Updated: Sep 23
*story told by late great, town-historian, Jinx Pyle
Charlie Meadows was born Abraham Henson Meadows on March 10, 1860 near what is now Visalia, California. The event took place in his family’s Conestoga wagon which stood at rest under a great, valley oak. His family had come to California via the Old Spanish Trail along with numerous friends and kinfolk who endured harsh weather, hostile Indians, and rugged country. They had forded rivers, crossed mountains, and endured plague and fever in their quest to reach California.
Charlie’s father, John Moberly Meadows, never owned a slave but was a steadfast Confederate. He was a strong believer in State’s Rights and self-government. John Meadows had no use for the President that took office during the same year his son was born, so changed his son’s name from Abraham to Charlie. To fully appreciate the boy that was to become Arizona Charlie Meadows, we must first set the stage that brought him into the Tonto Basin.
The end of the Civil War saw a land rush to California that came near doubling the state’s population and eclipsed the gold rush of the late 1840s. With the increase in population came more laws and an end to frontier life in California. The civilization of the state caused unrest in the hearts of some strong-blooded pioneers and this time instead of looking west, they looked east toward the wild but grass-and-mineral rich country of the Arizona Territory.
The Tonto Basin in particular lured the hardiest of these pioneers. During their western migration into California the basin had been a place to avoid, not only because of its jagged mountain borders, but because it was known as “Apacheria.” It was the final sanctuary of the Apache Indians in the United States and to try and cross the Tonto Basin was to invite death. It was held secure by Delche (Del Shay) and the Apaches dubbed “Tonto” (fool) by their counterparts who had submitted to the white man’s mandate that all Apaches be confined to reservations.
At the end of the Civil War, soldiers could once again concentrated on ridding the Tonto Basin of Apaches. General Cook drew this assignment and soon accomplished his mission by bribing reservation Apaches to fight their own people.
Many of the soldiers saw the beauty, minerals and rich ranch land and returned home to tell their families of the wonderful basin of the Tonto’s. Word spread and soon the first settlers were Tonto-bound.
In 1876, John Meadows sent his second son, John Valentine Meadows, to the Arizona Territory to look for a prospective ranch site. John Valentine sent word home that the Apache appeared to be subdued. The land was unrestricted, unfenced, open for settlement, and there was an endless expanse of grass. By the spring of 1877, John Meadows and his family, along with sixteen-year-old Charlie and a few friends, were bound for the Tonto Basin with a herd of cattle. They followed the Camp Verde-Fort Apache military road, then drove their herd and lowered their wagons off the Strawberry Grade.
The Meadows brought their cattle into Green Valley (later called Payson) and pastured them on black grama and pine bunch grasses that stood three-feet high on the valley floor. Soon the cattle were driven up the East Verde River to what John Meadows would call Diamond Valley. The new ranch was headquartered at what is now Whispering Pines. Here the stock was settled and the Meadows family took up “squatter’s rights,” meaning that they would lay claim to and pay taxes on the land.
Charlie Meadows said that those early years on the Diamond Valley Ranch were the happiest of his life. Here, he honed his skill with the reata and the rifle. Little did Charlie know of the tragic event that was to befall his family.
In fairness to the Apache People, it is necessary to set the stage by explaining the state of affairs that lead to this sad event.
By 1881, Apaches on the San Carlos Reservation had grown tired of being short-rationed and lied to by the whites. Their leaders had signed treaty after treaty only to have them broken again and again. The Chiricahua Apaches had been promised that they could live in the Dragoon Mountains. The White Mountain and Warm Spring Apache bands had also been given their own reservation lands, as had various other bands only to have the U. S. Government violate treaties and attempt to move all Apaches to the San Carlos Reservation. And they did move to San Carlos all peaceful Apaches and those “renegades” they could capture and hold. Many Apaches fled to the Sierra Madres in Mexico.
