Days Past: Yavapai Scouts, continuing a warrior tradition
This is Part One of an article on Yavapai Indian scouts who served with the U. S. Army in the late 1800s. [Note: Last year there was a Days Past article on Apache Scouts who won the Medal of Honor. That article misidentified Sergeant Rowdy, a heroic Yavapai Scout, and did not cover the exploits of other Yavapai Scouts. This article picks up the story of the Yavapai.]
Yavapai oral history relates: “All the old-timers became scouts.” Scouting gave young Yavapai men the opportunity to win the respect of their people and of U.S. officers. Once on reservations, scouting allowed Yavapai men to retain some semblance of their pre-conquest life. When U.S. officers recruited scouts at the Rio Verde Reservation in the early 1870s, they never lacked volunteers. Scouts were gone to distant mountains for days at a time traveling through their old territories. They were given guns which they kept on return to Rio Verde, thereafter serving as reservation police. Before an expedition, Yavapai scouts were celebrated as warriors with dancing and feasts. The entire community embraced this practice. They saw the scouts off with festivities and welcomed them home as returning victors. Old women would go out to meet them and the community would dance through the night in celebration.
Early reports seldom distinguished the tribes the Indian scouts belonged to. Early military records list Yavapai as Apache-Yuma (Tolkapaya) and Apache-Mojave (Yavepe, Wipukpaya, Kwevkapaya).
Scouts usually mixed their Government-issued clothing with native dress. Scouts wore red headbands to distinguish them from the Indians being pursued and to protect them from civilian attacks.
Yavapai scout Fel-Ay-Tay was reputed to have been a swift runner capable of covering 60 miles across rough country at a marathon-winning pace in five hours. Before being confined to reservations, the Yavapai made signal fires on every peak as they watched the progress of the Army across Arizona. Military officers used Yavapai as couriers, carrying messages between forts. Lt. Colonel, Brevet Major General, George Crook, called Gumwidima yu (old lady’s eyes/face) by the Yavapai, was appointed to the Arizona Command and waited at Ft. Whipple while peace plans were discussed in Washington. Crook had a permanent rank of lieutenant colonel, but President Ulysses S. Grant allowed him to carry his temporary Civil War rank of Major General for the Arizona command position. President Grant called a council of southwestern Indians in Washington. Each participant — including Yavapais Paw-go-tay and Takodawa, later nicknamed Jose Coffee and Washington Charley — received a medal.
Later, when Crook received permission to go forward with his campaign he hired Al Sieber as Chief of Scouts and employed 35 Date Creek Tolkapaya Yavapai and a few Kewevkapaya Yavapai from Camp Grant for his winter campaign. Crook sent spies and he released captive Indians to deliver messages into all recessed areas, canyons and forests warning that all roving bands of Indians were now considered hostile.
U.S. officers named Yavapai Paw-go-tay as head scout. Yavapai scouts were able to warn their relatives many times in advance that troops were coming.
In 1873 Yavapai scout Mee-neta-ga-bo-da (The End of a Boat) was dispatched from Camp Verde into the Bradshaws. He was carrying a note identifying him as a scout and Crook’s warning for all Indians to come into the reservation. Near Dripping Springs (Turret Peak) he was attacked and wounded by cruel Indian killer John Benjamin Townsend. Mee-neta-ga-bo-da took cover after being shot; as Townsend approached Mee-neta-ga-bo-da killed him in self defense.
Forcibly removed from their homelands, the Yavapai were eventually confined to the San Carlos reservation for 25 years. The first scouts at San Carlos were tattooed on the forehead with the letters “SC” and the number that they were assigned upon enlistment. Johnny Number-Nine was SC-9, a Tolkapaya Yavapai who later returned to Peeples Valley. He was known as a “brave scout” who was wounded three times. Branding of the scouts was stopped by higher officials, although Al Sieber wanted it continued.
Crook preferred Yavapai scouts, as did most military officers who had them as bodyguards. This tradition began as early as the period of Spanish Explorers. Franciscan Friar Tomás Garcés noted in his writings his unwillingness to travel without Yavapai guides in the 1700s. Yavapai scouts proved to be very trustworthy.
Part Two of this story will run next week.
“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to email@example.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.