Under the leadership of Arizona's first territorial governor, John Goodwin, a party of 15 civilians and about 50 soldiers set out for an exploration of the Verde Valley on Feb. 21, 1864. Among the civilians were rancher King Woolsey, Territorial judge Allyn, prospector John Walker and the aging mountain man Pauline Weaver.
Woolsey had only just returned with a detachment of local ranchers and miners after searching for Apaches along the Salt River. The Indians had stolen cattle from the settlers. That expedition had resulted in the infamous Bloody Tanks Massacre. Now the governor was determined to locate a site for an army outpost on the fringe of Tonto Apache territory in the Verde Valley.
The new war party of Whites was accompanied by a pack train of mules carrying supplies. After almost a week they had negotiated the rugged Black Hills, with its plunging, dead-end canyons, and reached the Verde River. There they found fresh signs of Indian camps and smoke signals rose from the surrounding hills. At dusk an Indian hooted at them just out of rifle range, and others lurked near the camp but were chased away. The next day they scouted either side of the river, and an advance military detachment encountered an Indian family. The soldiers immediately began firing their Sharp's rifles as the man tried to hold them off with his bow and arrow while his wife and baby attempted to escape. One of the arrows pierced the ear of a cavalry horse, but the little family was killed by the gunfire. A soldier, Private Joseph Fisher, was severely wounded by an arrow and died before a military contingent could get him back to Ft. Whipple. At 24 years of age he became the first soldier to die in this new war against the Tonto Apaches. (The Arizona Miner, 4/6/1864)
Meanwhile Woolsey had led a scouting party along the river where they viewed many ancient ruins, including cliff dwellings later dubbed Montezuma's Castle. They found signs of their stolen cattle and knew they were on the right track. They followed the river north as far as Oak Creek and returned with reports of luxuriant grass and water to be exploited. Just then two young fellows arrived from Woolsey's Agua Fria ranch to report that 60 Indians had raided the ranch and taken all of Woolsey' livestock. Since he could do little about it that moment, and with the lure of the present expedition, Woolsey decided not to return. However, he resolved to organize another large scouting party against the Tontos immediately upon returning home.
Because supplies were a concern and the death of Private Fisher weighed heavily upon them, the explorers decided they were not prepared to penetrate Tonto country yet. Instead they would go south along the river. The civilian prospectors among them were disgruntled because they had hoped to look for gold along the Mogollon Rim.
However they had to be content with the ancient ruins in the Verde Valley. They speculated, wrongly, that these were left by an Aztec invasion that had once subjugated the Apache people. This theory prevailed until archaeologists demonstrated there was no relationship of these Sinagua ruins to those of ancient Mexico. At the mouth of Clear Creek they determined the area could readily be irrigated for farming, and would make a good place for settlement. After braving rugged mountain canyons, they came to what Judge Allyn called the East Fork of the Verde. There was much excitement because the men discerned traces of gold in their ever-ready pans. They camped on a mesa, in an abandoned Indian camp, and explored from there. They were probably on what was later named Polles Mesa, named for Napoleon "Polle" Chilson who would have a ranch nearby. A small group of the civilians, exploring about two miles out, brazenly attacked an Indian encampment, guns blazing, only to be driven off by the Apaches. Returning later with the larger force, they naturally found the camp abandoned. Taking baskets and other loot they returned to their own camp.
The mules were wearing out one by one, and that night the invaders killed the sixth exhausted mule. The practice was to shoot the worn-out animals so the Apaches would not get them to eat. Depriving Indian families of food was one aim of these Indian hunts.
It was the first week of March when they found their way back to the Verde River, and for the next week struggled south through the twisted canyons to reach the lower Verde. Here they shot their eleventh mule, and spent two days resting. Judge Allyn left the party to visit the Pima villages, those Indians always friendly to the White settlers. The governor, Woolsey and the rest of the party headed north along the Agua Fria River trail for Fort Whipple. King Woolsey was eager to organize a major crusade against the Tonto Apaches. All the while, the Tonto bands were well alerted to the invasion of White men from the west. Smoke signals and runners were always ahead of these movements of the army or civilian vigilantes, reporting the approaching danger so that families could scatter and remain in hiding.
This time Woolsey obtained a 30-day supply of rations from Fort Whipple's military stores, with the blessing of General Carlton. The group of civilian gunmen numbered about one hundred, and divided themselves into three companies. At 10 o'clock on the night of March 29, 1864, this second expedition to be led by King Woolsey left the Agua Fria Ranch and headed toward Tonto Apache territory.
(Next Week, these Indian hunters begin the first deep penetration of Whites into the Rim country.)