The War Against the Yavapai

In 1865, some drunken American squatters murdered Pai headman Anasa. In retaliation, Pai raiders attacked several wagon trains, ran off livestock, and shut down the traffic on the road between Prescott and Fort Mohave. In response to these attacks, the U.S. Army created a line of demarcation which declared that all Indians living more than 70 miles east of the Colorado River were to be considered hostile and subject to extermination. Under this declaration, not only were the Pai considered hostile, but also the Yavapai and Western Apache.  

In 1866, a small party of Tolkepaya Yavapai encountered an American wagon train near Skull Valley. The Yavapai informed the teamsters that this was their land and that the water, grass, and corn belonged to them. The Yavapai told the teamsters that they would allow the Americans to leave unharmed if they surrendered their mules and the contents of their wagons. From the American perspective this was an act of extortion, and in response a group of 13 soldiers-members of the Arizona Volunteers-arrived with orders from Fort Whipple to “punish” the Yavapai. Then more Yavapai and Tonto Apache arrived, including some who had papers showing that they had permission to be in the area. On the third day of the standoff, about 80 Yavapai and Tonto Apache laid down their bows, and displaying their papers from the government, approached the wagon train peacefully. The soldiers opened fire, killing more than 40.

In 1866, the Arizona Volunteers waged a war of extermination against the Yavapai and killed at least 83.

In 1868, a new army commander arrived at Fort McDowell and immediately ordered a campaign against nearby “Apache”. The army informed the peaceful Yavapai under the leadership of Delshe and Ashcavotil that their soldiers were under orders to shoot any Yavapai who wandered away from the post. When 170 U.S. cavalry rode into the Yavapai camp the next morning, the Yavapai fled into the mountains and the cavalry followed. The army then began arresting as a “prisoner of war” any Yavapai who appeared at a military post, even when they came under a flag of truce. Those who tried to escape were shot. The Yavapai retaliated by killing U.S. mail carriers and running off livestock. In response the U.S. troops and their Pima allies began a campaign against the Yavapai.

In 1868, a party of about 30 Yavapai including the headman Quashackama visited the Indian agent at La Paz. They asked for food but were denied rations. They set up camp and waited for the arrival of the Indian Superintendent. At sunrise the next morning, a group of 13 teamsters rushed into the Yavapai camp with guns blazing. They murdered Quashackama and 14 others. The teamsters were seeking revenge for attacks on their wagon trains, but the residents of La Paz knew that these Yavapai could not have been responsible for the attacks. Quashackama had been a friend to the Americans and had helped them to recover strays and stolen livestock. Army officers and territorial officials arrested the teamsters, but a U.S. district judge who was sympathetic to Indian-killers set the murderers free. The remaining Yavapai fled back to the mountains and some took revenge on American travelers.  


In 1870, two Tolkepaya Yavapai men entered the Army’s Camp Date Creek and explained that their people were not hostile but they would like a peace agreement to protect them from military and civilian raiders. Two weeks later a meeting was held with 200 Yavapai under the leadership of Ohatchecama and the Camp Date Creek commanding officer. An informal peace was negotiated. The Yavapai promised to stay off the roads between Prescott and Wickenburg, and to report the presence of Yavapai raiders to U.S. officers. They also agreed to turn in any of their own people responsible for attacks on Americans.

In 1872, the army with 120 U.S. soldiers and 100 Pima scouts tracked a band of Kwevkepaya Yavapai into the Salt River Canyon. With the aid of Nantaje, a Tonto Apache scout who knew the area well, the army located the Yavapai camped in a cave. The army positioned itself below the cave and began firing into the cave. After chanting their death song, 20 Kwevkepaya men charged from the cave. They were quickly gunned down by the Americans. It is estimated that 76 Yavapai were killed in the cave. Eighteen women and children, all of whom were wounded, took cover under the bodies of the dead and survived. The army took the survivors, as prisoners, to Fort Grant.

General Oliver Otis Howard called a peace conference with more than 1,000 Kwevkepaya Yavapai and Apache to quell animosity in the region. The spokesmen for the Yavapai included Pawchine, Sygollah, Wehabesuwa, and Sekwalakawala. All agreed that hostilities should be ended. The Yavapai and the San Carlos Apache promised to help the Americans chase down those who resisted the American invasion.

