Chapter 25: The history of the Tonto Apaches
In October 1866, a dramatic event occurred at Fort McDowell. The most formidable of the Tonto Apache chiefs presented himself. His name was Del-che-ae, and accompanying him was his band of 100 warriors, 40 women and 60 children.
The women and children were a sign he wanted peace. He also brought several headmen and their bands.
His name was similar to the name by which the Tontos called themselves, De-he'ch-ahe. Del-che-ae, which translates Red Ant, was a young chief of considerable influence among the Tonto and Yavapai bands. His name is spelled many ways, but when Americans referred to him, they simply spelled it Delshay.
The long winter stretched ahead, many of the food stores of his people had been destroyed. The young chief knew he must seek help.
Delshay emerged very suddenly to the white-eyes, like a thundercloud that erupts with a change in the wind. He would be the one who did not yield, though what we know of him must come from the record of his white enemies since his own people did not write. They told stories, and Delshay lived in those stories told around campfires until campfires gave way to gas stoves and the stories were heard no more. The elders took most of their history to the grave. Today their children's children are seldom taught to speak their native language, but these latter day Tontos would be proud of Del-che-ae, The Red Ant.
Perhaps he was named for a hill of red ants at the place he was born. Perhaps it was the stinging bite of his fighting spirit that gave him the name. Perhaps the name pointed to his special power to lead and to work hard, a power he gained when he passed from childhood to manhood. Whatever the reason, his name enabled the Tonto Apaches to hold their heads high during the decade of the 1860s. Delshay became the cause of chilling fear among the white soldiers.
He was born in the Mazatzal mountains between 1835 to 1840, but his stronghold was in the Sierra Ancha. After a mortal encounter with a white man, he took a pearl shirt-stud from the victim and wore it in his left ear. This made him very distinguishable to the U.S. military.
When he appeared at Fort McDowell asking to discuss an alliance he showed that he had little understanding of America's military organization. He seemed to think the troops that had attacked him in his stronghold were from another military post. Indeed, one cavalry unit from Camp Grant had attacked. The Tonto chief apparently believed the various army camps were separate armies. He assumed they were hostile to each other, as Indian bands often were. Del-che-ae sought to enlist the troops from McDowell to join him in war against the troops from Camp Grant, and he offered to bring 300 more warriors to add to the 100 he had with him for an attack on Camp Grant. We can only assume the laughter this caused the garrison, and the humiliation Del-che-ae must have felt at discovering how wrong he was.
In spite of the chief's misunderstanding, commander Capt. George Sanford explored with him the idea of a reservation along the Salt River. Sanford had no authority to make such an arrangement, and the rations at McDowell were too low to feed this influx of Tontos. After about a week in camp, someone spread word that the Pimas were coming up from their villages to attack the Tontos, so Del-che-ae and his party disappeared into the darkness.
By this time the enlistment of the Pima and Maricopa companies of Arizona Volunteers had expired. Sanford knew his soldiers could not track and surprise the Tontos without the help of Indian scouts, so he requested and received authority to enlist as many as 100 of the desert Indians.
The former companies of Pima and Maricopa scouts were quick to seize the opportunity, and became attached to the regular troops at Fort McDowell. They wore the red flannel bands on their heads to distinguish them, and these headbands quickly became the proud symbol of the Indian scouts. Their chiefs, Azul of the Pimas and Chivaria of the Maricopas, were poised and eager for action against the Tontos. They were given a guarantee that they could do it in their own manner and on their own time while they continued to live in their villages.
Near the end of October an army expedition set out to seek the site for an outpost in Tonto territory. They followed the now-familiar route over the mountains and into the Tonto Basin where they picked up an Apache trail. It led them to a rancheria deep in the Sierra Ancha, probably on Spring Creek. The ensuing attack netted six Tontos killed, five prisoners and two horses.
Capt. Sanford reported that this was a large and permanent village in an almost inaccessible canyon, "with a very large amount of winter stores... Among the articles found were two tin canteens, such as are issued by government, a portion of an English copy of the New Testament, some mail straps and pieces of a saddle, a gun lock and brass plates belonging to a gun, and baskets such as are used for carrying grain etc, in great numbers. They had a great abundance of seeds, nuts, acorns, buckskins, serapes, and other articles used by the Indians, and the destruction of these just as winter is setting in will be a great blow to them."
Next: The Fight on Spring Creek