Chapter 15: The History of the Tonto Apache
After the death of Mangas Coloradas at the hands of soldiers and the Walker party, all possibility of entering Arizona's central mountains from the east was out of the question. The only route open to the gold seekers was to proceed south where they could join the Butterfield Trail.
During their trek on Feb. 24, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed an act separating Arizona Territory from New Mexico. This was done to keep the population of southern Arizona in the Union.
However, the sights of the Walker party were not on the politics of that action, but on the mountains in the north where they might find gold. They passed through Tucson in April, and soon reached the Gila River that ran past the Pima and Maricopa Indian villages. These traditionally friendly people provided encouragement and native guides.
While there, a Pima war party returned from a raid on the Tontos. The Pima and Maricopa tribes were traditional enemies of the Tonto and Yavapai bands.
The war party boasted a booty of deer hides and human scalps, and while the warriors bragged how they had scalped the Apaches, the white men inquired as to how many scalps the Pimas had lost. The answer was, "Not one." The Apaches, they claimed, were "not brave enough" to take scalps.
What the men of the Walker party did not know was that Apaches had strong beliefs that the ghost of the deceased remained with the scalp. Furthermore, they believed that when a person dies, that soul takes the form the body had in death into the afterlife. Mutilation of an enemy's dead body was a means for Apaches to curse that person, but scalping was not a traditional act.
The Walker party continued to move west until they found a passageway north at the great bend in the Gila River. There a tributary entered that would lead them to mountains they could make out in the distance, a likely source of minerals.
At first, the river bed was dry, though later they heard the Indians call it Haviamp, meaning a place of big rocks and water. Europeans would mold that sound into Hassayampa.
They enlisted the help of a Mojave chief named Irataba to guide them, and none too soon, for they encountered a band of Yavapai Indians who signaled for a meeting.
The Indians had suddenly appeared "within ten paces," their bodies painted and their looks ferocious. Members of the Walker party were startled, for they had not even realized they were being watched.
Daniel Conner, one of the prospectors who kept and published a diary of their adventures, wrote, "These naked, barbarous wretches sneak out of their holes as insidiously as so many rats, and are not entitled to a consideration more dignified than that which is accorded to the rats and mice about the city livery stable." ("Joseph Reddeford Walker and the Arizona Adventure," University of Oklahoma Press, 1956, page 88)
Such attitudes set the tone for most white settlers, and revealed a huge void in their understanding of the native culture.
The Yavapai would not give Irataba an assurance of safe passage and made threats regarding any further advance of the white men into their lands. The guide tried to talk Walker into turning back. When they insisted on proceeding, Irataba and his Mojaves left in the night.
With great caution, the party continued up the Hassayampa and established a camp about five miles from what would later become Prescott. They proclaimed the area a mining district and made a compact as to how each member of the party would be assigned mining claims.
In May 1863 they returned to the Pima villages for supplies. While on the way, the Walker party joined a group of prospectors from California, led by Abraham Peeples and guided by the well-known mountain man Pauline Weaver. At this time the party also included a Gila River rancher named King S. Woolsey. He had recently settled the Agua Caliente ranch and was known for his bravery in fighting off Indian raiders. Woolsey became one of the first to make a gold claim in the Walker district, and the word went out causing Arizona's gold rush. The Walker and Peeples parties shared the mining districts around Prescott and became the first Whites to penetrate the Yavapai and Apache territory of central Arizona.
Miners now came from far and wide and began establishing substantial camps, building log houses and laying in food from hunting expeditions while at the same time prospecting for new claims.
A friendly band of Indians began visiting the camps, especially at meal times. There were frequent attempts by different groups of Indians to approach the white men in camp, usually wanting to trade mescal for a mule or some other exchange. There were also encounters by the whites with lone Indians while out hunting, which sometimes resulted in trade, but usually meant careful avoidance.
The open war between the two groups had not yet been declared, and the white men were wise enough not to assert their belief that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."
Next: The Clash of Cultures