Bloody Basin and Native American

Bloody Basin and Native American History

Bloody Basin and the Tonto National Forest have a rich heritage reaching thousands of years into the past.  Originally home to several prehistoric Indian groups who hunted and gathered wild plants in the Mazatzal Mountains and Sierra Ancha and along the Salt and Verde Rivers and their tributaries, it was colonized more than a thousand years ago by a related group of people known today as the Hohokam.  The Hohokam were accomplished farmers, craftsmen, traders, and warriors who built large towns and villages and dug hundreds of miles of irrigation canals along the Salt and Gila Rivers around Phoenix. Centuries of trade and conflict then gave rise to several distinctive new cultures, the best known of which is the Salado people of Tonto Basin.  About 600 years ago, the effects of several hundred years of droughts, floods, and warfare took their toll on the Salado, the Hohokam, and their neighbors, and most of these people left the Tonto area, never to return.

Later, the Apache, members of the southern branch of the Athapaskan linguistic family, arrived in the area, emigrating from the Mackenzie River Valley of western Canada.  The Apache fought with their neighbors,  the Pima, Maricopa, Yavapai, Havasupai, and Hualapai, (descendants of the Hohokam) and later with the Anglo trappers, miners, cattlemen and settlers who followed in the mid-1800's.   Of all the tribes in the area, the Tonto Apaches were perhaps the most feared. They showed little mercy to the interloping people, They were highly mobile, unpredictable, and difficult to capture. Further south, their cousin Geronimo eluded capture for years using similar tactics in similar terrain.

Along with the Yavapai, the Tonto Apaches were the dominant band in the area, and feared for their ferocity and endurance.  As Anglo settlers moved into the area in the 1860's, they were constantly on guard against attacks from the Yavapai and Apaches, who lived primarily by hunting, gathering and raiding.  In 1863, the Arizona Territory was created from the New Mexico Territory, and in 1865 the Army sent a small force of 300 volunteers from California and established Fort McDowell 18 miles east of Cave Creek in an effort to bring the Indians under control.   Following Indian trails, the Army built roads linking Fort McDowell with Phoenix and Fort Whipple (present-day Prescott), which provided the access to this rugged country.  The 4X4 trail we enjoy today are the result of the trails built by the Cavalry and early pioneers.

The Army skirmished with the Indians for a decade, with mixed results.  As a result of the public outcry, the military organized the Tonto Basin Campaign.    The commandant of the operation was General George Crook, recently assigned [June 1871] to the Southwest after establishing his reputation as an Indian-fighter in the Snake War in Idaho and Oregon.

"During the winter of 1872-73, nine small, mobile detachments, using Apache scouts recruited from the reservations, crisscrossed the basin and the surrounding tablelands in constant pursuit of the militants.  They wore down their quarry, forcing as many as 20 clashes, during which they killed about 200.  One outfit, under captains William Brown and James Burns, won a decisive battle at Salt River Canyon on December 28, the Battle of Skull Cave, against a band of Yavapai hostiles who had fled their reservation at Camp Verde and hid out with the Apaches.

Patrols and skirmishes continued throughout January and February 1873, with Maj. Brown, Lieut. Frank Michler, Lieut. Albert E. Woodson, Capt. Thomas McGregor, among others, involved in clearing the Superstition Mountains. Bourke told of one engagement.

On 11 March a band of Tonto-Apache Indians attacked a party of three men, killing them all. One of the men was taken alive and tortured. According to Maj. Azor H. Nickerson, "They...took him up to a sheltered spot among the rocks, stripped him of his clothing, tied his hands behind him, fastened his feet together and commenced to torture him by shooting arrows into his naked body, taking care not to hit a vital spot."  

The atrocity spurred a punitive expedition which tracked the hostiles to Turret Mountain.  Here the Indians suffered another crushing defeat on 27 March 1873 when Capt. George M. Randall, 23d Infantry, led a charge into a unsuspecting rancheria on Turret Peak, killing twenty-six Indians.

According to Bourke:

Capt. George M. Randall, thanks to his Indian Scouts, surrounded Delshay's camp on upper Canyon Creek on 25 April.  As his command fired their first volley, Delshay waved a white truce flag, and with some misgiving, Randall accepted his surrender and took him into the White Mountain reservation. Delshay would flee that place, citing abuses by other Indians, and eventually wind up living at Camp Verde. General Crook, in his Autobiography, conveyed Delshay's reasons for surrendering this last time.

It was Crook's Tonto Campaign, and  more specifically the Battle at Turret Peak, that resulted in the name "Bloody Basin" being given to this locale.  (Crook's Orders) The Battle of Turret Peak also resulted in the award of four Medal of Honor's being bestowed upon the troops of the 5th Cavalry. Cook's Orders and Recognition of those involved