Last updated
Yavapai p1070211.jpg
An early 20th-century Yavapai basket bowl woven of willow and reed
Total population
1,550 (1992)
Regions with significant populations
Yavapai (three dialects of Upland Yuman language), English
Indigenous, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Havasupai, Hualapai, Mohave, Western Apache

Yavapai are a Native American tribe in Arizona. Historically, the Yavapai – literally “people of the sun” (from enyaeva “sun” + pai “people”) [1] – were divided into four geographical bands who identified as separate, independent peoples: the Ɖo:lkabaya, or Western Yavapai; the Yavbe', or Northwestern Yavapai; the Guwevkabaya, or Southeastern Yavapai; and the Wi:pukba, or Northeastern Yavapai - Verde Valley Yavapai.


Another Yavapai band, which no longer exists, was the Mađqwadabaya or "Desert People." Its people are believed to have mixed with the Mojave and Quechan peoples. (Several Mohave and Quechan families trace their ancestry to Yavapai roots.[ citation needed ]) The Yavapai have much in common with their linguistic relatives to the north, the Havasupai and the Hualapai. [2] Often the Yavapai were mistaken as Apache by American settlers, who referred to them as "Mohave-Apache," "Yuma-Apache," or "Tonto-Apache". [3]

Before the 1860s, when settlers began exploring for gold in the area, the Yavapai occupied an area of approximately 20,000 mi² (51800 km²) bordering the San Francisco Peaks to the north, the Pinaleno Mountains and Mazatzal Mountains to the southeast, and the Colorado River to the west, and almost to the Gila River and the Salt River to the south. [4]

Pre-reservation culture


A drawing from 1851 of Yavapai people made by Sitgreaves' first topographical mission across Arizona Image taken from page 51 of 'Report of an expedition down the Zuni and Colorado Rivers by Captain L. Sitgreaves (11041183555) (cropped).jpg
A drawing from 1851 of Yavapai people made by Sitgreaves' first topographical mission across Arizona

Before being confined to reservations, the Yavapai were mainly hunter-gatherers, following an annual round, migrating to different areas to follow the ripening of different edible plants and movement of game. Some tribes supplemented this diet with small-scale cultivation of the "three sisters" – maize, squash, and beans – in fertile streambeds. In particular, the Ɖo:lkabaya, who lived in lands that were less supportive of food gathering, turned to agriculture more than other Yavapai. They had to work to cultivate crops, as their land was also less supportive of agriculture. In turn, Ɖo:lkabaya often traded items such as animal skins, baskets, and agave to Quechan groups for food.

The main plant foods gathered were walnuts, saguaro fruits, juniper berries, acorns, sunflower seeds, manzanita berries and apples, hackberries, the bulbs of the Quamash, and the greens of the Lamb's quarters, Scrophularia, and Lupinus plants. Agave was the most crucial harvest, as it was the only plant food available from late fall through early spring. The hearts of the plant were roasted in stone-lined pits, and could be stored for later use. [5] Primary animals hunted were deer, rabbit, jackrabbit, quail, and woodrat. Fish [6] and water-borne birds [7] were eschewed by most Yavapai groups. Some groups of Tolkepaya began eating fish after contact with their Quechan neighbors. [8]


The early Yavapai practiced traditional dances such as the Mountain Spirit Dance, War Dances, Victory Dances and Social Dances. The Mountain Spirit dance was a masked dance, which was used for guidance or healing of a sick person. The masked dancers represented Mountain Spirits, who were believed by Yavapai to dwell in Four Peaks, McDowell Mountains, Red Mountain (near Fort McDowell), Mingus Mountain-(Black Hills) near Camp Verde, and Granite Mountain near present-day Prescott. The Yavapai also believe that the Mountain Spirits dwelled in the caves of Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well in the Verde Valley.

The modern Yavapai take part in several dances and singing, such as the Apache Sunrise Dance and the Bird Singing and Dancing of the Mojave people.


