Chapter 41: The History of the Tonto Apaches
As the winter of 1871-1872 clutched the Rim Country in its grip, Tonto Apache chiefs began to bring their families to the several reservations. At first the military commanders assumed this meant the beginning of victory over the Apaches, but in fact the Indians came to take advantage of government provisions and avoid the severe winter weather. Many warriors remained at large to continue their raids on wagon trains and ranches. The advocates of peace in Washington, still hoping the Apaches would capitulate, kept General Crook idle.
Meanwhile, politics dominated the administration of the reservations. A bitter struggle for control of the reservations was going on between the War Department, desiring military control, and the Department of Interior, wanting civilian control. Corrupt Indian agents were taking beef and other supplies from the Indians to sell on a "black market," for their own profit. The Apaches who had gone to the reservations were on the edge of revolt, because such practices robbed them of promised food.
Washington sent General Oliver Otis Howard to Arizona, with hopes of negotiating peace. Howard was a devout man, who knelt publicly for prayer before he held conferences, and who was opposed to the practice of genocide. However, by the summer of 1872, even General Howard had become convinced peace was not possible with the fierce Tonto Apache and Yavapai bands. Even while he held talks with them, the Tontos, or perhaps the Yavapai, drove off a beef herd from Camp Verde, and 2,000 sheep were stolen from within a couple of miles of Fort Whipple. The pursuing cavalry troops caught up with the raiders 80 miles east of the post, in Tonto territory, and while most of the Apaches escaped, the cattle and sheep were recovered. In addition, 30 white people had been killed by Indians during the spring and summer. The Apaches were trading with the Navajos for guns, and becoming better armed. A joke going around the territory was that the whites were on the reservation, while the Apaches ran the country.
Prescott's Arizona Miner on July 6th wrote tongue-in-cheek poetry:
"Some playful Tontos
Of the House of Delshay
Stole three fatted Bullocks
And silently fled away."
Washington now gave General Crook a free hand to launch a vigorous campaign. His strategy was for highly mobile troop detachments to move out in several directions, supported by pack trains. Each company had 30 to 40 Apache scouts, commanded by white officers and white scouts. The soldiers would hit the hostiles wherever they could be found, keeping them on the move and bottled up in the mountains, where winter would take its toll.
While still in Arizona, General Howard moved to consolidate the reservations and had those at Date Creek and Camp McDowell abolished, as well as the Hualapai Reservation at Beale Springs. He sent the Indians from those reserves to the Rio Verde and newly established San Carlos reservations. The military completely misunderstood the animosity Indians often had toward each other, when they forced various tribes to live together within limited boundaries. There was no federation of native tribes to organize resistance, and while one or another band might surrender, the general resistance continued, because each band had to be defeated separately.
Apache headman Del-che-ae, whose stronghold was in the Sierra Ancha, had become a hero in the eyes of his brethren, but an infamous renegade in the eyes of the white population.
One of Del-che-ae's wives was Yavapai, and this alliance meant his people and his Yavapai in-laws worked together for both raiding and defense. His wife and their son were among some Tontos who went to a reservation to obtain supplies. There the son contracted malaria, and upon returning to the mountains, he died. Del-che-ae's grief turned to anger, and he blamed the boy's mother. He brutally killed her in the presence of her Yavapai relatives. This ended their alliance, and the Yavapai band left to camp along the Salt River. They were discovered by a military detachment and all but a few were killed in what became known as the Battle of the Caves.
The Army took many prisoners and incarcerated them at the Rio Verde reservation. However, many did not stay put. For example, when the Tontos demanded the commanding officer return their firearms so they could hunt, he refused and all but six Tontos left the reservation. Other times they would draw their rations, but immediately bolt the reservation to conduct raids on settlers. None of these renegade activities went unchallenged, and the cavalry usually caught up with them, killing scores and taking many prisoners throughout 1872 and 1873. So many were killed or captured that in April 1873, General Crook announced the Tonto Basin phase of his campaign completed.
Del-che-ae, who was still at large, remained a prime target for General Crook. Although his warriors were discovered and killed on several occasions, the women and children captured, the chief continued to escape. Slowly the headmen loyal to Del-che-ae were becoming disillusioned with his leadership, and began leading their people to the Rio Verde Reservation for protection. One headman brought 2,300 of his followers in, after the hard winter of 1872-73. Then in March of 1873 a major battle occurred against the Tontos on Turret Mountain in the Verde Valley. It signaled the end of Tonto resistance, except for one hold out: Del-che-ae.
Next: The Death of Delshay