The Rim Country Gets A Military Outpost, Camp Reno



Tonto Creek Adventures, Chapter 14

The stream that meets Tonto Creek at Punkin Center flows from the Mazatzal range and is called Reno Creek, named for the military outpost established three miles upstream in 1868. [1]

Most military camps and outposts were named to honor officers who had fought in past battles. Camp Reno was named to honor Major General Jesse Lee Reno, killed by friendly fire at the Civil War Battle of South Mountain in Maryland on Sept. 14, 1862.

A military outpost in the Tonto Basin had become a necessity because of the increasing number of ranchers and miners in Arizona Territory who needed protection.

The rugged mountain basins were sanctuaries from where the Apache and Yavapai bands could attack the wagon trains and ranches all the way down to Mexico, and then return to safety from pursuing military detachments.

To achieve this outpost deep in Tonto Apache territory required a military supply road over the Mazatzal Mountains.

The Infantry began the project in the autumn of 1867 and, after extreme hardships and the loss of many troops in Apache raids, completed it in the late spring of 1868.

The military outpost established was called Camp Reno, and from it, detachments of soldiers could hunt down the extremely mobile Indian bands.

At first the plan was to establish the outpost in the Sierra Ancha, but because this was the stronghold of Tonto Apaches like Chief Delshay, the army's invasions usually ended by being ambushed. The mountain terrain was simply too treacherous, and any outpost would need to be near the openness of the Tonto Basin.

There was an attempt to continue the road up Rye Creek and over into Green Valley, a name the soldiers gave to present day Payson. The commanders of the Military Department of the Pacific preferred that location, but they were far away in California. On the site it became obvious that would stretch the supply line too far and too deep into hostile country. So it was that Camp Reno was established three miles west of Tonto Creek on the Reno wash at the foot of Mount Ord. [2]

It was the late spring of 1868 when the Apaches observed cattle and supplies being moved to the new camp. They did their best to harass the soldiers, for this was getting too close to the land they held sacred. During one skirmish the brother of Chief Delshay had been taken prisoner and was being held in the Camp Reno guardhouse. In the June 13 issue of Prescott's newspaper The Arizona Miner, a soldier-correspondent reported what happened to him there. "On May 24th the chief's brother, who was one of our prisoners and the best looking Indian in the tribe, attempted to make his escape and was shot dead by the guard. The remainders of the prisoners are rather inclined to remain. Chief Del-che-ae's brother was named ‘Rising Sun' and was thought more of by the tribe than any other Indian. He had been cautioned against trying to escape, but said he was bound to go and if killed his bones would make neither silver nor gold. So the ‘Rising Sun' of the tribe is set."

Needless to say this caused Delshay to intensify his war against the white men. During the months that followed, his warriors raided the herd at Camp Reno and attacked the supply trains coming over the mountain from Fort McDowell.

The Apaches' food supply had been extremely disrupted by the invasion, and although the berry harvest was plentiful along the streams in the summer of 1868 that proved to be small relief to the hungry Apaches. They also raided the mail trains that carried the soldier's pay, knowing that confiscating the greenbacks, though worthless to the Indians, would create hardship and morale problems for the soldiers. These raids were always bloody with Indians usually killed and soldiers often wounded or killed.

Summer dragged into autumn, and as the Indians' hunger grew, so did the intensity of their raiding. Winter was not far off and several bands of Tontos and Yavapai began making peace signs to the officers in charge at Camp Reno. It was confusing to the Tontos that leadership of the outpost changed so often. Every few months a new commander arrived, and the personalities of these men were very different. In the Apache culture the Tonto chiefs acted quite independently of one another, each band raising up its own leaders according to their talents and powers. Delshay and the other chiefs never quite comprehended the complex organization that lay behind the United States Army and its various levels of command. They could relate to some officers, but just as they learned to trust one, another whom they could not trust was in his place. Some commanders invited them to camp peacefully at the post; others rebuffed their proffers of peace.

On the evening of Nov. 30, 1868, a meteorite shot across the Tonto Basin in a golden shower and crashed over the horizon with a rumbling like thunder and a shockwave like a small earthquake. The night was lit up as day, and it may have seemed to the Tontos a sign worth thinking about before further actions were taken. For several months a strange peace fell over Apacheria. That may have been due less to the heavenly sign than to the fact that Delshay was busy obtaining a supply of guns and ammunition from the Navajo and Hopi in the north.

The winter of 1869 saw a fresh outburst of Apache operations against settlers, with raids and killings throughout the Arizona Territory. The army seemed helpless to stop it. Cooperation between the Apache and Yavapai bands was increasing as they faced their common enemy.

Federal funding was slow, and the troops at the military outposts were growing weary. It seemed to the Indians a good time to negotiate for peace, and in March the Yavapai chief Cha-li-pun brought his band to Camp Reno asking for peace and food. The commander turned them back, still under orders not to feed the Indians.

The continuation of Tonto Creek Adventures, Chapter 14: The Rim Country gets a military outpost, Camp Reno, will appear in the Aug. 9 Rim Review.


[1] Today one can experience the ruins of that site by following a four-wheel-drive trail from Punkin Center up toward Mount Ord.

[2] Mount Ord had been named to honor General Edward O'Connell Ord who was commanding the troops in Arizona in 1869 when Camp Reno was located.

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