Yavapai homes Yavapai shelters.jpg
Yavapai homes
An early hut which served as a home of a Yavapai family Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation-Yavapai Hut.jpg
An early hut which served as a home of a Yavapai family

The Yavapai built brush shelter dwellings called Wa'm bu nya:va (Wom-boo-nya-va). In summer, they built simple lean-tos without walls. During winter months, closed huts (called uwas) would be built of ocotillo branches or other wood and covered with animal skins, grasses, bark, and/or dirt. In the Colorado River area, Ɖo:lkabaya built Uwađ a'mađva, a rectangular hut, that had dirt piled up against its sides for insulation, and a flat roof. They also sought shelter in caves or abandoned pueblos to escape the cold. [9]

Social-political organization

The Yavapai main social-political organization were local groups of extended families, which were identified with certain geographic regions in which they resided. [10] These local groups would form bands in times of war, raiding or defense. For most of Yavapai history, the family was the focal group, be it the nuclear family, or extended. This is partly because most food-providing sites were not large enough to support larger populations. However, exceptions are known.

Near Fish Creek, Arizona, was Ananyiké (Quail's Roost), a Guwevkabaya summer camp that supported upwards of 100 people at a time. It supported a prickly pear fruit harvest, and hunting of rabbits and woodrats. [11] In winter, camps were formed of larger groups, consisting of several families. They separated into smaller groups at the end of winter, in time for the spring harvest.

Government among the Yavapai tended to be informal. There were no tribal chiefs, such as Chief of the Guwevkabaya or Chief of the Ɖo:lkabaya. Certain men became recognized leaders based on others choosing to follow them, heed their advice, and support their decisions. Men who were noted for their skills as warriors were called mastava (″not afraid″) or bamulva (″person who goes forward″). Other warriors were willing to follow such men into combat. Some Yavapai men were noted for their wisdom and speaking ability. Called bakwauu (″person who talks″), they would settle disputes within the camp and advise others on the selection of campsites, work ethics, and food production.

Yavapai bands

The Yavapai peoples were not a political or social unit, but rather four separate autonomous groups. Although culturally, linguistically and ethnically related, they did not identify as Yavapai in a centralized way. These four groups were, for geographical, historical, cultural and familial reasons, in various alliances with neighboring tribes, without regard to the concerns of the adjacent Yavapai groups. The four groups consisted of different local groups, composed primarily of kinship groups known as clans. [12]

The Yavapai divided into subsequent four groups:

Both in the Walkamepa and Wikedjasapa, the following clans were represented and shared mostly overlapping territories:

Interaction with neighboring Apache

The Wi:pukba ("People from the Foot of the Red Rock") and Guwevkabaya lived alongside the Dilzhę́’é Apache (Tonto Apache) of central and western Arizona. The Tonto Apache lived usually east of the Verde River and most of the Yavapai bands lived west of it. The Wi:pukba tribal areas in the San Francisco Peaks, along the Upper Verde River, Oak Creek Canyon and Fossil Creek, overlapped with those of the Northern Tonto Apache.

Likewise the Guwevkabaya shared hunting and gathering grounds east of the Verde River, along Fossil Creek, East Verde River, Salt River and in the Superstition Mountains, Sierra Ancha and Pinaleno Mountains with Southern Tonto Apache and bands of the San Carlos Apache. Therefore they formed bilingual mixed-tribal bands. [12] Outsiders, such as the Spanish, Mexicans and Americans distinguished the peoples primarily by language, but often referred to them as one name. The Apache spoke the Tonto dialect of the Western Apache language (Ndee biyati' / Nnee biyati'), and the Yavapai spoke the Yavapai language, a branch of Upland Yuman. Living together in common rancherias, families identified as Apache or Yavapai based on their “Mother tongue.” Both groups had matrilineal kinship systems, with children considered born into the mother's family and clan, with inheritance and property figured through the maternal line.

Most of the people in these mixed groups spoke both languages. The headman of each band usually had two names, one from each culture. Therefore the enemy Navajo to the north called both, the Tonto Apache and their allies, the Yavapai, Dilzhʼíʼ dinéʼiʼ – "People with high-pitched voices." The ethnic Europeans referred to the Yavapai and Apache together as Tonto or Tonto Apache. The peoples raided and warred together against enemy tribes such as the Tohono O'odham and the Akimel O'odham .

