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The Legend of how Apache Leap got its name: Part I

Posted: Wednesday, Feb 10th, 2010

Courtesy photo
This is a photo of Bylas elder, Gladys Hinton, who as a young girl had a Sunrise Ceremony and is being massaged by an Bylas elder, Anna Swift, at Bylas Men’s Club ceremonial grounds.

San Carlos — In an article, “How Apache Leap Got Its Name,” published by the Arizona Highways in August 1935, James M. Barney explicitly mentions the dwelling of the Apaches in the region surrounding Apache Leap, located in southeastern Arizona near the town of Superior.

He writes, “That portion of present-day Arizona, lying between the Gila River and the Mogollon Rim and east of the Verde River, was, in olden days, one of the worst Apache-fested regions in the entire southwestern country.”

He continues, “It was an ideal hunting grounds for the aboriginal tribes that dwelt within its confines — before the coming of the white man whose advent always presages ruination for valley, stream and woodland.

“Here the Apache tribes had dwelt, from a time far beyond the records of history, jealousy guarding their pastoral paradise from intrusion and invasion.”

“In time the little farming community became of some importance. It was named the Florence Settlement, after a sister of Richard C. McCormick, first territorial secretary of Arizona. It’s location, however — on the very threshold of Apacheria — was unfavorable for safety and tranquility. The isolated little settlement was exposed to continuous raids by the nearby Apaches.

“The Arizona Military District was created and General George Stoneman was assigned, in July 1870, to its command.

“In accordance with this policy, he located a soldiers’ camp on Queen Creek between the Gila River and the Pinal Mountains, called Picket Post, where he stationed a small force of soldiers.

“The site of this post or camp was some 30 miles to the northeast of Florence, near the base of a rugged, massive mountain, once called Tordillo Peak, but which, after the establishment of Picket Post, was given the name of Picket Post Butte.”

“In the later years the Picket Post location became the town of Pinal where the stamp-mill of the Silver King, an early silver bonanza, reduced its rich ores.

“But before General Stoneman could put into operation his plans for an offensive campaign against the Apaches, he was relieved of his command.”

“But in the time of Apache rule, it was verily a part of Apacheria — that more or less indefinite region that was held in absolute control by the fierce Apache tribes, when the first white man came among them.

“A few miles easterly from Picket Post Butte, at the upper end of the rolling, desert valley of Queen Creek, close to the present-day mining camp of Superior, rises another pile of rock — stupendous and precipitous — which was called the Big Picacho.

“It is an impressive mass of rock, whose steep walls have been gashed and eroded by time and the elements, and dominates in a tremendous sort of way, the immediate landscape.

“Unknown to soldiers and settlers alike, a band of Apaches had established an extensive rancheria on the top of this great rampart of rock, which they reached a secret pathway, known only to themselves.

“From this elevated position, the Indian lookouts were able to obtain an extensive view of the surrounding country and could keep watch of the movements of troops and citizen outfits sent out to punish them.”

“From means of smoke signals they could also communicate to tribal allies their position, strength and activities of those who would destroy them.“

“In this camp on the top of Big Picacho, difficult of assault, and wily Apaches felt comparatively secure from attack.”

“The location of this Apache village was suspected, however, from the fact that, now and then, a solitary Indian lookout would be seen perched upon the logged cliffs of the Big Picacho, well out of harm’s way, watching the activities at Picket Post. But all military attempts to make an effective attack upon them proved futile.”

“Finally, after much tracking and trailing, the secret pathway leading to the Apache encampment was discovered. The Apaches, feeling perfectly safe in their mountain stronghold, had neglected to post lookouts on the trail to warn them of sudden or unexpected danger.”

“At daybreak, the settlers made a sudden and determined attack upon the surprised and bewildered Apaches, and wrought terrible havoc among them and their first volleys.”

“Menaced upon three sides by a destructive and continuous gunfire, the Apaches at first fired a few shots at their assailants, then—noting the hopelessness of their situation, threw down their weapons and, with raised hands in token of surrender, advanced towards the attacking party.”

“Those found in the Indian rancheria included men, women and children, but in the excitement of battle, the attacking party paid little heed to the act or age of their enemies. They only knew that mercy to these Apaches meant death and cruelty to many a pioneer family of southern Arizona.”

“When about two-thirds of the band had been killed or maimed by the hail of bullets fired at them, the remainder became panic stricken and retreated in the only direction possible—toward the westerly edge of the mountain which on that side, broke off abruptly into sheer cliffs, hundred of feet high.”

“Without a moment’s hesitation, the fleeing savages threw themselves over the towering cliffs, in the faint hope of escaping fatal injury. But the leap into space was too great and all those warriors who sought that avenue escape, were crushed and broken on the rocks below.”

