 1884, but he left one year later. This time Crook could not recapture Geronimo, and he was replaced by Brig. Gen. Miles in 1886.
Miles appointed Lt. Charles Gatewood, a man known for his cultural and historical understanding of the Native Americans, to capture Geronimo. Miles recruited two Chiricahua Apache Indian scouts, Kayitah and Martine (also known as Mahteen, Martinez, and Nahteen), from Fort Apache, Arizona Territory, to carry a message to Geronimo demanding that he and his cohort surrender.
Miles promised the scouts a large sum of money, many horses, mules, and a lifetime pension if they were successful. With their help, Gatewood and the 6th Cavalry convinced Geronimo to surrender to Miles on September 4, 1886.
After Geronimo’s surrender and the completion of their mission, both Kayitah and Martine were mistaken for hostile Indians in Geronimo’s unit. They were detained and then imprisoned at Fort Marion, Florida, for a year. Following their release, Kayitah and Martine settled on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico Territory.
Kayitah worked the land as a farmer and stockman until he was physically unable to work any longer. Pension payments of $20 a month were allotted to Kayitah on December 31, 1918, four years after his honorable discharge.
Seven years later, on September 21, 1925, O. M. Boggess, Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent for Mescalero, New Mexico, interviewed both Kayitah and Martine.
Boggess recorded their statements, noting that they were promised a large sum of pay, horses, mules, and lifetime pensions in addition to the Indian Scout pension allotted to them. Neither received what they believed was the promised compensation for their services and instead were imprisoned with the very Apaches they were sent to secure surrender from.
After the interview, Boggess wrote to the War Department requesting compensation for the Indian Scouts in a manner keeping with what Kayitah and Martine believed had been promised to them. In writing up his recommendations to the Commissioner for Indian Affairs, Boggess stated: “It does seem that a real injustice was done to these two old scouts, who risked their lives and were largely instrumental in bringing in Geronimo.”
Five months later Kayitah received an increase in his pension allotment from $20 to $30 and an additional $1,705 lump sum payment. Boggess gathered further evidence to support Kayitah’s and Martine’s claims, compiling references to their service.
His sources ranged from an eyewitness account of events by Capt. John G. Bourke; a passage describing Kayitah and Martine’s actions from S. M. Barrett’s book, dictated by Geronimo, titled, Geronimo’s Story of His Life; and an excerpt from manuscript notes written by Lieutenant Gatewood.
In the years following the interview with Boggess, Kayitah received increases in his monthly pension from $30 to $50. He died on February 4, 1934, and the Veterans Administration paid for his burial.
Due to the distance from the railroad and the undertaker, and the burial customs of the Indians, all services were completed on credit by Kirk’s Garage of Tularosa, New Mexico, with $65 spent for the coffin and rough box and $9 for a shroud. Kayitah received a military headstone marker through the War Department that was placed in the Mescalero Indian Reservation Cemetery.
Kayitah was survived by his wife, Sah-Nah-Slu, also known as Lupe Kayitah, and their son, Kent Kayitah, who was the sole survivor of seven children.
Upon Kayitah’s death, Lupe was without pension payments for a year. She reapplied for a widow’s pension and was required to prove her legitimacy as Kayitah’s wife. The couple was wed in the Indian custom, so there was no legal proof of the union. Agents of the Department of the Interior, Indian Field Service, were able to verify they had been married for at least 50 years after interviewing local Indians and reviewing Census records.
Kent Kayitah wrote his congressman to inquire about the length of time between Lupe’s application and the receipt of widow’s pension payments. She began receiving $28.50 a month in compensation in February 1935, one year after Kayitah’s passing.
Lupe Kayitah died on January 17, 1936, and the Mescalero Indian Agency paid for her burial. Kent Kayitah tried to reclaim the pension payments from the time of Kayitah’s death until Lupe’s first benefit payment, but the payments were authorized from the earliest filing date, so compensation was denied. This is the last correspondence between Kayitah’s family and the Veterans Administration before the case was closed in 1940.
Visit the National Archives American Archives Month web page for more information about our events and activities throughout the month. And don’t miss our #AskAnArchivist sessions every Tuesday in October from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT. Follow us on Twitter @usnatarchives for more information.
And stay tuned for November, which is National Native American Heritage Month! Visit our web page for resources on related records and how we are commemorating the month.