Scholars cannot tell from records whether the writers of the time, when using the term Tonto Apache, were referring to Yavapai or Apache, or those mixed bands. In addition, the Europeans often referred to the Wi:pukba and Guwevkabaya incorrectly as the Yavapai Apache or Yuma Apache. The Europeans referred to the Ɖo:lkabaya, the southwestern group of Yavapai, and the Hualapai (who belonged to the Upland Yuma Peoples), as Yuma Apache or Mohave Apache.

Ethnological writings describe some major physical differences between Yavapai and Tonto Apache peoples. The Yavapai were described as taller, of more muscular build, well-proportioned and thickly featured, while the Tonto Apache were slight and less muscular, smaller of stature and finely featured. The Yavapai women were described as stouter and having "handsomer" faces than the Yuma, in a historic Smithsonian Institution report. The Yavapai often acquired tattoos, but the Apache seldom used tattoos. They created different painted designs on faces. They also had different funeral practices. In clothing, Yavapai moccasins were rounded, whereas those of the Apaches were shaped with pointed toes. Both groups were hunter-gatherers. They left campsites so similar that scholars are seldom able to distinguish between them. [15]


The former territory of the Yavapai. The yellow line shows the forced march to the San Carlos Reservation. Wohngebiet-Yavapai.png
The former territory of the Yavapai. The yellow line shows the forced march to the San Carlos Reservation.

According to their creation story, the Yavapai believe that their people originated "in the beginning," or "many years ago," when either a tree, or a maize plant sprouted from the ground in what is now Montezuma Well, bringing the Yavapai into the world. Most archeologists agree that the Yavapai originated from Patayan groups who migrated east from the Colorado River region to become Upland Yumans. Archeological and linguistic evidence suggests that they split off to develop as the Yavapai somewhere around 1300 AD. [16]

Warfare was not uncommon in the Yavapai world, and they made changing alliances for security. Wi:pukba (Wipukepa) and Guwevkabaya (Kwevkepaya) bands formed alliances with Western Apache bands, to attack and defend against raids by the Pima and Maricopa bands from the south. Because of the greater strength of the Pima/Maricopa, Yavapai/Apache raids generally conducted small-scale quick raids, followed by a retreat to avoid counter-attack. The Yavapai defended their lands against Pima incursions, when the Pima would invade to harvest saguaro fruits. [17]

To the north and northwest, Wi:pukba and Yavbe' bands had off-and-on relations with the Pai people throughout most of their history. Though Pai and Yavapai both spoke Upland Yuman dialects, and had a common cultural history, each people had tales of a dispute that separated them from each other. According to Pai myth, the dispute began with a "mudball fight between children." Scholars believe this split occurred around 1750 AD. [18]

The last big battle between the Colorado-Gila River alliances took place in August 1857, when about 100 Yavapai, Quechan, and Mohave warriors attacked a settlement of Maricopa near Pima Butte. After overwhelming the Maricopa, the Yavapai left. A group of Pima, supplied with guns and horses from US troops, arrived and routed the remaining Mohave and Quechans. [19]

European contact

The first recorded contact with Yavapai was made by Antonio de Espejo, [20] who was brought to Jerome Mountain by Hopi guides in 1583, looking for gold. De Espejo was disappointed to find only copper. In 1598, Hopi brought Marcos Farfán de los Godos and his group to the same mines, to their excitement. Farfán referred to the Yavapai as "cruzados" because of the crosses painted on their heads. [21] A group led by Juan de Oñate led another group through Yavapai lands in 1598, and again in 1604-5, looking for a route to the sea which Yavapai had told them about. After this, no other European contact was made for more than 200 years.

In the intervening time, through contact with other tribes that had more European contact, the Yavapai began to adopt certain European practices. They raised some livestock and planted crops, also adopting some modern tools and weaponry. In a syncretic way, they adopted elements of Christianity. An estimated 25% of the population died as a result of smallpox in the 17th and 18th centuries, smaller losses than for some tribes, but substantial enough to disrupt their societies. With the use of guns and other weapons, they began to change methods of warfare, diplomacy, and trade. They used livestock raiding, either from other tribes such as the Maricopa, or from Spanish settlements to their south, to supplement their economy. They often acquired human captives in raids, whom they traded as slaves to Spaniards in exchange for European goods. [22]

In the 1820s, beaver trappers, having depleted the beaver population of the Rocky Mountains, began entering Yavapai territory. They trapped beaver along the Salt, Gila, and Bill Williams rivers. When Kit Carson and Ewing Young led a trapping group through the territory in 1829, the group was "nightly harassed..." Traps were stolen and some of their horses and mules killed. [23]

Following the declaration of war against Mexico in May 1845 and especially after the claim by the US of southwest lands under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, US military incursions into Yavapai territory greatly increased. After gold was discovered in California in 1849, more White emigrants passed through Yavapai territory than ever had before. [24] Despite the thousands of emigrants passing through their territory, the Yavapai avoided contact with Whites.

