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.
All through the Superstition Mountains, we worked as carefully as we had worked in the more northern portion on our trip to MacDowell, but we met with less success than we had anticipated; on the morning of the 15th of January, after a toilsome night-climb over rough mesas and mountains, we succeeded in crawling upon a small rancheria where the first rays of the sun had surmounted the eastern horizon; but the occupants were too smart for us and escaped, leaving three dead in our hands and thirteen captives-women and children; we also captured the old chief of the band, who, like his people, seemed to be extremely poor.
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:
Randall made his men crawl up the face of the mountain on hands and feet, to avoid all danger of making noise by the rattling of stones, and shortly after midnight had the satisfaction of seeing the glimmer of fires amid the rocks scattered about on the summit. He waited patiently until dawn, and then led the charge, the Apaches being so panic-stricken that numbers of the warriors jumped down the precipice and were dashed to death. This and the action in the cave in the Salt River Canon were the two affairs which broke the spirit of the Apache nation; they resembled each other in catching raiders just in from attacks upon the white settlements or those of friendly tribes, in surprising bands in strongholds which for generations had been invested with the attribute of impregnability, and in inflicting great loss with comparatively small waste of blood to ourselves.
One further item needed to be cleared up for the operation to be a
complete success. That was the defeat of the Tonto chief Delshay and his band. Delshay was
variously known as Wahpoo-eta or Big Rump. Crook called him "The Liar" and
Bourke knew him as the "Red Ant." The chief was described as being
"An exceptionally large Indian with broad shoulders set high, which gave the
impression that he stooped. In spite of his weight he was very agile and swift of foot. He
seldom walked but "lumbered" along at a slow trot and was reputed to tire out
even his swiftest runners. While many of the Indians wore ornaments, I do not recall any
but Del-che who wore only a single pearl button in the lobe of the left ear. Asked why he
wore only one in the left ear, he replied that one in the right ear would interfere with
his bow or gun while
shooting." The heavy-shouldered Delshay was one of the most feared leaders in the Tonto Basin, so much hated by the whites that he was once shot by the post surgeon at Old Camp Reno for no apparent reason other than his presence presented the opportunity. His favored tactic, to avoid casualties, was to surrender to any American forces that threatened him, and then to return to the Mogollon Basin when he had the chance.
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.
Delshay commenced crying and said he would do anything he would be ordered to do. He wanted to save his people, as they were starving. Every rock had turned into a soldier, and his people were hunted down as they never had been before. He had nothing to ask for but his life. He would accept any terms. He said he had had one hundred and twenty-five warriors last fall, and if anybody had told him he couldn't whip the world, he would have laughed at them, but now he had only twenty left. He said they used to have no difficulty in eluding the troops, but now the very rocks had gotten soft, they couldn't put their foot anywhere without leaving an impression by which we could follow, that they could get no sleep at nights, for should a coyote or a fox start a rock rolling during the night, they would get up and dig out, thinking it was we who were after them."
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