Chapter 16: The History of the Tonto Apaches
When the newly appointed officials for the Territory of Arizona left New York on Aug. 27, 1863 they were unsure of where they would go to establish the seat of territorial government. The logical choice would be Tucson, the more populous center of political influence.
However, when they reached Santa Fe, they read a newspaper account reporting rich gold strikes in the Weaver and Walker mining districts. They decided instead to establish the seat of government at a new fort being built near the growing mining camps. It was reasonable to locate in the center of the new territory.
Meanwhile, the miners around the Hassayampa River were prospecting in all directions. Included in their diaries was the first recorded entry of white men into the Verde River Valley, a border land between the Yavapai and Apache territories. These prospectors encountered a large number of Indian villages, and were able to bluff their way through by shooting guns in the air and racing their mules through the center of the camps.
One band withstood them and refused to run. The exchange of gunfire left all of the mules wounded, as well as several of the men. The Indians pursued them until the White Eyes were out of the Valley.
Coming over the mountain and back into grassland, the settlers encountered yet one more Yavapai rancheria. It proved to be friendly, and they rested there before returning to their permanent camp.
Companies of the California Infantry and Cavalry had set up a military post in Chino Valley, some miles north of the mining camps. It was named Whipple Barracks to honor Maj. General Amiel W. Whipple, who had surveyed the route across northern Arizona, and who had since been killed in the Civil War at the battle of Chancellorsville.
It was to this post that President Lincoln's appointees, Governor Goodwin and his party proceeded. They arrived there Jan. 22, 1864 with plans to formulate the territorial government. In May, the temporary capital was moved to a permanent location on Granite Creek, closer to the mining camps. Citizens immediately met to establish a town, which they named Prescott to honor an eastern historian well known for his books about the Aztecs. (It was erroneously believed the Aztecs had been first settlers in the region.) Fort Whipple was also moved, close to the village.
The growing intrusion of White mining camps and ranches into Yavapai lands bordering on Tonto territories brought an immediate response from the Indians. Territorial Judge Joseph Pratt Allyn, writing just two weeks after arriving at Fort Whipple, had not yet made a distinction between Yavapai and Tonto Apache. They were alike to him. He wrote for his publisher, The Hartford Evening Press, "The Indians immediately about here are Tontos, or fool Apaches, the meanest and dirtiest Indians I have seen yet. Soon after my arrival a hundred or more of them came in to hold a council ... and I think I never saw a more miserable set of human beings. In addition to the Tontos, the surrounding country is swept by the war-like Apaches of the country east. Stock is not safe anywhere, either in the mines or on the ranches; it has to be watched carefully in the daytime, and corralled at night. These repeated depredations have so thoroughly aroused the animosity of the settlers that a war of extermination has in fact already begun. Indians are shot wherever seen ..."
One of the notable leaders of the war against the Indians was rancher King S. Woolsey. Woolsey had established his Agua Fria Ranch on one of the headwaters of the Agua Fria River, near today's Dewey, Ariz. This made his location the eastern-most outpost of white settlement. The Tonto and Yavapai Indians were delighted with such ranches in one sense, for it meant they would not have to travel so far south to secure livestock. On the other hand, they began to realize the seriousness of this threat to their hunting and gathering grounds.
On Jan. 4, 1864, Tonto, or possibly Yavapai raiders stole 33 head of cattle from Woolsey's Agua Fria ranch. Several settlers at Prescott lost 28 mules and horses. Altogether the ranchers and miners claimed several hundreds of animals stolen, enough to spur significant action.
The citizens prevailed upon Woolsey to lead an expedition, and three days later a group of about 40 private citizens set out after the raiders. They went south and then east along the Salt River, and at some point in the Superstition Mountains they were confronted by a war party of Tontos.
The chiefs were lured in for a conference, when at a signal from Woolsey, the Whites pulled their guns and each shot the Indian beside him. A running battle ensued, with more than 30 Indians and one white man dead. This skirmish came to be called the Bloody Tanks Massacre. It was the beginning of a nearly 20-year war against the Tonto Apaches.
Next: Into Tonto territory