Chapter 39: The History of the Tonto Apache
The White Mountain Apaches had made peace with the American Army and agreed to the establishment of a post in the midst of their territory in exchange for food to feed their hungry people. While Col. Green was setting up a post on the north fork of the White River, the Chiricahua chief Cochise visited, stating a desire to make peace with the Americans. To acknowledge his visit, the post was later named Camp Apache. Cochise had experienced a severe defeat in which 61 of his warriors were killed, and he sought peace until his people could recover. He offered to bring the Chiricahua band onto a reservation, if one was created for them.
As colder weather began to settle over the Rim Country, the reservation was not forthcoming and Cochise led his people back to the southern mountains, where his attacks became more vicious than ever. Troops were diverted from central Arizona to combat the growing intensity of the Chiricahua raids.
A temporary reservation for Apaches had been set up at Camp Thomas on the upper Gila River and it was the target of Prescott's Arizona Miner, sarcastically suggesting that the Indians were "living on the generous bounty of our philanthropic uncle." The paper strongly opposed the idea of reservations.
On the other hand, its editor accompanied General Stoneman to visit the White Mountain Apaches, and seemed to be ready for compromise. He wrote, "We know it to be the fixed opinion of most Arizonans that the Apache cannot be tamed, but proper measures for doing so have never before been taken, and it may be that this opinion will soon be abandoned. We hope so, at all events, for it is cheaper, better for the country to feed and civilize them than it is to fight them, which latter mode of dealing with them has so far proved an expensive, ineffectual way of subduing them."
Whether for economic or humanitarian reasons, this point of view was gaining strong momentum among the powers in Washington. After the 1869 inauguration of President Ulysses S. Grant, a push for peace intensified. There had been growing discontent in the country with the way the Office of Indian Affairs was handling the peace process. The continuing war against the Apaches seemed futile. The weariness of soul which war brings was pressing the American conscience.
At President Grant's behest, a board of Indian commissioners was established in June of 1869. In addition to auditing the accounts of the Office of Indian Affairs, they had wide powers to supervise the purchase and transporting of goods given the Indians. The Commission was also charged with visiting the tribes, consulting with the chiefs and Indian agents, and investigating reports of cruelties to Indians. They were to escort parties of Indians to various cities in the North and East in order to champion Indian rights.
The Friends, or Quakers, had met with President Grant and suggested he appoint "religious men" as agents and employees to work with the various tribes. It was hoped this would end the spoils system that had ingrained itself among Indian agents across the rest of America. Grant accepted this "Quaker Policy" and appointed various Christian denominations to administrate the reservations.
As yet, the Apaches did not have any agents or reservations, except the temporary camp at Fort Thomas, so the peace movement emanating from the eastern United States did not reach Arizona in December of 1870.
In that month, the Tontos ranged as far south as Tucson, driven by hunger. Seventy-five Tontos attacked a freight train in the Canyon del Oro en route from Camp Goodwin to Tucson. Although forty well-armed men guarded the train, the Indians were successful in stealing at least thirty head of oxen. They drove animals north over the Dripping Springs Mountains, across the Salt River and into the Sierra Ancha. There they camped on a high mesa and made jerky of the slaughtered animals. When the site was discovered years later, it got the name Jerky Butte.
The sixth territorial legislature met in Tucson on January 11, 1871, and Governor Safford's colorful message played well: "The question of paramount importance since the acquisition of the territory has been, and is now, the hostility of the Apache Indians. The history of these Indians is written in blood." He went on to paint a vivid picture of Indian atrocities and praise the fortitude of white settlers. He also stated that the Army was totally inadequate to "the prosecution of an energetic, aggressive war, and no other kind of war will ever reduce the Apache to submission." He pleaded for memorials that would urge Congress to authorize the raising of another Arizona Volunteer Infantry, by which the territory's own people could more cheaply "fight for their homes and firesides."
However, the federal government's policy of appeasement was about to be felt in Arizona, with an impending change of military leadership.
General George Crook was in the wings, about to be assigned to the Military Department of Arizona. He would win the respect of the Apaches, and cooperation for the establishment of reservations.
Next: The Scene is set for Crook's Campaign