The War Began In The Rim Country, Part 4



In June of 1864 rancher King Woolsey was leading the first White invasion into the Rim country, seeking to kill Apache Indians, locate stolen livestock, and find outcroppings of gold. In the process he named many of the landmarks we know today, and his paramilitary band of White settlers had the Tontos on high alert.

It struck the Tontos strange that these men would scramble up hillsides with their picks and pan for gold in the streambeds. While the Indians would not understand this frantic activity until later, they knew it was a terrible inconvenience to have this entourage disrupting their lifestyle. They had to continually abandon their villages, and after the Whites moved through they had to move back and assess the damage.

During this invasion the Indians put aside their hunting and gathering, as well as social dances, in order not to be found out and in order to follow these bearded, heavily clothed people.

After exploring the northern reaches of Tonto Creek, Woolsey's party continued their sojourn toward the Salt River. At the mouth of Tonto Creek they found a basin surrounded by the meeting of several mountain ranges. The conjoined rivers broke through canyons sending their waters raging toward the desert valley. Beaver dams upstream had formed small lakes, and the intruders fished and swam, hunted and feasted while holding the Indians off with their guns.

It was June 17 when they broke camp and headed up the Salt River. The Woolsey army was now moving out of Tonto Apache territory and into Pinal Apache land. As they followed the streams and stayed near the springs, the Apaches burned signals fires on the surrounding hills and yelled indistinguishable words from a distance.

Several times Indian emissaries actually approached the White men's camp ostensibly to beg for food. It was the Apache custom to enter an enemy camp under a flag of truce to assess his strength before an attack.

The attack did not come, probably because the rag-tag army continued to pass through and their firepower was superior.

They went as far as the newly established Fort Goodwin near the Gila River, and entered White Mountain Apache territory as they prospected up the Black River, one of the headwaters of the Salt River.

At last the men, now more interested in gold than stolen cattle, turned homeward. On July 26, while still in White Mountain Apache territory, the Indians drew first blood.

One of the party, J. W. Beauchamp, went to the top of a mountain to survey the surrounding country. There he was waylaid by a band of Apaches, shot, lanced, stripped and left for dead. He lived for some 20 minutes after his cohorts reached him and died before they could return him to camp.

"We buried him at the foot of the mountain," wrote Woolsey in his report, "which we named Beauchamp Peak in memory of the unfortunate victim of Indian cruelty and cowardice."

It was mid-August when the party returned to Tonto Apache territory, and camped again near the mouth of Tonto Creek.

There one of the party, O. Allen, accidentally discharged his gun and killed a fellow camper, Gaston Moreal. Woolsey does not mention this in his report, probably embarrassed that two of his men were killed on the tour, but his citizen army had no success in killing Indians.

It is a wonder that the Tontos and their allies, the Yavapai, harassed but did not attack the Woolsey party. There had been time to call upon clan loyalties and gang up on the invaders. But they were allowed to pass through, and because the Indians were so invisible, the White men had no idea how many of them there were.

The Woolsey party did not accomplish any of their immediate goals, to kill Indians, find gold and recover lost livestock. However they had followed the Tonto Basin its entire length and explored as far east as the San Carlos and Black Rivers.

They brought back to Prescott glowing reports of Apacheria. In his report to the governor, Woolsey said, "The whole country through which we have passed is covered with excellent grass. Water is plentiful for all ordinary purposes. In many places beautiful little valleys invite the farmer and rancher to follow the occupation of their choice." Needless to say, settlers were itching to take possession after that. The expedition also served notice on the Tonto people that a war against them was about to ensue.

As White men often did, Woolsey underestimated the tenaciousness of the Tonto Apaches. His report contained this evaluation, "We have followed the trail of the Apache to his home in the mountains and have learned where it is located. We have dispelled the idea of vast numbers that has ever been attached to that tribe. A few hundred poor, miserable wretches compose the formidable foe so much dreaded by many. They will be brought to terms speedily, or exterminated, I cannot doubt, when once the government shall know how small is the enemy by which so much annoyance has been caused."

To bring the central mountains of Arizona under White control would take the next 20 years.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.