They Would Not Be Conquered



A history of the Tonto Apache



Two Tonto Apaches on the San Carlos Reservation, a man and boy.

In May 1926, the director of the State Museum on the campus of the University of Arizona, Tucson, answered a letter of inquiry from a Mrs. Matthews in San Francisco about the Tonto Apaches. In his reply was this comment, "Regarding the Tonto Apaches, I fear I can be of very little help to you. I know of nothing that has been written upon this group. They are now mixed into the other groups in the White Mountain's tribe at Fort Apache and at San Carlos. But I know of no one who has traced their history."

If I were to answer Mrs. Matthews I would have to give the same answer today. Much research has been done on the war waged by Euro-Americans against the Apaches, and there have been numerous studies of prehistoric settlement in the territory later occupied by the Tonto Apache. But no one has gathered the available information and provided us with a written history of the small tribe called Tonto Apache.

The reason so little has been written about this fascinating subject can be readily understood. When the European culture began its migration westward across America, Arizona was essentially a bridge to California gold.

As the Pacific connection grew, so did the necessity for better trails to connect the vast stretches of the continent. As trails became roads and then railroads, they followed routes along the Gila River in the south and across the Colorado Plateau in the north. In either case, they skirted the wilderness of central Arizona and left out the territory of the Tonto Apache. The terrain, with its rugged canyons, ridges and mountains lay in a northwest by southeast direction, and created an impossible barrier for east-west travel. The Apaches who lived in these basins and mountains were, therefore, the last Arizona natives to be threatened by the settlement of those they called "White-eyes." This moniker originated because the white of Caucasian eyeballs contrasts with the coffee color of Indian eyeballs.

As for the Apache people, they refer to themselves as "The People." In their language it is Nde, pronounced En-dah, and implies a people set apart and superior to other peoples.

When the California gold rush was over and miners began to prospect in the central mountains of Arizona, word got out about the lush grazing lands and the abundance of game waiting to be exploited by ranchers and miners, and those who serviced them. Once these Americans settled in Arizona they began to encroach on Tonto Apache lands.

Settlers became prime targets for Apaches and the various Pai groups, who stole livestock for food. This created the need for a military presence to protect the settlers, and it was the beginning of the end for the old way of life among the Tontos.

As we shall see, however, they are "The People Who Would Not Be Conquered." Their story deserves to be told, and honor given to their history.

As I attempt to put together the exciting and dramatic story of these people who live in the Rim Country and Verde River Valley, credit must go to many who have helped me over the years. The original research of Alan Ferg, Nicolas P. Hauser, Keith Basso, George S. Esper and Thomas Hinton are among those to whom I am deeply indebted. Also the archives of the Arizona Historical Society of Tucson, the Sharlot Hall Museum library in Prescott; the Fort Verde State Park museum in Camp Verde; the Cline Library at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff; the Colter Library of the Northern Arizona Museum, Flagstaff; The Hayden Library, Special Collections, at Arizona State University, Tempe; and the Arizona Historical Foundation in that same location; The Department of Library Archives and Public Records at the state capitol in Phoenix; The Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. and in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

In the Payson area, journalist Carroll Cox did much over the years to gather information about the Tonto Apaches and publish it from her several journalistic positions. She deserves much credit for being the first person to systematically write a simple history of the Tonto Apaches, and publish it in a 1987 series in The Mogollon Advisor.

I hope the reader will be inspired and enlightened by this story, and that young Tonto Apaches will be encouraged to embrace the heritage they have all but lost. If I were a Tonto Apache and could speak in the tongue of the ancestors, I could better tell the odyssey, the joy, the struggle, and the terror of their story. However, I am White-eyes, and I write as White-eyes. All I can do is ask forgiveness from the people I have come to appreciate so heartily.

Next week: The Tontos' story of their beginnings.

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