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Flag of the Tonto Apache Tribe of Arizona

The Tonto Apache (Dilzhę́’é, also Dilzhe'e, Dilzhe’eh Apache) is one of the groups of Western Apache people and a federally recognized tribe, the Tonto Apache Tribe of Arizona.[1] The term is also used for their dialect, one of the three dialects of the Western Apache language (a Southern Athabaskan language).

The following Tonto Apache tribes are federally recognized:



The name Dilzhę́’é is a Western Apache name that may translate as "people with high-pitched voices," but the etymology is unclear.

The Dilzhe’e Apache refer to themselves (endonym or autonym) as Dilzhę́’é, as do the San Carlos Apache. The Western Apache from Bylas use the word Dilzhę́’é to refer to both the San Carlos and Tonto Apache groups.


The White Mountain Apache use the term Dilzhę́’é to refer to the Bylas, San Carlos, and Tonto Apache. The Chiricahua called the Tonto Apache Ben-et-dine, Binii’e’dine’ or Bíniʼ Ádinii ('brainless people, people without minds', i.e. 'wild, crazy, those whom you don't understand').[3] The neighboring Western Apache ethnonym for them was Koun'nde ('wild rough people'), from which the Spanish derived their use of Tonto ('loose, foolish') for the group. The kindred but enemy Navajo to the north called both the Tonto Apache and their allies, the Yavapai, Dilzhʼíʼ dinéʼiʼ, literally translated as 'people with high-pitched voices'.

The name Tonto is considered offensive by some, due to its etymology and meaning in Spanish, although that usage was derived from their learning the names by which neighboring groups referred to the Dilzhe’e. The name Tonto Apache has been widely used by most people outside the Western Apache communities. The term Tonto is encountered the more frequently in anthropology literature, especially older works, than Dilzhe’e.


Interaction with neighboring Yavapai

The Tonto Apache lived alongside the Wipukepa (“People from the Foot of the Red Rock”) and Kewevkapaya, two of the four subgroups of the Yavapai of central and western Arizona. The Tonto Apache territory stretched from the San Francisco Peaks, East Verde River and Oak Creek Canyon along the Verde River into the Mazatzal Mountains and to the Salt River in the SW and the Tonto Basin in the SE, extending eastwards towards the Little Colorado River in Arizona. The Dilzhę́’é Apache (Tonto Apache) lived usually east of the Verde River (Tu Cho n'lin, "big water running," or Tu'cho nLi'i'i, "big water flowing"),[4] and most of the Yavapai bands west of it. The Wipukepa tribal areas in the San Francisco Peaks, along the Upper Verde River, Oak Creek Canyon, and Fossil Creek overlapped with those of the Northern Tonto Apache. Likewise, the Kwevkepaya shared hunting and gathering grounds east of the Verde River, along Fossil Creek, East Verde River, Salt River, and in the Superstition Mountains, Sierra Ancha and Pinaleno Mountains with Southern Tonto Apache and bands of the San Carlos Apache. Therefore they formed bilingual mixed-tribal bands,[5] whose members could not be readily distinguished by outsiders (Americans, Mexicans or Spanish) except by their languages. The Apache spoke the Tonto dialect of the Western Apache language (Ndee biyati' / Nnee biyati') and the Yavapai spoke the Yavapai language, a branch of Upland Yuman. Living together in common rancherias, whether they considered themselves to be Apaches or Yavapais, depending on their mother tongue as the origin of the matrilineal society, directed by the mother. Most of them spoke both languages, and the headman of each band usually had two names, one from each tradition. The ethnic Europeans referred to the Yavapai and Apache together as Tonto or Tonto Apache. The peoples raided and warred together against enemy tribes such as the Tohono O'odham and the Akimel O'odham. Scholars cannot tell from records whether the writers of the time when using the term Tonto Apache, were referring to Yavapai or Apache, or those mixed bands. In addition, the Europeans often referred to the Wipukepa and Kwevkepaya incorrectly as the Yavapai Apache or Yuma Apache. To further confusion, the Europeans referred to the Tolkepaya, the southwestern group of Yavapai, and the Hualapai (who belonged to the Upland Yuma Peoples) as Yuma Apache or Mohave Apache.

