For several hundred years before European-American settlers came to the Payson area, Apache people occupied the land.
A spring of water on the side of Burch Mesa provided a good campsite, as did the water flowing through the meadow of a large green valley that bordered what would later be Payson’s Main Street. These Apache bands called themselves “The People of the Yellow Speckled Water,” or “The People of the Yellow Land,” names inspired by the ever-present granite formations.
In the 1870s these people, dubbed “Tonto Apaches” by the Whites, were rounded up and placed on military reservations, first in Camp Verde and then at San Carlos. A number of the Apache families hid out in caves and canyons, and were never captured.
During the 1890s military oversight of the reservations was relaxed, and the Apache people began to drift back to their homelands in Payson and the Rim Country. Upon returning they encountered ranchers and miners, and even a small town, occupying their traditional campsites. Among these Tonto Apaches was the family of Henry Irving.
Irving’s Apache name was De-ay-li-a, meaning “Anything that does not grow well” because he was short. He had been a scout with the U. S. Army and it was there he received several Anglo names.
I once asked tribal elder Vince Randall how Apaches got English names. He said that as far as the white man was concerned, all Indians were the same.
“When those guys went to San Carlos, the head man in the family got numbers, like A1 and A2 and so forth.” However, a number of the Tonto men became Army scouts and had to have names their officers could pronounce, so De-ay-li-a became “Henry.” At one point in his Army career, Henry was enlisted under an officer named Campbell, and when reservation authorities would ask his name he would respond, “Me Campbell man.” After he was married, his children carried the name Campbell, and among them was George Campbell, the father of the late Tonto chief Melton Campbell.
The scouts enlisted for hitches of six months, and the next time he became an “Evans man,” so his children at that point carried the name Evans. Still later, according to Vince Randall, Henry Evans went with General Pershing after Poncho Villa, and this time he came home with the name Henry Irving.
Upon their return from the San Carlos reservation the Henry Irving family attempted to settle in one of their ancestral homes, Young in Pleasant Valley, but unfriendly settlers drove them out. They moved to another traditional camp, Payson, and occupied an undeveloped hill overlooking Green Valley and the town. The town’s people began calling their camp Indian Hill. At that time, Payson had not been officially surveyed or acknowledged as a townsite. The survey done in 1883 had never been registered and the area remained in the public domain. Technically the residents were “squatters” on government land.
Apaches traditionally consider the land as belonging to God (Usen), and their occupation of it was a sacred right. It was not in their minds to “own” property that belonged to everyone under God.
However, because of his days in the army, Henry Irving understood the ways of western civilization. In January of 1930 an official survey of Payson was completed and the federal government set it apart from government land as an official townsite.
Long-time residents now had to pay a small fee to obtain deeds to the lots they occupied, and with his small army pension Henry Irving was able to purchase two lots on Indian Hill for $2.i
He received a Trustee’s Deed on July 18, 1930. The growing community of Apache families continued to live on Indian Hill, occupying lots 1 through 28 of block 4, and lots 7 through 56 of block 3. They felt secure because Henry “had a paper.” They moved about on these various properties because of a death in the family or the Apache propensity to move often. Being illiterate, Henry Irving did not record his deed at the county courthouse in Globe. However, his white friends knew the importance of paying taxes to keep the land, and saw to it that he did so each year.
Bill and Theresa Boardman’s home backed up to Indian Hill, and they owned all the land from Frontier Street to the top of the hill on the east side of McLane Road (then called the Pine Road). Mrs. Boardman was a midwife and delivered many of the Apache babies, including Ola Smith who would later become matriarch of the tribe. She also nursed them in times of trauma, as when a Burdette boy was in an auto accident and broke his neck. For months, Theresa helped the family care for him, bathing and dressing him and insisting that the family maintain a sanitary house. He was ultimately moved to a hospital in San Carlos, where he died. For her compassionate caring, Mrs. Boardman was fondly called “Cressa” by the Apaches. The Boardman’s pump was always available for the fresh water that was hard to come by on The Hill.ii
Theresa recalled how proud Henry Irving was of his little home. He would say to her, “My land, my house, my peach trees.” He had many visitors, and if they paid their way he called them brothers; if they lived off Henry’s food he called them cousins.
By 1938 Irving had grown very elderly, and he moved to Camp Verde where he was cared for by his daughter Mrs. Mary Beecher. When he died Nov. 7, 1941, his family buried his personal possessions with him, according to custom. That meant “the paper” — deed to the land — went with him into the grave. Some Tonto Apache say he was buried on Indian Hill, along with the other graves there. Some say he was buried near the Julia Randall School.
The other families continued to live on Indian Hill, not understanding the requirement to pay taxes on the deeded land. They believed that Henry’s “paper’ and the fact he served in the Army entitled them to the property.
From 1938 to 1944 Henry Irving’s lots were placed on the county’s delinquent tax rolls, and on February 5, 1945 Newell Fuller purchased the property at auction for $7.57. This action was unknown to the residents of Indian Hill who continued living there, coexisting with the town of Payson. During those post-war years, the town was expanding and real estate was gaining new value. The view from Indian Hill made housing there a premium, and unbeknownst to the Indians the land was sold to a developer.
The year was 1954 when a building contractor arrived and ran a bulldozer through the little house of Henry Irving’s relations. They were not even able to rescue their bedding, the stove or other personal belongings.
Realizing what was coming, the Alan Curtis family was the first to move from Indian Hill to another traditional Apache campsite, south of town where the rodeo grounds would later be developed. The others followed as White families built on Indian Hill, and by 1957 the last of the Tontos had moved to “The Camp,” as their new location was called.
i Henry Irving’s pension for service as an army scout began at $30 a month, but due to his medical disability it had grown to $72 a month by 1938.
ii Reference the oral histories taken by Nicklas P. Houser in 1970 and 1971. This extensive collection of oral history regarding the Tonto Apache Tribe can be found in the library archive of the Rim Country Museum.