San Carlos Apache Tribe of the San Carlos Reservation, Arizona

Published on October 5, 2013 by Amy

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Eskiminzin, an Aravaipa Apache Chief
Eskiminzin, an Aravaipa Apache Chief

The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, in southeastern Arizona, United States, was established in 1872 as a reservation for the Chiricahua Apache tribe. It was referred to by some as “Hell’s Forty Acres,” due to a myriad of dismal health and environmental conditions.

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President U.S. Grant established the San Carlos Apache Reservation on December 14, 1872. The government gave various religious groups the responsibility for managing the new reservations, and the Dutch Reformed Church was given charge of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. They sought out a candidate to run the reservation at Rutgers College and were connected with John Clum, who had attended the church while in school in Claverack, New York. Clum knew that a number of Indian Agents sought the position only as a means to line their own pocket, selling government-supplied food and clothing and keeping the profits for themselves.

The Apaches, who were supposed to be fed and housed by their caretakers, rarely saw the results of the federal money and suffered as a result. The U.S. Army showed both animosity toward the Indians and disdain for the civilian Indian Agents. Soldiers and their commanding officers sometimes brutally tortured or killed the Indians for sport. After turning the position down twice, Clum relented and on February 16, 1874, Clum accepted a commission as Indian Agent for the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in the Arizona Territory.

To the distant politicians in Washington, D.C., all Indians were alike. They did not give consideration to the different tribes, cultures, customs and language. They also ignored prior political differences and military alliances. They tried to apply a “one-size-fits-all” strategy to deal with the “Indian problem”. As a result, friends and foes alike were forced to live in close proximity to one another.

Clum arrived at the reservation on August 4, 1874. During his tenure at San Carlos, he struck a lifelong friendship with Eskiminzin, an Aravaipa Apache chief, and persuaded many of the White Mountain people to move south to San Carlos. He visited Apache camps without soldiers and fiercely defended the Apaches against the military’s interference. In this way Clum gradually and grudgingly won the Indians’s confidence. They responded by turning in their weapons, using a tribal court to try minor infractions, and joining the Tribal Police organized under Clum’s command, forming a system of limited Indian self-rule. The agent soon attracted 4,200 Apaches and Yavaais Indians to the semi-arid reservation. The Army bristled at Clum’s actions because they prevented them from raking off part of the funds that passed through the reservation.

On April 21, 1877 Clum along with 100 of his best Apache Police captured the marauding Geronimo at the Ojo Caliente Reservation in the New Mexico Territory. The U.S. Army, which had mounted intense efforts to track-down and capture Geronimo, was seriously embarrassed by his success and their failure. Indian Bureau administrators and U.S. Army commanders disliked his methods and continually frustrated his efforts. He finally resigned. The reservation’s new administrators released Geronimo, resulting in more than 15 years of conflict across the American southwest.

Tribes consolidated

In March 1875, the government closed the Yavapai-Apache Camp Verde Reservation, and marched the residents 180 miles (290 km) to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. More than 100 Yavapai died during the winter trek.

After the Chiricahuan Apache were deported east to Florida in 1886, San Carlos became the reservation for various other relocated Apachean-speaking groups. These included the Pinal Coyotero of the northern Gila River area, the former San Carlos Apache bands : Aravaipa (also Arivaipa or Tsee Zhinnee), Pinaleño (also Pinal Apache or Tiis Ebah Nnee), Apache Peaks (also called Bichi Lehe Nnee), and San Carlos proper (also Tiis Zhaazhe Bikoh – ′Small cottonwood canyon People′), the former Canyon Creek, Carrizo Creek and Cibecue bands of the Cibecue Apache, various bands of Southern Tonto Apache, Tsiltaden (“mountain side people”, a clan or band of the Chiricahua Apache, associated with and hence taken to be a part of the Pinaleño) some Eastern White Mountain Apache (Dził Ghą́ʼ oder Dzil Ghaa a – ‘On Top of Mountains People’ ) and the Lipan, Dzil Dlaazhe (Mount Turnbull Apache, a mixed Kwevekapaya – San Carlos Apache band). By the early 1900s, Yavapai were drifting away from the San Carlos Reservation, and were requesting permission to live on the grounds of the original Camp Verde Reservation.

After the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the various groups formed a government together and became federally recognized as the San Carlos Nation. Grenville Goodwin, an anthropologist who had lived with the Western Apache since the late 1920s, helped them to decide what government they wanted to form under the new law to gain back more sovereignty.

In 2011, the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s Language Preservation Program, located in Peridot, Arizona, began its outreach to the “14,000 tribal members residing within the districts of Bylas (Eastern White Mountain Apache, San Carlos and Southern Tonto), Gilson Wash, Peridot and Seven Mile Wash (Apache Peaks band).”


The 2000 census reported the reservation population at 9,385. Its largest communities are San Carlos and adjacent Peridot.

The San Carlos Reservation is one of the poorest Native American communities in the United States, with an annual median household income of approximately $14,000 in 2000, according to the US Census. About 60% of the people live under the poverty line, and 68% of the active labor force is unemployed.


Encompassing 2,910.7 square miles (7,538.7 km²) of land area, the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation lies in northern Graham, southeastern Gila, and eastern Pinal Counties. It is the tenth-largest Indian reservation in land area. Landscape of the area varies considerably, including desert, alpine meadows, and Ponderosa Pine forest. Its largest community is San Carlos. The Fort Apache Indian Reservation, which has a smaller land area but a population of more than 12,000, is directly north of the San Carlos Reservation.

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