Ethnological writings describe some major differences between Yavapai and Tonto Apache peoples. Yavapai were described as taller, of more muscular build, well-proportioned and thickly featured while the Tonto Apaches were slight and less muscular, smaller of stature and finely featured. The Yavapai women were seen as stouter and having "handsomer" faces than the Yuma in the Smithsonian report. Another difference, which could probably not have been noticed at long range, was that the Yavapai were often tattooed, while Apaches seldom had tattoos. Painted designs on faces were different, as were funeral practices. In clothing, Yavapai moccasins were rounded, whereas the Apaches had pointed toes. Both groups were hunter-gatherers, but were so similar here that scholars are seldom able to distinguish between their campsites.[6]

Relations with Apache and other tribes

The Western Apache groups, adjacent Tonto Apache bands and Chiricahua bands lived in relative peace with each other. There were occasional mutual raids, especially against the southern bands of the Chiricahua. The close connection with the Yavapai may have helped inform the dialect Tonto Apache, which is most distinct from the other two Apache dialects.

The Tonto Apache competed more with the Navajo (in Apache Yúdahá – 'Live Far Up' – 'Those who live up north') and the Enemy Navajo (Nda Yutahá – 'Navajo White Man' or 'Navajo who live like white men'), and the peoples engaged more in open conflict. From their sheep raising, the Navajo were able to acquire more European goods in trade, such as blankets, foods, and various tools, which the Tonto lacked. In addition, "Enemy Navajo" often served as scouts against the Tonto Apache for the hostile tribes and Europeans. Sometimes the Apache exchanged the stolen cattle and horses they had acquired in raids for the prestigious Navajo blankets while maintaining peace with the Navajo.

Typically hunter-gatherers, the Tonto Apache hunted (antelope, deer, birds, bush rats, etc.) and collected (agave, berries, wild plants, seeds). The women also cultivated watermelons, pumpkins, corn, later grain, etc. When stocks were running low and the stored food supplies were depleted, it was common that a respected woman (so-called 'woman chief' or elder) brought public attention to the plight. The woman asked the leaders of the rancheria to go on raids against other Indians and European-Americans to raid to acquire what was needed. The Western Apache raided over an area from the Colorado River in western Arizona, to the Zuni (Nashtizhé – 'black-dyed eyebrows') and Hopi (Tseka kiné ` – 'people who dwell in stone houses') in the north, to the later Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango in the far south.

Reservation life

Yavapai-Apache Nation Indian Reservation

Main article: Yavapai-Apache Nation Indian Reservation

After being relocated to the Camp Verde Reservation, on the Verde River near Camp Verde, the Yavapai and Tonto Apache began to construct irrigation systems (including a five-mile (8 km) long ditch).[7] These functioned well enough for them to reap sufficient harvests, making the tribe relatively self-sufficient. But, contractors who worked with the United States government to supply the reservations were disappointed, and petitioned to have the reservation revoked. The government complied, and in March 1875, the government closed the reservation. They forced the residents to travel by foot in winter 180 miles (290 km) to the San Carlos Reservation. More than 100 Yavapai died during the winter trek.[8]

By the early 1900s, the Yavapai were drifting away from the San Carlos Reservation. They requested permission to live on the grounds of the original Camp Verde Reservation. In 1910, the US government set aside 40 acres (161,874 m2) as the Camp Verde Indian Reservation, and in the following decade added 248 acres (1,003,620 m2) in two parcels, which became the Middle Verde Indian Reservation. These two reservations were combined in 1937, and the people formed the federally recognized Camp Verde Yavapai-Apache Nation.[9]

Today, the reservation spans 665 acres (2.7 km2), in four separate locales.[10] Tourism contributes greatly to the economy of the tribe. Their reservation has many significant historic sites which have been preserved, including the Montezuma Castle National Monument. The Yavapai-Apache Nation is the amalgamation of two historically distinct tribal people; the Yavepe (Central Yavapai), Wipukepa (Wipukapaya) (Northeastern Yavapai) and Kewevkapaya (Southeastern Yavapai) People and the Tonto Apache (Dilzhe’e Apache), each of whom occupied the Upper Verde prior to European invasion.[11] The Tonto Apache, calling themselves Dilzhe'e, utilized the lands to the north, east and south; while the various Yavapai bands were using country to the north, the west and the south. They overlapped in the Upper Verde.[12]

Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation

The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation is located within Maricopa County, Arizona, approximately 20 miles from Phoenix. The 40 square miles (100 km2) reservation was authorized by President Theodore Roosevelt from the former Fort McDowell in 1903.[13] By 1910, the Office of Indian Affairs was trying to relocate its residents to open up the area for development and enable other interests to use its water rights. A delegation of Yavapai testified to a Congressional Committee against this action, and won.