The first fighting between US troops and Yavapai came in early 1837, when the Tolkepaya joined with their Quechan neighbors to defend against Major Samuel Heintzelman over a Quechan ferry crossing on the Colorado River. The Quechan used the ferry to transport settlers over the river, into California. After they killed a group led by John Glanton, who had taken over the crossing, the US government retaliated by burning the fields of the Quechans, and taking control of the crossing. [25]

According to Thomas Sweeney, the Tolkepaya would tell US officers encountered in Quechan territory, that they had a 30-day march to their own territory. They wanted to discourage US encroachment on their land. [26]

Oatman family

Olive Oatman 1863 Olive Oatman1 (cropped).jpg
Olive Oatman 1863

In 1851, the Oatman family was ambushed by a group of tribal members, possibly Ɖo:lkabaya Yavapai, though many historians argue that it is impossible to know. [27] Roys Oatman and his wife were killed, along with four of their seven children. The son, Lorenzo, was left for dead but survived, while sisters Olive and Mary Ann were later sold to Mojaves as slaves. The story was widely published, and increased white settlers' fears of attack in Arizona. [28]


When in early 1863, the Walker Party discovered gold in Lynx Creek (near present-day Prescott, Arizona), it set off a chain of events that would have White settlements along the Hassayampa and Agua Fria Rivers, the nearby valleys, as well as in Prescott, and Fort Whipple would be built, all by the end of the year, and all in traditional Yavapai territory.

Interactions with the US government

The Yavapai Wars, or the Tonto Wars, were a series of armed conflicts between the Yavapai and Tonto tribes against the United States in Arizona. The period began no later than 1861, with the arrival of American settlers on Yavapai and Tonto land. At the time, the Yavapai were considered a band of the Western Apache people due to their close relationship with tribes such as the Tonto and Pinal. 366 to 489 Yavapai where killed in massacres, [29] and 375 perished in Indian Removal deportations out of 1,400 remaining Yavapai. [30] [31]

Reservation life

Yavapai–Apache Nation

After being relocated to the Camp Verde Reservation, on the Verde River near Camp Verde, the Yavapai there began to construct irrigation systems (including a five-mile (8 km) long ditch) [32] that functioned well enough to reap sufficient harvests, making the tribe relatively self-sufficient. But contractors that worked with the government to supply the reservations were disappointed, and petitioned to have the reservation revoked. The government complied, and in March 1875, the government closed the reservation, and marched the residents 180 miles (290 km) to the San Carlos reservation. More than 100 Yavapai died during the winter trek. [33]

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. In 1910, 40 acres (161,874 m2) was set aside as the Camp Verde Indian Reservation, and in the following decade added 248 acres (1,003,620 m2) in two parcels, which became the Middle Verde Indian Reservation. These two reservations were combined in 1937, to form the Camp Verde Yavapai–Apache tribe. [34] Today, the reservation spans 665 acres (2.7 km2), in four separate locales. [35] Tourism contributes greatly to the economy of the tribe, due largely to the presence of many preserved sites, including the Montezuma Castle National Monument. The Yavapai–Apache Nation is the amalgamation of two historically distinct Tribes both of whom occupied the Upper Verde prior to European invasion. The Tonto Apache, calling themselves Dilzhe'e, utilized the lands to the north, east and south; while the Wi:pukba' or Northeastern Yavapai were using country to the north, the west and the south. It was the Upper Verde where they overlapped. [36]

Yavapai Prescott Indian Reservation

The Yavapai-Prescott flag Flag of the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe.svg
The Yavapai-Prescott flag
Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation-Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation sign-1.jpg
Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation

The Yavapai reservation in Prescott was established in 1935, originally consisting of just 75 acres (300,000 m2) of land formerly occupied by the Fort Whipple Military Reserve. [37] In 1956, an additional 1,320 acres (5 km2) were added. Succeeding the tribe's first chief, Sam Jimulla, his wife Viola became the first female chieftess of a North American tribe. Today, the tribe consists of 159 official members. [38] The population consist mainly of the Yavbe'/Yavapé Group of Yavapais.

