by Stan Brown
By 1864, the local native population had mixed feelings about the growing intrusion of miners and ranchers onto the Yavapai and Apache hunting grounds. They were glad to have livestock brought into their territory so they would not have to travel so far to the south in their raids, but they also recognized the threat to their freedom and life style from this growing alien population. The newly settled town of Prescott and the surrounding mining camps felt somewhat secure from Indian attack because of nearby Fort Whipple and its company of troops. But, tensions continued to rise as each side held to their own point of view.
Territorial Judge Joseph Pratt Allyn, arriving at Fort Whipple with the Governor’s Party in January 1864, had not yet made a distinction between the Yavapai and Tonto Apache. All Indians were alike to him and he reflected the views of most settlers when he wrote for his publisher, The Hartford Evening Press, “The Indians immediately about here are Tontos, or fool Apaches, the meanest and dirtiest Indians I have seen yet. Soon after my arrival a hundred or more of them came in to hold a council…and I think I never saw a more miserable set of human beings. In addition to the Tontos, the surrounding country is swept by the war-like Apaches of the country east. Stock is not safe anywhere, either in the mines or on the ranches; it has to be watched carefully in the daytime, and corralled at night. These repeated depredations have so thoroughly aroused the animosity of the settlers that a war of extermination has in fact already begun. Indians are shot wherever seen…”
One of the leaders of the war against the Indians was rancher King S. Woolsey who had established his Agua Fria Ranch on Big Bug Creek near today’s town of Dewey-Humboldt. On January 4, 1864, Tonto (or possibly Yavapai) raiders stole 33 head of cattle from Woolsey’s ranch. Several other settlers at Prescott lost 28 mules and horses. Altogether the ranchers and miners claimed several hundreds of animals stolen, enough to spur significant action. They prevailed upon Woolsey to lead an expedition and, three days later, a group of about 40 private citizens set out after the raiders. They went south and then east along the Salt River and at some point in the Superstition Mountains they were confronted by a war party of Tonto Apaches. They lured the chiefs in for a conference and, at a signal from Woolsey, the men pulled their guns and each shot the Indian beside him. A running battle ensued with over thirty Indians and one white man dead. This skirmish came to be known as the Bloody Tanks Massacre. It was the beginning of a nearly twenty-year war against the Tonto Apache and Yavapai tribes.
King Woolsey and his militia returned from their bloody massacre to find the territorial governor, John Goodwin, calling for an exploratory party to enter the Verde River valley. He wanted to determine a good location for a new army post and explore the possibilities of mining and agriculture there. In a meeting at Joe Walker’s camp store, February 2, 1864, the governor spoke to a gathering of citizens. Judge Allyn wrote his impressions: “During the evening, persons were constantly coming in who wished to join the party, one and all believing and talking of nothing but killing Indians. It is difficult to convey an adequate idea of the intensity of this feeling. A miner seems to regard an Indian as he would a rattlesnake. The governor, in a brief speech, took all by storm by advocating the extermination of the Indians…”
The editors of the Prescott Miner approved, reporting, “He (Woolsey) is one of our most daring and skillful Indian fighters, and believes fully in the extermination policy.” Woolsey’s Agua Fria Ranch became the rendezvous point for several expeditions into the Verde Valley and beyond. As the militias assembled, the hills echoed with reports from target practice with their long rifles. The first official military march against the Tonto and Yavapai tribes was on February 21, 1864 with 50 soldiers and 15 civilians, including the aging mountain man, Pauline Weaver, prospector Joseph Walker, King Woolsey, Judge Allyn and Governor Goodwin.
King Woolsey led a scouting party north along the Verde River where they detected signs of the stolen livestock. The invaders continued north as far as Oak Creek and returned with reports of luxuriant grass and water. That day, two Mexican boys arrived breathlessly in camp from Woolsey’s Agua Fria Ranch to report that 60 Indians had raided the ranch in broad daylight. They had taken all of Woolsey’s livestock except the oxen that were plowing near the house. Since he could do little about it at that moment, he resolved, on his return home, to organize another scout against the Tontos in their lands to the east.
This time, General Carlton gave a civilian militia of 100 men his blessing and a 30-day supply of rations from Ft. Whipple. On March 29th the expedition left Woolsey’s Agua Fria Ranch. It would be the white man’s first successful march all the way across the land claimed by the Tonto Apaches.
The war between the whites and the Indians of central Arizona Territory was in full swing. The Yavapai-Apache War had essentially begun in the Prescott area. The last campaign to end the Indian Wars was not until 22 years later, 1886.