We have followed the East Verde River from its headwaters on the Rim past homesteads, ranches and natural wonders, each with its story to tell, over the last several weeks in the Tuesday editions of the Payson Roundup.
We now come to the place where the river cuts its way west by northwest another 12 miles until it deposits its precious waters in the "big" Verde River. Most of this stretch is wild and rugged country called the Mazatzal Wilderness area.
But first we look down from our mythical helicopter on a series of flats that provided good farming for many centuries of human life.
In the 1890s these became the locations of early Rim country ranches. Moving from east to west they were Simanton Flat, the Doll Baby Ranch, N. B. Chilson's ranch at the mouth of Pine Creek, Richard Taylor's Diamond H Ranch right across the river from Chilson's, and the LF Ranch, which was the last jump off of private land along the East Verde. We have come out at the Doll Baby, one of the Rim country's historic homesteads. (See the Roundup, Sept. 3, 2002 for an article on the history of the Doll Baby.)
The surrounding hills are peppered with the ruins of prehistoric people who built stone houses and granaries, and even massive forts for defense purposes. Here they lived and died, hunting, gathering and farming the flood plains below. (See the story of Boardinghouse Canyon and the ruins overlooking the river, Roundup, March 25, 2003.)
The Tonto Apache people began taking over this area in the 1500s, and likewise took over the settlements of their predecessors. There they could find tools and water, although the Apaches never became permanent residents, as did the ancient pueblo dwellers. Instead they were nomadic, and camped throughout the area until the white invasion began in 1864. For the next 10 years the East Verde between the Doll Baby site and the Verde River became the setting for numerous skirmishes, as the army tracked down Apache villages and the Indians in turn ambushed the army detachments.
In 1874 the U.S. military conquered the last of the Tonto Apache and Yavapai bands, confining them to the Rio Verde Reservation, along the big Verde River near Camp Verde. The Indians did so well farming the reservation that they began producing enough hay and grain to support Fort Verde and their own people. This infuriated the businessmen in Tucson who held government contracts to supply the military forts, and in their greed, they pressured Washington to eliminate the Rio Verde Reservation. This was done, and in February 1875, these local Indian tribes experienced what can be called "The Long March of Tears." All the Indians from the Rio Verde Reservation were forced to travel on foot from the Verde Valley to San Carlos.
They were not only Tonto Apaches and the eastern bands of Yavapai, but the Mojave-Apache (other bands of Yavapai) and the several other Pai groups who had been incarcerated at Rio Verde.
As far as the military and the Indian Affairs bureaucracy from Washington were concern, all Indians were the same. Who could tell them apart? No second thought was given to crowding them all together on the barren San Carlos reservation along the Gila River, these people who were mountain people, hunters, and fiercely loved their freedom. No thought for the fact that they had different traditions and different languages. It was a doomed plan, leading inevitably to conflict, and when combined with dishonest Indian agents who did not provide the promised food, it meant inevitable breakouts and raiding parties to threaten surrounding settlers. It was a cold February, with freezing rains, snow and swollen streams. These people were force-marched through it all, along the East Verde to City Creek, down into the Rye Creek drainage, and thence along Tonto Creek to the Salt River, and so on over more mountains to San Carlos.
During this terrible march, many babies and old people died, other babies were born, and some Apaches were even successful in escaping to the surrounding hills. There they hid out for a couple of decades, until it became acceptable for Tonto Apaches to return to their birthplaces and live among the white settlers. Some of today's Tonto Apache tribe have the proud privilege of knowing their ancestors never registered on a reservation, but survived through it all.
When the march reached the mouth of Pine Creek, a broad intersection, camp was made for the night. Hunting had been carried out all along, since the Indians had to supply much of their own food en route. An argument arose between a Yavapai family and a Tonto Apache family over which of them had killed a deer, and hunger aggravated the men to the point of violence. Before the soldiers could intervene, a skirmish had left a number of both Yavapai and Apache dead, and more were killed by the soldiers before the issue was quieted. It was this same location, the mouth of Pine Creek that became a Mormon settlement several years after the Indian skirmish.
Erastus Snow called a group of the Latter-day Saints from St. George, Utah, to come and settle the area. A fellow named Jim Samuels had already claimed the area with squatter's rights, but quickly sold them to the Mormons for $75. After a couple of initial visits to scout the land, the families of John Willis, Woodward Freeman, Rial Allen, Vi Fuller, J.Alfred Randall, and Cecil and Marion Allen arrived at intervals throughout the year 1878. Being farmers, they did not establish a town, but a series of farms up and down the East Verde which they called Mazatzal City, for the towering mountains nearby. However, a continuing threat of raids from Apache rebels led them to abandon the farms and move north along Pine Creek to the village of Pine, where they joined the growing settlement of fellow Mormons. (For a more complete history of Mazatzal City see my article in The Rim Review, July 9, 2003.) By 1881, Mazatzal City had yielded to other ranchers moving into the Rim country.
In 1917 John Lazear patented what would become the NB Ranch, Richard T. Taylor patented the Diamond H, and George Smith patented the Doll Baby. In 1922 Allen Belluzzi patented what would become the LF Ranch, and adjoining him in 1922 was a patent by Andrew Pyeatt. At the eastern end of this string of ranches, Edward Simanton patented his land in 1924.
To follow the East Verde River beyond the Doll Baby Ranch today requires hiking, for no vehicles are allowed in the wilderness except for the owners of the LF Ranch who have rights of access. From this point, the wild and natural East Verde River completes cutting its way through mesas and mountains to join the Verde River about 30 miles south of Camp Verde.