The Yavapai-Apache in the Verde Valley
Yavapai and Apache history spans several hundred years in the Verde Valley at a minimum. The tribes generally coexisted, as two culturally distinct groups in the country surrounding the Verde River. In the case of the Yavapai, they extended westward from the Verde Country out into the low desert bordering the Colorado River and for the Tonto Apache, eastward from the Verde River towards the White Mountains. Both groups ranged as far north as the Grand Canyon for resources and south to the Phoenix Basin, where they had common enemies in the Pima, Papago and Maricopa’s. Both Yavapai and Apaches regularly traded with the Hopi. The Apaches of the Verde Valley regularly raided into Old Mexico.
The Yavapai are a Yuman speaking tribe, as are all Upland Pai tribes (Hualapai, Havasupai, Yavapai and the displaced Pai Pai of Baja del Norte). Many archaeologists assume that they arrived in the Verde Valley around AD 1300, although their history suggests a much earlier arrival. They are linguistically and culturally unrelated to the Apache, who live in eastern and central Arizona. Due to the general similarities of, black hair, basket technology and subsistence adaptations, the Yavapai were often mistakenly referred to as “Mohave-Apache” by Euro-American observers, especially by the military, who unfortunately did not as a rule concern themselves with cultural nuance.
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The Yavapai were semi-nomadic hunter-gathers who lived and traveled in small groups within specific home territories. The Wipukupaya group occupied the Red Rock country including Oak Creek Canyon and the area east to the Verde Valley.
The term Apache applies to a diverse group of Na-Diné (Athapaskan) speaking tribes and bands, who entered the Southwest before the arrival of Europeans. In the 19th century the Apaches inhabited a broad area from central Arizona to southern Texas and northern Mexico. Many Apache groups were nomadic or seminomadic and traveled over large areas, including areas visited or inhabited by other tribes. They lived with a light hand on the landscape. With a mainly perishable material culture and a life on the surface, very little artifactual evidence survives to pinpoint any chronological entry into the region let alone from where and how many. This makes it difficult to correlate geographic locations with any single specific cultural group, or even with a particular tribe.
Some archaeologists place the Tonto-Apache arrival in the Verde Valley around 1450, others such as tribal archaeologist Chris Coder place the arrival up to two-centuries earlier and believes they arrived just after the great regional disruption at the end of the thirteenth century based on Hopi oral traditions. Physical evidence of Tonto Apache (known to themselves as Dil zhee’, translated as “The Hunters”) use is found in the Beaver Creek area, though some rock art at Honanki and Palatki indicates they were on the west side of the Sedona area as well.
When the Spanish explorer Antonio Espejo arrived in the Verde Valley in 1583, he described the Yavapai and Apache as “rustic people” who “gave us what they had.” They were described as a hunting and gathering people. The American entrance into Yavapai and Apache traditions began in earnest after 1860. Exploring and trapping parties had made their way here earlier, but no effort had been made to settle. In 1863, Indian hostilities resulted from the establishment of mining camps on their ancestral lands and due to the active murder, deceit and poisoning of Apaches, in particular, by the confederate deserter, King Woolsey. These hostilities continued without interruption until General Crook rounded up the surviving Yavapai and Apache and took them to the Rio Verde Reservation in 1872. This usurpation of their Homelands and sequestering on the Rio Verde Reserve is referred to as the “conquest” by the Yavapai-Apache Nation. They remained there until March 1875, when an estimated 1,500 Yavapai and Apache were moved from the Rio Verde Indian Reserve 180 miles away to the Indian Agency at San Carlos. The forced removal, now known as Exodus Day, of the indigenous people of the Verde Valley resulted in scores of lives lost and the loss of nine hundred square miles of Executive Order lands promised to the Yavapai-Apache by the United States government. When they were finally allowed to leave San Carlos in 1900, only about 200 Yavapai and Apache actually made it back to their homeland in the Verde Valley.
The modern Yavapai-Apache Nation is the artificial amalgamation of these two distinct cultures, who occupied opposite sides of the Verde Valley for centuries prior to the Euro-American conquest of the Southwest. The Nation as we know it today is the result of legislation passed by the Congress in 1934 known as the Indian Reorganization Act, in an effort to establish a single tribe in the Upper Verde Valley. This was done as an expedient by the federal government who believed that the shared experience of the Yavapai and Apache at San Carlos from 1875 to around 1899 rationalized this as a legitimate act. Today the several satellite communities of the Nation truly reflect the evolution from two historically distinct Tribes into the single Nation of today. The Nation is a single political entity, but still respects its dual heritage as an important legacy for all of the descendants from those times. Today Reservation Trust Lands include almost 2,000 acres spread across the four separate parcels in the tribal communities of Lower Camp Verde, Middle Verde, Clarkdale and Rimrock.