The Infantry Invades

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Chapter 20: The history of the Tonto Apache

The Woolsey party did not accomplish any of their immediate goals, to kill Indians, find gold or recover lost livestock. However, they did follow the Tonto Basin its entire length and explore as far east as the San Carlos and Black Rivers. They brought back to Prescott glowing reports of the Apache country. In his report to the governor, Woolsey said, "The whole country through which we have passed is covered with excellent grass. Water is plentiful for all ordinary purposes. In many places beautiful little valleys invite the farmer and rancher to follow the occupation of their choice. We never found gold in any paying quantities and yet I cannot help thinking that there is in that part of the country, great mineral wealth."

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Between Fort Verde in the Verde Valley to the west and Fort McDowell to the south, the Army had the Tonto Apache and Yavapai camps boxed in.

Settlers were itching to take possession after that. Sensing the threat, Tonto Apaches intensified their raids on ranches and wagon trains around the fringes of the central mountains.

By 1865 the demands of the settlers for protection reached a fever pitch. Arizona was hard put for cash, but nevertheless, the governor called for raising a Volunteer Army to protect the interests of the new territory. Such militias were to be mustered into the United States Army as infantry units.

It is notable that the white men who cried the loudest for protection were loath to join the Volunteers. Less than five full companies were raised, and the great majority of those who enlisted were Mexicans as well as Pima and Maricopa Indians. They were the natural enemies of the Apaches, and readily responded to a promise of regular pay, food and arms. As it would turn out, there was not enough food, arms or clothes to supply the Volunteer Infantry. Troops had to march with feet bound in rags or homemade buckskin moccasins. Hunting wild game was often their only sustenance. Yet, the companies made an indelible mark as they became the first military front to oppose the Tonto Apaches.

A plan for the defeat of the Tonto Apaches was put in place by the Army. 7th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Volunteers from California were sent to establish a military post seven miles up the Verde River from its confluence with the Salt River. Their orders had been to locate the post somewhere deep in Tonto territory, perhaps in the Tonto Basin or Sierra Ancha areas. However, their commander realized the mountains formed too great a barrier for the movement of a large force into the Tonto stronghold, and so Fort McDowell was established as "a temporary post" until it could be moved north. Two companies of Arizona Volunteers were assigned to join the troops at Camp McDowell. They were Company C with just under 100 Pima Indians, and Company B with 94 Maricopa Indians. Among the Pima Company was their chief, Antonio Azul, who was made first sergeant.

It was September 15 when the Tontos received their first challenge from the newly established Army post. Their lookouts failed to spot the White and Indian volunteers moving up Sycamore Creek and over the Mazatzal Mountains. White soldiers had not been able to surprise the Tontos, but now with Pima and Maricopa scouts, the element of stealth was added to the maneuvers. The Indian scouts were issued red and blue shirts, blue pants, and red bandannas for their heads. In this way the soldiers could distinguish them from the Apaches.

A rancheria about nine miles east of today's Payson (possibly at Little Green Valley or Diamond Point) experienced a surprise attack at dawn. The Tontos were quick to escape into the forest, though one was killed and several wounded. The troops looted and burned the village, returning to McDowell on September 19. A few weeks later an Apache band was routed near the mouth of Tonto Creek, and five were killed, eight captured. On October 15 three Tontos were killed, but by November 24 when a six-day expedition left McDowell, the Apaches were well warned by their lookouts. This time the army failed to locate them.

As the attacks from both sides escalated, Apache rancherias were destroyed, their men and youth killed, the women and children taken prisoner. The Arizona Volunteers usually sold these captive children to white and Mexican families for slave labor. The regular soldiers for their part were carrying trophies of their attacks back to camp, such as Apache scalps, ears and even genitals. The Tontos responded with their own forms of warfare. They made small and incredibly sharp arrowheads of obsidian, a black volcanic glass, or of chert. When such an arrow struck the bone, its brittle head would shatter or detach from the shaft and remain in the body when the arrow was pulled out. Sometimes the arrowhead was poisoned with deer liver left in the sun to putrefy, then injected with rattlesnake venom.

By this time another military post had been established to the west of the Tontos in the Verde Valley. The growing strength of the white armies now put such pressure on the Indians they began to join forces. The Yavapai bands along the Verde and Hassayampa Rivers abandoned their ground and moved east to ally with the Tonto Apache chiefs, one of the best known being the powerful Del-che-ae.

Next: A Pincers on the Tontos

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