Fort McDowell Reservation

The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation is located within Maricopa County approximately 20 miles northeast of Phoenix. The reservation came into existence when Theodore Roosevelt had Fort McDowell declared a 40 square miles (100 km2) reservation in 1903, [39] but by 1910, the Office of Indian Affairs was attempting to relocate the residents, to open up the area, and water rights to other interests. A delegation of Yavapai testified to a Congressional Committee against this, and won. Today, the tribal community consists of 900 members, 600 of whom live on the reservation and the remaining 300 who live off the reservation. The Guwevkabaya or Southeastern Yavapai on Fort McDowell Reservation call themselves A'ba:ja - ″The People” therefore some anthropologists and linguists believe, that the name Apache for the various Southern Athabascan peoples derives from the self-designation of the Yavapai. The population of Fort McDowell consists of the Guwevkabaya Yavapai. [40]

Orme Dam conflict

Responding to growth in the Phoenix area, in the early 1970s Arizonan officials proposed to build a dam at the point where the Verde and Salt rivers meet. The dam would have flooded two-thirds of the 24,000-acre (97 km2) reservation. In return, the members of the tribe (at the time consisting of 425 members) were offered homes and cash settlements. But in 1976, the tribe rejected the offer by a vote of 61%, claiming that the tribe would be effectively disbanded by the move. In 1981, after much petitioning of the US government, and a three-day march by approximately 100 Yavapai, [41] the plan to build the dam was withdrawn. [42]


The Yavapai language is one of three dialects of the Upland Yuman language, itself a member of the Pai branch of the Yuman language family. [43] The language includes three dialects, which have been referred to as Western, Northeastern and Southeastern, [44] as well as Prescott, Verde Valley, and Ɖo:lkabaya.

Yavapai chiefs and headmen

Tonto leader (bilingual Kwevkepaya-Tonto-Apache or Kwevkepaya-Pinaleño-Apache leader)

Kwevkepaya leader

Wipukepa leader

Yavapé leader

Tolkepaya leader

In Hell on Wheels season 1, Eva tells Elam she was traded, for three blankets and a horse, to the tribe that tattooed her. In episode 8 ("Derailed"), Eva tells Lily the Yavapai hacked up and scalped Eva's parents, and raped her sister then bashed out her brains with rocks, but Eva had the pox and they wouldn't touch her. Instead, they traded her to some Mojave.

The Yavapai feature heavily in the psychedelic/western album Eyes Like the Sky by Australian band King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. It tells of an Irish-American boy in the American West during the time of the Civil War who is kidnapped by a war band of Yavapai and raised as their own. He becomes a legendary warrior named for his stunning eyes.

See also

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  2. Gifford, p.249
  3. Utley, p.255
  4. Salzmann, p.58
  5. Braatz, p.29
  6. Gifford, pp.250, 255
  7. Fish's, p.21
  8. Braatz, p.42
  9. Braatz, p.36
  10. "The Yavapai Indians - Native American Netroots".
  11. Braatz 2003 , p. 35
  12. 1 2 Timothy Braatz: Surviving Conquest: A History of the Yavapai Peoples, 2003, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN   978-0-8032-2242-7
  13. People of the Desert, Canyons and Pines Archived 2013-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  14. "The Pinal Mountains".
  15. "Skeleton Cave Massacre".
  16. Braatz, pg. 27
  17. Braatz, p.45
  18. Hoxie, p.456
  19. Braatz, p. 78
  20. Ruland Thorne, p.2
  21. Swanton, p.368
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  23. Braatz, pg. 71
  24. Braatz, p. 74
  25. Braatz, p. 76
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  45. As many Apache children were named for the circumstances of their birth, speculation suggests there was a hill of red ants at work where he was born. He may have earned the name later because of the stinging bite of his fighting spirit, or because he worked hard and led others
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