Yavapai History

Two Distinct Tribal People --

While we are a single Nation, we are made up of two separate tribes, with distinct culture, languages, traditions, and up until reservation times, mostly separate histories.

We are the Yavapai --

The Yavapai belong to an indigenous group known as The Pai, which includes the Hualapai, the Havasupai, the Yavapai and the Pai Pai far to the south, in Mexico. They are Yuman speaking groups of Patayan ancestry that roamed over a large part of the Southwest for centuries.
The Yavapai, or Yavabe, were made up of four bands: Tolkapaya in the west and to the south (Prescott Yavapai Tribe), Wipukapaya in the Verde Valley (Yavapai-Apache Nation), and Kewevkapaya in the mountains to the south (Ft. McDowell).  Another Yuman group, xxx, in the Gila River area is extinct today.

The Wipukapaya lived in the Verde Valley, although we roamed throughout the southwest. We shared our homeland with the Dilzhe’e (Western Apache), intermarrying yet maintaining our tribal identity through our mother’s lineage. Our close proximity over time caused our tribes to borrow from one another’s lifeways, customs and culture. Both Yavabe and Dilzhe’e origin stories tell of coming to this earth from underground through Montezuma’s well, a lake with no bottom.

They lived lightly on the land, moving through the landscape in rhythm with the ripening plants and movement of the animals. They gathered spring greens, cactus fruits, mesquite beans, acorns, agave, pinons, walnuts, seeds and berries. They planted simple gardens with the “three sisters”-- corns, beans and squash. Hunters brought home deer, quail, rabbits, and other small game.


Main Menu clay gathering

Then Everything Changed --

When the Spanish explored Central Arizona, they found (and confused) many divergent groups of indigenous peoples. In this region the Spanish found people with crosses tattooed on their foreheads and thought them to be Catholic, so their relations were relatively peaceful. The explorers moved through our lands but found no gold.  Mountain Men followed the Spanish and their interaction was minimal. Beaver was the mountain men’s gold.

A century later gold was discovered at Lynx Creek. Miners flocked to the area, killing off the game… when Yavapais became a nuisance, killing them too. Settlers arrived to raise cattle and food for the miners. Soldiers followed to protect the settlers. The Yavapai were pushed away from traditional lands, our gathering places diminished, our planting grounds destroyed, and game was fast disappearing. 

Terrible depredations followed, with horrific acts on both sides.  Anglo settlers viewed all Indians as hostile. Army policy was to subdue, but many felt extermination was a better solution. Yavapai people were mercilessly rounded up or shot. There were “peace” talks where leaders were fed poisoned meat or ambushed by hidden soldiers. Food sources diminished. We lost our leaders. We were rounded up and placed at Camp Date Creek, only to be moved again to the Verde Valley.
There had been hostilities here as well, involving both Yavapai and Apache people. The 900 square mile Rio Verde reservation was established in 1871. At first the Indians had difficulty farming, but they persevered, succeeding by selling hay and vegetables to the army.



Soon ranchers moved to the valley, coveting the rich river bottoms. At the same time suttlers, suppliers to the army and reservations, known as the “Tucson Ring” lobbied for a central reservation for “all Indians,” easier to supply and control. The Rio Verde was abolished in 1875 and our lands became public domain.
Approximately 1500 Indians, both Yavapai and Apache, were force-marched to San Carlos reservation. The march was referred to as a ‘Trail of Tears’ and many died on the way from hunger, exposure and floods. Babies were born along the way, elders could not keep up the march, many drowned in raging rivers. Only about half survived the trip.
Corbusier Quote



... as the long, silent, and sad procession slowly passed with all their belongings on their backs. One old man placed his aged and decrepit wife in a burden basket, with her feet hanging out, and carried her on his back, almost all the way. He refused help, except at stream crossings, where he allowed a trooper to take her across on his horse. Over the roughest country, through thick brush and rocks, day after day, he struggled along with his precious burden... uncomplaining.”

....Corbusier, doctor for the journey


Typical of reservations in Indian Country reservation life was untenable. Policies of graft and pilferage prevailed, promised farming implements were not provided. Rations were strange, unnatural and unhealthy. The land was unwelcoming, barren and did not respond to farming efforts.
Promises of return to our homeland were repeatedly quelled by settlers, but finally the Yavapai and their Apache neighbors returned to their native regions in 1900 and after. Others returned to the southern mountains and settled around Fort McDowell, or west to Prescott. Some remained in San Carlos.


We Were Home... but We Were Homesless --

We returned to our homelands around the Verde Valley.  But our reservation was gone, taken up by ranchers. We settled in small scattered camps, squatting on former Indian land homesteaded by white settlers or on the newly endowed National Park lands. We worked in the Anglo work force, on ranches and in the mines and smelters. Children were taken from their families and sent to Indian Schools.

The slow task of rebuilding our lives began and the next 100 years were filled with economic strife. In time the government acknowledged the needs of the homeless tribes. Three schools for our children were opened in 1907. The Camp Verde teacher, Taylor Gabbard, was instrumental in acquiring land for our people to live. More land was acquired and placed in trust. We learned to govern themselves, writing a constitution, choosing a governing system, and electing Council members. The Yavapai and Apache were formed as a joint community by a Federal Charter, under the IRA Act of June 18, 1934.

Now a tribal nation, we explored economic development, operating a variety of enterprises, ranging from Sand and Rock operations to business parks. In 1998, in accordance with the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, we opened Cliff Castle Casino.

The Casino changed everything. Now our People had an opportunity to regain our independence and maintain our sovereignty. Casino revenues provided us with necessities of modern life: education, medical care, social services, care for our elders, jobs and diversified economic development.

Casinos provide even more, bringing empowerment through economic well-being, rebuilding community and self worth. They allow for preservation of our culture, achieved through celebrations and ceremonies, traditional crafts, gathering indigenous foods, and preserving the language.

The Yavapai have embraced the modern world, while still living our culture. We are a strong and courageous people, who will live on in the Verde Valley for many more generations.

Smart Girls Classes calendar Smart Firls Gathering Slideshow

Yavapai-Apache Cultural Preservation Center --
Yavapai Culture --

Gertrude Smith
Director of Yavapai Culture

Reba Franco
Cultural Specialist