Victorio (ca. 1825–1880)

By: Joseph A. Stout, Jr.

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: February 9, 2019

Victorio, an Apache war chief, was probably born in the Black Range of New Mexico around 1825 and reared as a member of the Eastern Chiricahua Apaches, often referred to as the Warm Springs or Mimbreño Apaches. Little is known of his early life. Legends that prevailed in northern Mexico throughout the latter nineteenth century indicated that he was part Mexican, although historians insist that these were purely apocryphal. In the 1850s Victorio rode with Nana and Geronimo on raids into northern Mexico, and in 1862 he was said to have joined Mangas Coloradas. After Mangas died in 1863, Victorio slowly emerged as a tribal leader, forming a band of Eastern Chiricahuas and Mescaleros into a band of about 300. United States Army officers who fought against Victorio regarded him as a sound tactician and a leader of men. In 1869 he and his band settled near Fort Craig, New Mexico, to await the completion of a new reservation near Ojo Caliente, New Mexico. Apparently Victorio and his followers remained somewhat content and did little raiding until after April 20, 1877, when the government ordered him and his followers to be removed to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. Victorio protested having to leave his half-ripe crops, but did as he was told. Reservation conditions at San Carlos were abominable, and when Poinsenay, another Apache leader who had been raiding in Mexico, related his successes to Victorio, Victorio and his aide, Loco, led several hundred Apaches off the reservation toward Mexico. He began three years of raiding in Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico. In Texas he raided mostly between Fort Davis and El Paso, and occasionally headed south to Mexico. He was pursued in Texas by United States Army troopers of the black Ninth United States Cavalry, commanded by Col. Edward Hatch, and the black Tenth United States Cavalry, commanded by Lt. Col. Benjamin H. Grierson. The Tenth Cavalry was stationed at Fort Concho, near the site of present-day San Angelo, but was transferred temporarily to Fort Davis to assist in the final campaigns against Victorio. During Grierson's first foray into the region, he led his troopers on a 1,500-mile march searching for the wily Apache leader. He returned to Fort Concho on May 20, 1880, so his men could rest before resuming the chase. In July he was ordered back into the field south of Fort Davis. In this campaign he received assistance from troopers stationed at Fort Quitman, New Mexico.

During most of the summer of 1880 Victorio camped at various sites in the Quitman, Carrizo, and Guadalupe mountains of far western Texas. When Grierson heard early in August that Victorio was headed north from the Rio Grande toward the Guadalupe Mountains, he led troopers in that direction, keeping the mountains between his position and that of the Indians. He hoped to spring a trap near a watering place called Rattlesnake Springs. Grierson's troopers successfully confronted the Apaches at this location, where they fought a three-hour battle before the Indians fled westward into the Carrizo Mountains and on to Mexico. Grierson spent the rest of the fall looking for the Apaches but failed to locate them. He finally returned to Fort Concho. Texas Rangers also were periodically involved in the Victorio campaign. Ranger James B. Gillett reported that he rode with Lt. George W. Baylor, twelve other rangers, and almost 100 civilians, who entered Mexico in September 1880 looking for Victorio. Gillett said that the rangers were eventually sent out of Mexico by Col. Joaquín Terrazas, noted Indian fighter and leader of the Chihuahua state militia, who also was trailing Victorio. In October 1880 Terrazas and his volunteers tracked the Apaches to a mountain range about sixty miles inside Mexico. Victorio frequently used this range, known as Tres Castillas, as a place of refuge. On October 15, 1880, Terrazas and his second-in-command, Juan Mata Ortiz, surrounded and massacred Victorio and his warriors. Only women and children survived the confrontation, and they were prisoners in Chihuahua City for the next several years.

Eve Ball, In the Days of Victorio: Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1970). James B. Gillett, Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875 to 1881 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1921; rpt., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1976). James B. Gillett, The Texas Ranger: A Story of the Southwestern Frontier (Chicago: World, 1927; rpt., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1976). Oliver O. Howard, My Life and Experiences among Our Hostile Indians (Hartford, North Dakota: Worthington, 1907; rpt., New York: Da Capo Press, 1972). William H. Leckie, The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967). Joseph A. Stout, Jr., Apache Lightning: The Last Great Battles of the Ojo Calientes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974). Robert M. Utley, Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866–1891 (New York: Macmillan, 1973).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Chiefs and Other Leaders
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Joseph A. Stout, Jr., “Victorio,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 12, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 9, 2019