Friday, September 7, 2007

Dismal Valley

September 7, 2007 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Several years ago Joe Clary introduced me to the military records of the Rancheria Campaign in the Superstition Mountain area. The Rancheria Campaign against the Apache and Yavapai between the years 1864-1868 eventually ended much of the hostilities along the Gila and Salt Rivers. Among these field reports and maps were several new names for various landmarks within the Superstition Wilderness area.

The region east of Tortilla Creek and west of Fish Creek Canyon formed a small alluvial flat that was once the site of the Tortilla Ranch. Cattlemen and cowboys have used this valley for stock gathering and raising for more than a hundred years.

Prior to the cattlemen’s use of this valley it was an important Native American encampment or farmstead. During the 1860s the Apaches and Yavapais had a rancheria in the valley. This village was used on an intermittent basis because of the water supply. When water was abundant the Native Americans grew maize, beans and squash along Tortilla Creek.

The Apaches and Yavapais had a nasty habit of raiding their distant neighbors along the Salt and Gila River for women and supplies. Prior to 1860 there was very little the Pimas could do to prevent these raids. It was certain death to challenge the Apache in their mountain sanctuary to the east, and the Pimas avoided these mountains because the region was the home of their dreaded enemy.

This all changed when John D. Walker settled along the banks of the Gila River near modern-day Florence in early 1860. Walker soon organized a loose-knit militia of Pimas and white settlers to combat the problematic raids of the Apache and Yavapai. This militia was called the 1st Arizona Volunteers. Territorial Governor John N. Goodwin commissioned Walker a brevet lieutenant and promised to help with supplies.

Walker’s first campaign against the Apache-Yavapai consisted of several attacks by his poorly armed group of volunteers. Even under such conditions this rag-tag militia struck hard against the Apache- Yavapai rancherias in the Pinal Mountains. The first campaign consisted of approximately 200 Pima scouts and forty American settlers.

Camp McDowell was established along the Verde River in 1864 to control the predatory raids of the Apache-Yavapai from Tonto Basin down the Rio Salinas (Salt River) into the Salt River Valley. Units from under the command of Brevet Colonel Bennett went into the field in 1866 and continued operations until the end in 1868. Their mission was to eliminate hostile villages in the Tonto Basin area, the Pinal Mountains and the Superstition Mountains.

On May 11, 1866, Brevet Lt. John D. Walker led elements of the 14th and 24th infantries against Apaches and Yavapais in what is now known as the Superstition Wilderness. Their mission was to destroy all Native American villages or rancherias and capture or kill all inhabitants they could find south of the Salt River, north of the Gila River and east of the Superstition Mountains. Walker turned southward from the Salt River at a place called Mormon Flat and then followed Tortilla Creek into the mountains. His column first attacked a large encampment of Native Americans above Hell’s Hole on Tortilla Creek. The infantry unit killed 15 warriors at Hell’s Hole and then moved up Tortilla Creek to Dismal Valley. Walker’s command attacked a large rancheria in Dismal Valley killing 57 Native Americans, including several women and children. During the mopping up operation, the mosquitoes were so fierce, the stench of the dead so nauseating and the heat so extreme that the site became known as Dismal Valley.

Walker led several other campaigns into the Superstition Mountain area during the period 1860 to 1868. It was this involvement which led to his name being prominently attached to the story of the Dutchman’s Lost Mine. Some storytellers believed Walker received a map from Jacob Waltz’s partner Jacob Wisner. It was believed this map was given to Walker because of his knowledge of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Walker eventually passed this map on to Thomas Weedin, the editor of the Florence Blade newspaper (now the Florence Blade-Reminder).

Joseph Clary’s work with military records in Washington D.C. opened another interesting area in the history of the Superstition Wilderness area. His research located many new names for landmarks in the area around Tortilla Mountain and in Dismal Valley.

Prospectors and treasure hunters have always linked John D. Walker with Jacob Waltz and his alleged partner Jacob Wisner (Weiser). It is apparent the most logical site for this link was during the military campaign of 1864-1868. The irony is the fact that Waltz was not in the area until at least 1868. These skirmishes had already been fought.

It is highly unlikely that Walker came across Waltz or Wisner in the Superstition Mountain area. It is very interesting how facts get mixed with supposition and faith. Walker was not involved with the second campaign against Apaches in the Superstition Mountain region-- a Major Brown led units of the 5th and 10th United States Cavalries against the Apache in this campaign of the 1870s.

The Walker-Waltz connection is strictly supposition and there is little or no documentation to support it. It is just another tale about the legendary mountain range east of Apache Junction.