Peace For Food

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Chapter 33: The history of the Tonto Apaches

As the winter of 1869 progressed, desperate hunger among the Apaches and Yavapai created an outburst of raids and killings throughout the territory. The military command began to question whether the war was worth the $3,000,000 cost each year. There was even speculation that these Indian territories were not ready for occupation. If the Tonto bands could have listened in on such conversations, they would have been heartened. However, the government reached the conclusion that since there was so much white settlement on all sides of Tonto territory, the military had to stay. After all, this government expenditure provided Arizona's primary economic base, and if it were withdrawn, many of the settlers who made a living supplying the Army would have to quit the territory.

As often happens in war, economic advantages continued the slaughter.

photo

An Apache raiding party photo from the Rim Country Museum archive. Even while the Tontos bargained for a reservation and government rations, they sent out raiding parties to capture meat from the settlers.

The alternative to the white settlers' failed efforts at genocide seemed to be a system of reservations. Feeding the Indians would cost less than war. An investigating group reported that if a reservation was large enough to afford plenty of hunting and gathering, in addition to farming and supplemental rations, it might work.

At the same time cooperation between Apache and Yavapai bands was increasing, creating larger raiding parties on the white settlements. The Indians perceived that the troops from Camp McDowell were in a weakened condition. The horses were worn out, personnel were short-handed and the soldiers were occupied with escort services for supply trains and mail carriers. It was a good time for the natives to negotiate some sort of peace.

The Indian chiefs were told they would have to surrender unconditionally in exchange for the protection of a reservation and rations. Del-che-ae insisted on a clarification. Exactly what lands would be set aside for them? They could not answer this, and at the same time the soldiers were harassing the Tonto encampment, so Del-che-ae took his people and left.

During the next months, the Indian bands and military commanders played a game of tag. Neither side trusted the other, nor did the Indian bands trust each other. Headmen would bring their people into Camp Reno or Camp McDowell for conferences, only to leave again at the slightest provocation.

At one point, Del-che-ae and the others encamped less than a mile from the Reno stockade, and the Apache warriors traded bows and arrows with the soldiers for bread and tobacco.

Two of the Tonto chiefs, Del-che-ae and Skit-la-no-yah, responded to an invitation to go to Camp McDowell to negotiate the peace. The terms they were given stated that there would be no handouts of food until the Indians surrendered unconditionally, or as an alternative, agreed to be Army scouts. Those who signed up as scouts would have their families held hostage at Camp Reno as a guarantee. All Apaches desiring peace would go to Camp McDowell, where a reservation would be established across the Verde River from the post. There they would be given protection, food and used clothing. All who did not conform would be considered hostile and liable to be killed on sight. No Indians would be allowed near Camp Reno, so close to their stronghold. The chiefs were given 60 days to accept these terms, after which they would be considered hostiles.

It was near the end of March when the Apache chiefs returned to Camp Reno and presented the terms to their bands. All rejected such an agreement. March turned to April, and Osh-kol-ti, the Tonto chief whose people ranged from Cherry Creek to the Four Peaks, joined the others at Camp Reno asking for food. The command at Reno had changed again, with Lt. George Chilson in charge. He met with Del-che-ae, Cha-li-pun and Skit-la-vis-yah to discuss the surrender terms again under friendly skies. Chilson knew the Indians well enough to realize any agreement on their part to the conditions was not to be thought of as final. Peace for the Tonto and Yavapai bands was only a respite between hostilities, a time to rest and recuperate, a time to be fed and protected from their enemies.

The chiefs were not prepared to move their people to McDowell until after the fall corn harvest in the fall. Chilson was able to secure agreement to this from his superiors, postponing the 60-day time limit for agreement to the terms of peace.

Chilson sought to maintain his own truce with the Indians, trading their maintenance tasks around the post for leftovers out of the kitchen.

A further financial arrangement was made, whereby the Indians would transport the mail between Reno and McDowell in a one-day courier service each way, and be paid $25 a month in gold coin, along with rations to the couriers.

The first week of May, Chilson prepared a census of the various bands camped in the Reno vicinity.

Next: Apaches turn on each other.

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