When walking through a cemetery, one cannot help feeling a sense of history, for each grave marker tells the snippet of a human life. I am tempted to wonder about the person buried there, and to imagine the precious life memorialized in stone. But not all interesting graves are in cemeteries. Our Rim Country abounds in isolated graves, some of them unmarked, and each of them holds a fascination for history buffs like me. In our investigative series into some of these graves, we have left the battleground on Clear Creek and continued east along the Crook Military Road, now called Forest Road 300. We soon come to the head of the East Verde River. Its canyon cuts sharply down the side of the Rim and disappears into the trees.
In May of 1868 Col. Thomas Devin led a 45-day scout into Apache country from Fort Verde, at that time called Camp Lincoln. His final report describes the day he reached this place where we are now standing.
"I descended into Tonto Basin near the head of the east fork of the Verde, at a point where the mountain rises about 2500 feet above the basin. The first 500 feet being nearly a perpendicular cliff, I was obliged to cut a zigzag path down the face, after which the breaking of trail was comparatively easy."
This trail was later developed into a wagon road by pioneer ranchers, and can be hiked today between the top of the Rim and the Washington Park Trailhead. Its official name is The Col. Devin Trail. The Devin report continued, "That same night my camp was fired into by Indians, killing one horse. At midnight, company L was sent with guide to look for smokes seen from the mountain. As the column passed on, detachments were sent out from the front and right flank to scour the country. Many rancherias were found, but all had been abandoned, some of them quite recently, others for months."
Following the East Verde down the mountain, they then cut over to Tonto Creek where they found many creekside plots the Apaches had been preparing for spring planting. Devin realized the rough terrain had used up more provisions than he had planned, so while he made camp at the head of Tonto Creek, he sent his pack train back to Camp Lincoln for new supplies. They returned the way they had come, and the Devin report reads, "The pack team, while on its return for the rations, was ambushed near the top of the jump-off I had constructed down the mountain, and the pack master, Mr. Baker, was killed. The Indians fled before the troops could reach (the pack train at) the summit though they dashed forward with all of the speed the steep ascent would admit."
"The Post Returns for Fort Whipple" reveal that the man killed in the ambush was John Baker, a civilian employee hired as Col. Devin's pack master. A second reference to the incident is in the "History of Arizona" by Thomas Farish (Vol. VI, page 130), where a list of "Indian outrages" states, under 1868, "May 18th they killed John C. Baker east of the Rio Verde."
It was the custom of the Army to bury such casualties at or near the place they fell. This was most likely done by the cavalry troops that were escorting the pack train. However, there is no gravesite evident at Devin's "jump off." We can assume the troops would have made sure no trace of the burial was left, tramping the area with their horses so the Apaches would not return and locate the body to mutilate it. As an act of Apache vengeance, they often did this to an enemy body, believing one entered the afterlife in the same physical condition in which he died.
If you were to retrace your path west from this place, you would shortly come to a bend in the road where Chase Creek has cut back into the Rim. There you would look across the gap to a spectacular view of Baker's Butte, a little extinct volcano on the edge that forms the highest point on the Rim. As the detachment of cavalry saw this sight, they agreed to make it a memorial. They named it Baker's Butte after their dead pack master. Three year's later when General Crook came this way, his aide d' camp John Bourke placed the name on his handwritten map, so it from 1868 onward, it had become known by that name.
As I write this, I have before me an Apache arrowhead I picked up at the head of the East Verde canyon, where Devin's "Jump-Off" begins. I remember the day I stood there and imagined Mr. Baker's grave somewhere hidden in the area, and looking down, saw the arrowhead. "They were here!" I exclaimed aloud.
We have time for one more grave as we continue east on Forest Road 300. At the border of the Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, there is a sign noting Leonard Canyon (on old maps it is Dead Shot Canyon). Just as we approach this marker, we look very carefully on our right. About a foot in from the road is a raised grave surrounded by a pile of stones about knee-high. The sand colored stones look so much like the rubble all around it is easy to miss it, but once you see the grave, it comes into perspective. A crude upright stone at the end has detail scratched with a nail, "G. D. Bantz, Oct. 6th, 1895."
His story is quite simple. According to Peter Pilles, chief archaeologist with Coconino National Forest, G. D. Bantz was a trapper who summered in the high country. Winter was coming and he hurried to get down to the Tonto Basin. He was driving his team of burros with their packs, and to move them along, he punched one of them with the butt of his shotgun while he held the muzzle. Not a good idea. The gun discharged, hitting the trapper in the stomach.
The burros continued on their way down the Babe Haught Trail and were found below the Rim by Louis Pyle, according to archaeologist's notes.
Coming up the trail to look for the burros' owner, the cowboys came upon Bantz' body and buried him on the spot. Because of the rocky soil, the grave had to be raised. The original wooden cross over the grave disintegrated, and sometime between 1968 and 1973, someone placed the rock headstone and scratched the name.
Next: The Murder of Al Fulton