Updated: Sep 23
by Jayne Peace
Any history of the Rim Country, including the Tonto Basin, would be incomplete without first speaking of the Apache. They were here– and in a big way, long before the white eyes arrived on the scene– and yet they were not the first to call this country home.
During the 8th century AD, pueblo tribes that archaeologists have called the Salado and Mogollon Cultures lived in the Rim County and Tonto Basin areas. Each of these tribes farmed the land, hunted animals for food and skins, and gathered nuts, berries, and cactus products.
By 900 AD, the Mogollons had spread farther north, had started using a stone hoe, grew cotton, and made cotton cloth. The Salado also grew cotton and made cotton cloth in the Gisela, Roosevelt, and Globe areas.
What happened to these pueblo Indians is a matter of debate among historians. Some say that the Mogollon Culture was absorbed into other tribes. Maybe, but what happened to the other tribes? Significant to the debate is the fact that when the Anglos arrived, the war-like Apache were here; the pueblo farmers were not.
(The following is an excerpt from the History of Gisela, Arizona by Jayne Peace)
The Apache Indians
By 1500, a large number of Apache Indians lived in the Tonto Basin. They called themselves Dine’, which means The People, but others called them Apache, derived from the Zuni word Apachu, meaning enemy. They were not farmers like the peaceful Salado, but instead were savage warriors and hunters.
The warlike tactics of the Apache stemmed from the necessity of survival. Throughout history, Apaches have found themselves caught between the powerful forces of expanding European countries. More and more Europeans landed on America’s east coast and pushed west. French and British traders supplied guns and ammunition to tribes who were enemies of the Apaches. The Apache suffered great defeats and fled to the southwest to survive.
The northward advance of the Spaniards ran head on into Apache country. Spanish expeditions invaded Apache territory as early as 1540, when Coronado was searching for the Seven Cities of Gold. For years the Apaches struggled to survive between the Spaniards and other Indian tribes, both of who were armed and mounted.
Slowly, the Apaches began to acquire firearms from the Spanish along with ammunition, clothing, hats, and metal tools. They took anything they needed during these raids, including livestock and slaves. They learned slavery from the Spaniards who took numerous Apaches as slaves.
By the 18th century, the Apaches had shifted from hunting buffalo on the plains to raiding, combined with game hunting and wild plant food gathering after they were driven to the southwest. They hunted deer, elk, mountain lion, and small game such as porcupines, rabbits, and rats. Buckskin moccasins and clothing were made from some of the hides.
The seasonal movement of the Apaches depended more upon the ripening of plant food in different areas, than upon raiding. In the spring, gardening families planted corn and beans, and the women gathered mescal plants. Leaving some of the older folks behind to tend to the gardens, they moved down to the deserts in July to harvest the cactus fruit. Toward the end of July they gathered berries and in August, acorns. Then the People traveled to the desert again for mesquite beans and cactus fruit. The gardens were ready to harvest in September, and in October, they gathered pinon nuts and juniper berries. From November to April, hunting was practically their only activity. This was also a time for visiting and for raiding.
At the beginning of the Apache Wars, most of the Arizona-New Mexico Territory was called Apacheria, meaning Apache Land. As the U.S. Army overpowered the various Apache bands and placed them on reservations, Gila County became the land referred to as Apacheria. Finally, only the Tonto Basin was referred to as Apacheria– the last Apache stronghold in Arizona.
In the late 1800’s, when white settlers began to move into the area, the Apaches were very hostile towards the white man who had come to take their land. They began raiding and killing the white settlers, and this time they wouldn’t give up so easily. The U.S. Cavalry was sent in to bring the Indians under control. After much fighting and bloodshed, most of the Apaches signed treaties with the white man, and were sent to live on reservations “for as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers shall flow.”
However, there was one group of Apaches that lived in the remote country between the Mazatzal Mountains and the Sierra Mountains that were unwilling to give up their way of life and go to the reservations. They formed war parties and made raids on the surrounding settlers, and then returned to their refuge in the mountains.
They were considered very foolish by their brothers, the White Mountain Apaches for continuing to fight the white man. The White Mountain Apaches began to call their brothers the Tontos, which means fools. This is how they became known as the Tonto Apaches. The great natural basin in which they lived became known as the Tonto Basin.
In 1864, King S. Woolsey led an expedition into the Tonto Basin in an attempt to subdue this tribe. On June 8, 1864, Woolsey found a creek running from the Mogollon Rim to the Salt River which he called Tonto Creek. No Indians were found on this expedition, but Tonto Creek was named.
Because of the remote country in which the Tonto Apaches lived, it was impossible for the Army to bring them under control. The raiding parties continued. In 1867, General Irvin McDowell ordered the building of a fort in the Tonto area. With soldiers stationed at the fort, the Indians would no longer have the sanctuary of the remote country from which to make their raids. The fort was completed in 1868 and called Fort Reno, in honor of General Jesse L. Reno. Lt. George W. Chilson became the commander of 60 soldiers stationed there.
Campaigns were carried out against the Tontos, and one by one small bands signed treaties with the white man and were put on reservations. By 1870, only a band of Tonto Apaches led by Chief Delche (now spelled Del Shay), were still raiding in the area. They lived in the high remote basin, which is called Del Shay Basin today.
Many attempts were made to sign a peace treaty with Delche ( red ant), but the Army found him difficult to deal with. The Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1871, states that once while Delche was at Camp McDowell to talk peace, he was shot in the back, and another attempt was made by the post doctor to poison him. Deeds such as these did not increase Delche’s love for the white man and he fought back with extreme fierceness.
In April 1873, Delche and his band were captured by Capt. Randall in the Sierra Anchas and herded to reservations. Shortly afterwards, the crafty Delche escaped. An Army official bribed Delche’s nephew with silver dollars to kill the chief. The nephew and a few other scouts went out after their chief, and returned with his head in a gunnysack. This was July 29, 1874. After Delche’s death, his followers no longer wanted to fight, and peace was established with the last of the Tonto Apaches.
There were more Indian uprisings, but they were quickly brought under control. Some Apaches eluded the U.S. Army and never went to the reservation. Others went to the reservations, but escaped and went back to their homelands. If they caused trouble, the army would take them back to the reservations. If they were peaceful, they were usually left alone.
A group of Tonto Apaches returned to live in Gisela along Tonto Creek at what was called Indian Farm. They dug an irrigation ditch and farmed their fields. They wove beautiful baskets and traded them to white settlers for sugar, flour, and coffee. Many of them worked for the white settlers.
Some of the Indians living in Gisela were: Obed Rabbit, Constant Bread, John Chimney, Tom Pierson, Dave Slick, Jack T.C. Tin, Tom Peoria, Minnie Peoria, Harry Chitney, Johnson Campbell, Apon-tase-naz-tel, and Paul Burdette.
Silver Allen was the last Apache Indian of this tribe to live in Gisela. He died about 1960. His family who lived in Payson came to Gisela and burned his house and all of his belongings, as was their custom.
Special thanks to Jayne Peace Pyle for providing this article to Discover Gila County
We want to thank Sue Owen of the Payson Genealogy Society for her help and additional information on his family. If anyone has more information, we welcome it.