The Marlin lever action rifle in the hands of an Apache Chief

  1. Editor
    During the Plains Wars of the last half of the 19th Century, the U.S. Army employed hundreds of volunteer Indian Scouts, first authorized by Congress in 1866. One of these, Al-Che-Say, of the White Mountain Apache, became decorated veteran of the conflict. This Medal of Honor recipient also was a fan of Marlin lever guns.

    Who was Alchesay?

    Born in 1853 Arizona Territory, the 19-year old was already a skilled warrior when he joined the U.S. Army in 1872 as part of Gen. Crook's Expedition against the Chiricahua Apache, who were at the time on the warpath. For the next fifteen years the scout was Crook's right arm as the government tracked the last rebel Apache into the mountains, chasing militant shaman and war-band leader Geronimo and his band into the alkali deserts of Chihuahua and the harsh forbidding terrain of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

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    Alchesay with his standard issue Springfield Carbine during the war. Geronimo also liked the Springfield for its range.

    After Geronimo's ultimate surrender who Alchesay had helped negotiate on occasion, the two remained friends.

    Alchesay said to Gen. Crook in 1886 : "They have surrendered. I don't want you to have any bad feelings towards them. They are all good friends now...because they are all the same people - all one family with me; just like when you kill a deer, all of its parts are of the one body....No matter where you send (them) we hope to hear that you have treated them kindly....I have never told you a lie, nor have you ever told me a lie, and now I tell you that (they) really want to do what is right and live at peace....I want you to carry away in your pocket all that has been said here today."

    Retiring from the Army as a Sergeant and MOH recipient for "Gallant conduct during campaigns and engagements with Apaches" he returned home and became a successful rancher and chief of his band. He was one of only ten Native Americans recipients before WWI.

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    Alchesay, center with vest, with his war council of the Sierra Blanca Apache in 1890. Note the smatterings of Marlin levers, Springfield carbines and what looks to be at least one Winny.

    During the next twenty years, he visited Washington D.C. three times and met with no less than three sitting U.S. Presidents to speak with them on Indian Affairs, winning several concessions from the federal government.

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    Al-Che-Say (Tsajn) Apache War Chief 1895 photo by Markey & Mytton. The rifle seems to be a Marlin 1889

    He died in 1928, still collecting a military pension under the name of William Alchesay and is buried on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, Whiteriver, Arizona with multiple markers. A Fish and Wildlife fish hatchery near there and an area high school are named in his honor as is a barracks at Fort Huachuca-- the last home of the Indian Scouts. His Marlin, part of the Sharlot Hall Museum collection, is still displayed from time to time.

    Alchesay was not the only important plains Native warrior who liked Marlins.

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    White Wolf, a Comanche warrior, Cabinet photograph, W. E. Irwin, Chickasha, IT, circa 1900, 2001.025. Notes from National Cowboy Museum: "Studio portrait of White Wolf a Comanche warrior wearing an eagle feather war bonnet, which is traditionally more associated with the Sioux and other tribes of the Central Plains, but was also worn by the warriors of Southern Plains tribes like the Comanche. The other aspect of White Wolf's dress that is distinctively Comanche are the otter fur hair wraps that hang down his front. He is holding a Model 1894 Marlin rifle. "

    Besides these well-known Natives, one self-professed gun fighter and pulp fiction writer of the early 1900s, Jack Ganzhorn, claimed to have tangled with notorious White Mountain Apache scout, and later a renegade Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl, who was better known as the Apache Kid, while armed with a Marlin .38-55 lever gun. Ganzhorn, who exchanged shots at long range with a group in the mountains near Copper Canyon, speculated for years that he scratched "The Kid" hard enough that he never surfaced again. Then of course, he was a fiction writer, so there's that.

    Speaking of outlaws, there is always the case of the unlucky Texas train robber Rube Burrows who was captured by local authorities while traveling back east. While trying to get his Marlin back, he was clipped in an exchange of fire and wound up in a pine box.

    Either way, the Marlin lever gun in its many facets was definitely a part of the last days of the Old West.

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