Chapter 36: The History of the Tonto Apache
As word went out across Arizona about the ranching and prospecting possibilities in the central mountains and basins, pressure increased on the government to provide protection for settlers. This renewed determination of the whites to take over Apache territory was reflected in the report Brevet Major General Ord made to Major General George H. Thomas, commander of the Department of the Pacific at San Francisco, dated Sept. 27, 1869. A year-and-a-half earlier Ord had succeeded General McDowell as Commander of the Department of California, and still did not know the boundaries of the Arizona District, from his comfortable and distant location in San Francisco.
He claimed success "in reducing the hostile Apaches," and went on to say, "These Arabs of Arizona have heretofore neither given nor asked quarter; their hands have always been bloody, their favorite pursuit killing and plundering, their favorite ornaments the fingers and toenails, the teeth, hair and small bones of their victims... On taking command of the department, I was satisfied that the few settlers and scattered miners of Arizona were the sheep upon which these wolves habitually preyed, and that, if that wilderness was to be kept free from Apache robbers and murderers, a temporizing policy would not answer; therefore I encouraged the troops to capture and root out the Apache by every means, and to hunt them, as they would wild animals."
It is interesting to compare General Ord's view of the Apaches with Army scout A.F. Banta's evaluation, regarding who were the real savages. After years of living among the Apaches of central Arizona, Banta wrote, "Webster truthfully defines the so-called American savage when he says: ‘The savages of America, when uncorrupted by the vices of the civilized man, are remarkable for their hospitality to strangers, and for their truth, fidelity, and gratitude to their friends, but implacably cruel and revengeful toward their enemies.' But in this matter of cruelty and savagery, the civilized Christian man, with his inquisitional instruments of torture, and his witch tortures and burnings, and other methods of cruelty, is so far ahead of the so-called savage in devilishness, that he can give the red man cards and spades in the game, and then win out, thumbs down. This is a bitter pill for the ‘civilized' egotist to swallow; nevertheless it is the gospel truth, and cannot be truthfully contradicted."
During October and November, attacks on the government herd at Reno continued. The Tontos faced a winter that could bring starvation, since the Army scouting parties consistently destroyed their stores of foods. Then, an especially tempting opportunity presented itself. During the first week of October, the Army moved a large herd from the lower valley around Camp McDowell, where the grass had dried up, to the fine grazing around Camp Reno. On Oct. 10, the Tontos tried to stampede the herd, wounding a cavalry horse and killing the chief herder in the process. In these raids on livestock, the Apaches sought to drive as many head as they could into the mountains. There they would feast, but then drove the excess animals into canyons to become feral. There the Apaches could hunt and kill them as needed. Such cattle or mules were easier to hunt down than deer or elk.
During the first week of November, what was left of the government herd was returned to Camp McDowell. An anxious peace ensued, while Del-che-ae and several other chiefs petitioned under a flag of truce to occupy their former camp near Camp Reno. Captain Collins, commander at Reno, agreed until he could receive further instructions. However, he held three of Del-che-ae's warriors hostage to ensure the chief's accountability.
In the interest of fast mail service and the need for more personnel, Captain Collins again hired Del-cha-ae's Tontos to carry the mail between Camps McDowell and Reno. Construction continued on buildings at Camp Reno, but any plans to extend the line of supply and build a post in Green Valley had been given up. There simply were not enough soldiers to do the job.
As 1870 dawned, a crisis erupted once again. On New Year's Day Del-che-ae and several of his men left their camp on Tonto Creek for the post to visit some of the officers. The chief was unaware that the post surgeon, James Dunlevy, believed the chief had been stealing personal items from his tent. Del-che-ae approached the surgeon's tent, and upon lifting the flap, was greeted by a shot from the doctor's pistol. The Tonto chief clutched his chest, turned and walked slowly through the post. As soon as he was beyond the line, he gave several rallying yells, and with his entire band, fled to the mountains.
Apparently, the wound was not serious, because in a few days he returned and bragged that this was nothing! After all, Captain Alexander had earlier shot him 30 times! Del-che-ae's reference was to the time he had first openly declared war on the whites, and fled amid a hail of bullets from Alexander's troops.
Next: The end of Camp Reno.