In 1872, the army called in about 50 Yavapai under the leadership of Ohatchecama to discuss an incident involving a stage coach. The Yavapai left their weapons in camp and came to the meeting unarmed. The Yavapai were innocent of the stage coach incident, but the American general (George Crook) was intent on arresting ten Indians. When the soldiers moved in to make the arrests, the Yavapai resisted, and the soldiers opened fire. Several Yavapai were killed and Ohatchecama and several others were arrested. The remaining Yavapai fled.

Early the next morning, the Yavapai prisoners broke out of the guardhouse. Several were killed and Ohatchecama, with two gunshot wounds and a bayonet stab wound, escaped to the mountains where he died.

Shortly after this incident, Pakota and Takodawa returned from their visit with President Ulysses S. Grant. Upon hearing of the assault, they presented their medals and papers and relayed the President’s promises of peace. Pakota soon found that the pleasant words of accommodation and peace spoken in Washington did not represent reality in Arizona.  

The War Resumes:

In 1872, General George Crook embarked on a war of extermination against the Yavapai. The campaign was carried out by well-armed and well-organized soldiers against scattered bands of malnourished and poorly-armed Yavapai families. The “battles” tended to be one-sided, murderous onslaughts.

The army attacked four Yavapai camps on the Santa Maria River, killing about 40 Indians and taking a number of women and children as hostages. The soldiers burned all of the supplies and shelters in the camps. At Squaw Peak, the army attacked another Yavapai camp and killed 17. In the Santa Maria Mountains the soldiers killed nine more Yavapai.

The following year, as a part of General George Crook’s war against the Yavapai, soldiers attacked the camp of Yavapai headman Notokel. While Notokel and ten others escaped, eight Yavapai were killed and all of their belongings destroyed. Near Fort McDowell, the soldiers attacked a Kwevkepaya Yavapai camp, killing nine and wounding three. Shortly after this, Notokel, two children, and one woman were shot by the soldiers.

Wipukepa Yavapai headman Tecoomthaya moved his people to the extreme north of their territory in order to escape General George Crook’s campaign against them. However, a force of U.S. soldiers with the aid of Pai scouts tracked them down and attacked them without warming. The Yavapai were not given the option of surrender. While most of the Yavapai escaped, the soldiers burned all of their supplies and food.

Over a period of seven months in 1873, Crook’s soldiers killed more than 250 Indians.

In 1873, General George Crook, like most American officials, preferred to deal with a dictator rather than a democracy and therefore appointed Coquannathacka as head chief for all the Yavapai. Accustomed to a military and political hierarchy, Cook wanted to be able to deal with a single leader, preferably one chosen by him and loyal to the Americans rather than the Yavapai.

Unfortunately for the Americans, while Coquannathacka was a respected elder, he had little interest in cooperating with Crook. In addition, he was not much of a talker. When Coquannathacka declined the position, the Americans appointed Motha (later known as Mojave Charlie or Captain Charlie) as head chief. The Americans gave him an officer’s uniform, complete with a saber and black hat, as a symbol of his status as head chief. While Motha could parade about in his new uniform-which he did daily-he still did not and could not speak for or command the Yavapai people.

In 1874, as a part of his campaign to exterminate the Yavapai, General George Crook offered a reward for the murder of the Yavapai leader Delshe. He told his people to bring back Delshe’s head. Delshe responded to this by slipping into the Rio Verde Reservation and recruiting more followers.

In 1875, the Yavapai were force-marched nearly 200 miles to the San Carlos Apache reservation. This ended the primary military campaign against the Yavapai. However, army troops remained behind to hunt down any remaining Indian camps. A few miles east of Camp Verde, army scouts killed six Wipukepa Yavapai men and captured three women and seven children. Farther south, they killed four Tolkepaya Yavapai men and captured one woman and two children.

The Creation of the Fort McDowell Reservation

When the Yavapai came under the jurisdiction of the United States following the acquisition of what was to become Arizona, they were a loose association of locally organized groups speaking mutually intelligible but nevertheless distinct sub-dialects. Traditional Yavapai territory stretched from the San Francisco Peaks in the north, to the Pinal Mountains in the east, and to the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers in the southwest. Following the discovery of gold in Yavapai territory in 1863, the American government and the Americans who settled in Yavapai territory began plotting the removal of the Yavapai from their traditional territory.  

