Sedona and the Verde Valley, Arizona

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final post in The Metropole May theme, Urban Indigeniety. Additional entries in the series can be found at the conclusion of this article.

By Maurice Crandall

In the predawn hours on the last Saturday of each February, members of the Yavapai-Apache Nation (YAN or “the Nation”) gather at Boynton Canyon, on the western edge of Sedona, Arizona.[1] As the sun rises, drums and singing ring through the canyon, and tribal members are blessed by a medicine man.

For our people, Boynton Canyon is one of our holiest sites, the place where First Woman lived after a massive flood, bearing the children that were the ancestral Yavapai-Apaches. Later that morning, YAN community members gather in Camp Verde, walking one-half mile from the Nation’s Cliff Castle to the Yavapai-Apache Cultural Resource Center. In the parking lot of the center, community members are met by Exodus Runners, who run in three-mile shifts, day and night, from the San Carlos Apache Reservation, a distance of over 150 miles. While singing, dancing, and feasting follow for the remainder of the day, the meeting of community members and runners remains the high point of the day’s activities. The day’s festivities, known collectively as Exodus Day, commemorate the return of Yavapai-Apaches to the Verde Valley after 1900. But why would Yavapai-Apaches need to return to the Verde Valley after 1900? The answer is tied to a history of genocide, removal, industrialization, and urbanization in central Arizona.

After three separate gold discoveries in the vicinity of present-day Prescott, Arizona, in the first half of the 1860s, settlers began to stream into Central Arizona in search of fortune. This put them into direct conflict with Yavapai and Dilzhe’e Apache peoples, whose homelands they had invaded.[2] The army established Fort Whipple in late 1863, but due to the Prescott area’s lack of perennial waterways, settlers looked elsewhere to supply the growing population. The Verde Valley, just “over the mountain” from Prescott, has the Verde River and three perennial tributaries. The valley provided the necessary ingredients—water, farmland, and grazing land—to act as a supply base. While Prescott grew, even serving as Arizona Territory’s capital for a short time in the 1860s, settlers increasingly came to view the Verde Valley as a desirable location.

Yavapai-Apache Nation community members and Exodus Runners meet at the Yavapai-Apache Nation Cultural Resource Center. Video by the author.

The Verde Valley is in fact the most fertile portion of Arizona, but to facilitate settlement, it needed to be cleared of Yavapais and Apaches. General George Crook was sent to the territory in 1871, killing those who resisted and forcing the rest to settle on military reserves. Fort Verde, the present-day site of the Town of Camp Verde, served as his base of operations. After Crook’s genocidal campaigns in central Arizona, a late-1871 Executive Order by President Ulysses S. Grant established the Rio Verde Reserve near present-day Cottonwood. It set aside some 800 square miles of land for Yavapais and Dilzhe’e Apaches in perpetuity. The population at Rio Verde came to include several thousand Yavapai-Apaches, where we successfully farmed, dug a large irrigation canal, and set up stable communities under difficult circumstances.

But, as often is the case, federal promises of land being set aside for Native peoples “as long as grass grows and rivers flow” proved hollow, and in February 1875 President Grant issued another Executive Order which subjected Yavapai-Apaches to a forced removal from the Rio Verde Reserve to the San Carlos Apache Reservation in southeastern Arizona. There, the federal government placed all of Arizona’s Apaches and Yavapais on a single reservation, where it hoped they could be more easily supplied, surveilled, and controlled. The army insisted that we march overland “as the crow flies,” and many of our people died from exposure and illness, or drowned in icy, swollen streams. One story commonly told among our people is of an elderly man whose sick wife could no longer walk along the way to San Carlos. To fall behind was a death sentence, so he cut two holes in the bottom of a large burden basket for her legs and carried her the rest of the way.

Exodus Memorial Monument. Photo by author.
The Exodus Monument. Photo by author.

