The Tontos' Long March

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Chapter 43 -- The History of the Tonto Apache

Editor's note: The "Chapter 43" that was published in the Aug. 22 edition of The Rim Review was actually "Chapter 44" of Stan Brown's series. The real "Chapter 43" was not available at press time and appears here, out of sequence. We apologize for the confusion and inconvenience.

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The flat area at the junction of Pine Creek with the East Verde River is where the Indians camped during their Long March from the Rio Verde Reservation to San Carlos. Several Yavapai and Tonto Apache people were buried here after a fight arose between them during this tense and painful journey on foot. Later the Mormon settlers called this area Mazatzal City.

Many of America's native tribes had their "trail of tears" -- a long march forced upon them as they were moved from one territory or another by White armies. The Tontos and Yavapai were no exception.

After General Crook proclaimed the Tonto rebellion had been quelled, life on the Rio Verde Reservation seemed to proceed smoothly.

The Yavapai and Apache families dug irrigation ditches so that a significant tract of land along the Verde River was under cultivation. Soon they were providing food and hay not only for themselves, but enough to supply Fort Verde. This did not sit well with a powerful group of politicians and freighters in Tucson whose economic interests were jeopardized. Valuable government contracts for supplying the reservation and the military post in the Verde Valley were being cut, and in danger of being eliminated altogether.

The special interests in Tucson put pressure on Washington to close down the Rio Verde Reservation and move those Indians to San Carlos. In response, the Bureau of Indian Affairs issued just such an order in February of 1875.

The military rounded up the Rio Verde bands and forced them to begin a 150-mile foot march to San Carlos on the Gila River. A total of 1,452 people of all ages set out on the march, and they included not only Tonto Apaches and eastern bands of Yavapai, but western Yavapai bands called Mojave-Apache and several Pai groups.

These various tribes had often been at enmity, and now under such tension it is no wonder they began to quarrel as they traveled. The march proceeded to the East Verde River, and as they approached the mouth of Pine Creek, many Tontos began to think they might escape. This was their home territory. High on the palisades that enclosed the river canyon were pre-historic fortresses. The Tontos had used these during the war both to hide out and to harass army units passing below along the river trail. During the night, several families did slip away, and they remained hidden in the labyrinth of mountain canyons for years. Decades later it would be safe to show themselves and reclaim their old campgrounds.

Among the scouts who accompanied the army detachment in the long march were chief packer Sam Hill, and chief of scouts Al Sieber.

Later Sam Hill, turned prospector, would report to Tonto Forest Ranger Fred Croxen what happened next.

As the Indians and army personnel camped for the night on the flats by Pine Creek, an argument erupted between Yavapai and Tonto bands over which of them had killed a deer. The Indians were required to furnish most of their own food during the march. During the afternoon the Indian boys began throwing rocks at each other. Just before dark, Sam Hill went down to the river to wash up, and an Indian told him there was going to be a fight that night.

Hill reported this to the commanding officer, who made light of it. The soldiers and packers had already pitched their camps between the two factions. At dusk the Yavapai and Apaches began shooting at each other, having somehow obtained firearms. There were 14 Indians killed, and all were buried along Pine Creek. At least three others who were killed had been carried off in the melee by escaping Indians. This site at the junction of Pine Creek and the East Verde River would one day become Mazatzal City, a settlement of Mormons, and still later the homesteads of Payson area cattle ranchers were located here.

A February snow had fallen, and the long march continued over ice and through swollen streams. They left the East Verde River at City Creek, following a trail the military had first put through in 1868. It joined Rye Creek and proceeded down Tonto Creek, then through the Tonto Basin to the Salt River. There the Indians were forced to wade through the flooding Salt River, and from there, marched to the unfamiliar territory of San Carlos.

They found themselves among other groups who not only had different customs but different dialects. Araviapa, Chiricahua, Tonto, White Mountain, Carrizzo, Cibicue, and Pinal Apaches were thrown in with Mojave, Yavapai, and other Pais. Many of them had at times been enemies, and now captors, who assumed every Indian was like every other Indian, jammed them together.

During the long march, some died of illness or were frozen to death. Twenty-five babies were born while mothers were on the march, and that many again were stillborn or died from exposure. The number reaching San Carlos was about 100 fewer than had begun the march.

The next month, March 1875 General Crook was transferred to the Department of the Platte.

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