The Colorado River Indian Reservation was established in 1865 by an act of Congress. While the reservation was initially settled by the Chemehuevi and Mohave, many Americans viewed this as a potential home for the Yavapai as well. Soon after the creation of the reservation about 800 Yavapai under the leadership of Quashackama settled on the Colorado River Indian Reservation. Quashackama was given papers attesting to the peaceful intentions of the Yavapai and an American farmer was appointed to help them with their planting. However, the land on which they were settled was land that none of the Americans wanted because the soil was sandy and alkaline and thus difficult, if not impossible, to farm.

Two years later, the number of Yavapai attempting to live on the Colorado Indian Reservation had dwindled to about 300. Under the leadership of Quashackama, Ohatchecama, Chawmasecha, Hochachiwaca, and Quacanthewya they were living on some beef, flour, and corn which they received from the federal government. They supplemented this by gathering mesquite beans in the late summer and harvesting whatever crops they were able to grow. Some did occasional wage work, including prostitution.

In 1867, a group of about 50 Kwevkepaya Yavapai under the leadership of Delshe visited Camp Miller. The army commander of Camp Miller was building a road deep into the Tonto Basin region of Yavapai territory. In discussions with the commander, the Yavapai agreed to take up farming along Tonto Creek once the road was completed.

In 1871, Yavapai leaders Delshe and Eschetlepan met with an army officer to discuss peace. Delshe requested a reservation in the Yavapai homeland, close to the mountain resources which his people exploited, and far from their traditional enemies, the Pima and Maricopa.

At this time, Vincent Coyler, a member of the U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners, visited with the Yavapai and Tonto Apache for the purpose of establishing a reservation for them. Unfortunately, Coyler did not understand that the Yavapai and the Tonto Apache were distinct peoples. In addition, he failed to realize that there were four distinct bands of Yavapai. He envisioned the creation of a single reservation for all of these groups and selected the Verde Valley as the best site for the reservation. While the leaders from the Yavapé and Wipukepa Yavapai bands convinced him that this would be a good location, he never actually talked with the leaders of the Kwevkepaya Yavapai and Tonto Apache bands.

Following Coyler’s recommendations, Fort McDowell and Camp Date Creek were established as temporary asylums for the Yavapai where they would be fed, protected, and cared for by the army. Nearly 600 Yavapai received food and handouts and the army reported that American travelers in the area were now safe. Conditions on the new reservation, however, were less than desirable for the Yavapai: food rations provided too few calories, and U.S. officers treated some Yavapai men to leg irons or confinement in the guardhouse.

In 1871, the Rio Verde Reservation was established for the Yavapai. The army ordered that all “roving Apache” (the army thought that the Yavapai were an Apache group) be on this reservation or be considered hostile. The following year, reservation life for the Yavapai on the Rio Verde Reservation became stricter with the arrival of a new Indian agent. The Indians were now required to attend muster once a day and none of the Indians were allowed to leave the reservation without his written permission. Men on the reservation were required to wear metal tags identifying them by assigned numbers. Men who violated reservation rules were sent to the guard house: some were sentenced to a month of hard labor and some were forced to wear a ball and chain.

A delegation of Indians from Arizona-Yavapai, Pima, Apache, and Tohono O’odham-travelled in 1872 to Washington, D.C. and met with President Ulysses S. Grant. At the White House, each of the delegates received $50, a document which proclaimed him to be a “chief”, and a medal with Grant’s likeness. The Yavapai members of the delegation-Pakota (later called José Coffee) and Takodawa (later called Washington Charley)-were neither leaders nor headmen: they were simply two men who volunteered to go to Washington.

Grant expressed a desire for peace throughout the land. He told the delegates that if their people remained on their reservations and became full-time farmers, they would receive rations and education and they would have no further troubles with the army. While the Indian leaders who were listening to Grant desired peace, the greed and rabid ethnocentrism of Indian-hating citizens of Arizona would make this almost impossible.


In 1873, the Yavapai who were living in the Date Creek area were informed that they were to be moved to the Rio Verde Reservation. The move was being made without their consent. Chawmasecha, who had been an advocate of reservation life, refused to leave the familiar region. He led 240 Tolkepaya Yavapai west to the Colorado River Indian Reservation. While General O.O. Howard had said that the Yavapai could settle on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, General George Crook ordered them to be removed. U.S. Troops along with Pai scouts marched them back to the Rio Verde Reservation.

