WHITE MOUNTAIN APACHE TRIBE
Uniqueness Of The White Mountain Apache
This land that is now the White Mountain Apache Reservation is the core of our homeland.
We were placed here in the White Mountains by our Creator since time immemorial. In this land our ancestors learned to be N’dee—The People—and we have learned from them.
There are many different nations of Apache people. We are Western Apaches, closely related to the people of San Carlos, Payson, and Camp Verde. Though there are differences in language, history, and culture, we are also related to the other Apache nations: the Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarrilla, Lipan, and Kiowa-Apache peoples.
When Europeans began to visit our lands, our people lived in family groups and bands, with homes and farms along all of the major watercourses: the East Fork and North Fork of the White River, on Cedar Creek, Carrizo Creek, Cibecue Creek, Oak Creek, and others. We farmed, growing corn, sunflowers, beans, squash, and other foods. We hunted deer and other game and collected abundant wild plant foods. We traveled widely, trading and raiding throughout the region and deep into Mexico. When the United States took control of New Mexico during the Mexican-American War, some of our leaders went to Santa Fe to meet with those authorities. By the time the U.S. Army came to our lands, our people knew much more about them than they did about us.
In July 1869, Brevet Colonel (Major) John Green of the U.S. 1st Cavalry led a scouting expedition of more than 120 troops into the White Mountains area from Camp Goodwin and Camp Grant to the south. Seeking to kill or capture any Apache people they encountered, the expedition headed north up the San Carlos River, across the Black River, and to the White River in the vicinity of the future site of Fort Apache.
Army scouts reported finding over 100 acres of cornfields along the White River. Escapa–an Apache chief that the Anglos called Miguel–visited the camp, and invited Col. Green to visit his village. Green sent Captain John Barry, urging him “if possible to exterminate the whole village.” When Captain Barry arrived at Miguel’s village, however, he found white flags “flying from every hut and from every prominent point,” and “the men, women and children came out to meet them and went to work at once to cut corn for their horses, and showed such a spirit of delight at meeting them that the officers [said] if they had fired upon them they would have been guilty of cold-blooded murder.”
Green returned to the White Mountains in November, and met again with the Apache leaders Escapa (Miguel), Eskininla (Diablo), Pedro, and Eskiltesela. They agreed to the creation of a military post and reservation, and directed Green to the confluence of the East and North Forks of the White River: I have selected a site for a military post on the White Mountain River which is the finest I ever saw. The climate is delicious, and said by the Indians to be perfectly healthy, free from all malaria. Excellently well wooded and watered. It seems as though this one corner of Arizona were almost its garden spot, the beauty of its scenery, the fertility of its soil and facilities for irrigation are not surpassed by any place that ever came under my observation. Building material of fine pine timber is available within eight miles of this site. There is also plenty of limestone within a reasonable distance.
This post would be of the greatest advantage for the following reasons: It would compel the White Mountain Indians to live on their reservation or be driven from their beautiful country which they almost worship. It would stop their traffic in corn with the hostile tribes, they could not plant an acre of ground without our permission as we know every spot of it. It would make a good scouting post, being adjacent to hostile bands on either side. Also a good supply depot for Scouting expeditions from other posts, and in fact, I believe, would do more to end the Apache War than anything else. The following spring troops from the 21st Infantry and 1st Cavalry were ordered to establish “a camp on the White Mountain River .” On May 16, 1870 they began construction of Camp Ord.
Over the course of the next year, the remaining troops at Camp Goodwin moved to the site, and the camp would be renamed Camp Mogollon, then Camp Thomas , and finally, Camp Apache . The post was designated Fort Apache in 1879. The Army abandoned Fort Apache in 1922. In 1923 the site became the home of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Theodore Roosevelt Indian Boarding School. First intended to serve Diné (Navajo) children, by the 1930s a majority of students at the school were Apache. Today, T.R. School continues to serve as a middle school, under the administration of a school board selected by the Tribal Council. Fort Apache Historic Park Nohwike’ Bagowa sits adjacent to, within walking distance, of the Theodore Roosevelt School.
APACHE SCOUTS HISTORY
In 1871, General George Crook was named commander of the Department of Arizona. Crook recognized that his regular soldiers were no match for the Native people he was sent to subdue, so he enlisted the aid of Indian men as scouts. In August 1871, he made his first visit to Fort Apache and engaged about 50 men from Pedro and Miguel’s bands to serve as Apache Scouts. The Scouts would play a decisive role in the success of the Army in the so-called “Apache Wars” of the next fifteen years, ending with the final surrender of the Chiricahua leader Geronimo in 1886. In part because of the Scouts’ service, our ancestors were able to maintain a portion of our homeland as the White Mountain Apache Reservation. When Fort Apache was abandoned by the Army in 1922, the Apache Scouts transferred to Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona , where they continued to serve until the last three Apache Scouts retired in 1947.
WHITE MOUNTAIN APACHE TRIBE TODAY
The White Mountain Apache Tribe now consists of approximately 16,000 Tribal members. Many live here on our Tribal lands, but others live and work all over the country and throughout world. The majority of the population lives in and around Whiteriver, the seat of Tribal government, with others residing in the communities of Cibecue, Carrizo, Cedar Creek, Forestdale, Hon-Dah, McNary, East Fork, and Seven Mile.
The Whiteriver Unified School District and the Dishchii’ bikoh (Cibecue) Community School offer public education. Other educational institutions include: the Theodore Roosevelt School and the John F. Kennedy School operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the East Fork Lutheran Mission School; and the McNary Schools. Higher Education opportunities are available through the local Northland Pioneer College, which has a center at Whiteriver. Many Apache young people attend Arizona ’s three state universities and other schools and colleges around the country.
Our reservation consists of 1.67 million acres (over 2,600 square miles) in east-central Arizona. It ranges in elevation from 2,600 feet in the Salt River Canyon on the southwest corner of the reservation to over 11,400 feet at the top of Mount Baldy, one of our sacred peaks. It includes some of the richest wildlife habitats in the state, and more than 400 miles of streams, creeks, and rivers. It is home to the Apache Trout, a species brought back from the brink of extinction through the efforts of the Tribe and many partners. Through the Tribe’s Wildlife and Outdoor Recreation Division, many recreational opportunities are available on the reservation. The White Mountain Apache people are known world-wide for their Trophy Bull Elk hunting program. The People are blessed with pristine clean drinking water from its natural aquifers. The People also celebrate their youth in High School Athletics, especially Alchesay Falcons Basketball!
Today, the People proudly retain their culture through language, songs and dance, and their ceremonies. Each Tribal member continue to originate from unique family clans. The clan system is still practiced today.