Violence And Rebellion

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Chapter 45: The History of the Tonto Apache

In 1881, word was spreading about a mystic of the White Mountain tribe who was preaching a radical philosophy at Cibecue and Carrizo. His name was Nock-ay-del-klinne. Both White Mountain and Tonto Apaches began slipping away to his meetings to hear the strange message. He prophesied that if they would pray in a demanding Wheel Dance, their prayers would cause the resurrection of Apache chiefs who had been killed by the white soldiers. He also predicted that all the whites would die, and the Indians would once again claim their lands. One chief who was present at a session with Nock-ay-del-klinne claimed to have seen Mangas Coloradas, Cochise, and Victorio rise in the misty light after the prophet's prayers. That rumor spread rapidly among the malnourished and defrauded bands of Indians.

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War parties of Apaches broke off the reservation in the 1880s to leave a trail of blood and fire across the Rim Country. Some Tontos joined with these renegade parties; other Tontos remained peaceful.

In an earlier year, 1875, Army officer's wife Martha Summerhayes described the wild dances of the White Mountain Apaches in her book "Vanished Arizona." We can imagine something as vivid under the influence of the mystic prophet Nock-ay-del-klinne.

The wives of the military men looked over the bluff on which Camp Apache was situated to the natural amphitheater below. It blazed with fires, and some Apaches sat on logs beating drums. Others danced, naked except for the loincloth; their bodies were painted and bunches of feathers stood out on their elbows and knees. Jingling tins and shells were attached to their necks and arms, their heads sprouted elk horns, and they twisted and turned wildly in the firelight. As the fire was built higher, the dancers looked alternately like birds or animals or demons.

As the shouts and drums grew louder it was terrifying for the observers.

Suddenly it all stopped; the arena emptied, and two evil looking creatures appeared doing a shadow dance. Once again, the tempo and the noise picked up as shouts became whoops and the emotional rhythm increased.

In the summer of 1881, there was growing concern at Camp Apache that this fury would get out of hand. Rumors that the prophet was calling for death to all whites caused the camp commander to march to Cibecue with a company of soldiers, intending to arrest Nock-ay-del-klinne. Upon arriving at the prophet's camp, the detachment was surrounded by the medicine man's followers. When one of the soldiers fired on the menacing Indians, a bloody skirmish followed. Nock-ay-del-klinne was killed, and the Apache warriors disbursed in the face of Army firepower. But not until seven soldiers had been killed, two others wounded, and many pack mules and horses were missing or killed. The Army contingent slowly extracted itself and cautiously returned to the post. [1] Ripples of this event reverberated throughout the White Mountain and San Carlos reservations. As small groups of soldiers and civilians carried messages, repaired torn-down telegraph lines, or went about their business, they were attacked and killed by Indians. The day after the soldiers returned to Camp Apache from Cibecue, the post was fired upon from all sides by the Apaches, wounding at least one soldier and setting several buildings on fire. The daylong skirmish ended at nightfall.

After Nock-ay-del-klinne's death, a new rebel leader emerged, named Nantiotish. He rallied about 80 others and launched a bloody raid on the ranches in and around Pleasant Valley. Several settlers were killed or wounded and many horses stolen.

Agitation continued until July 1882 when the rebellion reached a point of no return. Nantiotish led 100 warriors and women on a bloody warpath. Two renegade parties left the reservation, one attacking the gold rush town of McMillenville. The territorial government had taken that area out of the reservation because of coveted mineral rights. The other party led by Nantiotish headed again for Pleasant Valley, killing more settlers and stealing horses. The two parties joined to leave a trail of burning ranches and dead settlers in the canyons under the Mogollon Rim and up the East Verde River. [2] Climbing the Rim the Apaches planned an ambush at East Clear Creek, a place the Army called the Big Dry Wash. Cavalry units from the surrounding military posts converged to fight the last major Apache battle to be waged on Arizona soil, the Battle of Big Dry Wash. At least 80 Indians were killed, including Nantiotish. Six were captured while others escaped and anonymously filtered back to the reservation. One white soldier was killed, and buried at the site. Also one Tonto scout was killed, Haski-ta-go-loth, called "Pete" by the military. He was the brother of Tonto scout Sgt. Smiley, who also fought at Big Dry Wash. Along with these men, Henry Evans and several other Tonto Apaches were on both sides of the fight. Some had joined the renegades, others as scouts fought with the Army.

[1] For details about Nock-ay-del-klinne and the Apache uprising see Jinx Pyle's excellent articles in the Payson Roundup June 29 and July 5, 2005.

[2] It was during this episode that John Meadows and his son were killed, to become the first persons buried in what became the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.

Next: The return home

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