Into Tonto Territory

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Chapter 17: The history of the Tonto Apaches

King Woolsey and his militia returned from their Bloody Basin massacre to find the territorial governor, John Goodwin, was calling for an exploratory party to enter the Verde River Valley and determine a good location for a new army post. The governor wanted further to explore the possibilities of mining and agriculture in that valley.

In a meeting at Joe Walker's camp store, Feb. 2, 1864, the governor spoke to a gathering of citizens. Judge Joseph Allyn was in the governor's party, and wrote his impressions.

"This country is so infested with Apaches that prospecting has been impossible. During the evening, persons were constantly coming in who wished to join the party, one and all believing and talking of nothing but killing Indians. It is difficult to convey... an adequate idea of the intensity of this feeling. A miner seems to regard an Indian as he would a rattlesnake ... The governor, in a brief speech, took all by storm by advocating the extermination of the Indians ..." ("The Arizona of Joseph Pratt Allyn," John Nicholson ed., University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1974, page 70, 76)

Woolsey's Agua Fria ranch became the rendezvous point for the expedition into the Verde Valley. As the large party assembled, the hills echoed with reports from their long rifles as they target practiced.

There were 50 soldiers and about 15 civilians, including the aging mountain man Pauline Weaver, prospector Joseph Walker, King Woolsey, Judge Allyn, and the governor. After several days of preparations, and packing a large mule train, the expedition set off on Sunday, Feb. 21, 1864.

It was the first official military march against the Tonto and Yavapai tribes.

After several failed attempts to cross the mountains and find a passageway into the valley, they finally reached the Verde River four days later and enjoyed excellent fishing for their supper.

Indians hooted at them during the night, and lurked just outside their camps.

One Indian brave they met tried to hold them off with his bow and arrow while his wife and baby attempted to escape. Gunfire killed the little family. Indians now appeared all around the whites, who were shooting wildly in every direction.

An arrow wounded one of the soldiers, 24-year-old Private Joseph Fisher, and he died before a detachment could carry him back to Fort Whipple. He was the first American soldier to die in this new war against the Tonto Apaches.

King Woolsey then led a scouting party north and east along the river. They detected signs of stolen livestock, and knew they were in the area of the raiders. Woolsey's party continued north as far as Oak Creek, and returned with reports of luxuriant grass and water.

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These are the ruins of King Woolsey's Agua Fria ranch.

Late that day, two Mexican boys arrived breathlessly in camp from Woolsey's Agua Fria ranch, to report that 60 Indians had raided the ranch in broad daylight. They had taken all of Woolsey's livestock except the oxen that were plowing near the house.

He could do little about it at that moment, and the lure of this expedition kept him from immediately returning home. However, Woolsey resolved to organize another scout against the Tontos as soon as he returned, and penetrate their lands to the east.

Before returning home, the party explored ancient ruins in the Verde Valley, supposing them to be left by some great Aztec invasion that had once subjected the Apaches in that area. They bestowed on one of the ruins, the name Montezuma's Castle.

Exploring south along the river they noted the area around the mouth of Clear Creek would be an excellent location for an outpost, and readily irrigated for farming.

Going farther to the south they found the East Fork of the Verde, were traces of gold brought vows to return and prospect up that river.

While near the East Fork of the Verde the civilian party brazenly attacked a Tonto Apache camp, but was driven off by the Indians.

For the next seven days the soldiers and civilians struggled south along the Verde River, leaving their worn-out mules behind one by one. The Tonto bands, well alerted to this invasion, sent smoke signals to report the impending danger throughout Tonto territory.

At last, on March 11, the explorers emerged from the wilderness and into the desert on the lower Verde River. Judge Allyn parted company to visit the Pima villages, and the governor with the rest of the party headed back to Fort Whipple.

Woolsey was eager to return home and begin organizing a second crusade into Tonto territory, which he would lead.

This time General Carlton gave the all-civilian militia his blessing and a 30-day supply of rations from Fort Whipple.

Their departure was delayed while they waited for the supplies, but on March 29, at 10 o'clock at night, the expedition left Woolsey's Agua Fria ranch. It would be the white man's first successful march all the way across the land claimed by the Tonto Apaches.

Next: Crossing Tonto Land

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