Chapter 34: The history of the Tonto Apaches
Lt. Chilson, the officer in charge of Camp Reno, had enough good will among the Apaches that he was able to have long conversations with Del-che-ae. The Tonto chief gave Chilson detailed descriptions of Indian politics, including a current friction between the Tonto bands and the Pinal band of Ash-cav-o-til, as well as with the Yavapai bands of Osh-kol-te and Wa-poo-eta.
The Yavapai bands joined together for raids against Tucson and as far west as the mine camps around Wickenburg, but the Tontos were often blamed and were resentful. Del-che-ae "also told me," wrote Chilson to Lt. Kane, post adjutant at McDowell, "many other things about the localities they frequent and in what places they are most always to be found, and his story agrees as well with my own knowledge and ideas of the country, that it is impossible for me to discredit his statement."
Del-che-ae also confided some startling news. It seemed that even though Osh-kol-te had professed peace, he was actually planning a major raid on the Wickenburg area, along with his Yavapai cohorts. They were storing food in the Sunflower area, where their women and children were camped, to keep an eye on military movements in and out of Reno. Osh-kol-te had threatened Del-che-ae's life if he revealed these things, but Del-che-ae believed his best interest was to side with the U.S. Army. He gave Chilson detailed information about the trails the raiders were to take, and Chilson notified the Army at McDowell.
An Apache courier from McDowell responded the next day, that the Army was preparing a venture with cavalry and Maricopa scouts to ascend the Verde and head off the projected raid.
Suddenly, on April 23, Osh-kol-te arrived at Camp Reno and joined the discussions between Del-che-ae and Chilson. It was the first opportunity Chilson had to explain the peace plan requiring the unconditional surrender to the Yavapai chief. Osh-kol-te said he would do whatever Del-che-ae did about it. Chilson did not believe him, in the light of Del-che-ae's earlier information. Three days later, two scouting parties set out from McDowell to head off the Yavapai raiders. One detachment went up the Verde River with two companies of cavalry and the Maricopa scouts, while a second, made up of Pima scouts, went 20 miles up the Verde from the post and then cut over the Mazatzals. These actions were observed by Yavapai lookouts and Osh-kol-te's group remained at Reno, abandoning their plans for Wickenburg.
The first week of May Chilson prepared a census of the various bands camped in the Reno vicinity.
Del-che-ae emerged as the most influential among the chiefs, less than 30 years of age, headman for a band of 100 warriors, 40 women and 60 children. And 15 or 20 of his warriors carried firearms, from single-barreled shotguns to improved Spencer breech-loaders. Their penchant for gambling meant the weapons frequently exchanged owners.
Chilson's census showed that the Tonto and Yavapai men, women and children outnumbered the soldiers five to one. More significantly, there were two warriors for every available soldier and the two sides had equal firepower. While this information was gathered, an infantryman shot and wounded one of Osh-kol-te's warriors, precipitating the mass exodus of that band from Camp Reno.
Significant events were taking place in Arizona Territory, with the appointment of Anson Safford as the new governor.
He disagreed with the long-held government policy of extermination for the Indians, and wanted instead to spend more money on reservations. After studying Chilson's report, the military commanders decided the governor and others expressed the more reasonable attitudes. It was time to extend another peace feeler to Del-che-ae and the other chiefs. Mules would be sent to them for their transportation to McDowell. Before this could be put into effect, a lieutenant came from Washington to inspect the military posts of McDowell, Reno and Lincoln. The commander of the Military District of Arizona, Major Alexander, accompanied the inspector on the tour.
The Arizona Miner of May 29, 1869, quoted Alexander affirming his trust in Del-che-ae's sincerity. He reported that the Indians faithfully carried the mail, harvested hay, served as scouts, and that Del-che-ae had said his people were weary of war; that they would ally with the U.S. Army and help to fight hostile Indians.
Alexander then traveled to San Francisco carrying his public relations effort to the Department of the Pacific. He hoped to secure permission for a reservation near Camp Reno. While he was gone, troops from Camp McDowell continued to pursue Apache and Yavapai bands, destroying their villages and crops, taking many prisoners.
One of the camps turned out to be the stronghold of Pinal Apache chief Ash-cav-o-til. He had been utilizing an ancient pueblo with its large cultivated areas, irrigation ditches, and ball courts. Among the artifacts recovered were U.S. Government uniforms, mail bags, blankets, soap, and Spencer carbine ammunition. Back at Camp Reno, a medicine coat was identified by Chilson, Del-che-ae and Osh-kol-te as belonging to Ash-cav-o-til.
Next: Extermination an impossible goal.