In 1873, an army surgeon on the Rio Verde Reservation doled out his entire supply of quinine to the sick Yavapai. When a new supply arrived, the Yavapai besieged the doctor for more as it had proved to be effective. This new medicine did not compete with older Yavapai healing practices. The medicine men (basemachas) would chant and dance over their ailing patients and then administer quinine and other drugs which they had obtained from the doctor (who was often in attendance). The army surgeon, Dr. Corbusier, was accepted by the basemachas as a fellow healer and was often presented with gifts of gratitude and invited to sit among them at ceremonials.

In 1874, the Office of Indian Affairs decided to close the Rio Verde Reservation and to move the Yavapai and Tonto Apache about 200 miles southeast to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. By eliminating this reservation, the Office of Indian Affairs would be able to open up the land to non-Indian settlement. Not only would the Americans be able to have the land, but they would also benefit from the irrigation system which had been put in for the Indians. At this time, the Indians on the reservation were well on their way to agricultural self-sufficiency and to being able to produce a surplus to sell.

The decision to move the Yavapai and Tonto Apache came about through the lobbying of government contractors. A self-sufficient, honestly administered reservation would mean a significant loss of business for them. On the San Carlos Reservation, a hotter and drier area with unfavorable farming conditions, the Indians would have to continue to receive government rations supplied, of course, by the government contractors.

Prior to their removal, the Yavapai and Tonto Apache headmen met with the special commissioner sent by the Indian Office to supervise the move. They explained the reasons why they did not want to go to San Carlos, but the special commissioner was drunk and often incoherent. U.S. officers, including the army surgeon, strongly suggested that the Indians be taken around the mountains by road so that wagons could be used to carry the elderly, the young, and the supplies. The special commissioner responded:

“They are Indians, let the beggars walk.”

In 1875, the Yavapai and the Tonto Apache were removed from the Rio Verde Reservation and forced to march some 200 miles through the mountains to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. In February, 1,476 Yavapai and Tonto Apache began their walk to San Carlos under military escort. They walked, climbed, crawled, and waded through the snow, mud, and streams of 180 miles of very cold and extremely rugged mountain ranges. They carried all their possessions on their backs and one man carried his wife in a large basket the entire way.

Twenty-five babies were born on the March of Tears and 1,361 Yavapai and Tonto Apache arrived at the San Carlos Reservation. This suggests that 140 did not complete the trip (taking into account the 25 babies born enroute). Some died along the way while others turned back, unwilling to face life in an unknown land.

Some Yavapai and Tonto Apache families stayed in the mountains to escape the March of Tears.  However, army troops remained behind to hunt down the remaining Indian camps. A few miles east of Camp Verde, army scouts killed six Wipukepa Yavapai men and captured three women and seven children. Farther south, they killed four Tolkepaya Yavapai men and captured one woman and two children.

At the San Carlos Apache Reservation the Indian agent met with the newly arrived Yavapai and Tonto Apache and told them that they must surrender all of their arms. All of the Indians leapt to their feet and dashed back to their camps. However, the Indian agent refused to issue rations until the weapons were surrendered.

Shortly after arriving, a group of about 25 Tolkepaya Yavapai left the San Carlos Apache Reservation without permission and visited the Pima and Maricopa settlements. When they returned, they told the Indian agent that they had friends among the Pima and wanted to settle there. A little while later, a group of 27 Tolkepaya Yavapai left the reservation heading for the Pima settlements. This time the agent sent the Indian police after them. The Yavapai, even though they outnumbered the police, offered no resistance and were escorted back to the reservation.

In 1876, a small band of Yavapai under the leadership of Miraha left the San Carlos Apache Reservation without permission. They walked back across the Tonto Basin, passing north of the upper Verde Valley, and set up their camp just west of the Bill Williams Mountain. This high plateau area had traditionally been an unoccupied buffer between the Yavapai territory and Pai territory. The Yavapai set up their uwas (wickiups) and began to reestablish something of a pre-conquest lifestyle. From the American viewpoint, the Yavapai who left the reservation were considered hostile and in rebellion against the United States. Even though they may have had non-violent intentions, they were to be shot on sight. If possible, women and children were to be taken alive.

In 1877, the army’s Tonto Apache scouts captured a Yavapai woman and child. Her husband soon surrendered at Camp Verde. Using this prisoner as a guide, the army was able to locate Miraha’s Yavapai camp near the Bill Williams Mountain. Without offering the option of surrender, the army attacked the camp, killing seven men and taking three women and four children as prisoners. Five uwas (wickiups) were destroyed. The prisoners were marched back to the San Carlos Reservation.

