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Turret Peak from 1929 Topo Map

The Tonto Basin Campaign and the Battle of Turret Peak

By Matt Marine

October 2, 2012

The Battle of Turret Peak was the turning point of one of the largest campaigns in Arizona to quell the fights between settlers and the native Yavapai and Apache Indians. The Tonto Basin Campaign was organized by General George Crook in 1871. The campaign set out to force the native population to return to the dreaded reservations.


General George Crook

About the campaign, Crook said,"During the winter of 1872-73, nine small, mobile detachments, using Apache scouts recruited from the reservations, crisscrossed the basin and the surrounding tablelands in constant pursuit of the militants. They wore down their quarry, forcing as many as 20 clashes, during which they killed about 200. One outfit, under captains William Brown and James Burns, won a decisive battle at Salt River Canyon on December 28, the Battle of Skull Cave, against a band of Yavapai hostiles who had fled their reservation at Camp Verde and hid out with the Apaches."

On March 11, 1871 a band of Tonto Apache captured and killed three settlers. One was tortured. The account was told by Maj. Azor H. Nickerson, "They...took him up to a sheltered spot among the rocks, stripped him of his clothing, tied his hands behind him, fastened his feet together and commenced to torture him by shooting arrows into his naked body, taking care not to hit a vital spot."

In direct response, Capt. George M. Randall, 23d Infantry, led a small group of Army scouts to Turret Peak where the group of Tonto Apache were camped. On March 27, 1871, the soldiers crept up the side of Turret Peak on their hands and knees to avoid making any noise or sending rocks skittering down the mountain. Capt. Randall waited until dawn before he attacked.

So surprised and panic-stricken were the Indians that some of them jumped off the precipice to their death. In the end, over twenty Indians were killed and most of the remaining were captured. The survivors were returned to the reservations and within two weeks, many of the demoralized Yavapai and Apache surrendered to General Crook at Camp Verde. Several soldiers received the Medal of Honor for their participation in the battle (the criteria for this award was different than what it is today).

Capt. George M. Randall and his Indian Scouts had another victory on April 25 when they surrounded Tonto Chief Delshay's camp on upper Canyon Creek and forced him to surrender after firing the first volley. Delshay was one of the most feared and hated leaders in the Tonto basin.

In his Autobiography, General Crook talked about Delshay's surrender.
"Delshay commenced crying and said he would do anything he would be ordered to do. He wanted to save his people, as they were starving. Every rock had turned into a soldier, and his people were hunted down as they never had been before. He had nothing to ask for but his life. He would accept any terms. He said he had had one hundred and twenty-five warriors last fall, and if anybody had told him he couldn't whip the world, he would have laughed at them, but now he had only twenty left. He said they used to have no difficulty in eluding the troops, but now the very rocks had gotten soft, they couldn't put their foot anywhere without leaving an impression by which we could follow, that they could get no sleep at nights, for should a coyote or a fox start a rock rolling during the night, they would get up and dig out, thinking it was we who were after them."

Quotes taken from thenaturalamerican.com

For more information please see:

The Natural American - Bloody Basin and Beyond

Battle of Turret Peak (Wikipedia)

Maricopa County Website

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