Arizona Indian Tribes Preserved Their Identities
The first Arizonans lived in the context of distinct tribal identities while intimately mingling across cultural and social lines. That approach to life is still very much evident in the behavior of American Indians today. There are 21 federally recognized Indian tribes in Arizona and a number of “absorbed” and unrecognized populations. Under the pressures of European expansion and preexisting indigenous rivalries, native peoples were forced over the years to relocate, join with neighbors or live on federally designated reservations. This led to much anguish, loss of life and the loss of many traditions.
It is useful, from an observational standpoint, to place tribal identity in the context of spoken languages. Most linguists see all native Arizona languages related to Athabascan, Hokan or Uto-Aztecan patterns. The first Europeans to arrive from Spain named at least 45 different tribes in the southwest, speaking almost as many languages. Fourteen languages were identified in the area that would become Arizona and New Mexico. Later, the Spanish would encounter nearly a dozen Athabascan speaking bands, each marked by subtle differences in dialect. The diverse Athabascan speaking peoples of eastern Arizona included the Navajo and the Apache, often grouped under the Na-dene language subfamily.
Within the Hokan language family were the Yuman speaking tribes, the Yuma, Cocopah, Maricopa and Mohave people, and the Yuman speaking “Pai” people, Havasupai, Walapai and Yavapai. These people inhabited central and western Arizona, many along the Colorado and Verde Rivers.
The Piman languages strongly resemble Uto-Aztecan tongues spoken from California to Colorado and all the way into Mexico and Central America. The Piman speaking tribes of southern Arizona include the Pima and Tohono O’odam people. Northwestern Arizona’s border encloses the southern edge of the Great Basin landscape, home to the Utes and Paiutes whose traditional languages are similar to the Shoshonean tongues, considered a branch of the Uto-Aztecan family of languages.
Also in Arizona are a number of pueblo communities and associated religious sites of the Hopi, Tewa and Zuni people, who, despite similarities in lifestyle and religion, speak distinct languages. The Hopi language seems derived from the Uto-Aztecan, while Tewa is classified Tanoan. The sounds and structure of Zuni speech suggest no linguistic kinship.
Navajo families were matriarchal with the strongest bond between sisters. The husband was expected to avoid his mother-in-law while providing for her family and his mother’s family. The Santa Fe Railway distributed this Kodachrome photo in the 1940s when horse-drawn wagons were still in widespread use on the reservation.
The Navajo Nation (Diné)
Although they speak an Athabascan dialect, Navajos do not consider themselves Apaches, and Apaches concur. Nevertheless, they were called Apache de Nabaju by residents of Jemez Pueblo, who passed the name along to the Spanish. Nabaju means “planted fields,” or “to take from fields” in the Tewa language. The Navajo had recently added small-scale farming to their hunter-gatherer economy. Immediately recognizing the value of sheep and horses introduced by the Spanish, the Navajo had to steal these animals from the Pueblos.
To curtail these raids, early in the 18th century the Spanish encouraged the Navajo to move westward to a region between Zuni Pueblo and the San Juan River and east of the Hopi mesas. By the beginning of the 19th century, Spanish and later Mexican groups were raiding the Navajo, taking child captives to be sold into slavery as domestic servants. In response, the Navajo increasingly adopted a warrior society led by a few respected chiefs. In 1837 Navajos sacked the Hopi village of Oraibi. The US Army came during the Mexican War in 1846 and attempted to end Navajo raiding by military force followed by treaty negotiations. Fort Defiance was established in the heart of Navajo territory in 1851 but had to be abandoned ten years later to fight the Civil War.
When the Territory of Arizona was established in 1863, the military returned to “destroy” the Navajo. The public plan was to kill all Navajo males capable of bearing arms, taking women and children captive. In reality, the military swept across the Navajo homeland destroying the agricultural base and taking prisoners with offers of food. In 1863, 301 Navajos were killed, in 1864 only 23. But around 8,000 prisoners of war were marched 350-450 miles to a bend on the Pecos River called Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner in northeastern New Mexico. There, along with 400 Mescalero Apaches living as prisoners on the other side of the Pecos, the Navajo were forced to build a town, grow crops and supplement their food with supervised hunting.