Today, the tribal community consists of 900 members, 600 of whom live on the reservation. The Guwevka'ba:ya or Southeastern Yavapai on Fort McDowell Reservation call themselves Aba:ja (″The People"). The population of Fort McDowell consists mostly of the Guwevka'ba:ya Yavapai as well as other Yavapai groups.[14]

Tonto Apache Reservation

Location of Tonto Apache Reservation

The Tonto Apache Reservation, located south of Payson, Arizona (in Apache: Te-go-suk – “Place of the Yellow Water” or “Place of the Yellow Land”) in ancestral territory of one of the principal Dilzhe'e Apache clans – the “People of the Yellow Speckled Water”, was created in 1972 within the Tonto National Forest northeast of Phoenix. It consists of 85 acres (344,000 m2). With the smallest land base of any reservation in the state of Arizona, it serves about 100 tribal members of the 140 total; 110 are enrolled tribal members. The reservation is located adjacent to the town of Payson, in northwestern Gila County, approximately 95 miles northeast of Phoenix and 100 miles southeast of Flagstaff.

The Tonto Apache are the direct descendants of the Dilzhe'e Apache who lived in the Payson vicinity long before the arrival of Europeans. During the first reservation era, they were moved to the large Rio Verde Reserve, near Camp Verde, which was established in 1871 for the Tonto and Wipukepa (Northeastern Yavapai). The U.S. federal government dissolved the reservation in 1875 and forced the people to relocate to the San Carlos Reservation. After 20 years of exile, some Tonto Apache gradually returned to Payson only to find white settlers had taken much of their land. Today, legislation is pending to provide them with trust title to the land on which they reside.[citation needed] The majority of the Tonto Apache, however, had decided to return together with their Yavapai allies and relatives to the Camp Verde Reservation to form the Yavapai-Apache Nation of today.

Western Apache Indian Reservations

Because of their forced relocation in 1875, today some Tonto Apache live in two reserves dominated by other Western Apache groups, the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation and Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

Sociopolitical organization

Like the other Western Apache groups, the Tonto Apache were not centrally organized. The smallest social unit was the matrilocal and matrilineal family living in one wickiup (kowa or gowa); each wife lived with her children in a separate wickiup. Some kindred families lived together as an extended family (so-called gotah) in a rancheria together. Several gotah (extended families) formed local groups. Together, these claimed hunting and gathering areas. The highest organizational unit was the group or band, which are usually composed of several smaller local groups; it was organized mostly for military purposes and for common defense. (Band organization was strongest in Chiricahua society). The Tonto Apache were divided into the following bands:

Northern Tonto (inhabited the upper reaches of the Verde River and ranged north toward the San Francisco Mountains north of Flagstaff, because they shared hunting and gathering grounds with Wi:pukba/Wipukepaya bands of the Yavapai they formed bilingual mixed-tribal Northern Tonto Apache-Wi:pukba/Wipukepaya bands with common headmen, both the band/local group or its headman usually had two names, one was Apache (Southern Athabascan) the other Yavapai (Upland Yuman).)

Southern Tonto (lived in the Tonto Basin from the Salt River in south northward along and over the East Verde River, including the Sierra Ancha, Bradshaw Mountains and Mazatzal Mountains – like the Northern Tonto Apache with the Wi:pukba/Wipukepaya – they formed with the Guwevkabaya/Kwevkepaya bands of Yavapai bilingual mixed-tribal Southern Tonto Apache-Guwevkabaya/Kwevkepaya bands with common headmen.)

Chiefs of the Tonto Apache

Tonto leader (bilingual Kwevkepaya-Tonto-Apache or Kwevkepaya-Pinaleno-Apache leader)

Tonto-Apache leader

See also


  1. ^ a b "Indian Entities Recognized by and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs". Federal Register. 87: 4636–4641. 28 January 2022. Retrieved 17 December 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d "Tribal Governments by Area: Western." Archived 2012-02-28 at the Wayback Machine National Congress of American Indians. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  3. ^ Etymology
  4. ^ The Verde River: Jewel of the Southwest Archived January 20, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Timothy Braatz: Surviving Conquest: A History of the Yavapai Peoples, 2003, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 978-0-8032-2242-7
  6. ^ The Apaches and Yavapai, Crucial Differences Between Them Archived 2012-11-15 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Pritzker, p. 104
  8. ^ Salzmann, p. 59
  9. ^ Braatz, p. 221
  10. ^ "Official website of the Yavapai-Apache Nation". Archived from the original on December 9, 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-01.
  11. ^ Part Two – Arizona Indian Tribes Preserved Their Identities
  12. ^ Yavapai-Apache Nation Archived 2003-08-19 at the Wayback Machine, ITCA
  13. ^ Hoxie, p. 457
  14. ^ "Yavapai History". Archived from the original on 2007-06-23. Retrieved 2008-01-01.
  15. ^ the Guwevkabaya/Kwevkepaya were the only Yavapai who had clans, the clans were probably taken over through contact with their Southern Tonto and San Carlos Apache neighbors and kin

Further reading