Invasion From The North



Chapter 31: The history of the Tonto Apaches

In the spring of 1868, construction on the military road resumed, with a plan to develop it all the way to Green Valley. Throughout the month of May, the Apache and Yavapai kept watch on the movements of a large detachment from Camp Lincoln led by Col. Thomas Devin. The 60 pack mules obviously meant a lengthy scout, and though the Indians were not privy to Devin's plan, it was gleefully announced in Prescott's Arizona Miner, April 25, 1868.


The "Pioneer Road" is how Col. Devin's blazed trail looks today descending the East Verde River canyon. The early pioneers, who widened it for wagon traffic and cattle drives, used it.

"It is the design of (Brevet) General Devin to scour the country east of the Verde, between the Mogollon range of mountains and Salt River, and if possible, corral the redskins and bring them to law. To accomplish this, we learn that simultaneously troops will start out from Camps Lincoln and McDowell, on the Rio Verde, Camp Goodwin on the Gila, Camp Grant on the San Pedro, and Camp Reno in Tonto Basin. The General took with him from the post at Prescott, Fort Whipple, two companies... From Camp Lincoln the General will... take all the men that can be spared from... that post. Competent guides will accompany the expedition, and we earnestly hope that success may crown the efforts of the ‘boys in blue' to cripple and destroy the red thieves and murderers of Tonto Basin..."

The Tontos made sure Devin's expedition fell far short of its desired effect. The companies of cavalry and infantry followed the Clear Creek trail out of the Verde Valley and over the Mogollon Rim. At the headwaters of the East Verde River, they made a switchback trail down the nearly perpendicular cliff, which Devin called "the jump off."

While camped during the making of the switchback trail, Tonto Apaches fired upon the troops, and one horse was killed. The detachment continued exploring the side canyons to left and right, and found a number of freshly abandoned rancherias. Following Indian trails to the east, probably the later Highline Trail that would connect the ranches under the Rim, the soldiers reached Tonto Creek and a series of Apache farms. The Indians had hurriedly left in the midst of planting their summer crops. At this point, Devin realized his supplies would not allow him to go so far as San Carlos, his intended goal. In his June 12, 1868 report, he stated, "Before starting, I had assumed that the pack animals would carry 250 pounds anywhere the cavalry could go. This I found to be an error, as they could not average 200 pounds, and with that could not make over 10 miles a day in a mountain country. In endeavoring to accomplish even that, several gave out, others were killed falling over precipices and some of the rations were lost."

Col. Devin set up a camp at the head of Tonto Creek and sent his pack train back to Camp Lincoln to get 20 more days of rations, during which time he scouted through the Tonto Basin without encountering the skittish Tontos.

However, as the pack train retraced the route, it was attacked by Tontos at the top of the Jump Off. Apache arrows killed the chief packer, a civilian named John C. Baker. The other packers held off the attackers while the cavalry escort, lagging behind, raced up the steep grade to the scene. They chased off the Tontos with their rifle fire, and buried Mr. Baker's body in the rocky ground. They then obscured the grave's location with their horses' hoof prints, so the Tontos would not disinter the body for mutilation. As they proceeded westward, they passed the highest point on the Mogollon Rim, a forested volcanic cone, which they named Baker's Butte to honor their fallen comrade.

With renewed supplies, the Devin detachment continued eastward through Tonto Territory without any skirmishes.

On their return trip, the Tontos were still nowhere to be seen and Devin jumped to an interesting, but wrong, conclusion. He reported, "The Tonto Basin has heretofore been property supposed to be the home of the Apaches, where they had farms, families and stock. It has probably contained a large population, as we found rancherias sufficient for hundreds of families, but all abandoned... The Indians have (with the exception of a few predatory bands) either left the country west of the San Carlos, or have sent their families beyond..."

The Devin expedition served to further increase the thirst of white settlers for Tonto lands. Members of his party elaborated on what they saw in the Arizona Miner, June 1868.

"The most attractive, best watered and richest agricultural section of this Territory lies east of the Verde. In the Tonto Basin, north and east of the Sierra Anchas, streams of delicious water were found at intervals of from three to five miles. Springs were plenty, and one, the largest ever seen by any of the party, was estimated to have a flow of several hundred gallons per minute. The

basin of the spring holds eight hundred gallons, and the whole surface was in commotion. It supplies the greater part of the main branch of the east fork of the Verde ..."

This probably describes the copious spring that still flows in Whispering Pines on the site of the old John Meadows ranch.

Next week: Attacks on Camp Reno.

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