Bosque Redondo was a failure. There was never enough food, even though the army purchased expensive provisions hauled from St. Louis. The surrounding area could not supply enough wood for winter. And New Mexico residents didn’t want these terrorists living in their backyard. After quarreling with the Navajo, the Mescalero walked out one night in 1865 and the army let them go. The same year, 2,321 Navajos died of smallpox. Five soldiers were killed in 1867. Accepting failure, the Bureau of Indian Affairs picked a head chief to go to Washington and he returned with a new treaty. In the summer of 1868, more than 7,300 Navajos walked back to their homeland in small groups where they rejoined a couple thousand of their brethren who had eluded capture. The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo and back would never be forgotten by the Diné.
The Navajo religion has no clearly defined supreme being, but the Yei (Holy Ones) can through precise ceremonials assist those in need and bring good things or misfortune. This painting by James Wayne Yazzi (Arizona Highways, August, 1968) illustrates the rare nine-day Nightway or Yeibichai ceremony performed to heal central nervous system illness, or as psychologists would say, “disorders.” Here, on the final night, invited guests surround six impersonators of the Yei in masks, led by Fringe Mouth the clown and Talking God the singer. On the left is the arbor from which the dancers emerged. On the right is a ceremonial Hogan for the patient and five curative sand paintings. If no mistakes are made in the ceremony, order will be restored and the patient will be in recovery. The object of life is to “walk in beauty,” to live in harmony with the world, steering clear of evil and thus enjoying a healthy life.
In order to survive in their beautiful but harsh and remote homeland, Navajos were dependent upon Anglo traders to take in what families produced in exchange for goods unobtainable on the reservation. This is the interior of Hubbell Trading Post at Ganado photographed in the early 1960s by Wayne Davis of St. Johns (Arizona Highways, September 1967). Juan Lorenzo Hubbell (1854-1930) opened the business in 1876, one of several in a string of Hubbell enterprises. After serving as Apache County Sheriff in St. Johns 1882-1886, Hubbell moved to Ganado where he encouraged production of Navajo blankets and rugs. Still in business, the trading post became in 1967 part of a National Historic Site administered by the US Park Service.
Upon return From Bosque Redondo raiding resumed, but farming, herding sheep and raising horses increased. Over the following years, the reservation established by treaty in the Four Corners region expanded many times. It soon became the largest reservation in the country with the most populous tribe in Arizona. After 1873, Navajo wool blankets were an important source of income, with silver jewelry and colorful paintings added by the end of the century. Beginning with a company of Navajo cavalry in 1872, a Navajo police force was organized. Missions and boarding schools came around 1900. But per-family income declined from 1900-1930. In 1917, the BIA began encouraging the formation of local government Chapters on the reservation. From 1925-29, interest groups representing Grand Canyon tourism got Congress to pay for a highway bridge across the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry by charging it to money appropriated for the Navajos. Oil companies wanted a tribal wide authority to sign oil and gas leases on behalf of all Navajos. An advisory committee organized in 1923 soon became known as the Tribal Council, headquartered at Window Rock in 1936. The first election of Council Delegates was held in 1938. Navajos quickly learned to be clever politicians and skillful bureaucrats. By 1998, there were 110 local Chapters, 183 tribal government agencies, seven judicial district courts and several dozen powerful grazing committees.
But the Navajo Nation still struggles to provide for its people. The BIA instituted a mandatory livestock reduction program in 1934 that led to much grief and forced relocation from Hopi lands beginning in 1970 disturbed many families while adding New Lands to the reservation. The Council removed tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald from office in 1989 on corruption charges, sparking an attempted coup by supporters that resulted in two deaths. McDonald was sent to federal prison in 1990. Pardoned by the tribal Council in 1995, his sentence was commuted by President Clinton in 2001.
