Yavapai Connection: The Story Of The Tonto Apaches



Chapter Four

As the Tonto Apache bands settled into their new environment, they began to develop small plots of agriculture and established camps in the valleys near the creeks. They returned seasonally to their upland camps where they could exploit resources such as wild game, chert for arrow and spear points, agave, pine nuts, acorns and a host of other plants and berries.


Montezuma's Well, north of Camp Verde, off Interstate 17, is the site of ruins and ancient irrigation canals.

The legends of the Tonto Apaches tell that the mountain spirits, or gaan built some of the prehistoric ruins and caves, and left their artifacts for the Apaches to use. Numerous petroglyphs were thought to be messages left by the Mountain Spirits when they retreated in disgust over the disobedience of The People to their teaching.

The Apaches felt a strong spiritual link with the ancient ones whom they followed, and prehistoric sites were considered sacred. Tonto Apaches would go to the sacred caves and springs to seek a blessing on their hunts, offering baskets, colored stones, petrified wood and prayer feathers.

From the time of their entrance into the Rim Country, the Tontos had met and mingled with another people, the Yuman-speaking Yavapai.

It is reported how two Yavapai Indians at Fort McDowell were conversing in the 1870s. "I don't know about the white people. I do not know who they are or 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 were reflecting the oral tradition of their people, that long ago all living beings ascended into this world through a place called Ahagaskiaywa, "wherethepeoplecameoutfirst." Today it is called Montezuma's Well near Camp Verde in Arizona's Verde Valley. Those who continued to live in the Sedona area called themselves Wipukpa (or Wipukpaya). The tradition goes on to say the other groups of Yavapai people spread from there.

Anthropologists might wish their ideas of Yavapai origin could be that simple. Instead, the discussion revolves around several theories. Most likely the Yavapai are a Yuman-speaking people who migrated from California after A.D. 1100. This would seem to be affirmed by their Pai dialect with its Yuman roots. In addition to the Yavapai ("people of the mountains") others of this lineage include the Hualapai ("people of the red earth") and the Havasupai ("people of the bluegreen water").

In their diaspora the Yavapai formed several subtribes. For the Americans, to whom all Indians looked alike, they were all simply Apaches or Mojave-Apaches. In the decades of American-Apache warfare, the Yavapai name faded into disuse while every pillage by the Yavapai was attributed to Apaches. Furthermore, since the Tontos were notorious, the epithet "Tonto Apache" was even associated with raids that occurred far from Tonto territory.

The confusion in calling Yavapai by the name Apache does not sit well with the Yavapai people, who rightly feel it cheats them out of a unique heritage.

Even today the Yavapai use indigenous names for their several groups. "The Quivkopaya are here," say those in the Verde Valley when their relatives from Fort McDowell come to visit.

It means "the elsewhere people." The Quivkopaya territory went along the west side of the Mazatzal Mountains, throughout the Superstition Mountains, and east along the Salt River to today's Hayden, Ariz.

Their raids reached as far south as the Catalina Mountains and Tucson. Today their descendants can be found living on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation.

The group named Yavapaya lived in the upper Verde Valley around Jerome and Mingus Mountain, and all around the Prescott area.

Their descendants can be found on the Yavapai Reservation in and around Camp Verde. A third group was west of the Prescott area, and once subdued by the U.S. Army they were settled on a reservation at Date Camp.

During the years of the Rio Verde Reservation (1871-1875) Yavapai and Tonto Apaches surrendered in order to save their lives, and were made to live together.

Then in 1875 all the Yavapai groups were force-marched along with the Tontos to the San Carlos Reservation on the Gila River. There they languished until they were allowed to drift back to their homelands.

Only in modern times were they able to establish their right to sovereignty on their own reservations.

One observant soldier stationed at the Rio Verde Reservation, Sgt. Robert H. Walker, made a comparison of the differences between the Apache and Yavapai.

He pointed out that they were two distinct peoples, something most whites had been slow to understand.

The Yavapai were taller, of muscular build and thickly featured.

The Tonto Apaches were slight and less muscular, smaller in stature and finely featured. While the Yavapai were often tattooed, the Apache seldom showed any such decoration.

Next: Lifestyles of the Tontos

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