This circa 1930 view is of Cool Springs on the western slope of Sitgreaves Pass. Nearby Eds Camp, known as Little Meadows by early explorers, provided a dependable supply of water for numerous early travelers through the area including Lt. Beale.
Most who motor west and get their kicks on Route 66 do so unaware of the rich, colorful and tragic history of the path the highway follows in northwestern Arizona. A few, however, will get a glimpse into that history as Kingman pulls out all stops to commemorate the contributions of Lt. Beale and his camel corp.
As a pivotal and unique chapter in American history Lt. Beale’s epic and unique ventures across northern Arizona with a camel caravan is worthy of celebration and remembrance. His survey work became one of the first federally funded highways, and literally paved the way for that American icon that is Route 66.
Unfortunately, the history of what came before Lt. Beale, his camels, and his historic survey party is surprisingly absent from most commemorations. As a result, many are surprised to learn large portions of his surveyed route across Arizona followed a well-established trade route that linked the pueblos of New Mexico with the villages of the Hopi and that may have linked to tribes as far away as the Pacific coast.
Something else missing from most histories of Lt. Beale’s explorations, as well as those that preceded and followed, is how those explorative ventures affected the people who lived along those routes. Imagine, if you can, how rapidly the world changed for these indigenous tribes and bands.
Less than twenty years after the dust had settled from the plodding camels of Lt. Beale’s party, the Hualapai bands had lost most traditional hunting grounds to ranching and mining enterprises. For a nomadic people this meant the replacement of their culture and civilization with another culture and civilization. As traumatic as this was, the next twenty years would bring greater transitions forcing even more adaptation.
The summer of 1873, must have heralded great promise that the worst had passed for Captain Byrne and the various bands of defeated Hualapai under his supervision at Camp Beale Springs in the Arizona Territory. After years of enduring the demise of their culture, and many months of living under the specter of transfer to the recently established Colorado River Reserve the erection of a new Indian Commissary Building clearly gave the impression the Hualapai would now live in peace though on but a fraction of their former homelands in what is now northwestern Arizona.
In mid September, the illusion gave way to reality. On the 12th of that month, General Crook sent a letter to Major General J. M. Schofield asking for information pertaining to resolution of the Hualapai relocation. “I have understood that the Indian Department contemplated moving the Hualapai Indians to the Colorado Indian Reservation. The agent of that reservation, Dr. Tonner, promised to advise me in regard to it, but has gone away without doing so. The country they occupy is filling up with miners, collisions occur and the condition of affairs may at any time become critical”
Crook’s message was forwarded to the War Department and then to the Department of the Interior. By early October he had his answer, the Hualapai were to relocate to the newly created Colorado Reserve. No consideration was given to the fact the tribes being relocated to the reserve had different customs, languages, and, in some instances, had even been traditional enemies.
For Byrne the news was devastating, as he had worked diligently to gain the trust of the Hualapai people. Surely, there was also a sense of loss and abandonment among the Hualapai as many had served admirably with Crook in the campaigns against the Yavapai, against whom the Hualapai had fought in territorial disputes since before the arrival of the Anglo, and Apache.
Official notification to the Hualapai came in January 1874 though word of the decision had already spread through the camp as well as among those still struggling to maintain a traditional way of life in the surrounding mountain ranges. Byrne, burdened with even more pressing concerns as leaders informed him that the people would rather fight than transfer to the reservation on the river with its stifling summer heat, sought to ensure a peaceful transition.
Before the end of the month, General Crook and Dr. Tonner arrived from Fort Whipple near Prescott to discuss relocation and the continuing issue of short rations, the result of extensive corruption in the Indian agency, directly with tribal leaders. As the Hualapai held Crook in high esteem, all talk of rebellion was quelled for the moment.
Crook had been gone for less than a day when those who had argued for resistance began to prevail and on February 2, more than five hundred Hualapai, including forty army scouts with their mounts and arms, left for the mountains. Without food stores and traveling in the dead of winter, the Hualapai turned to the rustling of cattle for survival with Fred Nobman’s Quail Springs Ranch in the Cerbat Mountains a few miles from Beale Springs being the first raided.
However, a few Hualapai had chosen to ride east. Within a few short days, a mail contractor lost his horses and narrowly escaped with his life near Cottonwood.
William “Bud” Grounds had recently returned from Texas with a herd of more than eight hundred head of cattle and twenty-five horses. The Hualapai swept through his Truxton Canyon ranch slaughtering and herding more than two hundred head of cattle as they headed into the broken mesa country below the Grand Canyon. Additionally they also drove off seven horses.
Grounds dispatched a rider to Beale Springs with a request for assistance while he rode in to Mineral Park to hire assistance. After his return to the ranch with rifles on loan from the army and John Cureton, Grounds set out on the trail of his missing cows.
In a chance encounter both the Grounds party and a small band of Hualapai were surprised. Grounds later told the story of this tragic meeting. “As near as I can tell, the Indian and my comrade fired at the same time, as the Indian, when I first saw him, had his gun in his hand and pointed it toward us; and I hollered at him not to shoot; and about that time two shots went off and I could not distinguish which fired first, my comrade or the Indian, and as the Indian fell from his horse he fired at me and shot my horse in the jaw, and I jumped off my horse, pulled my gun from the scabbard and then began firing at the Indian and shot until the Indian quite firing.”