I believe this color picture appeared in the Santa Fe Railway promotional magazine for tourists around 1910. Labeled “Apache warrior on the Rio Navajo, Arizona,” it and another view of two Apache riders photographed at the same spot are exciting, if posed, glimpses of indigenous life. Also repeatedly issued as postcards by the Fred Harvey Company, the photos were surely not taken in Arizona. They undoubtedly show Jicarilla Apaches on their reservation in northern New Mexico, where the Navajo River runs out of Colorado and back to join the San Juan. Not far from the location pictured the railroad follows the river, named Rio Navajo and Rio Florida by the Spanish because Navajos lived there. It was not the Santa Fe Railway, however, but the rival Denver Rio Grande, which might explain why the photos would be wrongly identified. By 1968, the rails along the Navajo River lay abandoned but excursion trains continued to run along the line at either end, the Durango and Silverton in Colorado and the Cumbres and Toltec in New Mexico.
The Apache Tribes (Nde, Inde or Nide)
In order to understand historical Apache behavior it is important to note their social organization. Apaches lived in widely scattered but territorial family, joint family or local group communities. Groups formed loose confederations to create bands, with a single leader in an advisory rather than dictatorial capacity. Speaking Athabascan dialects intelligible across bands, each community retained its distinctive identity while freely mingling and intermarrying. Families were matrilineal and matrilocal, but marriages sometimes polygamous. The Western Apache also imposed a matrilineal clan system with kinship determined by 62 clans based on plant gathering areas. Clan relationships transcend bands. Daily life was controlled by a number of verbal and behavioral taboos. Apache religious beliefs, associated with monuments in the landscape, encouraged tapping into powerful metaphysical forces pervading the environment. Gifted individuals, medicine men or female herbalists, could access power for good or evil purposes. The “enemies-against power” that brought success in battle or raiding was considered the strongest.
The Apache were hunter-gatherers with limited agriculture, but had to adopt a raiding economy to survive. A distinction was made between raiding neighbors without aiming to kill, in order to obtain livestock or foodstuffs, and warfare where the object was to kill perpetrators to avenge the death of one of their own. Accordingly, the European death penalty for horse thieves and anti-government insurgents instigated a chain of Apache reprisals. A number of heinous murders of Apache leaders and whole families by American civilians using extremely deceptive tactics, spelled doom for any possibility of peaceful coexistence. A minority of Chiricahua Apaches, unable to find a place to settle down, ended up constantly on the run.
Two of the most difficult aspects of Apache life for Europeans to understand were the great freedom of volition on the part of individuals and the habit of living one day at a time. But those Europeans who understood Apache social structure were able to exploit rivalries and personal hatreds to divide the bands. In order to pacify Apaches, the Spanish offered food and alcohol to draw them in and then gave them farmland near Hispanic towns. These apaches mansos “tame” farmers became an important segment of early Tucson, a political constituency to use against untamed bands. Later, Apache scouts were very effectively deployed by the US Army to track and subdue “renegade” Chiricahua bands.
US Army scouts were more often Western Apaches, but sometimes Chiricahuas too. Scouts achieved pride and respect. General Crook recruited 75 Western Apache scouts in 1871. They were paid a salary but often accompanied the cavalry over long distances on foot. They could draw a uniform or wear their own clothing and collect the uniform allowance upon leaving the service. Like Anglo military personnel they were subject to harsh punishment. Three Apache scouts were hanged in 1882 following the Cibecue incident. Still, most seemed glad to serve. The White Mountain Apache William Alchesay was one of at least 11 Indian scouts to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the 19th century. The last Apache scout detachment was disbanded in 1923 at Fort Huachuca. The last scout reportedly retired in 1947. This carte de visite by A. Miller, probably from the 1890s, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.
