The Skeleton Cave Massacre


Drawing Blood
Oct 2, 2016
Virginia, USA
On December 28th, 1872, a US Army unit tasked with eliminating a band of Yavapai Indians encountered their foe. The Yavapai had taken refuge in a cave dwelling deep in the desolate Arizona desert, which to this day, remains extremely remote. They believed that the Army would never be able to find them there, as the terrain surrounding the camp was extremely formidable and impassable by the horses which the Army relied on for transport.

In order to track down and kill the group, the US Army hired some native scouts, numbering about thirty. These scouts led the soldiers, who numbered 130, through the hostile desert and to the Yavapai encampment. After a long hike in, the Army prepared their assault on the Yavapai, who were estimated to be about 110 in strength, plus women and children. When dawn was set to break on the 28th, and the area still quite dark, the Army moved in.

The soldiers had positioned one unit on top of the cave, overlooking it from a cliff that was impossible to climb up. The rest of the cavalry took up positions in front of the cave. Under the cover of the morning darkness, the soldiers and their native allies opened fire, striking and killing many Yavapai in the initial volley. The rest of them took cover either behind a rock rampart they had built outside the cave, or deeper into the cave, which was really nothing more than a large overhang. The Yavapai warriors soon returned fire, and tried unsuccessfully to mount counterattacks. Since the fortification that the warriors were covered by was exposed to the soldiers above, they made for easy targets. The soldiers above soon realized they could simply roll large rocks down the cliff, and did so with devastating effect. Many of the warriors were crushed to death.

The women and children under the overhang fared no better. While they could not be directly shot at, the bullets fired by the soldiers below ricocheted off the roof of the cave and struck them in their helpless positions. It was not long before nearly every one of the Yavapai Indians was dead. The cavalry advanced carefully, and soon took the cave, capturing a few women and children and finishing off any surviving dissenters. All the warriors perished in the fight. Only one native scout was killed, and no US soldiers died.

The cave was forgotten for twenty years following the massacre, until it was rediscovered by men working on a railroad. The area was littered with the skeletons of over one hundred Yavapai, as none of them had received burials. They rotted and turned to bone exactly where they died, twenty years earlier. Some of the attached pictures are from the rediscovery of the site.

Above: Native Americans of the Yavapai Tribe. (Note: these are not the inhabitants of the Skeleton Cave)


Above: The bones of the Yavapai. Some of them were repositioned, likely by the railroad men having some fun.


Above: The rediscovery of the cave. As you can see, it is not much of a cave. The bullets ricocheted off of the low ceiling, killing many of the women and children hiding inside. The rampart the warriors sheltered behind is not in this picture. It would be several yards in front of the cliff face, which can be seen in the top right corner of the photo.


Above: Skeleton Cave today. The soldiers to the front of the cave would likely be somewhere near where the photographer stood. The soldiers above would have been perched atop the cliff after ascending it from the rear or side. The cave is the small shadowed area near the center of the picture.


Above: A plaque commemorating the Yavapai who were killed in the firefight.