Considered by many to be the most important Apache leader of the 19th century, Mangas Coloradas, which in Spanish means Red Sleeves
, was a striking figure physically. Over 6 feet tall with a hulking body and disproportionately large head, Mangas Coloradas united the Apache nation against the United States.
During his lifetime he fought two great enemies, Mexico and the United States. He fought the Mexicans in the 1820s and 1830s. After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico was at war with the Apaches and by 1835 they put a bounty on Apache scalps. When the leader of the Mimbreno Apaches, Juan Jose Compas was killed for the bounty money in 1837, Mangas became leader and began a series of retaliatory raids against the Mexicans.
Mangas did seek peace. When the United States took over Apache territory in 1846, he signed a peace treaty with the U.S. and provided safe passage through his lands. Peace ended in the 1850s when gold miners arrived in the Santa Rita Mountains. In 1851 Mangas personally approached a group of miners and offered to lead them to another area. They tied him to a tree and severely beat him as a sign to other Indians to stay away. He survived the beating and the raids continued.
Developing an alliance with his son-in-law, Cochise, in 1861, the two tried to drive all of the Anglo Americans out of Apache territory. They did not succeed, but the Anglo American population was greatly reduced for a few years during the Civil War.
In the summer of 1862 Mangas Coloradas sought peace once more. He was only in middle age, but old physically, so he met with an intermediary to call for peace with the Americans. He decided to risk going in person to meet with military leaders to seek a peaceful solution. In January of 1863 he went to Pinos Altos to a council of peace. When Mangas arrived under a white flag of truce, armed soldiers came out from hiding and took the old warrior hostage. That night they shot and killed him, saying he had been "trying to escape." Adding to the treachery, the next day the soldiers cut off his head, boiled it and sent the skull to the Smithsonian. The Apaches would continue their fight against the United States for almost another quarter century.