October 16, 2016

Viola Jimulia: America's First Chieftess

Sicatuva, also known as Viola Pelhame Jimulla, had a character and soul as mighty as Granite Mountain. She would have to call on every ounce of these qualities to guide her people through one of their lowest times in history.

In the 1930's, when the Prescott Yavapai were down to a population of around 50, Viola took over the role of chief (mayora,) of the tribe, even before her husband, Chief Sam "Red Ants" Jimulla, (pronounced gee-mew-LAH,) passed away in 1940, when he fell off his horse. (*1)

In fact, a December, 1936 Arizona Highways article stated: "As far as is known, Viola is the only woman in America to hold the position of tribal head;" (while the story curiously never mentioned Sam it all.) (*2)
"Although Viola adhered to most of the customs of the Yavapai, she was a modern chieftess. She was an avid television fan, enjoyed radio, liked all kinds of food and enjoyed a good joke." (*3)

"My tribe, the Yavapai, have always lived around here--what is Yavapai county," Viola said.  "Prescott Yavapais always hold Granite Mountain...to be our ancestral home. In the early days, it was to its peaks that our people went to pay homage to the Great Spirit." (*3)

"Now our people, living near Prescott, enjoy and love our land. I don't believe they would exchange it for anything," she said proudly. (*3)

The Yavapai Indian's origin story includes a "Great Flood" that holds intriguing commonalities with the story of Noah in the Book of Genesis.

Viola ruled with a strict hand. One newspaper article described her as "Arizona's Dictator." (*4)

"She brooks no violation of the rigid laws she has established. Those who are displeased with the rules may take leave of the camp and their names will be stricken from tribal rolls." (*4)

Viola also kept meticulous records of every member of the tribe on a card index. "A monthly check (was) made on the amount of work done by each, and they (were) paid accordingly--deductions being made for the upkeep of the government she has established." (*4)

"Law violators are also recorded. Those who break state, city, or county laws while off the reservation must not only face civil authorities, but answer to Mrs. Jimulla," as well. (*2)

Viola gained much of her strength of character from being a pious Christian. While a handful of whites were bringing Christianity to the Indians, Viola was busy bringing Christianity back to the whites. It was she who spearheaded the arrival of the Presbyterian denomination to Prescott. (*3)

It wasn't just the tribe that had suffered hard times. Viola went through a crucible of difficult times in her own personal life. When one of Viola's daughters passed away, Viola stepped in to raise the four young children. Then, less than three months later, she lost her husband. (*3) The adversity only made Viola's character and faith even stronger.

The Battle of Turret Peak was not a victory over hostile Apaches; it was a massacre of friendly Yavapais.

Viola always looked with optimism toward the future. "We should be happy to forget the past. There is no good in it. Nothing but hardships. Now we have a fine reservation. We are a Christian people, trying to live according to Christian standards. Why should we try to keep alive that which is no good," she asked. (*2) 

Her stalwartness was contagious to the rest of her people; giving them all strength at the lowest of times and making her a beloved leader.

When asked about being the first known chieftess in America, Viola quipped: "All women are good bosses. Someday we shall have a woman to boss Uncle Sam." (*2)

Born circa 1878, Viola passed away December 7th, 1966. She is buried at the Yavapai Apache Tribal Cemetery.

Tourist Tips:
Viola Jimulla is one of several pioneers who is honored in the Sharlot Hall Museum Memorial Rose Garden. One of the many historical features on the grounds of the Sharlot Hall Museum Complex.


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(*1) Sam Jimulla's Death Certificate
(*2) "Ruling the Roost" Arizona Highways Magazine; December, 1936. Pages 14 & 30.
(*3) "Viola Jimulla, The Indian Chieftess" by Frank Barnett; 1968. Southwest Printers, Yuma, AZ. Library of Congress cat. card # 68-22443.
(*4) Prescott Evening Courier 12/26/1936 Pg. 4, Col. 3.


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