This Day in History

Dec. 28, 1872: Skeleton Cave Massacre

Time Periods: 1865
Themes: Native American

On Dec. 28, 1872, the Yavapai people’s shelter of Skeleton Cave, located in Salt River Canyon, Arizona, was attacked by the U.S. Army. The U.S. forces — comprised of about 250 men that included three companies of U.S. cavalry, plus Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Apache scouts — arrived in the morning and took up position around the mouth of Skeleton Cave.

On Memorial Day in 1985, a tombstone was dedicated over the mass grave. One goal of the memorial event was to educate young people about this history.

Surrounded, the Yavapai refused to surrender. The soldiers opened fire and dropped boulders on those who gathered at the mouth of the cave. Close to 100 Yavapai adults and children were massacred.

Massacres in US History | Zinn Education ProjectThis event has come to be known as the Battle of Salt River Canyon or the Skeleton Cave Massacre.

In 1925, the Fort McDowell Yavapais retrieved the bones of their massacred relatives and brought them home for burial in a mass grave on the reservation.

This is one of countless massacres in U.S. history.