The many Apache sub-tribes and bands have been known by a confusing plethora of names, often erroneously bestowed by the Spanish or Anglos. The Lipan (Ndé), Jicarilla (Tinde) and Kiowa-Apache (Naisha) tribes remained on the plains of Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, while warfare with the Comanche drove other Apaches west of the Rio Grande beginning about 1700. The Mescalero Apaches settled in southern in New Mexico. Other tribes migrated to what would become Arizona, settling north and south of the Gila River and becoming known to the white man as Western Apaches, Gila Apaches and Chiricahuas. The Spanish identified the Western and Gila Apache subtribes, from north to south, as Tontos, Coyoteros and Pinaleños. Then to the southeast, the Spanish distinguished between Chiricahuas and Mimbreños living along the Mimbres River.
Americans identified four sub-tribes of Western Apaches living from the Mogollon Rim south to the Gila River, the Tonto, Cibecue, White Mountain (aka Coyotero), and San Carlos Apaches (aka Pinal or Pinaleño). South of the Gila and into New Mexico and Mexico lived four or five bands of Chiricahuas: the Bedonkohe of Geronimo, the Chieahen of Chiefs Cosito and Codahooyah, the Chihenne of Victorio (aka Warm Springs Apaches), the Chokonen (aka Copper Mine Apaches) of Cochise and his son Naiche, and the Nedni (Nednai or Ndendaande) of Chief Whoa in Mexico. But some of these terms were applied across bands. And many Chiricahua families had relatives in more than one band.
In order to police the Apaches and open up land for white settlement, the US government adopted a policy of confining Indians to reservations. Three were created in Arizona for the various Apache bands.
San Carlos Apache Tribe (Dilzhe’e) on the San Carlos Reservation
White Mountain Apache Tribe (Ndee or Nnee) on the Fort Apache Reservation
Chiricahua (Chokonende) Indian Reservation
In the summer of 1871, the US Board of Indian Commissioners authorized the creation of small Indian reservations adjacent to the Camp Apache, Camp Grant and Camp Verde, military posts. Following the Camp Grant massacre, a four million acre White Mountain Indian Reservation was created by executive order of President Grant November 9, 1871 with the Indian agency office located near where the San Carlos River joins the Gila. Camp San Carlos was established there in 1873. From 1873 to 1877 large parts of the reservation were taken away so the land could be mined. December 14, 1872, President Grant created the Chiricahua Indian Reservation out of the southeastern corner of Arizona Territory, extending south from a point east of the Graham Mountains, to encompass the Chiricahua range and the Dragoon Mountains. This same Executive Order established the “San Carlos division of the White Mountain Indian Reservation.”
This gave too much land to the Indians, stifling economic development, argued the newspapers. And it didn’t stop Chiricahua raiding. In 1875, the federal government decided to forcibly relocate all Apache sub-tribes and bands to the San Carlos division, confining them to as small an area as possible. The Chiricahua Reservation was abolished by U.S. Grant October 30, 1876. More than two decades later, long after the concentration policy failed, Congress voted June 7, 1897 to split the White Mountain Reservation into the Fort Apache Indian Reservation north of the Salt and Black Rivers, and the San Carlos Reservation to the south. These days, the Fort Apache Reservation is more often referred to as the White Mountain Reservation.
The Chiricahua people were hit hard by the confinement at San Carlos. General Crook made promises he could not keep and intimidated them with severed heads of renegades on display and threats of prosecution in Indian courts for use of alcohol and polygamy. The Department of Interior, Indian bureau threatened prosecution in civilian courts for religious “devil dancing” and abusing wives. In May 1877, Apaches who tried to return to Warm Springs, New Mexico were forcibly taken to San Carlos. In 1881 several Chiricahua bands fled San Carlos, only to return three years later after they were hunted down by Crook’s troops in Mexico. Geronimo, Naiche, Nana, Mangas junior and Chihuahua led a group of 35 men, 8 teenage boys and 101 women and children to flee again in 1885. But at least three quarters of the Chiricahua stayed on the reservation. Toward the end of summer 1886, surrounded in Mexico, the last free Chiricahuas surrendered to Crook’s replacement, General Miles. They were sent east as prisoners of war for 27 years, at military bases first in Texas, then Florida, Alabama and finally Fort Sill, Oklahoma. General Miles also sent the peaceful Chiricahuas who had stayed at San Carlos, and even the Chiricahua scouts who had led the military to the renegades, into captivity along with the others. In 1913 and 1914 they were finally released, to live near Fort Sill, or on the Mescalero or San Carlos reservations, but not their homelands. The Chiricahua Diaspora persists to this day.
