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Apache History in The Tonto Basin

The Apaches living in the Tonto Basin area from about 1900 to 1930 were called “renegades” by the U.S. government because they would not live on the reservation at San Carlos. Most of them had been forced to the reservation starting in 1871 and had escaped, but a few had hidden from the Army and had never left their homeland which extended from the Mazatzals on the west, the Sierra Anchas on the east, the Mogollon Rim to the north, and what is now Roosevelt Lake to the south.

The last Apache chief taken out of this area was Delche (“Red Ant”), whose stronghold was located south of Gisela at what is called Del Shay Basin today. The Army had tried and tried in vain to capture him, and finally bribed his nephews to kill him for a bag of silver dollars. On July 29, 1874, they took his head, wrapped in a gunny sack, to Army officials and received their reward. After this incident, there was no strong leader, so the Apaches either went to the reservation or hid in the hills.

After the surrender of Geronimo in 1886, the guard was removed at San Carlos. Many of the Apaches left the reservation and returned to live in the Tonto Basin, but they found a much different world. Their culture – life as they had known it – was over. They had to adapt to “white man’s ways” in order to survive. Also, while living on the reservation, they lost much of their history. Old ones died. A younger generation grew up without their family unit, so knowledge of family genealogy, traditions, and hunting grounds died.

Apaches had provided for themselves by raiding from 1500 to the late 1800s AD – but after they were “brought under control” they became agriculturalists, farming as the prehistoric Salado before them (900 to 1400 AD). They settled along Tonto Creek, the East Verde, Weber Creek and other creeks in the Basin and raised corn, beans, squash, watermelons, and pumpkins. They ate cactus foods, roots, and all sorts of wild berries. These foods, along with deer, rabbits, opossums, and quail, gave them a good diet.

Apaches had learned to like coffee and sugar while on the reservation, and flour was handy for them to make fried bread, so they bartered with the Anglos for these food items. In return, the Anglos received beautiful hand-woven baskets and hard work. The Apache men did field work and the women did washing and house work.

Pat Cline tells this story in Pioneer Women of Gila County and Their Descendants, Volume One, in her story about Sarah Ann Gypson Holder Shepherd:

“The John Holder family next moved to Gisela (1902), where John took over an existing post office and started up a store. While living in Gisela, Grandmother Sarah went out early one morning to find quite a bunch of Apache Indians in her yard wanting to pick the Careless Weeds and the Lambs Quarter. They had just that morning returned to this place where they had lived all of their lives before being forced onto the reservation at San Carlos. They had walked all the way back, old men and women and young women and children, and had not eaten in many days. Sarah, being Sarah, told them to start picking and then went to the store and got them a big kettle and a slab of bacon for seasoning. They and their descendants and Sarah and her descendants formed a tight friendship that still holds to this day.

“Three of the young women were pregnant when they arrived from San Carlos, and Sarah midwifed their delivery. One of the babies didn’t cry enough to suit them when he was born and they put him outside to die, since they couldn’t allow him to die inside their house, they would have had to move camp and build a new structure. Sarah went to check on the mother and found the baby out under a tree. She took him home with her and kept him several days until she decided he was ‘out of the woods’ and then returned him to the mother to nurse. Three years later when the Holders moved back to New Mexico with their goats, this mother wanted to know if Sarah wanted to take “her baby” with her. Sarah said she felt he would do better if he stayed with his mother, which relieved her mind.

“As a point of interest, this baby, who was either of the Dave Slick family or the Ohbed Rabbit family, but not the Chop Wood Jim family, DID live. He was Sam Gilson who later married a lady from Camp Verde named Rose Bread (at least she had family named Bread) and they had three children. Everett and Flora were born in Camp Verde, and Vivian was born in Wheatfields. When Vivian was very young, possibly three or maybe four, Sam and Rose separated and Rose later married Paul Burdette of Payson (Vivian took Paul’s name and might have even been adopted by him). Today, (2002) Vivian is the Chief of the Tonto Apaches.”

In the same book, Angela Taylor Godac wrote in the story of Rosenda Lee Belluzzi Hardt: “Rose and Henry Hardt’s last boy, Richard Byford Hardt, was born October 20, 1919 at 8AM. These days most people know him as Jiggs or Jerry. Rose had an Apache woman named Minnie Peoria who helped her with the washing. The water was carried from the spring and put in a big tub over an open fire out in the yard where the clothes were scrubbed and boiled.”

In Ellen Neal’s story it also tells of Minnie Peoria: “Ellen became friends with the Apaches who lived in the Gisela area. They wanted work, so Will hired some of the men to plow the fields and Ellen hired some of women (one was Minnie Peoria) to help with the washing. Ellen was also fascinated with their weaving techniques. As soon as the Apaches discovered this, they began trading her baskets for coffee, tobacco, flour, and sugar. After the Mormons left – some went to Mexico, some to Lehi – Ellen was lonesome. She became life-long friends with some of the Apache women.”

Minnie Peoria, wife of Tom Peoria, helped many of the women in the Tonto Basin after they had babies. In those days, women were told to stay in bed for two weeks following the birth of a child. A lot of bedding and diapers had to be washed, so Minnie was hired. She became a good friend to many.

In the book, History of Gisela, Arizona, 21 Apache children are listed in the GiselaSchool in 1919 and 1920. Some of the Apaches living in Gisela in the 1920s were Obed Rabbit, Constant Bread, John Chimney, Tom Pierson, Dave Slick, Jack T.C. Tin, Tom and Minnie Peoria, Harry Chitney, Johnson Campbell, Apon-tase-naz-tel, and Paul Burdette. These Indians didn’t stay in one location. They moved with the seasons. When the summers were too hot, they moved north to the Payson area. Then when the winter’s cold bothered them, they moved south to Gisela.

E.C. Conway told us about the Apaches that lived at Greenback. He said they picked a lot of acorns there. He especially remembers “Blackie,” one of the Apache women that lived there. She was a midwife and she knew how to cure people’s ailments using herbs.

Slim Ellison told in his book, Cowboys Under the Mogollon Rim, about the Apaches that worked for Colonel Jesse Ellison at the Q Ranch, near Pleasant Valley. The Apache women helped with the house work and the some of the men worked as cowboys.

Anna Mae Ogilvie Deming said that many Apaches worked digging post holes for the first telephone line that ran from Payson to StarValley, then finally on to Arthur Neal’s Ranch at Lion Springs. “Both the men and the woman dug the holes,” said Anna Mae. “They were hard workers.”

After the line was up, one telephone was installed on Andrew Ogilvie’s front porch at his Star Valley Ranch. “Everyone could use it,” recalled Anna Mae.

Anna Mae said that several Apaches lived on her dad’s ranch in StarValley. “They lived in brush wikiups,” she said. “Some of the willow branches they used for the wikiups took root and they had good shelters. We gave them tarps to keep out the cold. They were good, hard working people.”

Pat Cline and Anna Mae Deming also recalled Delia Chapman – an Apache woman who homesteaded 97 acres on the East Verde River and created a home for the Tonto Apaches. This was part of their old stomping grounds. Not understanding the vale of land, Delia sold it to Anglos for $500. It was resold real quick for $4,000. Henry Irving lost title to some land in Payson (Indian Hill) when he failed to pay his tax bill of $3.42. The Apaches had some hard lessons learning the true dollar value of land and the necessity of paying taxes. Owning land was a new concept to them. Paying the government to keep the land they owned was another new concept. But they learned.

This article was written by Jayne Peace.

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