The 1875 Removal-1900 Return Commem-oration, which is this weekend, is marked by pageantry, dance, traditional songs and foods and the annual memorial walk.
It was on that date in 1875 that 15 troops from Fort Verde, under the direction of Indian Commissioner L.E. Dudley and led by Gen. George Crook’s chief of scouts, Al Sieber, began relocating the Yavapai and Apache Indians from their reservation in the Verde Valley.
The Yavapais and the Apaches, two distinct tribes, had been put on the reservation that had been established by executive order on Nov. 9, 1871.
By 1873 the population on the reservation would exceed 2,000 and they would have over 60 acres under cultivation.
The boundaries of the reservation were described as being "comprised of that section of country for ten miles on each side of the Rio Verde, commencing at the northwest boundary of the military reservation of Camp Verde and extending to where the old wagon road to New Mexico crosses the river."
That point where the wagon road crossed the river was 45 miles upstream.
The reservation, established in 1871, covered the entire Verde Valley and included the town sites of Jerome, Cottonwood and Clarkdale.
Four years later, it would all be taken back.
In the dead of winter 1875, approximately 1,500 members of the Yavapai and Apache tribes began a forced march to the San Carlos Reservation.
The San Carlos reservation at the confluence of the San Carlos and Gila Rivers had been established in December 1872 following a vicious campaign between the Apaches and troops of Gen. Oliver Howard in Southern Arizona.
The 180-mile march would take the families over extremely rugged mountainous terrain, through flooded frigid rivers and harsh winter weather.
Dudley is blamed for not taking the wagon roads where goods, supplies and the sick and elderly could be carried by wagon.
The two tribes, who actually spoke different languages and who had an on and off love-hate relationship, were forced to march over the Mogollon Rim. Once over the rim the Indians were met at what is today the mining town of Globe and transferred to the Indian agent from Can Carlos for the remained of the march.
Many would die, and reports also say that 25 babies were born. One man is said to have carried his invalid wife the entire distance in a basket tied to his back.
Many wandered off to join other Yavapai and Apache clans. Several of those would eventually return, drawn by a profound sense of family.
By every account, it was a trek of considerable hardship and suffering.
The reasons behind the 1875 removal are not without controversy.
Some accounts say the federal government wished to put all of the Arizona Apaches on one reservation. According to that version San Carlos was chosen due to the success of the young Indian agent assigned there, John Clum.
Clum was known to be sympathetic to the plight of the Apaches. He had been successful in establishing order by means of an Apache police force and in doing so had given the Indians on the reservation some control over their daily lives.
The other account given for the removal has to do with an influential political group based in Pima County and known as the "Tucson Ring." According to Capt. John Bourke, Crook’s aide-de-camp and a later biographer of Crook, this group of politicians and government contractors championed the relocation effort.
The Yavapai and Apache groups in the Verde were not the lone victims of this misguided and eventually catastrophic policy.
Beginning in 1873 members of the Arivipa and Pinal Apaches had been relocated to San Carlos.
In the summer of 1875, following the Verde removal, 800 Apaches on a reservation at Fort Apache were also relocated to San Carlos. Over the next few years another 800 of their group would be forced to follow.
In May of 1876, San Carlos Indian Agent Clum was ordered to move the Chiricahua Apaches of Southern Arizona to San Carlos. In the end he would only bring in about 325 of the roaming band.
Those that refused to go would comprise the famous renegade bands of Geronimo and Victrio.
By 1877, Clum would resign his position in frustration and move to the thriving silver mining town of Tombstone. There he would become the editor of Arizona’s most famous frontier newspaper, the Tombstone Epitaph.
The most notorious and bloodiest campaigns of the Apache Wars came in the wake of his resignation.
According to the stories told by the elders of the Verde tribes, the government promised them they could return to the Verde in four years or as soon as the Indian wars were over.
It was another promise broken.
The Yavapai-Apache Nation of today has declared that the removal was by military force and against their will. The proof is in the subsequent history.
Forced to stay for some 25 years at San Carlos, members of the Yavapai and Apache clans from the Verde took advantage of passes that allowed them to leave the reservation and immediately returned to the Verde.
Upon their return they found whites had homesteaded their land and established farms.
In fact, the entire valley had become quite prosperous as a result of a mining claim, filed the year after the removal, on some known copper reserves on Mingus Mountain.
That claim, which would eventually blossom into the billion-dollar mines at Jerome, was filed by Crook’s chief scout and the leader of the removal detail, Al Sieber.
By 1900 many of the clans from Verde were returning home. But, in the end only about 20 made it back to their homeland.
Their reservation were reestablished in 1909 and eventually grew to 665 acres — a mere speck of its original size.
The Exodus, as it was formerly known, is now called the 1875 Removal-1900 Return Commemoration.
It is celebrated each year with pageantry, dance and traditional songs. It is also accompanied by other events including a Miss Yavapai-Apache pageant, a commemorative walk, food, and arts and crafts.
This year’s celebration will take place in Camp Verde on Saturday, Feb. 26, at the newly established Yavapai-Apache Nation Veterans Memorial Park, located below Cliff Castle Casino, at exit 289 off Interstate 17.
The Nation invites the public to this annual event to share in and understand this historical event.
The Commemoration will begin on Saturday morning at 7 a.m. with a blessing at the traditional grounds at Boynton Canyon (the traditional place of emergence). Arts and crafts booths open below the casino at 10 a.m. with the commemorative walk beginning at 11 a.m.
Traditional dances will take place at the Veterans Memorial Park starting at 1 p.m.