Road Into The Tonto Heartland

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Chapter 27: The history of the Tonto Apaches

The ambitious project of building a military wagon road over the Mazatzal Mountains and into the Tonto Basin was started in October 1867. Two companies of infantry from Camp McDowell were assigned to construct the road. Pack mules and beef cattle that were with the soldiers quickly attracted the Tontos, and the Indians stampeded the cattle twice in one day on the trail along Sycamore Creek. This made work on the road extremely difficult, and a constant guard had to be maintained against the ever-present Yavapai and Tonto who lurked on the surrounding hills.

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This is a spot near Cane Springs where the old military road crossed directly over a large pit used by the Apaches to roast agave hearts.

To build the wagon road called for intense labor, with many boulders to blast, hillsides to cut and arroyos to bridge. A supply train moved almost constantly between McDowell and the work crew.

Many of the Indian bands were being forced together to create a united front against this startling invasion of their stronghold. Previously Yavapai, Tonto Apache and Pinal Apache families had only tolerated each other or cooperated for short periods. Now they found their continued existence required new alliances, even though they were not altogether amicable. They still would sell out one another to gain an advantage.

By the end of October, the infantry had advanced the road about 20 miles, and struggled with their first large obstruction, Toddy Mountain (today called Black Mountain). A few miles beyond that, they established their first base camp on November 11. They named it Camp Miller to honor an infantry captain killed by Apaches near Camp Grant the year before.

While the infantry was building the road into the Tonto Basin, the Pima and Maricopa Indian scouts had permission to search out the Apaches. In October and November of 1867 they destroyed a village, killed at least 15 Apache warriors and took a dozen women and children prisoner.

The day the soldiers set up Camp Miller, they observed fires on the hills signaling a desire for peace. A small group of Apaches stood in sight of the camp shouting in Spanish that they were friendly. The soldiers called them to come on down, and three started, but two pulled back.

The bold one threw down his weapon and came ahead waving a dirty white rag in his hand. He brought it to where the officer in charge, Lt. DuBois, had planted his own white flag. They exchanged flags, and DuBois extracted a promise that the Apaches would return in four days with their chief for a conference. The lone Apache took the cleaner truce flag and the offer back to his companions. Apparently it was accepted, because the lone Tonto returned to the soldier's camp and met with DuBois. He pointed at the lieutenant's revolver, which DuBois removed in a gesture of peace. With that the Indian thumped himself on the chest and then thumped the captain's chest. It was his way of saying their hearts were united for peace. At sundown the Apache left Camp Miller, carrying gifts of clothes and trinkets, as well as an invitation to their headman to come with his people for talks.

DuBois sent a messenger to McDowell with word of the plan, and asked for an interpreter. The response was not good. The acting commander at Camp McDowell, Captain Mills, dispatched 170 mounted Indian scouts toward Camp Miller under the command of Chief Azul. On November 13, 40 of them reached Camp Miller and were upset to learn that the soldiers had let any of the Apaches leave the camp. Two days later three Apaches approached the road crew bearing a white flag. They stated that the presence of Pima and Maricopa scouts in the area precluded the Tonto band from coming in for the conference. Captain Dubois asked the three to wait on a ridge and watch the crew at work until evening, when he would give the Tontos safe passage into Camp Miller. However, Pima scouts learned of the Apache presence and appeared, ferociously waving war clubs and rifles. The 25-year-old DuBois, who was only 5-feet, 4-inches tall, placed himself between the Pimas and the Tontos, and through a Spanish interpreter told the Pimas there would be no killing Apaches in his camp. The Pimas responded with a war cry, and while one of them distracted DuBois, the others attacked the unarmed Tontos, severely wounding two of them. DuBois dared not call his small detachment of workers to help. He knew such intervention might turn into a skirmish and they could all be killed. Instead he drew his revolver to hold off the Pimas. At that instant DuBois' lung hemorrhaged from the tuberculosis he carried, splattering blood on his face and causing those around to think he had been struck by a Pima war club.

Infantry troops placed the two wounded Tontos in a wagon and escorted it back to Camp Miller, while the Pimas jeered from the sidelines. The Tontos were kept under a guard for safety overnight, but were able to be up and about the next day. That next morning, November 16, the rest of Azul's scouts, who had been hunting Apaches, returned to Camp McDowell, but on their way they killed and wounded a group of Tontos who were on their way to Camp Miller to carry on the peace talk.

Next: Chief Delshay seeks peace

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