May 7, 2017

I Was the Cause of the Battle of Skull Valley

Sure--I've seen more than my share of Indians--most of them hostile.

I ran freight on two roads--one that ran from La Paz to Prescott and one from Hardyville (or what you call Bullhead City,) to Prescott.

One time in particular I had a seriously close brush that ended-up in a military battle.

My name is Freeman and not only did I fight in the Battle of Skull Valley, but you might say that I was the cause.

It happened back in August of '66--that's 1866. Being a teamster in those days was a dangerous business. There was supposed to be regular military escorts back then, but too often they hardly had enough boys to guard their own provisions! It was just a year after the war between the states and folks back east were damn tired of soldiering and war.

So I would make sure to have some dependable men who were good with a gun to accompany me on these trips. Sometimes I would hire a hand. Sometimes the man whose supplies I was freighting would want to come along. As far as I was concerned, the more guns the better.

On August 1st I left the camp at Skull Valley to make the final leg of my trip into Prescott when I spied 75-100 Indians massing at a distance. I immediately sent one of the men back to get what help he could from the camp. Soon the Indians had surrounded us. It was their intention to take the horses of the train and the contents of the wagons. (*1)

I had to think fast to protect the cargo, so I quickly grabbed their chief and threatened to kill him if any attack was made. This bought us enough time for the soldiers to arrive. At this point the Indians drew back a distance, but kept us in sight. They allowed us to return to the station unmolested, but the Indians followed us back the whole way even coming to within talking distance of the station. (*1)

Part of the problem back then was a damn fool idea by the politicians in Washington to give these marauding bandits "title." An imaginary line was drawn to separate the Indians from the whites, but the raiding injuns had no inclination to follow it. If you ask me, the Indians were just using it as a safe haven to run their raids from!

Hell, Skull Valley was 40 miles east of the line and their "title!"

Anyway, we waited until the 11th before we tried the trip to Prescott again. We were hoping the Indians had moved on. They hadn't.

A number of La Paz Indians had formed a combination with the Tonto Apaches and meant to lay claim to the country around Skull Valley. They numbered about a hundred in all and they stopped us on the road again demanding we pay them a toll of all seven of our wagons, their contents, and the mules. (*2)

Instead, we high-tailed it back to the camp and waited for an escort. There Lt. Hutton had a talk with one of the Indians at a distance of 200 yards, (as near as he could approach him.) The conversation was about the same as I had the day before. However, the Indian additionally claimed that Mr. Leihy, the Indian Agent, wanted 50 buckskins, and had told them they could roam around and get them from wherever they chose. (*3)

Being in a quandary as to how to proceed, the Lieutenant dispatched a messenger to the commanding officer of Ft. Whipple, asking his advice in the matter. He was told to punish the Indians but to use discretion. (*3)

I just wanted to get this load into town. So on the 13th at 8 am, we left with an escort of four soldiers to augment the five citizens I had with me on guard. (*2) We had only gotten a mile and a half from the camp, when we were dismayed to see the road before us and the hills to the left full of hostile Indians. (*3)

Immediately we sent a messenger back to camp to inform them of our situation. Soon another twelve soldiers arrived at the scene. (*3)

We allowed the Indians, still five times our number, to approached us one at a time, but only without their bows and arrows. They deposited them on a pile and appeared to approach us unarmed. Lt. Hutton then ordered me and my men to get between the Indians and their weapons, which we did. He then demanded that ten of the Indians be delivered to him as hostages to insure safe passage. (*1)

The Indians were completely unwilling to submit to this. Instead, they drew knives that they had concealed under their buckskins and started towards us to retrieve their bows and arrows. (*1)

Then a sentinel that was posted by Lt. Hutton on a hilltop started screaming "that there were five Indians with guns in the rocks above and that the hills were full of them, and that they were exchanging signals." (*3)

A description of the archeological findings of the Fitzmaurice Ruin in Prescott Valley, AZ. It's the largest Indian Ruin in the Prescott region.

