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The Land
Or How Aravaipa Canyon Was Lost and Regained

By John Hartman
San Carlos Apache Reservation

Today the Camp Grant Massacre site belongs to over 100 descendants of Chief Capitan Chiquito Bullis, who are determined to conserve its natural beauty and preserve its historic and cultural integrity.

The lands along the Aravaipa were long an important seasonal settlement for the Aravaipa Apache. Traditionally, the lands were planted in spring and then harvested in summer.

Before the bands of Chief Ezkiminzin and Capitan Chiquito sought refuge at Camp Grant, their numbers had already been diminished by the battles at Aravaipa and at Mescal Creek and the Wheatfields.

The slaughter of their women and children on April 30, 1871 nearly made their roles as chiefs irrelevant. Not only had 120 woman and children been killed, but another 26 children were kidnapped and sold into slavery in Mexico. The loss of life threatened their groups’ ability to reproduce and survive.

Chief Capitan Chiquito struggled for the next 40 years to gain ownership of the land where his clan was almost eliminated and where the graves of his relatives were located. In spite of the fact the Apache Reservation had been relocated some 50 miles north, Capitan Chiquito was able to obtain permission to live and farm the land along Aravaipa Creek.

With the enactment of the Dawes Act in 1887, Capitan Chiquito was granted an allotment of 160 acres that included the gravesite of his murdered clansmen. This land was to be held in trust for Capitan Chiquito for 25 years by the U.S. Government, after which he could apply for a patent of ownership.

Capitan Chiquito’s patent was delayed due to accusations that he harbored the renegade Apache Kid in the canyon. The Apache Kid was a member of Capitan Chiquito’s band who was being sought for the murder of the Gila County sheriff. Because authorities were unable to find the Apache Kid, Capitan Chiquito and his family were taken prisoner and sent to Alabama where Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apaches were being detained.

After spending three years in Alabama, Capitan Chiquito and his family were allowed to return to Arizona. Upon his return, he had to deal with squatters who had moved into the area in his absence.

Capitan Chiquito spent the next 25 years of his life restoring his own spirit and resurrecting the spirit of the land by planting fruit trees and growing crops. Capitan Chiquito died in 1919 after acquiring influenza from other victims of the disease whom he had been caring for. Shortly after his death, the patent of ownership of this land was granted to Capitan Chiquito’s heirs. The land is presently owned by his direct descendants.

Since the death of Capitan Chiquito, the place where “the big sycamore is standing there” has gradually lost its human presence. For many years after Capitan Chiquito’s departure his relatives would return to the land for family gatherings and to collect herbs for food and medicine. The road from Old San Carlos to Aravaipa was heavily traveled by horseback and by those on foot. With the construction of Coolidge Dam in the 1930’s the Old Town was flooded and San Carlos was moved to its present site. When the automobile became the predominant means of transportation, the twenty mile road to Aravaipa that was traveled by horseback became inaccessible. The trip to Aravaipa is now about a 70 mile drive by automobile from San Carlos.

Chief Eskiminzen, 1876.

Chief Capitan Chiquito Bullis, ca. 1890s.

Last known photograph of Capitan Chiquito, here pictured as an older man with his wife and visitor at his Aravaipa homestead.

I love my land here at the Aravaipa Canyon and wish to live well and happy.

– Capitan Chiquito, 1901

He took us down there specifically to visit Aravaipa, to remember it – what he went through with the people living there. He told us a lot of stories when we were there, the good and the bad. He said, “That's good, graddaughter, you're here so someday you'll remember this – that you come from this, from my mother.”

Adella Swift on her visits to Aravaipa in the 1940s with her grandfather, Andrew Noline. Reported in Big Sycamore Stands Alone by Ian Record (p.56).