Chapter 47: History of the Tonto Apache
When the Tonto Apaches returned to their homeland in the Payson area, they made camps at locations used by their forefathers. One of those locations was Butterfly Springs, on the mesa east of Vista Road and south of the airport. The rock outcroppings, visible from Vista Road, became burial places for their dead, the bodies tucked into the rock crevices. Julia Randall told how, as a girl playing up there, she and a playmate came upon a skeleton.
One of the Tonto camps that flourished near Payson in the first half of the 20th century was on the East Verde River, just below the crossing of State Route 87. Two more ephemeral camps were located at Flowing Springs and at the mouth of Webber Creek, but white ranches soon occupied those places.
The leader of this East Verde band of Tonto Apaches was Delia Cabbelechia. English-speaking people could not pronounce her name, so she was called Delia Chapman. More often, it was simply Dee-lee.
There were around 50 Tontos in this community. Around 1904, the Office of Indian Affairs (later to become the BIA) arranged with the newly organized Forest Service to set aside 160 acres of this camp for the Tonto Apaches. This was done ostensibly to compensate those families whose men had served as Army scouts during the campaigns of the 1870s and 1880s. The unspoken hope of the settlers was that this would keep the Indians from settling in Payson. The deal was negotiated by the Payson Justice of the Peace, George Randall (father of Julia Randall, who became Payson's long tenured schoolteacher). In Apache tradition, the women not only were strong leaders, but also were the owners of family property. Delia's name was put on the deed.
From the East Verde camp, it was relatively easy for the members to commute to Payson for employment. Delia worked as a laundress for Mrs. William Hilligass. It was the Depression in the 1930s that forced the Tontos to leave the East Verde camp. During those difficult economic times, some returned to San Carlos or the Middle Verde camp in the Verde Valley, while others joined the group living on Indian Hill. Delia sold her land for $500 to Roy Blevins, and in 1941, he filed the homestead claim that would become today's East Verde Estates.
Before that, in 1915, some of the East Verde families, as well as others from San Carlos, moved to Payson and established a camp on Indian Hill, north of Main Street. It was there the Evans, Burdette, Irving and Bread families found their way into the good graces of early Payson residents. Water was obtained from wells along Main Street, whose owners welcomed the Tontos helping themselves.
Among the Tonto Apaches living on Indian Hill were the families of Henry Burdette and Henry Irving. These men were the maternal and paternal ancestry of Melton Campbell, who would later become "Chief" Campbell, and their progeny would become leaders in the Tonto tribe.
Burdette had been born and raised in the Payson area. His Indian name was "Chitten," meaning ashes or charcoal. Irving was a man with several names, because during different hitches in the Army, he took on the name of his white officer. One was Campbell, another Irving, and another was Evans. His children carried the name he was using when they were born.
His Apache name was De-ay-li-a, which Sergeant Smiley said means "anything that does not grow tall," but Henry used to say he did not know what it meant.
He did not stay at Indian Hill as consistently as the Burdettes, but came and went, moving to various camps at Fossil Creek, San Carlos, and Camp Verde. One of his daughters, Mrs. Mary Beecher, lived at Camp Verde and in 1938, Henry formally listed that as his address. On Nov. 7, 1941, Henry Irving died at her home.
The old road that crossed Indian Hill cut it in two. The east side, above today's high school, was where they buried their dead. The west side was where they built their humble houses.
Because the Apaches traditionally considered the land as belonging to Usen (God), and their living on the land a sacred right, as part of the Creation, it was not in their comprehension to "own property." However, Henry Irving understood the American civilization enough from his Army days to know he needed ownership of his family's plot on Indian Hill. He had a small pension from the Army and was able to purchase a couple of lots for $20, receiving a trustee's deed on July 18, 1930. The other families continued living on the hill without such formalities, except they thought Henry's presence there was their security, because "he had a paper."
However, Henry did understand that he had to record his deed at the county courthouse in Globe, and that was never done. He did, however, pay his taxes each year until 1938, when he moved to his daughter's at Camp Verde. The other families, still living on Indian Hill, did not know they had to pay taxes on those lots.
From 1938 to 1944, Henry Irving's lots were placed on the county's delinquent tax rolls, and on Feb. 5, 1945, Mr. Newell Fuller purchased Henry's property for $3.43, the amount of the lien.
The Tonto families did not know about all this, and continued to live there until 1954. The town of Payson was expanding, and the view from Indian Hill made the property valuable for housing. It was sold to a developer. The family of Alan Curtis saw the handwriting on the wall, and moved to another traditional camp location, south of town. Others followed as white families built on Indian Hill, and the last Tontos to leave were members of the Campbell family.
In 1957, while they were away with Melton Campbell's dad George Campbell, the developer brought in a bulldozer and leveled their house before they could rescue any of their furniture or personal belongings. The Indian graves were also destroyed.
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