In short, our benevolent government took a nomadic mountain people who lived by gathering and hunting their food, set them down in a patch of desert and told them to “be good Indians and grow pumpkins.” To compound the problem, a long list of Indian agents sold most of the food, the government allotted to the Apache to merchants in Tucson. They contracted with ranchers for tough, scrub cattle that they could buy for half the government money allotted for beef and pocketed the remainder. The result was that periodically an Apache family was given a bit of weevil-infested flour and some poor old cow, tough as India rubber, on which they were supposed to subsist and thank the “Great White Father in Washington.” If you think I exaggerate, I can recommend some good books on the subject.
With conditions being what they were, small bands of Apache would leave the reservation to loot and raid or sometimes just to hunt and gather food. This situation continued to worsen and an Apache medicine man, Nochaydelclinne, whom the soldiers at Fort Apache simply called “Bobby” for obvious reasons, led his people in a ceremonial dance that lasted forty-five days and nights. The Indians got drunk on “tiswin” and became insolent and almost more than the soldiers could handle. There was talk of war and eighty-five soldiers along with twenty-three Apache Scouts assembled under General Carr with the intent of capturing or killing Nochaydelclinne. They were met in the Valley of the Cibecue by “swarms of painted Indians buzzing like rattlesnakes” as Lt. Cruse was to say later. Carr cautiously arrested Nochaydelclinne, but that same day a bloody fight ensued and the medicine man was ultimately killed along with more than eighteen Apaches and eight of Carr’s command.
Following the Cibecue Incident, the still fuming Nochaydelclinne- followers found a new leader by the name of Nantiotish, under whose leadership three troopers and four Mormon men were killed the following day near Fort Apache.
As the Army prepared to retaliate, Nantiotish led many Nochaydelclinne-followers into the mountains where they disappeared like vapor in a high wind. Then, in September of 1881, six Apache men under the leadership of Nantangotayz, a feared fighter and Apache leader under Nantiotish, raided the Middleton Ranch in Pleasant Valley on Cherry Creek. George Turner, Jr. and Henry Moody who had come to warn the Middletons were killed by Nantangotayz and his renegades. Mr. Middleton was wounded, but his wife and children were not hurt. The fugitive band again took refuge in the high mountains.
On July 7, 1882 neighbors rode to the Diamond Valley Ranch to warn the Meadows family that the Indians had been spotted and urged him to take his family to the relative safety of Green Valley (Payson).
John Meadows had no wish to leave his ranch, but he had a wife and children to consider. He took his family to Green Valley where they sought refuge with several other families in a red rock fort on top of McDonald Hill.
Three days later word came that it was safe for the ranchers and settlers to return to their homes. This report was in terrible error. Apache warriors had attacked McMillanville, north of Globe, burning homes on the outskirts of town the day before. The little mining town was well fortified, so the Apaches, after doing what damage they could, stole every horse in the town and moved on to join another band of raiders said to be fifty-four strong and lead by Nantiotish. This number did not include women, children and babies.
John Meadows was concerned about his stock. He and most of the folks in Green Valley believed the aforementioned errant report to be reliable and believed that the Apache were no longer in the area. John returned to the Diamond Valley Ranch with his wife, Margaret, daughter Maggie, sons Charlie, John Valentine, James, Jacob, and Mobley, and a friend of the family, Sarah Hazelton. Two daughters, Rose and Eva, stayed at the Hazelton home in Green Valley. Another son, Henry, was wrangling horses for the Army at Fort Verde.
Little did the family know that even as they were returning to Diamond Valley, Nantiotish with his bronco Apaches were in Pleasant Valley (Young) less than thirty miles distant as the crow flies. As Bill Sigsby and Louie Houdon were working cattle, the Apaches murdered the two men and had mutilated their bodies. They shot Bob Sigsby through the lungs as he returned to enter his cabin with a bucket of water. Sigsby barred the door and fired through the gun ports of the cabin holding off the Indians for thirty-six hours until Nantiotish called off his raiders who then vanished as quickly as they had come.
The band regrouped and headed east under the Mogollon Rim along what is now the High Line Trail. This route would take the hostiles to the East Verde River. Down the river only a couple of miles, the Meadows family believed the danger was over!
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