The Battle of Turret Peak, 1873

General. George Crook
Gen. George Crook (Wikipedia)

On November 15, 1872, U.S. Army General George Crook launched a military offensive against the hostile Yavapai and Tonto Apache Indians hiding in the rugged landscape of central Arizona. His troops went out from the area’s army forts with orders to “hunt them down until the last hostile is killed or captured.” A year earlier he had ordered all the local Indians to report to a reservation or be considered hostile and “punished accordingly.” He made sure the message was widely delivered, but there had been little response. The troops assigned to finally inflict the punishment were told, “no excuse will be accepted for abandoning a trail; if the horses play out, follow the enemy afoot as long as your men can stand.”

Skeleton Cave, Salt River Canyon, Arizona
Skeleton Cave about 1925, Salt River Canyon, Arizona (American Archeology and Ethonology)

The first major success of the campaign occurred on December 28, when Crook’s troops discovered a Yavapai stronghold consisting of a large cave in the depths of the Salt River Canyon. They took up positions around the mouth of the cave, and when its occupants refused to surrender, they poured in a heavy fire. When it was over they found 76 bodies inside, including women and children. There were 20 survivors, all of them women and children and most of them wounded. They were taken to Fort McDowell. The chief of this band, Nanni-chaddi, was among the dead. He had bragged that no soldiers would ever find his camp.

Turett Peak, Arizona (Jeff Burgess)
View of Turett Peak from the west. (Jeff Burgess)

The second major success of the campaign occurred on the morning of March 27, 1873, at Turret Peak. This lone mountain was also a Yavapai stronghold. It had been the destination, in fact, of a wounded brave who had escaped from the Battle of Salt River Canyon.

Members of the Turret Peak band had tortured and killed three white men on March 11th. Crook’s troops had made a big effort to track down the killers without success until his Indian scouts captured a Yavapai woman they “intimidated” into showing them the way. The soldiers crept up the sides of Turret Peak during the night and at dawn they rushed the hostile camp on top, achieving complete surprise. At least two dozen Indians were killed and the surviving women and children were taken captive.

The Attack Against the Yavapais on Turret Peak Was a Turning Point
turret-peak-top
Summit of Turret Peak, looking north. (Jeff Burgess)

These two defeats at strongholds long thought impregnable broke the back of Yavapai resistance in central Arizona. In April a Yavapai chief named Cha-lipun appeared at Camp Verde and unconditionally surrendered to Crook. He explained in Spanish* that Crook had, “too many cartridges of copper.” He was accompanied by 300 of his tribe, but represented about 2,300 in the region.

* Spanish was the language most Indians used to communicate with white people in Arizona at this time. The Indians had been in contact with Spanish-speaking whites for a couple of centuries, while English-speaking Americans had only been in Arizona for a couple of decades.

Note: Most of the historical accounts of these events refer to the Indians involved as being Apaches because, at that time, all hostile Indians in central Arizona were called Apaches. Still, some Anglos knew the Yavapais were different and called them Mohave-Apaches, because their language was similar to that spoken by the Mohave tribe. The Yavapai were indeed Yuman speaking people, like their cousins the Mohave, Hualapai, Havasupai, Maricopa, Cocopah, and Yumas. The Yavapai were the easternmost tribe of Yuman speakers and the harsh climate and rugged topography of central Arizona dictated their culture. The westernmost Apache tribe, the Tonto Apaches, had also learned to survive in this harsh place and so the two groups found much In common, despite their different languages. Yavapais and Tonto Apaches cooperated, intermarried and shared the land, the general dividing line between the two being the Mazatzal Mountains. The Tontos were given their nickname by other Western Apaches, because the word “tonto” means fool in Spanish and the other Apache tribes in Arizona considered the Tontos fools for acting acting differently from other Apaches.

 

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