The Apache word "Chediski" has been added to our household conversations during the past year.
The Rodeo-Chediski Fire of June 2002, was the most expansive and devastating fire in Arizona's recorded history. It consumed 468,638 acres in addition to many homes and the economic livelihood of Whites and Indians alike.
But what does this strange name mean and where did it come from? Maps of the area will show you Chediski Mountain, and Chediski Farms, an area along Canyon Creek on the White Mountain Apache Reservation.
According to The Arizona Place Names book, this Apache word means either "solid object that juts out" or "White Mountain that sits back alone."
What else can we know about this place-name? One lovely October day in 1997 the White Mountain tribe's agency archaeologist John Welch took several of us in his old and trusty Blazer on a wild ride over the mountains to Chediski Farms.
We drove up and down the hills of this gorgeous wilderness, where the southwest corner of Navajo County overlaps the reservation. We crossed Spring Creek (not the same as the creek of that name in the Sierra Ancha) and Oak Creek, and then came to Canyon Creek, the location of Chediski Farms.
At this point we were almost into Gila County, and where Ellison Creek comes onto the reservation to flow into Canyon Creek.
This Ellison Creek is not the one around the Control Road northeast of Payson. Jesse W. Ellison first settled near Payson. Later he sold his ranch and moved his outfit east to the Pleasant Valley area. There his Q-Ranch brand was established between Cherry and Canyon Creeks on a wash that also came to be called Ellison Creek.
Back to Chediski. The streams in the area provided excellent farmlands for the Oak Creek band of Apaches. The people took advantage of the fertile floodplains by raising large volumes of corn and produce. They continued to be hunter-gatherers, but also focused on the farmlands of Chediski for many, many generations. The homeland of this Oak Creek band of Apaches bordered on Cherry Creek, encompassing what later became ranches such as the OW Ranch, the Gentry, and Ellison's "Q."
When Jesse Ellison and his family settled there in 1895, just outside the Apache reservation, the Oak Creek Apache people were often present.
The "Q" Ranch became a miniature settlement and entertained travelers on the road from Globe to Holbrook.
Since the Oak Creek clan was close by, headed by the Lupe family, Ellison hired many of them as ranch hands and cowboys. In fact Jesse Ellison became something of an arbiter in their disputes.
The Indians traded their corn to Ellison for cattle. Jesse' grandson, Glenn "Slim" Ellison, tells about one of those exchanges in his book Cowboys Under The Mogollon Rim.
It seems that about 50 Apaches of all ages were camped around the Ellison headquarters, with dozens of little campfires burning. A steer was roped and shot for the Apaches to eat.
Slim writes, "In 15 minutes after the beef was killed and skinned, there was only a wet spot where it had laid. The guts was cut in pieces, then thrown on the fire. Some of the Indians were so hungry they'd get a gut off the fire and chew on one end. They were starving. They were supposed to get rations from Fort Apache, but sometimes there was only a little for those who lived a good distance from the fort..."
In fact the Oak Creek band developed a fine ability to be cattle ranchers themselves, learning from settlers like the Ellisons.Several families worked the Chediski Farms and other traditional Apache camps into the 1960s.
The people who farmed this "string of pearls," as the farm locations along the creeks are called, treasured this area and clung to it over the several centuries.
They could look northward and see Chediski Peak, a sacred place from which they drew power.
Now, after the fire, they will wait many generations for that wonderful forest and ground cover to return to its former beauty.