Cureton’s wounds were serious but not life threatening and as a result was able to ride into Cerbat. Incredibly, though wounded in the leg and arm, after arrival in the mining camp and learning there were no doctors available Cureton and Grounds rode to Prescott, a distance of more than 150 miles through winter storms.
In spite of an almost complete avoidance of confrontation, with the exception of rustling for food, by the Hualapai fear quickly spread throughout the northwest portion of the territory. “Camp Beale Spring, A.T. February 7, 1874 – The fierce and intractable tribe of Indians known as the Hualapai, which for several years have maintained a kind of “armed neutrality” with the whites, have at last taken the warpath in a body, and threatened destruction to every white settler in the district. The Hualapai number about three hundred warriors. They are splendid specimens of the Indian race, and have long been known as the most deadly of the scattered tribes in this vicinity.”
Farmers and ranchers throughout the region abandoned their homes, armed themselves, and moved into settlements and mining camps quickly turning them into armed camps. Vital traffic on the Mojave Road vanished.
Responding to the panic General Crook sent Lt. E. D. Thomas and Lt. Hoel Bishop to lead Company G of the 5th Cavalry from Fort Whipple to subdue the rebellion and restore order. With no regard to past loyalty, Crook ordered Company G and twenty-five Yavapai scouts, “…to attack and kill Hualapai wherever they may be found and drive them back to Beale’s Springs and then move them on to the Colorado River Reserve.”
Byrne, in a desperate attempt to resolve the rapidly escalating situation, met with clan leaders, most notably Hualapai Charley who spoke English well. His brother, Cherum, and half brother Levi-Levi, a visionary who had worked since 1869 to broker peace in the hopes of preserving remnants of Hualapai lands and culture, were intent on creating an atmosphere in which they would have an upper hand in any negotiations. Byrne’s efforts resulted in the offer of a compromise from Hualapai Charley and his promise that he could convince other leaders to follow. In the agreement, all stolen livestock would be returned, restitution would be paid for those slaughtered as well for other damages provided the government would not force them on to the reservation on the banks of the Colorado River.
In response, General Crook ordered all Hualapai to return to Beale’s Springs and to prepare for relocation. His second demand was for the surrender of all leaders of the present rebellion. Negotiation was not an option. To enforce this point the available strength of the United States Army in northern Arizona was brought against the Hualapai.
In his first encounter with the Hualapai, Lt. Thomas killed three men and captured twenty horses. Similar encounters as well as a war of attrition that included the decimation of already meager food stores quickly brought the Hualapai to the brink of decimation. A trickle of refugees soon became a flood as starving Hualapai returned to Beale’s Springs in dejection, surrendering their leaders for imprisonment.
For Christians years are marked beginning with the birth of Christ. For the Hualapai April 4, 1874 marked the beginning of a new era.
The forced march to La Paz, known as the Hualapai Trail of Tears, the devastation of resultant disease and the eventual return to their homeland where they found the old ways gone was a tragedy of epic proportions being repeated throughout the west. For the Hualapai there was, however, one more chapter in this tragedy before the dawn of the modern era.
In 1889, a Paiute prophet named Wovoka, a self proclaimed prophet of messianic proportions launched a new religion, a cult born of desperation. His prophecies promised that adherence to his rituals, including the Ghost Dance that lent its name to the cult, would sweep the white man from the land; returns lost loved ones from the dead, make wearers of blessed shirts impervious to bullets, and would restore the once plentiful game.
The false hope spread throughout the western tribes with devastating results, most notably the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. For the Hualapai, loosely translated as the Pine Tree Folk, the Ghost Dance was a sad exercise in futility that marked the end of power for three of the tribe’s greatest leaders and statesman, men; Hualapai Charley, Cherum, and Levi-Levi.
Early in 1889, Cherum, with great zeal and passion, brought the ghost dance to the Hualapai people. His reputation and charisma, coupled with that of his brother and half brother, fueled an explosion of the prescribed rituals throughout the tribe. The Mohave County Miner, on June 18, 1890, reported that, “…most of the Hualapai tribe had gathered on the Thompson Ranch, where they carried on the Ghost Dance for nearly two months, growing more excited and wrought up every day. Several deaths were supposed to have occurred from over exertion.” In the fall, the Miner reported another such celebration in the area of Free’s Wash.
It was all to no avail. The massacre at Wounded Knee and the harsh realization that there was no hope that the Hualapai people would ever again live the nomadic life style of their ancestors in the rugged mountains that dominate the landscape in northwestern Arizona south of the Grand Canyon brought the Ghost Dance ceremonies to an end almost as quickly as it had appeared.
The power of the great leaders was forever broken. Their remarkable abilities as statesman would fade into obscurity even among the Hualapai people. Even their passing would take place with little fanfare except among a few of the Hualapai people.
We have no record as to time or place of death for Levi-Levi or Cherum though there name lives on as place names in the mountains that were once their homeland. Hualapai Charley died on May 11, 1906. In the world that had pushed his aside his passing was noted with a pitiful announcement in the Mohave County Miner, “The corpulent figure of this picturesque Indian will no longer be seen on the streets of Kingman.”
Those who win always write history, this is a sad but unpleasant fact. If, however, a nation or society is to avoid the repeating of mistakes and tragedies it must study history as it was, not as they would have liked it to have been. This is not always a pleasant or even popular undertaking.
As we commemorate the undertakings of Lt. Beale let us not forget that for some this is not an event to celebrate but to lament. Then, and only then, can we hope to heal the wounds that still divide.