Chapter 29: The history of the Tonto Apaches
Captain DuBois sought to make good on his promises to the bands of Tonto, Pinal, and Mescalero Apaches that had encamped near Camp Carroll. He began to issue one pound of meat and one pound of flour with some salt to each Indian daily. He also requested permission from his superiors to distribute used clothing, blankets and tents. All of these arrangements exceeded his authority, but DuBois knew he had to do it to buy time while the road was completed into the Tonto homeland. He further requested that the Pima and Maricopa scouts cease their forays in the Tonto Basin.
While Del-che-ae and the others were camped there, they received a visit from the newly-appointed commander of all troops operating in northern and central Arizona, Col. Thomas Devin. He stayed only briefly, but did approve DuBois' plan and later secured final approval from General McDowell.
The road construction continued with little interference from the Indians and reached Sunflower Valley in the heart of the Mazatzal Mountains. There the Army established a third camp and named it Camp O'Connell, honoring a major who had died in Texas the previous September. DuBois' tubercular condition caused more hemorrhages, and he was transferred for medical disability on Feb. 4, 1868.
Lt. George Chilson took command of the troops building the military road and at the same time a new commander took over at Camp McDowell, Major David R. Clendenin of the 8th Cavalry. Chief Del-che-ae and the other headmen, who were camped with their bands in Sunflower Valley, received a visit from Clendenin the end of February.
He confronted them, asking why the Apaches robbed and murdered Americans. Del-che-ae answered that Indians needed what whites possessed and raiding was the only way they had to obtain such goods. The chief further suggested that the Tontos would work hard and honestly if they had military protection and rations. He even offered to send warriors to fight with the soldiers against other Tontos who did not cooperate.
Clendenin, convinced of Del-che-ae's sincerity, promised protection and that rations would be provided. He invited the chiefs to join him in locating the site for Camp Reno and their future farms.
As they prepared to ride out of camp, Del-che-ae suddenly refused to go along. It seems Major Clendenin was mounted while the Apache chief was expected to walk. This humiliation was unacceptable to the Tonto, and the friendly relationship suddenly evaporated in the winter air.
The Apache may have welcomed this as an excuse. Del-cha-ae did not wish to lend his full weight to a military post in the heart of Apacheria, nor did he want to appear as cozying up to the white soldiers. Clendenin was angry at the rebuff, and returned to Camp McDowell.
The following month, on March 24, while the Indian bands were still camped near Camp O'Connell, another new commander from Camp McDowell arrived to parlay with the Indians. His name was Major Andrew J. Alexander. It was extremely bewildering to the Indians to have such frequent changes of command. They no sooner
became familiar with the personality of one, than a stranger replaced him. Major Alexander was not just on a social visit, but was in pursuit of Apache raiders who had allegedly killed two herdsmen near Picacho Peak and driven 700 head of cattle in the direction of Tonto territory. A cavalry unit followed him over the mountain.
Alexander's talks with the Indians had to go through a double translation, Apache translated into Spanish and then the Spanish into English. By the time answers went through the same process, misunderstandings readily occurred. The officer did make it clear he wanted the Apaches to remain camped in Sunflower Valley until he returned from his search for the stolen cattle.
The Indians seemed to agree, until suddenly the cavalry unit from Camp McDowell appeared over the hill. As they began their ominous-looking descent into the valley, one of the chiefs rallied his people and they disappeared into the mountains. Del-che-ae lingered, but as the cavalry set up camp, he and his people melted into the surrounding juniper and oak covered canyons.
It was April 3 when the cavalry detachment continued their search for the stolen cattle. They rode up into the Sierra Ancha, not realizing they were riding directly into Del-che-ae's stronghold. Suddenly a line of Apaches blocked the trail before them as they crested a hill. Standing defiantly in a rock, silhouetted against the sky, was Del-cha-ae. He held a rifle, wore an Army blouse and a black hat. He shouted that he had come out to meet the "Capitan Grande," a name he had for the commander, and to declare war against the Americans. He said he had made up his mind the night before that blood was required, and the general should take his Army and leave the country. Furthermore, he said, one of the chieftains was leading an army of thousand warriors to attack the Army camp and wipe them out.
As the chief spoke he gesticulated wildly and broke into abusive language. With that, Major Alexander ordered his men to shoot the chief. One of the soldiers who corresponded regularly with Prescott's Arizona Miner under the pen name "Reno," wrote, "The words were not finished when about half a dozen bullets greeted the chief, leaving nothing to be seen of him but his breechclout, the Apache national flag, floating for an instant, and then disappearing. The infantry and cavalry ascended the hill immediately, but the Indians were nowhere to be found ..."
Next: Mixed Signals from the Tontos