From 1875 to 1900, Yavapais and Dilzhe’e Apaches originally from the Verde Valley were imprisoned at San Carlos. During our absence, settlements sprung up in rapid succession. The Verde Valley today includes nine cities or towns: Camp Verde, Clarkdale, Cornville, Cottonwood, Jerome, Lake Montezuma, McGuireville, Rimrock, and Sedona. These communities exist as a direct result of Yavapai-Apache removal from our ancestral homelands. Economies based around agriculture, ranching, and copper mining fueled these settlements from the 1870s on. For example, the United Verde Copper Company (UVCC) mined rich copper deposits at Jerome, leading to an industrial hub at Jerome and Clarkdale (named after the UVCC’s financier, William Andrews Clark). The UVCC extracted copper ore at Jerome and smelted it at Clarkdale. Clarkdale, where a rail hub was located, in addition to the smelter, served as a model company town, with more electric ranges per capita than any town in America in the 1910s, and included broad streets, a central park with a gazebo, and a clubhouse complete with a pool and bowling alley.[3]

The industrial portion of Clarkdale with old smelter buildings, train depot, and slag heap from the smelter. Photo by author.

All of this growth came at the expense of Yavapai-Apaches, and its effects continue to be felt today. With Geronimo’s final capture and permanent removal from Arizona to the East in the late 1880s, the federal government’s fear of more “breakouts” from San Carlos by Apaches and Yavapais subsided in the 1890s. Yavapai-Apaches were subsequently allowed to filter back to the Verde Valley after 1900. What we found was our homelands occupied by thousands of settlers in boomtowns and a landscape dotted with farms, ranches, churches, stores, schools, and the infrastructure to support the bustling settler population. All of the best lands and the places of our former homes were occupied, and we were forced to live as squatters in our own homeland, eking out a meager existence performing manual labor and domestic work. A visitor to the area would not perceive the Verde Valley to be metropolitan in a traditional urban sense—the two largest population centers are Camp Verde and Cottonwood (with 12,147 and 12,029 residents, respectively), and the entire valley has a population of 49,138.[4]

But consider this fact: today the Yavapai-Apache Nation’s reservation consists of five non-contiguous parcels of land at Camp Verde, Middle Verde, Clarkdale, Rimrock, and Tunlii, an area totaling around only two thousand acres. Yavapai-Apaches were squeezed nearly to the point of extinction, which makes those early mornings in late February all the more meaningful to us. Not only did white settlements claim the choicest pieces of our ancestral homelands, but the Verde Valley’s natural beauty also led to its inclusion in federal lands. Those lands not claimed by settlement are part of national forests, national monuments, and wilderness areas. We are reminded of this reality on our annual Exodus Day sunrise blessing ceremonies. Boynton Canyon is part of Coconino National Forest, and the area leading directly to it is part of a sprawling vacation complex, Enchantment Resort. So the next time you visit the beautiful Red Rocks of Sedona, the quant mining ghost town of Jerome, or Camp Verde and Fort Verde State Park, remember this: you are on stolen land—land that belongs to the Yavapai-Apache people. Processes of genocide, removal, urbanization, and industrialization profoundly shaped the present landscape of central Arizona.

Welcome sign at Camp Verde. Photo by author.

Maurice Crandall is a citizen of the Yavapai-Apache Nation of Camp Verde, Arizona. Hi is an assistant professor of Native American and Indigenous Studies at Dartmouth College. He is a historian of the Indigenous peoples of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. His multi-award-winning book, These People Have Always Been a Republic: Indigenous Electorates in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2019. He is currently working on a project that examines the contributions of former Yavapai and Western Apache U.S. Army Indian Scouts to their communities after the so-called Apache Wars.

Additional posts in the series:

Featured image (at top): Boynton Canyon. Photo by the author.

[1] The Yavapai-Apache Nation is a federally-recognized Tribal Nation composed of two distinct Indigenous groups: Yuman-speaking Yavapais and Athabaskan-speaking Western Apaches. Its headquarters are in Middle Verde, Arizona.

[2] Dilzhe’e means “the Hunters,” and is the preferred term for what are commonly referred to as Tonto Apaches.

[3] Maurice Crandall, “When the City Comes to the Indian: Yavapai-Apache Exodus and Return to Urban Indian Homelands, 1870s–1920s,” in Indian Cities: Histories of Indigenous Urbanization, Kent Blansett, Cathleen D. Cahill, and Andrew Needham, eds. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2022), 155.

[4] See and for 2020 Census figures. Total Verde Valley population figure comes from Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce website: Camp Verde classifies itself as a “town,” while Cottonwood is a “city,” even though Camp Verde has a slightly higher population. None of the Verde Valley’s other cities and towns have a population over 10,000 people.

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