The Dream Comes True


The continuing friendship of Mrs. Lewis Pyle with the Tonto Apaches led to an effort to help them become economically independent.

She built a building on Main Street in Payson for an Art Center and store where arts and crafts could be manufactured.Then the handmade Indian crafts and art were offered for sale.She would help the Indians to make the things, and then purchased them, for sale in the store.


After the Tonto Apaches obtained their own reservation and recognition as a tribe, they soon built a church that symbolized the Christian faith that had strengthened them in the long quest.

Polly Davis was an outstanding bead maker and, together with others, they produced several print designs that were sold to the Burlington Mills. The milling company produced a line of bed sheets, towels and blankets that provided royalties for the community.

Chief Campbell was self-taught in designing and sewing attractive shirts, leisure suits and dresses.He said, "We want to make our own prints and use the best quality textiles.We intend to use the old art forms for new fashions, and are studying the traditional design motifs on baskets, leather and beadwork."Later when times changed, the tribe's business aptitude would take them in different directions, as the laws permitted casinos on reservations.

Population in The Camp was growing, and the Indians grew restless with their conditions.They wanted to press the government for title to their few acres. Doris Sturgis and Nan Pyle were prime movers on behalf of the Payson area Tonto people. They initiated meetings of interested citizens along with members of the tribe, and met monthly at the Ox Bow Inn or in the church at The Camp.They tried to get newspaper coverage from Phoenix on the plight of the Indians, but got no response.The coalition relied heavily on Melton Campbell, who had good English, and was a natural leader. He had been accepted as pastor of the Full Gospel Church, a successor to Joe Martin.

The monthly meetings of the citizens committee became an ad-hoc governing board for the community at the Camp. They "elected" Melton Campbell to be the chairman of the tribe, and the rest of the community accepted his leadership by common consent. After all, he had always been called "Chief," and his father, George Campbell, had been the unofficial leader of the community.

The families agreed one of the rules for the Camp would be that no new Indians could move in, unless they were employed.

Doris Sturgis interviewed some of the Indians and wrote articles herself, sending letters to congressmen and senators with the story of how much the Army scouts had done for the government, and their current plight in not having land. Everyone agreed that continued charity was not the answer for the future of the Tontos. They needed to have their own land and the opportunity to become self-sufficient. So, the idea of a land exchange came into being.

As it was, the Payson Tontos were not recognized as a tribe by the government, and thus were not eligible for medical care and other assistance from the BIA. It was necessary to establish proof of their unique tribal identity.

A grant was made by the Doris Duke foundation for a graduate student from the University of Arizona to conduct extensive oral histories among the community members, as well as the elders among white settlers who had dealt with the Tontos for decades. These interviews were conducted by Nicholas P. Houser, and remain a primary source of information about the Tonto tribe.

The leaders retained Joe Sparks, an attorney from Phoenix, to assemble a document on the history of the tribe, to prove that these people were separate and distinct from other Apache groups already recognized by the government. These studies would have great persuasive power.

In an effort to press the government for help, the Committee sent a delegation to Washington, D.C. to plead their case. Included in the group was Chief Melton Campbell, spokesperson for the tribe. In Washington, they made contact with Senators Paul Fannin and Carl Hayden, as well as Representative Sam Steiger.

The TV stations in Washington picked up the story of what they called "the lost tribe," and Chief Campbell appeared on talk shows. He also met with President Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew, explaining that his people were asking for an 85-acre reservation.

The Chief, growing politically astute, subtly suggested such an action would preclude his people from suing the government for millions of dollars in damages, as other tribes had successfully done.

Agnew was able to secure a $10,000 grant from the government that was to be held for building infrastructure, once the tribe owned their own land. They also needed money to be appropriated by the government to buy land that could be exchanged for their use.

Lewis and Nan Pyle had planned to give their 60-acre Sunflower Ranch to the Girl Scouts, but were persuaded to support the needs of the Indians.

The Forest Service suggested the Pyle ranch, valued at $1,000 an acre, would only produce 24 1/2 acres in exchange, and they offered a location east of town at Turkey Springs.he Indians refused this offer because it was not enough land, and it was too far away from town. How could they get to work, or even haul water from the spring?The Committee pressed for land across the highway from The Camp, though the homeowners to the north, over the hill, raised a strong objection because they feared "their land value would go down, and they didn't want Indians crossing their properties."

However, after all the publicity and pressure was brought to bear, the Congress acted with unusual dispatch and voted in favor of a new reservation on Oct. 6, 1972, officially recognizing the Tonto Apache Tribe.

A member of the Forest Service was directed to wait on Chief Campbell with this message.

sage, "You may choose any land you wish in Gila County that is under the U. S. Forest Service jurisdiction and it will be yours."

Incidentally, the Pyles later donated their 60-acre ranch for the building of the Lewis Pyle Memorial Hospital, and in years to come that meant the Apaches had medical care close by.The tract of hilly land directly across from the Camp was chosen for the reservation.It would be an easy walk to town for work and to shop.Both Indians and whites marked the irony of that hour.

It took one hundred and one years from the time the first reservations were established in Arizona, to acknowledge the existence of a people after whom the Tonto National Forest had been named back in 1905.

They who had roamed this entire region at will for hundreds of years now had been returned a little more than an acre for each member of their tribe.


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