When The War Began In The Rim Country, Part 3



We are indebted to at least two eyewitness accounts for the details of King Woolsey's expedition into the Rim country in the spring of 1864.

One account was given by Henry Clifton, who was appointed secretary for the march and whose notes were printed in the Prescott Arizona Miner on May 11 and May 25.

The more detailed account comes from the diary of F. A. Cook, one of the participants. His original diary is in the Sharlott Hall Museum in Prescott, Ariz. As the army of civilian Indian hunters moved south along the Agua Fria River, they surprised a cluster of Yavapai families in the Black Canyon Area. Dividing into three companies they surrounded the natives.

Henry Clifton told how the White men "succeeded in getting within very good rifle-shot distance before they were discovered ... first firing their rifles and then rushing upon (the Indians) pistols in hand. The Indians made but a faint show of resistance, and soon took to their heels, running up the canyon where company C was stationed, and were duly received by them, an Indian falling at nearly every shot, though he would usually get up and scamper off." The tone of Clifton's report makes it clear that the Whites perceived the native people as varmints to be killed at every opportunity, like wild animals.

"After the fight was over," he wrote, "we commenced hunting the brush to see how many we had bagged."

At least 14 were counted dead, and many wounded, but all was justified when those Indian camps yielded hides that carried the brands of ranchers in the attacking party. While two of the companies were doing this, a third segment had killed 16 Indians at two other rancherias (the name given to Indian villages). The three smaller units then rendezvoused at Ash Creek and rested, healing their bruised feet before moving on into the Verde Valley. From there they ascended Clear Creek canyon a distance of six miles.

The Mogollon Rim is such a maze of canyons it was impossible for the Tonto bands to always know the enemy's movements. Woolsey's party surprised one small Tonto family as they were camped roasting mescal (the hearts of the agave plant, a staple Apache food). They were able to escape into the forest, but the running gun battle alerted the entire region. After that the Tontos and Yavapai made sure the would-be soldiers did not catch a glimpse of them.

They were entertained from their secluded watch-posts by the sight of White men getting lost time after time in the uncrossable chasms. The White men could not replenish their water without descending into the depths of Clear Creek Canyon, and their progress was thus hampered.

Although the rancherias they came upon were deserted, the Whites destroyed all the stores of food they could find. At night the Tontos would surround the White man's camp and shoot arrows at them as soon as the men rose in the morning.

On April 8 one of the party, J. Donohugh, was struck by an arrow that passed between his jugular vein and windpipe, protruding out the other side. The physician accompanying the invaders was John T. Alsap, and he was able to extract the arrow so that Donohugh recovered.

As the Woolsey party advanced they gave names to landmarks, as though these storied places had no history before this. The Apaches had very descriptive names for these same places, each name carrying a rich tradition passed on from generation to generation. However, the names given by Woolsey are the ones that have come down to us.

A favorite camp of both Yavapai and Tonto Apache had been along a creek whose springs put forth water at a consistent 72 degrees. The Woolsey party observed how that warm water leeched the limestone rock through which it flowed and left a crystallized coating on whatever it touched. Branches, leaves and stones acquired a fossil-like appearance, and so Woolsey named it Fossil Creek. The Woolsey party was very thorough in their exploration of the basins, mesas and canyons that spread across the foot of the Mogollon Rim.

The Tontos must have felt secure, however, in their fortress-like territory, and probably laughed among themselves at the cumbersome way these invaders conducted their scouting parties.

The supply train of 60 mules was especially enticing to Indians who relished mule meat. The warriors followed the progress closely as the muleskinners futilely tried to locate a potential wagon route eastward. On the night of June 6 the White men camped on a natural field beside the East Verde River.

They were probably at the future location of the LF Ranch, an area to be settled by the Chilson, Taylor and Pyeatt families.

Signal fires burned brightly on the surrounding hills and the Apaches drew close enough to yell from the hilltops at the supply train. They had sense enough to stay just out of gunshot, for their purpose was to worry the Whites. The Woolsey party came to the mouth of Pine Creek, went over a low divide heading southeast, and followed a stream Woolsey named Wild Rye because of the grasses there.

It was June 7 when they reached the junction with a larger river, which they now named Tonto Creek.

This was the territory of the powerful Tonto headman Del-che-ae. As Woolsey's party penetrated Tonto territory farther than White men ever had before they were never let out of the sight of the Indians.

(Next week: the Woolsey party invades as far as the headwaters of the Salt River.)

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