Charles W. Herbert of Western Ways Features took this photo of the White Mountain Apache harvest at Whiteriver around 1960. Hundreds of ears in the husk might be pit barbecued for large gatherings. Here, ears are being dried for winter storage. Both Apache and Navajo families depended on corn, beans and squash combined with meat and numerous wild plants. The Navajo landscape favored mutton, while the Apaches preferred beef. Deer, elk and smaller game animals were hunted. Apaches on the move would eat their horses if need be, but would never eat some animals, especially any that lived in water.
The Western Apaches who had learned to replace raiding with farming and ranching faired slightly better than the Chiricahuas. Tuberculosis wasted Indian populations on all the reservations 1916-1925. The death rate among Indians was 17 times higher than the rate for the country as a whole. Willing to seek work off the reservation, some families saw income slowly improve. In the 1940s and 1950s, both the White Mountain and San Carlos tribes profited from large herds of pure Hereford cattle. As cattle ranching waned, the White Mountain Apaches began building in 1954 a recreation industry on their reservation that became a model for other tribes. When SRP tried to stop them from damming its water to create Hawley Lake, the Apaches used armed guards to keep state officials from serving the injunction. Then they built 26 more recreational lakes, stores, campgrounds and a ski resort.
Tonto Apache Tribe (Dilzhe’eh or Dilzhe’e)
Tonto Apaches spoke a separate Athabascan dialect but were generally fluent in the speech of their neighbors. Four northern Tonto bands are recognized, the Mormon Lake, Fossil Creek, Bald Mountain and Oak Creek. Southern Tonto bands include the Mazatzal and six semi-bands. Because they lived in close proximity in harmony, the Yavapai and the Tonto Apache tribes were lumped together by the military at Camp Verde on the Rio Verde Reserve in 1871, then, four years later removed to the San Carlos Reservation between Globe and Safford. Returning to their aboriginal homeland near Payson a generation later, about a hundred Tonto Apaches struggled to gain title to land. A small Tonto Apache Reservation was established in 1972 and efforts have been made to expand it.
This is a detail from a stereoscopic card labeled “Apache squaws Verde Reservation,” by Dudley P. Flanders. The Los Angeles based photographer made his “Trip Though Arizona” from December 1873 to November 1874. He pictured the Verde Reserve during the spring of 1874. Both Tonto Apache and Yavapai women are likely present in this view. Some of the Yavapai women have multiple strings of beads around their necks, vertical lines on their faces and horizontal white stripes in their hair, distinguishing them from their Apache companions.
The Yavapai people
Three reservations in Arizona were created over the years for the displaced Yavapai people.
Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Indian Community
The 26,400 acre reservation was created in 1886 at the former military post. Population is now around 1,000.
Created in 1871 near Camp Verde, the reservation was taken away in 1875 and the residents forcibly removed to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Re-established in 1909, additional land was added in 1915, 1917, 1967 and 1974, bringing total area to 644 acres for about 1,700 residents.
Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe
The 1,395-acre reservation was created in 1935 outside Prescott, but is now home to little more than 150 residents.
