Old Times and Old Timers

A U.S. Cavalry Hero:
Sgt. George Jordan

As a military man, Sgt. George Jordan was at the right place at the right time to perform outstanding service to the United States 9th Cavalry toward the end of the Indian Wars of the late 19th century.

Jordan was born into slavery in Williamston County, Tennessee in 1848. Soon after the Civil War ended, and all-black cavalry and infantry units were created, he enlisted in the Army and eventually became member of Company K, 9th U.S. Cavalry. These were the famed Buffalo Soldiers who served widely in New Mexico.

Apache chief Victorio went on his final rampage in the fall of 1879 when he bolted from Ojo Caliente in what is now southwestern Socorro County, New Mexico. He and his band ranged widely over southern New Mexico and northern Mexico. Late that year, or early in 1880, he ambushed two Mexican militia units in Chihuahua and killed 35 soldiers. He returned north and hid out in the Black Mountains of western New Mexico. A confrontation with Sgt. Jordan was drawing near.

On May 14, 1880, Sgt. Jordan was in command of 25 cavalrymen of Troop K. One version of the story goes that the small unit had been ordered to Tularosa because Apaches under Victorio were expected to attack the community. As the soldiers approached, they actually saw the Indians, about 100 strong, also approaching. The two groups raced for the town, and Jordan and his men won. They quickly took up defensive positions and held off the attack. Victorio made several efforts to dislodge the defenders, and failed. At one point the Apaches attempted to stampede a cattle herd through the town in an effort to force a retreat. That failed, too.

Another version of the story, less dramatic, goes that Jordan and his men arrived in Tularosa well in advance of the Apache; long enough in advance to actually construct a defensive stockade. Local citizens were protected inside the structure when the attack came, and after several unsuccessful assaults by Victorio’s men, the Apaches gave up and turned south, toward Mexico. The following morning, the larger contingent of the 9th Cavalry, under the command of Colonel Edward Hatch, arrived in Tularosa and paused but briefly as they took up pursuit of the Apaches.

On October 15 of the same year, in the Tres Castillos Mountains of Chihuahua, Victorio’s band was surprised by Mexican troops under the command of Col. Joaquin Terrazas. When the battle was over, most of the Apaches were dead, many of them, including Victorio, by falling on their own knives to avoid the ignominy of capture or death at the hands of the hated Mexican enemy. About 80 Apaches — nearly 20 of them women — died in the Tres Castillos. This event set up the circumstances of Sgt. Jordan’s next success against Apaches.

Although the old Apache called Nana was not present at Terrazas’ massacre, he had been with Victorio’s band since it left Ojo Caliente. He and a small group of warriors had crossed back into New Mexico to steal horses at the time of the attack. Nana returned to the mountains in time to find his tribesmen dead and scalped. Some said he vowed vengeance, in spite of his advanced age (sources do not agree, but he was probably at least 70 and perhaps as old as 80). It is odd, though, that he took no action until the following July, and then his wrath was aimed at Americans, north of the border; not the Mexicans who had assaulted Victorio’s band.¹

Nana and about 15 warriors crossed the border into territorial New Mexico in mid July 1881. They raided as they rode north to the Mescalero reservation, near present day Ruidoso, where they recruited an additional 25 men. They plundered and murdered on both sides of the Rio Grande for a few weeks as units of both the 9th and 10th Cavalry, along with large posses of miners and cowboys, took up pursuit.
On August 12, Sgt. Jordan’s unit caught up with Nana’s band at Carrizo Canyon, west of the Rio Grande in central New Mexico. One source reports that the detachment amounted to 19 men under the command of Captain Charles Parker while an official report indicates that Sgt. Jordan was in command of the small unit. The report continues, “[Sgt. Jordan] stubbornly held his ground in an extremely exposed position and gallantly forced back a much superior number of the enemy, preventing them from surrounding the command.”

Nana escaped from Carrizo Canyon and made his way back to Mexico. The Apaches had traveled about 1,000 miles and killed somewhere between 35 and 50 Americans in six or so weeks. Nana was never captured, but surrendered with Geronimo in 1886.

Sgt. George Jordan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on May 7, 1890. He retired from the army in 1897 and died at the Old Soldiers Home in Washington, D. C. in 1904.

¹ One source reports that Nana was busy killing Mexicans between October 1880 and July 1881, when he turned his attention to Americans.
Note: New Mexico author Max Evans wrote a novel entitled Faraway Blue (UNM Press, 2005) which is about Nana’s raid. It is well researched and well written; an extremely worthwhile read.