The Exodus Trail

Yavapai-Apache Youth and Elders Retrace Their Exodus Along the Arizona Trail


In 1875, nearly 1,500 Yavapai and Western Apache people were forcibly removed from the Rio Verde Reservation in the Verde Valley to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. They were marched over the Mazatzal Mountains in winter by U.S. soldiers for nearly 200 miles, and at least 100 died along the way. This grim chapter in Arizona’s history is known to the Yavapai-Apache as the Exodus.


Significant locations and tragic events along the Exodus have been kept alive through Yavapai-Apache oral traditions, and although the path was roughly documented by the officer in charge of the relocation at the time, the actual route has never been properly mapped. But in 2017, the Yavapai-Apache Nation invited cartographers to map the route as tribal members retraced the long walk of their ancestors. In addition to connecting youth and elders with the landscape and sharing cultural history along the way, this project’s purpose was to create an indigenous story map that would preserve a vital part of the tribe’s history of survival. During the planning phase it became clear that part of the Exodus route aligned with the Arizona National Scenic Trail.


To support this important cultural project, the ATA provided maps, information and logistical support to assist the Yavapai-Apache participants as they walked for 17 days through mountains and deserts. They drank from the same springs that sustained their ancestors during the forced march, harvested edible plants, and connected with the landscape in a meaningful way. Throughout their journey they documented significant places, recording their exact locations with GIS technology, and identifying their traditional names as well as the names found on modern maps. In the future, excursions can be made with data downloaded to a smartphone or navigation device, allowing Yavapai-Apache youth to experience the hardships encountered by their ancestors and appreciate their courage and persistence in returning home after a generation in exile.


This trail is important to help bridge the growing cultural gap between the youngest generation of Yavapai-Apache and the generation that currently leads the nation who were raised by people who knew the old ways and how to live off the land. It’s also an opportunity for all people to learn more about Arizona’s history so they may connect with the landscape on a deeper level.


The wealth of cultural information gathered through the Exodus Trail Project has been integrated into the Interactive Place Names Map at the Yavapai-Apache Cultural Resource Center in Camp Verde. While some of the information is not available for sharing outside the tribal community due to its culturally sensitive nature, much of the data about traditional place names, food sources and gathering areas, traditional boundaries of various bands and clans, and other native history can be enjoyed by non-native visitors.


To learn more, please visit the Yavapai-Apache Cultural Resource Center online or in person. There is also a brief and informative history of Yavapai and Apache events in Arizona available through the Tonto National Monument website.


Source: Arizona Trail eNewsletter