Recently the tribe of the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation celebrated the 100th anniversary of President Theodore Roosevelt signing their 24,680-acre reservation into existence. It was established on the old Fort McDowell military post, which had been abandoned in 1890.
It was primarily for the Southeastern band of Yavapai whose homelands had been the Mazatzal and Superstition mountains, a tribe that played a significant role in the Indian Wars throughout the Rim country.
Two Yavapai Indians at Fort McDowell were speaking in the 1970s, and one said to the other, "I don't know about the White people. I don't know who they are, where they come from. But we people don't come from nowhere across the ocean. We were raised here in this country.
"We come out at Sedona, the middle of the world. This is our home."
They referred to the oral tradition of their people, that long ago all living beings ascended into the world through a place called (in their language) "Where-the-people-came-out first." Today we call it Montezuma's Well near Camp Verde.
A more scientific theory about Yavapai origins, widely accepted among anthropologists, is that they were a Yuman speaking people who migrated from California around A. D. 1300, maybe earlier. The Yavapai ("People of the Mountains") speak a Yuman language with Pai dialects, that is, close to the Hualapai (People of the Red Earth) and the Havasupai (People of the Blue-Green Water).
The Americans recognized some differences between the groups, calling the western-most group "Apache-Yumas," and the northern and central groups were called "Apache-Mojave." The southeastern or Ft. McDowell group was simply called Apache by the Americans, so indistinguishable were they from the several Western Apache bands. So it was that in the decades of Indian warfare in Arizona, the name Yavapai faded into disuse while raids by the Yavapai were simply blamed on "the Apaches."
To the Whites in those days, they all looked alike, and an Indian was an Indian, better dead than alive. The confusion in calling Yavapai by the name Apache does not sit well with these people, who rightly feel it cheats them out of a unique heritage.
In 1871 the Indian reservations in Arizona began to be set aside, and both Yavapai and Apache bands slowly surrendered in exchange for protection and food.
The Rio Verde Reservation was established in the Verde Valley, and both Apache and Pai groups were confined there until it was discontinued in 1875 when they were all moved to San Carlos.
During those years, sympathetic military personnel had an opportunity to observe the differences between the Yavapai and the Apache. They recorded in their diaries that these were two separate peoples.
The Yavapai were taller, of more muscular build and thickly featured, while the Tonto Apaches were slight and less muscular, smaller of stature and finely featured.
While the Yavapai were often tattooed the Apaches seldom showed any such decoration. The painted designs on their faces were different, as were their funeral practices.
The toe of the Yavapai moccasin was rounded, whereas the Apache moccasin had pointed toes. Both groups were hunter-gatherers, and their life-ways were so similar that scholars are seldom able to distinguish between their campsites.
The Tonto Apache came in from the north and east, and the Yavapai came in from the west somewhat earlier. The tribes often mingled, and when common enemies came for them they allied. The Pima and Maricopa tribes from the desert were their mortal enemies, mountain and desert people conducting raids on each other.
After the White invasion, the Americans became the common enemy along with the Pima and Maricopa who served as scouts for the U.S. Army. That alliance produced much intermarriage, and today most of the Yavapai and Apache families claim each other's blood lines.
John Bourke, General George Crook's chief aide, recognized during the campaign of 1871-1874 that they were dealing with separate tribes who had, by that time, mixed considerably. He said most of them spoke both languages, and the headman of each band usually had two names, one from each tradition. It is this language difference that becomes the most definitive indication that these are two distinct people.
A study was made (by David M. Brugge in 1965) that traced the names used in the two languages as they are spoken today in the various Indian communities of central Arizona. Tracing the frequency of Yuman and Athapaskan rooted names used in the various locations, he was able to tell the amount of mixing that had taken place community by community. The study suggests that the Yavapai were already here when the Apaches moved in and mixing began.
The ratio of "Apacheness" to "Yavapainess" from the Verde River east to Pinal Creek on the Salt River is always in favor of the Apache language. It would thus seem that as the Apaches moved into the Rim country westward, they not only dominated the Yavapai territory but also dominated the Yavapai culture. Over the generations, the Yavapai adopted Apache clan systems and their material cultures became identical. Apache myths of creation have also strongly influenced those of the Yavapai.
The Yavapai were not without their influence however. The Tonto Apaches have a dialect different from the other Western Apaches, carrying a slight "Yavapai accent." This led other Western Apaches to call them "Foolish" or "Tonto" because the dialects sounded foolish to them.
Some of the anniversary celebration at the Fort McDowell reservation the other week centered in the tribal cemetery. In June 1892 the military graves at the post cemetery were disinterred, and the remains shipped to the Presidio in San Francisco for reburial. One civilian grave remained, that of George Kipper whose simple marble marker can be seen today among the Indian burials.
Also one can find there the grave of a tribal hero and native son, Dr. Carlos Montezuma who became a medical doctor and an outspoken leader for Indian rights in his day. He was buried there in January 1923.
Other notable graves include that of Mike Burns, Yavapai scout for the Army, and the remains of many from the Skeleton Cave massacre, a terrible defeat for the Yavapais in December 1872, where they hid from the Army in a cave above today's Canyon Lake.