In 1877, an Indian Office inspector reported that the tensions between the Tolkepaya Yavapai and the Apache on the San Carlos Reservation were disturbing the general harmony of the reservation. Yavapai spokesmen told the inspector that they would like to leave the reservation and were willing to live among the Pima or on the Colorado River Reservation. The inspector recommended that the Yavapai be allowed to leave.

By 1878, a number of Yavapai who had left the San Carlos Apache Reservation without permission had returned to their traditional territory and were living near Wickenburg where American residents employed them for farm work and domestic tasks. Takodawa (also known as Washington Charley as a result of his 1872 trip to visit President Ulysses S. Grant in Washington, D.C.) confronted a Tolkepaya Yavapai woman in the Wickenburg house where she was working. When she refused to leave with him, he then declared that “his heart has gone bad” and left, supposedly to incite other Yavapai in nearby camps. The residents of Wickenberg, fearing the worst, then detained the seven local Yavapai and requested troops be sent from Camp Verde. As a result, 17 more Yavapai were rounded up and taken back to San Carlos.

In 1885, U.S. Army officers took over the management of the San Carlos Reservation and used their powers to interfere with traditional Apache and Yavapai healing practices. The officers felt that the traditional beliefs and practices regarding healing were ignorant and dangerous.

Two years later, the Yavapai leaders on the San Carlos Reservation were able to meet with General Nelson Miles who had been called to the reservation to investigate a recent religious uprising. The Yavapai told Miles that they wanted a reservation in their old homelands. Miles instructed the Yavapai leaders to tour their old homelands and then to meet with him in Los Angeles. While General Miles did not have the authority to relocate the Yavapai on the traditional lands, his recommendations for this action brought sympathetic attention from federal officials.

When the American settlers living near Camp Verde heard that General Nelson Miles was recommending that the Yavapai be returned to a reservation on their old homelands, they sent a flurry of letters and petitions to the Secretary of the Interior, President Grover Cleveland, and other government officials. In their petition to the President, they asked for protection against the Indians and stated:

“Their only ambition is to murder, steal, and plunder.”

The President replied that he was sympathetic to their cause and would not allow the Yavapai to return home.  

In 1901, Camp McDowell, an abandoned military reservation, was set aside for Indian use by Executive Order of President Theodore Roosevelt. Congress, however, rejected a bill that would create a Yavapai reservation because American squatters in the area objected.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt sent his personal agent to investigate the situation of the Yavapai in the Verde Valley. The agent reported that there were more than 500 Yavapai living in the area. The agent recommended buying the squatters’ claims to Fort McDowell lands and this land be made available to the Yavapai. One concern expressed by the agent was that the Yavapai who lived close to the American communities would be demoralized by the gambling and drinking saloons. On the other hand, many of the Americans in the area argued that their children’s morals would be corrupted by having the Yavapai in the area.

In 1903, the Fort McDowell Reservation was created for the Yavapai by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt. Under the order, all lands which were not legally claimed by Americans were to be turned over to the Yavapai who were living in the area. This action represented the culmination of four decades of efforts by the Yavapai to obtain a reservation in their homelands.

A Yavapai Messiah

When cultures are under stress, particularly when that stress is coming from forced change outside of the control of the people in the culture, a messiah or prophet may emerge who will provide a religious solution to the problems. In 1875, the Yavapai were forced by the United States government to walk from their homelands to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, a distance of nearly 200 miles. San Carlos had been established as a reservation for the Apache and the United States mistakenly believed that the Yavapai were an Apache band. Once on the reservation, their freedoms were reduced as the United States sought to impose cultural genocide on them.  

The pressure for the Yavapai to change intensified in 1885 when the U.S. Army officers took over the management of the San Carlos Reservation. The army officers in charge of the reservation increased interference with the traditional Apache and Yavapai healing practices. The officers felt that the traditional beliefs and practices regarding healing were ignorant and dangerous.  

In 1887, the noted Yavapai healer Echawamahu began to spend his days wandering away from his San Carlos Reservation camp. He muttered to himself and looked skyward. He returned in the evening, carrying flowers, and then was gone again in the morning. He went to another world, but the Great Spirit sent him back to tell the people about coming changes.

