Extermination An Impossible Goal



Chapter 35: The history of the Tonto Apaches

Major Alexander returned from his trip to San Francisco, seeking permission to establish a reservation, and immediately his enthusiasm for Del-che-ae cooled. The chief's mail couriers were accused of kidnapping an Apache servant girl in Alexander's household at Camp McDowell. The couriers were put in the guardhouse at Camp Reno, and Del-che-ae was confronted.

It was discovered that Osh-cav-o-til, not Del-che-ae, was responsible for harboring the servant girl. In fact she was not kidnapped at all, but had run away from the severe demands of Mrs. Alexander. With the help of Del-cha-ae, Chilson arranged to have the girl returned and personally delivered her to the Alexanders, the first week in June 1869.

In the midst of the summer, there was another leadership change at Camp Reno, and again the Tontos suffered confusion.

In the Apache culture, chiefs acted quite independently of one another. Del-che-ae and the other chiefs never quite comprehended the complex organization that lay behind the U.S. Army and its various commands. They could relate to some officers who won their respect, but not with others, whom they did not trust. Chilson had earned their respect, but late in July, he left Reno for duty elsewhere. Arriving to take Chilson's place was a 35-year-old Irishman named Captain Patrick Collins. He would command the post until Camp Reno was abandoned, a year later.


Two historic views of Camp Apache, established in 1871, in the heartland of the White Mountain Apaches. From here the Army could pursue the Tontos and recruit Indian scouts. The Army had learned that "it takes an Indian to catch an Indian."

Almost immediately, an incident occurred which got Collins and Del-che-ae off to a bad start. The arrangement Chilson had made with Del-che-ae and his men to carry the mail was still in effect, in spite of weakening trust between the chief and the military. With the beginning of the new command at Reno, a small raiding party waylaid the mail couriers and destroyed the mail, apparently without a battle. The same party proceeded to attack the herd at Reno and steal some cattle, killing a herder. Collins thought he had reason to believe Del-che-ae and his couriers were in league with the robbers, and he fired them from the lucrative job.

The summer now plunged into a new escalation of Indian raids, calls from the white community for extermination of all Indians and attempts of the tribes to bargain with the Army. The various headmen would bring their groups in to Camp Reno and set up camp, only to be frightened off by random shootings or an increase in military presence.

The commander of Camp Goodwin on the Gila River, Col. Green, was ordered by General Devin, commander of Arizona's Southern Military District, "to take all his available force, and personally head a campaign of extermination against the Apaches in the mountains north of the Gila River."

Green took four companies of cavalry and some friendly White Mountain Apaches, under Chief Manuel, into the White Mountains where they camped at the junction of the east and west forks of the White River.

On this tour they encountered and killed many Apaches, destroying crops and stock. "At this point," wrote Government Scout A.F. Banta, "Col. Green, finding himself in the very heart of Apacheria, decided to establish a camp as a working base, and name it Camp Ord." Later this location was officially approved and eventually became Fort Apache. With a road forged to it from the south, the Tonto Apaches were now hemmed in on three sides. Camp Lincoln on the west, Camp McDowell on the south and Camp Ord on the east formed a pincers, from which the cavalry would be able to quickly converge on the Tontos.

It was becoming clear to the military that extermination of the Indians was impossible, and the game of cat and mouse was increasingly costly. Though outnumbered, the Apaches and Yavapai practiced a guerrilla warfare that white armies could never beat -- except by starvation. The Tontos were even more frustrated, wanting to live amicably with the whites if only they could be given the land to continue their traditional way of life. The two cultures were completely incompatible. The Indians blended with nature and the European-Americans exploited nature. The white settlers coveted the minerals and grasses of Tonto territories, and this would never make for peace. Something had to give.

For the moment, Indian attacks on ranches and government herds escalated and more Indian families were decimated, before something happened to move both sides out of the quagmire.

Next: Conflicting views of the enemy.

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