An old squaw in the party cried out in good Spanish, "Pitch into them, you can whip them with your knives"--which she repeated with incessant emphasis several times. (*3)

Well, one Indian, who was a chief, decided to take her advice and before I could even move, he turned and thrusted his knife straight toward my chest! I thought my life had come to an end, when, at the very last moment, a soldier dove and tackled him, but not before the Indian's knife got close enough to cut a slit in my shirt! (*1)

Upon getting back up the Indian turned his attention to the soldier and thrusted the knife at him. Amazingly, he caught the blade in his hand and kept hold of the knife, wrestling it away from the Indian while still holding the blade, cutting his hand severely. (*3)

Even the Indian chief seemed surprised by this feat of strength and bravery. But I can tell you--that was the last thought that injun ever had! Immediately after taking the knife, the soldier drew his pistol and shot the chief. (*1)

Because of the tension, that became the default signal for everyone to open fire. (*3)

From this moment on the firing became general and rapid. Both the soldiers and my teamsters were well armed and the battle being in such close quarters, Indian casualties were high. (*1)

We counted 23 Indians dead with maybe twice that wounded. (*3) Later, ten more were found a distance from the battlefield who had died from their wounds. (*1)

Unfortunately, one of our soldiers was killed in the confusion by friendly fire. The only wounded man was the soldier that saved my life with his severely cut hand--God bless him. (*3)

The army also confiscated 40 bows and over 20 quivers of arrows. Many of the arrows were evidently poisoned, proving conclusively that they were bent on no peaceable errand. (*3)

It was proven beyond a doubt that nearly all the depredations committed on the La Paz Road in those days were committed by the same Indians that were engaged in this affair, the arrows corresponding. (*3)

In spite of the lesson we taught the Indians that day, their enmity grew and they would still continue their raids and depredations for years to come.

Tourist Tips:

Unfortunately, the charming Skull Valley General Store recently closed, but there still is a small museum and several events. CLICK HERE for the Skull Valley Historical Society for these events and museum hours.

Getting to Skull Valley from Prescott (Scenic!):

All-Paved Loop Route:
Starting from "Whiskey Row" head north.  Although you continue straight, the road changes names: Whiskey Row; Montezuma; Whipple; Iron Springs; and County Rd. 10.  Shortly after passing under a railroad trestle, turn left crossing over the RR tracks into Skull Valley.  After visiting, go back over the railroad tracks back to County Rd. 10 and turn LEFT (continuing your journey away from Prescott.) Continue 6.8 miles to Kirkland, AZ and County Rd. 15--turn left heading toward State Rt. 89.
Kirkland was a stagecoach stop back in the day, and a few historic buildings still stand.

At State Rt. 89, turn left (North) to head up the beautiful mountain road right back to Whiskey Row in Prescott.  If you enjoy antiques or would like to visit the Memorial for the 19 lost "Hotshot" firefighters, you can turn right at 89 and head a few miles into Yarnell where there are a few restaurants and gas.

Historic "Back" Route to Skull Valley:
For the more adventurous, this route involves dirt roads, but the scenery of Copper Canyon and the surrounding Sierra Prieta mountains is truly breathtaking!  This route is historic in that it was the MAIN route in the 1800's.  This route is best in the late spring or early summer--otherwise low clearance vehicles could be problematic...

Take Gurley St. west toward Thumb Butte.  Continue as the name of the road changes to "Thumb Butte Rd." Keep going straight, past the Thumb Butte parking area.  The road will become dirt.  Not long after, you will have the opportunity to turn left at a blue directions sign.  Indeed, turn left heading towards Copper Canyon.  In about 5 miles, you will reach a four-way intersection.  (If need be, you can turn right onto Copper Basin Rd., which will soon become paved and take you back into Prescott at State Rt. 89--turn left to get back to downtown.)  Otherwise, turn RIGHT to head into Skull Valley via "the back way".  Continue past the service station, over the railroad tracks, to County Rd. 10.  Turn right to head directly back into Prescott, or turn left to make the loop trip via Kirkland,AZ.


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(*1) The Toll Road--Prescott to Fort Mojave by Ada Fancher Heckethorn. Pioneer Heritage Publishing, Prescott, AZ. (c) 1997. ISBN # 9657778-0-4. Pgs. 17, 20.
(*2) Arizona Miner, 8/22/1866 Pg. 2 Col. 2.
(*3) IBID Pg. 2 Col. 4

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