“The entire Apache band—some 75 in number—were wiped out and the surprise was so complete that but few, if any, casualties were suffered by those making the attack.”

“The decisive result of this fight broke forever the power of the Apaches in that region, just as the Battle of the Cave, on Salt-River—fought on December 28, 1872—shattered the morale of the Tontos, and the Fight on the Santa Maria, permanently crushed the powerful and warlike Mohave Apaches.”

“From that time the Big Picacho—grim and forbidding—has been known as Apache Leap—a most appropriate name, perpetuating, as it does, a tragic incident in the early history of Arizona.”

“For years after this bloody engagement, Apache skeletons could be seen wedged in the crevices of the cliffs over which they had leaped in a desperate attempt to escape the vengeance of those whom they had plundered and whose friends and relatives they had cruelly murdered; and those who have been sufficiently curious and energetic to scale the rough and broken slopes of the big mountain have reported finding bleaching bones and beads and arrowheads and other reminders of the sanguinary conflict that took place on the top of Apache Leap in that olden day.”

Meanwhile, 77-year old tribal elder, Gladys Hinton, shares an insight about Apache Leap.

She folds the pleated creases of her colorful native campdress. “This lady, Sally Hinton, she’s the one that sewed this campdress for me,” she says in her native Apache language.

She continues, “When I go to the whole area surrounding Apache Leap, Oak Flat and all that territory, I feel really good. I look around and take a deep breath and begin to pray.”

“Our ancestors, they were all there in that area. Just as they did back then, we still gather herbs and medicine from there and still pick acorn to be used during our traditional ceremonies.”

“Just as our Apache men prepared for war and participated in sweat lodges, today, our Apache men still do that.”

“The sweats are conducted for the purpose of prayer for all mankind. It is to protect our Apache people so they can prosper and not be intimidated nor be fearful of the non-Apaches.”

“The medicine men, they pray for strength for our Apache people, for our leaders, so that they can continue to stand up and fight for what is rightfully ours.”

“Most of the stories that have been told about our Apache people were told by non-Apaches. It has always been taught to us not to reveal all that we know regarding our culture and tradition.”

“All my teachings began since I was a little girl. When I became of age, I had a puberty rite ceremony in Bylas, Arizona. The names of my godparents are only known to me in Apache.”

“I remember Fred Wesley was the medicine man. He was assisted by others that sang with him including the late Clarence Wesley, who later became our Tribal Chairman.”

“The head dancer, also called the Mountain Spirit Dancer, was my father, Jeff Longstreet. And George Starr, Sr., was also a dancer.”

“Later on in my years, I participated regularly in our holy ground ceremonies.”

“In these ceremonies, we pray for all mankind as well. We especially extend prayers for our Apache soldiers and all those who are from the United States that are at war. We pray for their well being, to be strong of mind and spirit and keen and swift in their actions. We pray for their safe return back to our Country. It is a very spiritual experience and one must prepare for this humbling experience.”

“Each time I go to Oak Flat and Apache Leap, I am drawn to the holy ground site for I know the prayers that have been extended there are far too memorable to leave behind.”

“I treasure my time at Apache Leap and Oak Flat, when I am there, because I am an Apache and I am in my elder years now and I appreciate all the battles that have been fought for us, for our identity and preservation of what we have today, our culture and our Apache way of life.”

“My late husband was Henry Hinton, Sr., whom I was with for many years and he also comes from the family of medicine men such as Bert Hinton, Houston Dory Hinton, Manuel Cooley, the late Mannie Hinton, the late Phillip Cassadore and others.”

“It is sad that our Apache history was written by most non-Apaches and the record should reflect what was passed down to us for generations. We did not have a written language to protect ourselves.”

“Now, we live in a time where our children and grandchildren can now write our stories that were passed down to us.”

“Only the medicine people are the ones that are authorized to speak on what really happened at Apache Leap. If anyone should inquire, that is who they need to ask.”

“I can only tell what I know from what I have been taught. I have also been taught to respect the words of wisdom shared from our medicine people.”

“We know the truth about what happened to our Apache people. We know that our men, women and children were indeed killed by non-Apaches. That was not necessary.”

“And now we are dealing with Resolution Copper Company who wants to build a mine that will destroy Apache Leap and Oak Flat.”

“During one of my visits there, I saw some of those non-Apaches. I guess they would be called the white man. They were there, too. And the look in their eyes were bright and fierce. But, I am not afraid, because I have my prayers.”

“We have suffered for hundreds of years. And I am glad that I was able to witness our Apache survival to now. It’s going to be up to me to speak up and tell my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The truth, that is, about our Apache people. Who we are and what we believe and how we will never surrender our Apache way of life.

“And this time, it will be our own Apache people, writing our history,” she concludes.

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