Frontier Teacher In Tonto Basin

Chapter 8: Life Settles in to Routine


Rain continued to fall in the Tonto Basin as the first week of October 1880 moved into the second week. Sunday, Oct. 10, teacher Angie Mitchell writes, “It began to rain about sundown and fairly poured all night. Of course the house leaks and so we had a great time. This morning is bright, but Persons [the Vineyard’s hired man] says the rain ruined Mr. V’s barley. That will be too bad as it is about all they have and would be worth $200 or so.”

That evening the Harer family members returned from Blake’s, up at the other end of the Basin, where they had been helping with Janie Blake’s new baby. Janie’s sister Mary Vineyard had remained behind, and anticipating their return Angie had supper waiting for them. The next day, Monday, Alice (Vineyard) was “too ill to go to school and Six Bits [the Vineyard’s horse] has run away so Johnnie, being lame, couldn’t come to school. But Clara, Willie, Abbie, and the Armers were there.”i

By Tuesday Alice was better, and school was “progressing nicely. A quieter, more obedient set I never saw.”

The big event of the week occurred on Wednesday, when Mrs. Harer moved with Angie into “our new abode, about half way between Vineyard’s and the ‘Tonto Academy.’ We only had to go about one-half mile through the sand tonight instead of a mile as usual. Our ‘house’ is primitive in the extreme and our furniture more so. But everything is clean, and I guess we’ll get along O.K. Presently I’ll get used to these ridiculous huts of mud and poles — or poles and weeds and mud as the case may be. Johnnie and Green [Vineyard] will stay here till Mrs. V. returns, so there are Mr. and Mrs. Harer, Alice, Clara, Abbie, Green, John and I.”

Then she adds this political note, “Hancock who is running for reelection spoke at Danforth’s tonight and will speak at Cline’s tomorrow night.”ii

Saturday, Oct. 16 was washday. Angie describes in detail the way Tonto Basin families washed their clothes in the creek. “Washed and ironed my belongings and it is quite a new way. We go to the creek bank, set a few rocks and build a fire; put a big zinc pail over it on the rocks and fill it with water. Then we take the one tub and put some water in it and soak the clothes. As we have at present no wash board, we hunt up a big rock, as nearly flat as possible, tote it to the edge of the water in the creek, and get another smooth round or oval one not very large. We take the clothes a piece at a time from the tub, put them on the big rock over which the creek flows, and soap them, then pound them well with the smaller rock. We keep them under the surface of the creek as long as we can. After we’ve hammered them we drop them into the zinc pail of hot water and cook them. Then we get another bucket, smaller, and a tin milk pan or two and rinse them and hang them out to dry on the sage brush and arrow weeds and various bushes.

“To my surprise my clothes look white and nice as if I’d had all the modern conveniences, and I washed over 80 pieces. There are two irons which we heat on the stove and I laid a long rather wide board on the dirt floor and put an old bedspread over it, and my ironing sheet over that. I knelt down on the spread and ironed on the board. It worked fine. We will have a table before next Saturday and ironing will be easier. Made Clara’s doll a dress this eve… I finished the edging, crocheted, for the Blake’s baby’s skirt.”

By the next day she reported “My shoulder which has been more or less lame since the rock episode on the 22nd is very much demoralized today. Probably I used an undue amount of muscular force when I hammered my wardrobe yesterday.”

Then Angie adds a social note about some Tonto families. “Cap Adams and Mary Howard will be married this evening.” Jack Adams is listed in public records as “Captian.” His given name was James Monroe Adams, and he married Mary Jane Howard Oct. 17, 1880. She was 19 and he was 28. He died in 1899, she died in 1941 and they are buried in the Globe Cemetery.

Suddenly, the teacher’s routine was about to be terribly upset. Janie Blake had brought her new baby boy down to stay with her mother, Mrs. Harer, at Angie’s “teacherage.” The women along with Janie and the several children who boarded with the teacher “were eating breakfast when a great hullabaloo arose at the creek crossing just below our house, shouting and splashing of water etc. At first they thought it was a neighboring rancher driving a band of cattle across the creek, “when up to the house with a horrible whoop rode a band of Indians.”

What unfolded during the rest of that day was a horror story for the helpless women and children. This event undoubtedly concerned a band of Tonto Apache Indians. All of central Arizona’s Native Americans had been confined on the White Mountain and San Carlos Reservations from 1875. At times small parties were given “passes” to leave the reservation to hunt wild game. At other times renegade bands broke from the reservation and conducted raids on ranches in the Tonto Basin area. These raids did not effectively end until after the Battle of Big Dry Wash in July 1882, when a band of 100 Apaches was defeated at East Clear Creek on the Mogollon Rim.

“The chief rode his horse into the house but when he found he could not sit erect on the animal after he got inside and could barely turn around on him, he dismounted, turned, walked the horse all over Mrs. H’s bed, which was still on the floor, and led him out. Then he returned, followed by Indians till they quite filled the small room. We counted 14 and one half-grown boy. The bucks were in war paint and each had on a cartridge belt well filled, pistol in holster, a fine government rifle in his hands, and all but one or two had big wicked looking knives…” (To be continued)


i Clara Belle Harer was born August 13, 1868. Her married name would be Gish. She died June 10, 1946. Willie Vineyard is listed as 10 years old in the 1880 census. Abbie was the nickname for David Asbury Harer, born April 8, 1872. He remained unmarried and died September 17, 1903. Regarding the Armer children, see chapter 6.

ii Danforths lived in Richmond Basin on the way to Globe. In 1880 it was a ranching area, but by 1890 had become a silver mining camp. The Christian Cline family settled in Tonto Basin in 1786. Their sons John and Tom would marry into other Tonto Basin families.


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