Echawamahu called a number of Yavapai and Apache to his camp and gave them specific instructions. His instructions called for people from four camps to approach his camp from the four cardinal directions. They were then to be seated in rows. The people were to select four young women to come dressed in white, wearing eagle feathers in their hair. These chosen women would sprinkle dust on each of the seated participants, and then the entire crowd, one by one, would sprinkle dust on Echawamahu. If the people believed and did as they were told, Echawamahu told them, then the Great Spirit would restore their lands.

According to some stories, the Americans were to be struck by a great plague and the government buildings would sink into the ground. If the people would come to a certain place and then dance through the night, then they would be able to return to their homelands. When a large earthquake struck the reservation many Yavapai and Apache were convinced that Echawamahu was speaking the truth. More than 1,000 Indians gathered at a spring known as Coyote Hole for nightly dancing.

The dancing did not bring about the destruction of the Americans: there was no plague, the reservation buildings continue to stand, there was no great fire, the Americans continued to suppress the people. However, the Americans noticed the dancing, did not look favorably upon it (American Indian religious activities were not to be tolerated so that Indians could learn about American religious freedom), and called for a military investigation of the movement.

While Echawamahu’s religious movement was relatively short-lived among the Yavapai, it did set in motion the glacially-fast bureaucratic movement which would return them to their homeland. General Nelson Miles was the army officer called in to investigate this new, illegal, religious movement on the San Carlos Reservation. While the movement was essentially over by the time he arrived, he did interview a number of Yavapai leaders. Coquannathacka, Pakota, Paguala, Eschetlepan, and Snook pled for a return to their homeland. Miles told them that he did not have the authority to order their relocation, but that he would make recommendations to high-level officials in the government. This marked the beginning of their journey home.  

The Yavapai and Initial Contact with the Americans

In 1851, the U.S. Army sent out an exploratory party into northern Arizona. The Yavapai response to this party was to flee and stay out of sight. In one instance, the American scouts surprised a Yavapai party gathering piñon nuts. The Indians immediately fled and then watched from a distant hill as the invaders plundered their camp. When the Americans encountered a second abandoned camp, they left a tobacco offering instead of looting it.  

Two years later, an American group which was invading Yavapai territory was ambushed. While the Yavapai attackers had the advantage of numbers, their clubs and arrows were no match for the defenders’ Colt revolvers. The Americans reported that they killed 25 Yavapai.

In 1863, representatives from the United States met with the leaders of a number of tribes at Fort Yuma in order to negotiate a treaty of peace. Among those attending was Quashackama, a prominent Yavapai leader.

The purpose of the treaty was to promote safe travel in tribal territories by the Americans. The tribes also promised to help the Americans in their war against the “Apache Tribes.” The treaty was not ratified by the Senate.

About the time when the treaty was being negotiated, gold was discovered at Lynx Creek in Yavapai territory. As with gold discoveries in other parts of Indian country, this brought an influx of miners who had little concern for either Indian rights or Indian lives. The miners disrupted the traditional Yavapai subsistence cycle and began a genocidal war against the tribe.

A group of 38 gold miners using the guide services of Mohave leader Iretaba followed the Hassayampa River into Yavapai territory. A party of 30-40 Tolkepaya Yavapai men stopped the miners. The miners told them that they had come in peace, that their only interest was in finding gold, but they would hunt humans if they met with any resistance. The Yavapai told the miners that if they turned back they would not be molested. Iretaba attempted to persuade the Americans to go west to the Colorado River. The miners, however, were not persuaded and were convinced that there was gold farther north on the Hassayampa. The Yavapai, unwilling to test the miners’ firepower, left. The Mohave guides took the miners’ entire supply of tobacco and then slipped away at night to head home. The miners continued into Yavapai territory, found gold, and staked out mining claims.

American teamsters murdered a Yavapai man they claimed to have caught stealing from their wagon train. Prospectors killed two Yavapai near the Weaver mines. A mining party lost four burros and in retaliation the miners killed about 20 Yavapai. The miners later found that their animals had simply wandered away from camp. In order to deal with the increasing violence-meaning, to reduce the possibility of American deaths-the U.S. Army established Fort Whipple in Yavapai territory.

