Chapter 42: The History of the Tonto Apaches
In March of 1873, Crook's Army, led by the scout C. C. Cooley and his White Mountain Indian company, had captured a Tonto woman and forced her to show them where the Tonto warriors were hiding out.
The trail led up the treacherous Turret Peak, overlooking the Verde River in the Pine Mountain Wilderness.
Approaching undetected, they attacked the Tonto camp at dawn. Some Tontos jumped off the cliff to their death; 50 others were killed, and 15 were taken prisoners.
The Tontos had hoped this remote mountaintop would be a safe retreat, but this defeat broke their spirit.
Throughout April, bands of Tonto Apaches and Yavapai began surrendering at the Rio Verde Reservation.
As Yavapai chief Chalipun led more than 2,000 of his people to the reservation, he was quoted as saying, "You see, we're nearly dead from want of food and exposure. The copper cartridge has done the business for us. I'm glad of the opportunity to surrender, but I do it not because I love you, but because I am afraid of General Crook."
Del-che-ae still held out, defiant with his shrinking band of warriors.
On April 23, an Army detachment located Del-che-ae's camp in a canyon on the Mogollon Rim, and after firing a few shots, the chief surrendered with 20 men, the only ones who had stayed with him.
Ever the dramatist, he began to cry, promising to follow orders in order to save his people from starvation. He said obscure things like every rock had turned into a soldier, or that the rocks had become soft and left Tonto footprints that the soldiers could follow.
The renegade band was taken to Camp Apache, where they were mistreated and threatened by the White Mountain bands.
In the early summer, Del-che-ae took his few men and bolted the reservation, only to show up at the Rio Verde reservation, asking for food and medicine.
The defiant chief set up his camp apart from the main village, and immediately began to foment rebellion among the other Tontos.
Conditions deteriorated during the summer of 1873, and the Tontos were so weak and sick, many dead were left unburied, to mummify in the dry air.
Twenty-two Tontos volunteered to become Army scouts, searching for Apaches who had left the San Carlos Reservation, and General Crook was proclaiming victory over the Tontos.
When the threat of revolt grew strong at Rio Verde, the commander was ordered to arrest Del-che-ae to keep him from stirring up rebellion. Several confrontations followed, until September when the Tonto chief escaped with a contingent of malcontented Tontos. Other warrior bands that had never surrendered joined him, and the war was back on.
For the next nine months, Army units scouted throughout the Mazatzal Mountains, the Mogollon Rim, and Pine Mountain wilderness in hot pursuit of the renegades.
During the severe winter of 1874, more Tontos surrendered at San Carlos, begging to be forgiven and taken in. General Crook allowed them to stay on one condition. They had to bring in the heads of their ringleaders, including that of Del-che-ae.
During the following months, a number of bloody heads were brought to the San Carlos Agency and placed on posts around the parade ground. However, Del-che-ae was still at large. Crook offered to pay $50 for his head.
Three Tonto scouts came into Rio Verde and handed the camp physician, Dr. William Corbusier, a crumpled bloody rag saying, "Del-che-ae." The physician wrote, "On opening the parcel I found a whole scalp with the left ear hanging to it, in the lobe of which was tied a pearl shirt button." Chief Del-che-ae was known to wear this memento in his left ear, taken from some white victim.
The scouts claimed to have killed him near Turret Peak on July 29. However, on Aug. 21, a Tonto warrior named Desalin brought an Apache head to the San Carlos Agency and claimed it was Del-che-ae's. The Indians at San Carlos and Camp Verde each tried to persuade General Crook that theirs was the authentic remains of the chief.
The diplomatic general wrote, "Being satisfied that both parties were earnest in their beliefs, and the bringing in of an extra head was not amiss, I paid both parties."
The issue was further complicated when a Tonto Apache at San Carlos told Crook the head taken there was his son, not Del-che-ae. Other followers of the chief also testified it was not Del-che-ae's head.
The general came to the conclusion that the Camp Verde scalp and ear was authentic, and affirmed in his annual report of Aug. 31, 1874 that "Delshay was killed by his own people near Turret Mountain."
A relatively quiet summer followed, as the Apache and Yavapai bands at Rio Verde dug irrigation ditches and harvested hay to sell to the Army.
Next: The Tontos long march.