Warfare had long ago become a persistent cultural institution for the Yuman speaking peoples of Arizona, driving families into warring factions and splitting communities to scatter over a wider area. The Lower Yumans, the Cocopah, Halchidhoma (aka Xalchidom), Maricopa (aka Cocomaricopa), Mohave and Yuma tribes all probably lived along the Colorado River until the Maricopa people left to seek peace up the Gila River to the east. The Halchidhoma also went up the Gila to its junction with the Salt River in the 18th century. Also probably in search of peace, the Upper Yuman tribes or Pai (“we people”), the Havasupai (or Supai), Hualapai (aka Walapai) and Yavapai went into the mountains and canyons of central Arizona to live.
“The modern Yavapai-Apache Nation is the combination of two distinct Tribal People; the northeast Yavapai (also known sometimes as the Yavape’), some Wipukapaya and Kewevkapaya People and the Dilzhe’e Apache often referred to in books and movies as Tontos or Tonto Apache. Both of our ancestral tribes lived in the Verde Valley and the surrounding country for centuries. The Dilzhe’e lived mostly east of and the Yavapai mostly west of the Verde River, but they overlapped on both sides when they needed to. Along the River Yavapai and Apache families shared resources and even intermarried. A lot of the old timers who grew up in that way spoke both languages.” (Yavapai-Apache KIDSHISTORY-07.pdf)
Ignoring their Yuman-based speech, the Anglos who ruled Arizona, considered the Yavapai just another Apache band, calling them Mohave-Apaches, Yavapai-Apaches or Yuma-Apaches. This led to much suffering on the part of the Indians. As soon as General George Crook assumed command of the military department of Arizona he ordered a roundup of all Apaches in the vicinity who did not voluntarily report to the Camp Verde reservation by a February 1872 deadline. December 28, 1872, 120 US soldiers and 100 Pima scouts trapped a group of Kewevkapaya families who refused to surrender in Skeleton Cave in the Salt River Canyon, mercilessly slaughtering at least 75 men, women and children with gunfire and by rolling boulders down on them. Their mangled bodies were left in place to rot. About 35 wounded women and children were sent to Camp Verde. Then in 1875, the Camp Verde reservation was abolished and 1,500 Yavapais and Tonto Apaches were force-marched to San Carlos where they remained for the next 25 years. In the early 1920s, a few survivors went to Skeleton Cave and recovered bones for proper burial on the Fort McDowell reservation. In 1975, the tribe saved their reservation at Fort McDowell from inundation by stopping construction of Orme Dam.
(Most tribes publish newspapers. In addition, the internet is now one of the best places to hear from Native peoples and their governments and organizations. The forums at www.American-Tribes.com are particularly helpful. For Aravaipa Apache history see, http://interstice.us/apachestelltheirstory/history-early.htm For a portal to everything Navajo go to, www.lapahie.com/ Chiricahua-Apache.com gives the current viewpoint from the Chiricahua perspective.)
The Arizona Blue Book, Arizona Secretary of State (tribal listing)
Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs, Tribal Directory
Gordon C. Baldwin, The Apache Indians, (1978)
Keith H. Basso, ed., Western Apache Raiding and Warfare, (1971)
Kathy Block, “The Skeleton Cave Massacre” (2009) http://apcrp.org/SKELETON_CAVE/Skeleton%20Cave%20Massacre.htm
Timothy Braatz, Surviving Conquest A History of the Yavapai Peoples, (2003)
Karl Jacoby & Patricia Nelson Limerick, Shadows at Dawn: A Apache Massacre and the Violence of History, (2009) about the Camp Grant Massacre.
Broderick H. Johnson, et al., Denetsosie, (1969) the Navajo Long Walk and after.
Sherry Robinson, Apache Voices, (2000)
James D. Shinkle, Fort Sumner and the Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation, (1965)
Dale Slocum, Today With the White Mountain Apache, (1972)
Edward H. Spicer, Cycles of Conquest, (1962)
Eva Tulene Watt, Don’t Let the Sun Step Over You, (2004) White Mt. Apache family life 1860-1975.
Sonoran Desert field trip guides
5 years ago