Gen. George Crook’s military career was closely linked with the settlement of the West and the forced relocation of the Indian tribes. As a young officer in Oregon and California, he saw the tribes betrayed when the U.S. Senate rejected negotiated treaties and left them with no rights. While his sympathies often lay with the tribes, he was a loyal soldier and fought successful campaigns against the Shoshone and Nez Perce in Washington, Oregon and California.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Crook returned from the West to Washington and was promoted to captain and later colonel. He fought in the battle of Second Bull Run and Chickamauga.
After his Civil War service, Crook was promoted to lieutenant colonel; he returned to the Pacific Northwest to subdue the Paiute. His success in that two-year campaign won the attention of President Ulysses S. Grant, who sent him to the Arizona Territory with a mission to end fighting between the Apaches and white settlers. He also was responsible for forcing the Apaches onto reservations.
Crook was an imposing man. He stood more than six feet tall, had blue-gray eyes, wore his fair hair close-cropped and sported a beard. In the field he usually wore an old canvas hunting outfit (probably the suit he is wearing in the photograph), a pith helmet and rode a mule named Apache. He set an example to his men by being first to rise and first in the saddle.
On June 4, 1871, Crook reluctantly assumed the post of commander of Arizona from Gen. George Stoneman, who was being relieved of his duties following the Camp Grant massacre. Crook wrote that Mrs. Stoneman “could not help showing in every action that she would like to tear me to pieces.”
Crook arrived in Tucson on June 14 and launched an expedition into Apache territory with five companies of cavalry and some friendly Apache scouts. He frequently used Indian scouts and preferred to negotiate terms rather than to engage in battle.
Crook knew that a flood of settlers was coming west and believed that the only solution to avoid conflict was to move tribes to reservations.
He told tribal leaders that all promises he made would be written down and copies would be given to them. He said he would try to find work for those who wanted it. He collected old shovels and picks from all the camps and forts under his command and organized the Apaches in building an irrigation ditch to water crops on the reservation.
On October 29, 1873, Crook was promoted to brigadier general.
Crook began his campaign in the Arizona Territory with 1,170 officers and men and 300 Indian scouts. When he left the Territory in March 1875, no depredations had been reported since the previous December, except for a few horses near Tubac.
He received an extraordinary degree of affectionate respect. Several children were named for him, including two girls – Miss George Crook Thomas and Miss George Crook Furey.
He had detractors, particularly the notorious Tucson Ring, a corrupt group of businessmen who benefitted from selling supplies to the military and were anxious to keep the Apaches at war.
In 1875, Crook was transferred to the Department of Platte in Omaha, Nebraska. That winter he defeated the great Cheyenne chief, Dull Knife. He then enlisted the Arapaho, Utes, Bannock, Shoshone, Crow and Winnebago in his fight against the Sioux. By the time Crazy Horse surrendered with 1,100 people on May 6, 1877, the last great battles on the plains were over.
In 1882, Crook was ordered back to the Arizona Territory to fight the last battles in the Apache wars. Geronimo and a renegade band had fled their reservation and resumed fighting. Crook pursued Geronimo for four years without success.
That was the last campaign in Crook’s military career. He was replaced by his long-time rival, Gen. Nelson Miles, who engineered Geronimo’s surrender and then had him exiled with his band to Florida.
In 1888, Crook was promoted to major general and placed in charge of the Department of the West. During his final years, he continued to speak out against white encroachments, broken treaties, unfair treatment of Indians and failed federal policies.
General George Crook died on March 21, 1890, of a heart attack. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Photo courtesy National Archives; research Jane Eppinga. ©Arizona Capitol Times.