In 1864, Yavapai headman Quashackama and other Yavapai leaders went to La Paz to meet with the American Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Representatives from the Quechan, Mohave, Chemehuevi, and some of the Pai bands are also present. The Superintendent proposed the establishment of a 75,000 acre reservation along the Colorado River. The Indian leaders agreed to confine themselves to this new reservation and to give up claims to all other lands. In exchange for this, the federal government agreed to provide an irrigation canal to ensure successful crops each year. However, no treaty was signed.

The violence between the Yavapai and the American miners continued in 1864. The Yavapai killed three miners along the Hassayampa River. The killings were in response to the murder of several Yavapai by miners in the past year. In response, soldiers from Fort Whipple attacked two Yavapai camps. Fourteen Yavapai were killed and seven wounded.

American aggression continued when an American rancher led an Indian-hunting expedition into Yavapai territory. The expedition encountered a large group of Yavapai and Tonto Apache who had gathered in four separate camps to gather agave and hunt in the Fish Creek area. When the Yavapai and the Tonto Apache saw the Americans, they held council among themselves. Some reported that there were some Maricopa warriors in the expedition who had called to them and assured them that the Americans had come in peace. Delshe, a Yavapai headman, cautioned that it might be foolish to assume that the Maricopa, their traditional enemies, had suddenly become their friends. After some discussion, a party of Yavapai and Tonto Apache approached the Americans in friendship. The Americans invited them into their camp, seated them, and offered them presents of tobacco, clothing, and piñole. The Americans then opened fire, killing 24 of their guests, including 3 young women.

Following this event, the American Indian-hunting expedition attacked a number of Yavapai camps, killing 30 Yavapai in one attack. Indian-hunting was supported materially and financially by the U.S. Army, the Arizona territorial government, and private contributions. It represented the vanguard of American settlement in central Arizona.

In related events, the territorial governor led an Indian-hunting expedition from Fort Whipple into the Verde Valley where they destroyed a Yavapai camp and killed five Yavapai. In other instance, the California and New Mexico Volunteers raided Yavapai camps and killed at least 30 Yavapai.

In 1865, soldiers from Fort Whipple attacked a Yavapai camp and killed 28 men, women, and children. Among those killed was Hoseckrua, a noted headman.

After 1865, American policies regarding the Yavapai were split between forcing them onto a reservation in some area which could not be used by American farmers and miners, and/or extermination through military action.  

The Yavapai Indians

The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between the United States and Mexico gave the United States what is now the southwest. Under the Discovery Doctrine-a legal concept under which Christian nations are given the right, and perhaps the obligation, to govern all non-Christian nations-the Yavapai became a domestic dependent nation within the American empire. The Yavapai, living in their homeland in an area which would later become known as Arizona, did not know that they had become a part of the United States.  

First, about terminology: the name Yavapai may be derived from En-ya-va-pai-aa which means “people of the sun,” or from Yawepe which means “crooked mouth people.”

Second, the Yavapai are not Apache, although many nineteenth-century Americans and a few twentieth-century historians considered them to be an Apache group. Linguistically they are classified as Upland  or Northern Yuman and thus most closely related to the Walapai (Hualapai) and Havasupai.

Politically, the Yavapai were not a single political entity, but were a loose association of locally organized groups speaking mutually intelligible but nevertheless distinct subdialects. The Yavapai were divided into three groups: Yavepe (also spelled Yavapé; Northeastern Yavapai), Tolkapaya (also spelled Tolkepaya; the Western Yavapai), and Kewevkapaya (also spelled Kwevkepaya; the Southeastern Yavapai). In addition, there may have been a fourth group: the Wipukepa.  

Yavapai oral tradition tells that the people first emerged from the underground through a large hole called Ahagaskiaywa. Today this hole is identified as Montezuma’s Well. After some time, water flooded from the hole and destroyed all of the people except for a single woman who found refuge in a hollow log.

Traditional Yavapai territory stretched from the San Francisco Peaks in the north, to the Pinal Mountains in the east, and to the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers in the southwest. Some archaeologists feel that the Patayan culture which developed along the Colorado River about 1,300 years ago was ancestral to the Yavapai. These scholars suggest that about 700 years ago, some Patayan groups began leaving the Colorado River area and moving east into the highlands of Arizona. These groups then evolved into the Yavapai.

Hunting was an important source of food for the Yavapai. The primary big game animals hunted by the Yavapai were mule deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, and desert bighorn sheep. Deer were driven into blinds by a number of men hunting together. In addition, the deer were stalked by hunters who were camouflaged with deer-headed masks. They also hunted rabbits, squirrels, skunks, porcupines, raccoons, bobcats, mountain lions, wild turkeys, quail, desert tortoises, and lizards.

