The End Of Camp Reno



Chapter 37: The History of the Tonto Apache

In the early months of 1870, attacks on supply trains south of the Tonto territory grew fiercer. Pinal Apaches, Yavapai, and perhaps some marauding bands of Tontos, carried them out. The understaffed military posts were hardly a match for guerrilla attacks that struck without warning; the Apaches had learned that a war of terror worked best. While pretending to be friendly at Camp Reno, members of Del-che-ae's bands often harbored and fed the hostile Indians as well as aiding the Yavapai in their raids. Different bands staged surprise attacks in different sections, thus catching the army off guard, and carried out stealthy murders of lone sentinels and herders.


Mount Ord from the Reno Ranger District location, photo taken in the 1930s.

An evaluation of Camp Reno now took place. The acting assistant inspector general Lt. Col. George W. Wallace conducted it. In anticipation of this, on Feb. 13, Reno commander Captain Collins placed under arrest those Tonto bands camped at Reno. The troops hoped to keep them under guard and at peace during the visit, which commenced with the lieutenant's arrival on Feb. 17.

Camp Reno had grown sizably, with its sutler's store, Apache interpreter, blacksmith, carpenter, teamsters, clerks, herders and other civilians under contract with the Army. A report of the shooting of Del-che-ae by Dr. Dunlevy reached the inspector, but he chose to overlook it. He was impressed with the buildings, the stables, and the post garden, which had been cultivated about two miles away. The medical facilities left much to be desired, but Reno had become a thriving community.

However, Wallace apparently had made up his mind before he arrived to recommend that the post be abandoned. The road was extremely rocky and rough, and the location so isolated as to make its support very costly to the government. In response to Wallace's report, the decision reached by the commanders was that Camp Reno would no longer be an independent post, but would become an outpost of Camp McDowell. On March 7, Captain Collins and half the garrison returned to Camp McDowell, leaving Lt. Thomas Riley and 30 troops to maintain the outpost. These remaining troops commenced building a stockade around the buildings, and Camp Reno began to resemble a fort.

Seldom were the military posts in Arizona fortified in a way to be legitimately called forts. The strategy of the Apaches did not lend itself to open attack on these well-staffed military commands, so there was really no need for fortifications. Before 1866, most posts in Arizona were called forts, but in November of that year, the Military Department of California, of which Arizona was part, directed that all Arizona posts were to be designated as "camps," except for Whipple and Yuma. That rule was reversed in April of 1879 changing the term from "camp" to "fort."

Deadly skirmishes continued during the spring of 1870 with bands of Apaches still considered renegades by the whites. For example, two days after the reduction of troops at Reno, the paymaster's escort was attacked in Sunflower Valley while returning to Camp McDowell. Two soldiers died from that attack and several more wounded. Four Apaches were killed.

In the middle of May, a detachment of soldiers from Camp Goodwin on the Gila River established Camp Ord at the junction of the east and west forks of the White River. It was in the midst of White Mountain Apache territory, and would later be named Camp Apache.

Chiefs Miguel, Pedro, Petone and Alchesay had decided that the survival of their people depended on cooperating with the whites, and welcomed the outpost. Its first garrison included 148 men and several civilian employees. The White Mountain Apaches were facing such impending starvation that by July 1, 1,000 of them were present at Camp Ord to be counted and receive an issue of beef. More were coming in daily.

While this was going on, the Tontos continued venting their anger toward the military for using Camp Reno as a staging area against them. On June 2, they set fire to the haystack and the wooden buildings, burning down most of the structures. After that, the location continued only as a camp for the movement of troops into Apache lands. Just getting there over the Mazatzal Mountains on the Reno Road proved hazardous, and the Apache-Yavapai bands had plenty of warning by observing the troop movements.

During these same months, significant changes were taking place in the military command. Arizona was separated from Southern California and made a separate military department. General George Stoneman was placed in command of both Arizona and Southern California, and to the consternation of the settlers and military posts, Stoneman moved the Arizona headquarters from Fort Whipple to a place called Drum Barracks in Wilmington, Calif. One of his first orders was that roads be built to connect the widely separated posts throughout Arizona.

Next: The U.S. Seeks Peace

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