Tonto Apaches Celebrate 30 Years


The Tonto Apache Tribe is planning to close September and open October with a bang.

The tribe is having two weekends of celebrations to commemorate the 30th anniversary of its formal recognition. September activities are planned from Sept. 26 through Sept. 29 and include a pageant, Sept. 26; a carnival and pow wow grand entry, Sept. 27-29; a coed softball tournament Sept. 28-29; a 5K run Sept. 28, plus a presentation of Indian and The White Guy Comedy Act.

The October events include a golf tournament Oct. 4 and on both Oct 4 and 5, there will be a dance, with Apache Spirit performing at the casino entertainment hall, plus an all-Indian rodeo.

The Northern Gila County Historical Society's "Rim Country History" book, published in 1984, says the Apaches came into the Rim country after the Mogollons were absorbed by the Hohokams and Pueblos in the late 1400s.

They were the occupants of this land when the conquistadors came through and led the U.S. soldiers, who came to protect the territory from Confederate control, to call central Arizona "Apacheria."

The area was considered "off bounds" for the miners and cattlemen until the soldiers could be supplied in numbers necessary for protection.

Fort McDowell and Fort Verde, established in 1865, were headquarters for this protection.

Introduction of new weapons through the Army to miners and ranchers, the 1870 Springfield and the Colt single action revolver, led to the surrender of the Apache to General George S. Crook of Fort Verde.

According to the historical society's book, "Buckskin Hat, chief of the Apaches, surrendered to General Crook with this comment: 'I have come to surrender my people, you have too many copper cartridges.'"

The Tontos from Payson were first put on the Fort Verde Reservation, then, with the Yavapai, moved in February 1875, by forced march, to the San Carlos Reservation.

When the guards were removed from San Carlos in 1886, the Tontos and Yavapais made their way to their homelands.

The Tontos returned to the Payson area and the Yavapais went back to the Verde Valley.

The writers of the historical society's book report that the word "tonto" is from the Spanish meaning crazy or foolish. It is believed the name was given to the Payson Apaches because of their peaceful nature and preference for gardening over a nomadic existence.

When the Tontos returned to the Payson area, their homes and gardens had been taken over by new residents, the westward moving settlers or squatters, depending on your point of view.

So, the returning Native Americans gathered in little camps at Gisela, Payson, East Verde and Weber Creek and again began their quiet lives in their homeland.

Delia Calbalechia (Chapman) homesteaded 97 acres on the East Verde River and created a home for the Tontos, according to the historical society book.

The Depression forced the Tontos to abandon this site to be closer to communities where work could be found. The East Verde homestead was sold for a mere $500.

In 1954, Allan Curtis began a movement that led all Tontos to make their home just south of Payson and to undertake an effort to create a new reservation in the area.

It was not until 1972 the dream of a Tonto Apaches was realized. It is that dream turned reality the Tonto Apaches celebrate next weekend and the first weekend of October.

This weekend's schedule

Thursday, Sept. 26

6 p.m. Pageant at Casino Bingo Hall

Friday, Sept. 27

5 p.m. Carnival

7 p.m. Pow Wow Grand Entry

Saturday, Sept. 28

8 a.m. Coed Softball Tournament

9 a.m. 5K Run at Green Valley Park

Noon Carnival

1 p.m. Pow Wow Grand Entry

7 p.m. Pow Wow Grand Entry

9 p.m. Indian and the White Guy comedy act

Sunday, Sept. 29

8 a.m. Softball tournament

Noon Carnival

1 p.m. Pow Wow Grand Entry

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