Henry Irving remains a figurehead in the history of the Payson Tonto Apache tribe, and his story tells us much about the people who bridged the generations between the pre-reservation and post-reservation Apaches.
Several birth dates have been given for this patriarch. His own claim is 1851. His army pension certificates accept the date of 1858. His death certificate gives a birth date of 1862. He was born on Spring Creek in the Sierra Ancha range, just prior to the time the United States Cavalry began its 18-year war against the Tonto Apaches. His family may have been among those bands camped in an area dubbed Meadow Valley by the soldiers. Because of Apache encampments there they were the objects of frequent raids by the army. A few decades later White settlers established the Flying W Ranch and cowboy Slim Ellison was raised in that same area on Spring Creek.
Henry Irving's Apache name was De-ay-li-a, meaning "Anything that does not grow well." He was indeed short, and his name appears on scout records as Dejala. He may have been among those Tontos who escaped captivity by the army and was not registered on a reservation. His several names cannot be found on the 1888 and 1890 records for Tontos or San Carlos Apaches. According to his own testimony his mother died when he was two days old.
Dejala was just 15 (if we are to believe the birth date on his death certificate) when he enlisted with the United States Army, Company "A" Indian Scouts, on October 27, 1877. Later he was in Company "B." Enlistment for Indian scouts was for 6 month periods, and Dejala reenlisted consistently until June 15,1886. At that time he was discharged with an injury that he incurred falling from a horse.
During these enlistments he had served along side Chief Scout Al Sieber, fought in the Battle of Big Dry Wash, served under well-known commanders such as Captain Emmet Crawford, and participated in the pursuit of Geronimo in southeastern Arizona and Mexico.
Tonto elder Vince Randall told me that at one point in Dejala's enlistment he served under a leader named Campbell. When he was asked his name he would say, "Me Campbell man." Thus he came to be known by the name Campbell, and after he was married to Natahwah in 1884 their children carried the Anglo name of Campbell. Among those children was George Campbell, the father of the late Tonto Chief Melton Campbell.
During a later enlistment they asked him his Anglo name, and he said he couldn't remember. Therefore they gave him the name Evans, after another of the White company leaders. After that the Campbell children had siblings named Evans. According to Vince Randall, Henry Evans went with Pershing after Poncho Villa, and this time he came home with the name Henry Irving.
After his army years were over, he and his family returned to San Carlos. Later they tried to live in Young, but found the settlers unfriendly and were essentially driven out. They then moved to Indian Hill in Payson, the divide just north of Main Street. It had been a traditional campsite for Apaches back to their earliest arrival in this area, and now with his family Henry Irving settled there. During the decades to follow the old scout moved back and forth between friends and relatives in San Carlos, Payson and Camp Verde. Much of the time he remained at Indian Hill with a growing number of families, including the Burdettes and the Breads. On July 18, 1930 Henry Irving obtained a deed to several lots on Indian Hill.
His pension as an Army veteran enabled him to do this for a cost of $20. His pension had begun at $30 a month, but due to his medical disability had grown to $72 a month by 1938.
Theresa Boardman recalled that Henry Evans, or Irving, was her neighbor and friend, and how proud he was of his little home. "My land, my house, my peach trees," he would say to her. He had many visitors, and if they paid their way he called them brothers. If they lived off Henry's food supply he called them cousins.
Henry's extended family began to expand beyond the property for which he held title. They moved about, especially when one of them died and the piece of ground occupied by the deceased was no longer a place to live, according to Apache tradition. He paid his taxes on the land until 1938 when he moved permanently to Camp Verde to live with and be cared for by his daughter Mrs. Mary Beecher. Henry Irving died Nov. 7, 1941.
Unfortunately other family members, still living on Indian Hill, did not understand about paying taxes. They thought "the paper" they held, giving Henry title to the land, was all they needed to continue living there. During the years 1938 to 1944 Irving's property was placed on the roll for delinquent taxes, and on Feb. 5, 1945 Mr. Newell Fuller purchased both lots for $3.42, the amount of the lien against them. The Apaches continued living there, but soon developers were threatening to claim the land. Tonto Apache leader Alan Curtis, living on Indian Hill with his family, understood they would soon lose the right to live there, and moved his family to the place occupied now by Payson's event center, or rodeo grounds. Others joined Curtis and the place across from today's Tonto reservation came to be called "The Camp."
Several families remained on Indian Hill, however, and in 1957 a building contractor arrived and impatiently ran a bulldozer through one of the remaining Apache houses. The family did not have time to rescue their bedding, stove and personal belongings. It was the end of Apache occupation on Indian Hill.
The late Chief Melton Campbell's maternal grandfather was also a scout for the Army. Some of the time he served in the same company with his future in-law Henry Irving. His Indian name was Chitten, his Anglo name Henry Burdette. But his is another story.