The Yavapai followed an annual round based on the ripening of wild plant foods in different zones. They would travel from one area to another, timing their arrival so that the wild foods would be ready for harvest. Yavapai families exploited a great variety of wild foods.

Following their annual round, the Yavapai women would begin harvesting squawberries and other green plants at lower elevations in May. They would then gather mesquite beans and various cactus fruits (including saguaros). Next, they would begin harvesting ironwood and palo verde seedpods which would be ground into meal. As these plants went out of season in midsummer, the Yavapai would move into the higher elevations where they would exploit resources such as walnuts and manzanita berries. By early fall, they would be gathering acorns, juniper berries, and prickly pear fruits. As the weather cooled in October, they would turn to gathering piñon nuts and assorted berries.

One of the wild foods that was important to the Yavapai and to the other Yuman-speaking tribes in the region was agave, a succulent which was usually gathered in the Spring. Agave, also known as the century plant, was the most dependable source of carbohydrates for many tribes. The Yavapai roasted the agave in pits lined with heated stones. It would usually take a day to prepare the agave to be roasted and then roasting would take another day and a half. Women would pound and dry the roasted agave flesh, producing fibrous slabs that were easily transported or cached and lasted for years. For the Yavapai, agave was often their staple food.

The Yavapai supplemented their hunting and gathering with agriculture. For them, agriculture was unpredictable, difficult, and hard work. The Yavapai planted corn, beans, squash, and tobacco in washes, streams, and near springs. In some areas, they would also plant watermelons, pumpkins, and sunflowers. Following planting, the band would leave to engage in gathering and hunting, returning to the fields intermittently and finally for harvest. They would return in late summer and early fall to harvest whatever had matured and had not been eaten by animals.

The Yavapai would sometimes water their fields with small irrigation ditches. The banks of dependable, slow-moving streams like the Verde River provided the best planting areas. These were also ideal for weirs and diversion ditches.

The Yavapai were active traders and often went on trading expeditions to the west coast, south into Mexico, and north into Paiute country. They also traded with the Hopi and Zuni. At the villages on the Hopi mesas, the Yavapai would barter for corn, fruit, and blankets. Navajo traders would often bring these same goods to Yavapai camps.

The primary form of housing for the Yavapai was the domed hut called a uwa. This structure, oval in shape covering an area about 10 feet by 20 feet, was framed with ocotillo (cactus) branches or other wood, then covered with layers of grass, bark, dirt, and animal skins. In the summer, the uwas were built without walls to allow the cooling breeze to flow through, while in the winter they were closed huts.  The Yavapai often temporarily camped in caves and rockshelters that could easily be heated by fire.

Yavapai Shelter

Among the Yavapai basketry was an important craft. They made burden baskets, parching trays (flat baskets for winnowing and parching seeds), water bottles (smeared with pitch to make them water proof), and containers for boiling food. In boiling food, the baskets were filled with water which was brought to a boil by adding hot rocks. The baskets were made with coiling and twining techniques.

Yavapai Basket

A Yavapai basket is shown above.

In general, the Yavapai lived in small bands of extended families which were identified with certain geographic regions in which they resided. Government among the Yavapai tended to be informal. There were no tribal chiefs. Certain men became leaders because others chose to follow them, heeded their advice, and supported their decisions. Men who were noted for their skills as warriors were called mastava (not afraid) or bamulva (person who goes forward). Other warriors were willing to follow such men into combat. Some Yavapai men were noted for their wisdom and speaking ability. Called bakwauu (person who talks), they would settle disputes within the camp and advise others on the selection of campsites, work ethics, and food production.

For the Yavapai, disease and illness were caused by evil spirits. The medicine people-called basemachas-would counteract the evil spirits by singing, dancing, smudging with different herbs, and with the use of gourd rattles. Using a variety of dry colors-red clay, charcoal, yellow pollen, and others-the basemachas would create spiritual pictures in the sand. Following this, the ceremonial participants would rub the powders from the picture on the bodies.

Among the southwestern Yavapai there is a group curing ceremony in which masked dancers impersonate spirits called Akoka. The dancers are summoned into a brush enclosure by a shaman swinging a noise maker. The patients are treated by the masked dancers by having pollen placed on different parts of their bodies.