Historian John Welch’s study of the conflict between the Apache and settlers in the mountains of Eastern Arizona is a campaign marked by murder and vigilantism spurred by the government and the mining industry, with lopsided losses on the Apache side.
The article “Earth, Wind, and Fire: Pinal Apaches, Miners, and Genocide in Central Arizona, 1859-1874,” appeared on Dec. 22, in Sage Open, an interdisciplinary, open access journal of peer-reviewed, original research. (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2158244017747016), written by Dr. John R. Welch, a professor at Simon Fraser University, jointly appointed in the Department of Archaeology and the School of Resource and Environmental Management.
San Carlos Chairman Terry Rambler said, “Archaeologists and historians are finally verifying what my elder relatives have been saying for generations: pioneer settlers wanted the silver and gold under our camps, hunting areas, oak groves, and spiritual areas. They used every means at their disposal to kill our people and chase us away.”
Rambler is a direct descendant of the Tsé Binesti’é (Surrounded by Rocks People) Apaches (Aravaipa Band) who, with the T’iis Tsebán (Cottonwoods Gray in the Rocks People) Apaches (Pinal Band), occupied the rugged Pinal Mountains between Winkleman and Superior.
He called on the government to “break a century and a half of mining industry control over government decision making and public land and water,” by denying mining permits for the proposed Resolution Copper Mine near Superior, which will disrupt or destroy traditional lands to create one of the largest copper mines in the nation.
Welch’s article chronicles “propaganda” that portrayed Apaches as bloodthirsty savages to incite scorched earth campaigns that killed more than 380 Apaches in and near the Pinal Mountains in less than 15 years.
The article cited an 1865 order by U.S. Army General John S. Mason declaring that “Apache Indians in this [Arizona] Territory are hostile and all men old enough to bear arms who are encountered will be slain ... All rancherias, provisions and whatever of value belonging to the Indians ... will be destroyed.”
In 1870, U.S. Army Captain H. Moulton and miner Calvin Jackson led a joint, Army-prospector foray into the Pinal Mountains, hunting Apaches and staking mining claims for themselves, their superior officers and their investors. The following year Arizona Governor Anson P. K. Safford led a similar expedition across Tsé Binesti’e and T’iis Tsebán territory.
A striking pattern emerges from the 35 attacks known to have killed Apaches in their Pinal Mountain homelands: Federal and Territorial government officials authorized militarized gangs to hunt and kill families. The great majority of those killed were T’iis Tsebán and Tsé Binesti’é women and children. Welch’s grim tally does not include the approximately 80 Pinal and Araviapa Apache women and children slaughtered on April 30, 1871 while under Army protection at Camp Grant.
Most non-Indians think Apaches started the so-called Apache wars, massacred helpless settlers, then got what they deserved. Welch considers this thinking as historical fallacy. During that same period, Pinal and Aravaipa Apaches killed only about 70 non-Apaches, all or most of them men. Welch found that most of the 34 incidents that resulted in non-Apache fatalities occurred when Apache expeditions to find food were intercepted.
In a comment about the lopsided slaughter, U.S. Army General John Pope’s 1871 report states, “depredations of the Apaches have been continuous for 25 years past, but they are insignificant in extent and generally confined to the plunder of a few sheep and mules and the occasional murder of a lonely sheepherder.”
Welch’s research depicts Americans as the aggressors in the “Apache Wars” and that, at least in eastern Arizona mountains, miners plotted the bloody campaigns then reaped the benefits.
The article offers one important basis for the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s leadership’s effort to protect the western reaches of the Pinal Mountains from mining. The Tribe has worked to repeal Congressional approval of a 20,000-acre land exchange to make way for the giant, underground copper mine planned by Resolution Copper, a foreign-owned mining company.
Studies suggest the mine 7,500 feet beneath the surface could cause collapse at the surface beneath Chi’Chil Bildagoteel (known as Oak Flat), a Pinal and Aravaipa Apache sacred place. In addition, the Resolution Copper Mine will consume nearly 680,000 acre-feet of water over 40 years, enough water for 168,000 homes. The project could also affect aquifers below the Town of Superior, Arizona.
The Chi’Chil Biłdagoteel Historic District is a multi-tribal traditional cultural property formally listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.