Life At San Carlos



Chapter 44: The History of the Tonto Apaches

No sooner had the Tonto Apache and Yavapai bands been rounded up on the San Carlos Reservation, than white homesteaders began staking out the Indian lands for themselves. Those Tontos who had escaped the incarceration hid in the canyons of the Mazatzals, Sierra Ancha and Mogollon Rim. Now they observed their homelands being turned into sheep and cattle ranches. Throughout 1875, white settlers took over Greenback Valley, Tonto Basin, Big and Little Green Valley, Round Valley, Pleasant Valley and many of the fresh water canyons embraced by the Rim.

The Tonto holdouts simply laid low, hoping for a time when they could make peace with the settlers. Their camps often became a refuge for renegade Apaches who left the reservation. Some Tontos who never registered even joined occasional raids on white settlements.


A Tonto woman and child stand by a "gowa" at San Carlos. Note that during their stay on the reservation the women began adopting dresses styled after the 19th century Army officer's wives. The long dresses came to be called "squaw dresses," a term not in favor today.

John Clum, the Indian Agent for the White Mountain and San Carlos reservations, formed a company of Indian police to keep order and help the cavalry recapture renegades. In the summer of 1875, Clum was ordered by Washington to remove the White Mountain, Cibecue and Ojo Caliente Apaches from their homelands and add them to those already on the San Carlos reservation. The military refused to assist in this move, and Clum was left on his own to convince the Indians to move. He was partially successful, but this new influx at San Carlos only worsened the already aggravated situation among rival tribes.

Several bands that had pledged peace remained at Camp Apache, and many became Army scouts.

In October, the Indian agency at Camp Apache was closed and became a sub-agency of San Carlos. Meanwhile the Chiricahua Reservation in southeastern Arizona was closed so settlers could occupy more tribal land, and more Chiricahua Apaches came to San Carlos.

The crowded and tense living conditions were almost more than John Clum and his Apache police could control. In October, the military companies at San Carlos left for Camp Bowie, where they were chasing Geronimo and his renegades, leaving Clum alone with the Indian police to keep order at San Carlos.

The ancient traditions of family life and organization quickly began to disintegrate among the Apaches. The government lumped groups together without considering their family traditions, and called them "tag-bands" to facilitate the handout of rations. Numbers were assigned to individuals as the whites gave up on their Indian names.

Tag-band chiefs were appointed by their white overseers from those willing to be amenable to directions, without regard for the traditional democratic elections of headmen. Resentments ran high. Not only had these people been forced from ancestral lands, where they had ranged free in limitless spaces, now they were crammed together. Most of them had never been associated with one another, and they were being forced to change the lifestyles of centuries from hunter gathering to farming.

By December, incidents were occurring in which a chief would rebel and the police would shoot him dead. The police were often blood brothers of the rebels, and felt like traitors to their own people. However, the military contingent at Camp Apache was aiding them. A number of the Tontos who were resettled at San Carlos now became Army scouts. Among them was a young Tonto named De-a-li-a, often called De-ga-la. He signed up for his first hitch on Oct. 27, 1877, and began a series of re-enlistments and assignments to various scout companies. He received his honorable discharge from the Army in July 1894. During this time his people had begun to drift off the reservation unopposed, to settle in the places where they were born.

During his enlistments he experienced many adventures, chasing Geronimo, working for the Buffalo Soldiers (and even stealing their payroll in one daring raid), and fighting with other Tonto scouts at the Battle of Big Dry Wash in 1882. In 1884 he married a San Carlos Apache named Lizzie Anna Nau-to-bog-all.

During several of his enlistments, he took on the names of his white officers. When they would ask him his name, he would identify himself with that officer's corps, "Me Irving-man" or "Me Evans-man." Consequently he took on the name Henry Irving, and later Henry Evans during his service as an Army scout. The children of Henry and Lizzie, born during those days, also carried the names Irving or Evans. Henry's progeny continued in the Payson area later to become leaders in the establishment of the Tonto Reservation.

As the 1870s turned to the 1880s, conditions at San Carlos were worse than bad. The reservation was a desert wilderness, unlike the grassy and forested mountains Apaches had always occupied. The 4,400-square-mile reservation was controlled by the agency located at the confluence of the Gila and San Carlos rivers, which today is under the lake of Coolidge Dam. A few cottonwood trees offered the only shade with temperatures often in the 100-degree range. Dust, gnats, flies, and floods made life miserable. Rations were issued once a week, but from the agency, which meant crossing the rivers, usually flowing up to the horse's bellies. They were not allowed to hunt for game, and were entirely dependent on the dole. Life was a fight for survival, and tensions were mounting to the point of an explosion.

Next: Violence and Rebellion.

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