At first the place does not strike you as particularly unusual—no better than any other well-kept subdivision of Paradise. The East Fork of the White River forms on the 11,549-foot level of the mountains and falls 5,000 feet in 15 magnificent miles; 26 still, cold lakes are scattered here and there in a million acres of forest; there are 850 campgrounds carpeted with wall-to-wall pine needles; and fishermen, who pay the Apache Indians 75¢ a day for the privilege (only 50¢ for each succeeding day if they stay more than one), catch rainbow trout in the lakes or on Diamond Creek or Bog Creek, on North Fork or on the rugged East Fork, where Geronimo used to hide out.
This is the Fort Apache Indian Reservation of east-central Arizona, an undeveloped tract of 1,664,872 acres that can be reached by highway from Phoenix, 185 desert miles away. Back in 1871 the Government put the Apache Indians there—or let them stay there—because there was nothing in the region anyone else wanted. In so doing they confined them in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. After having existed frugally from the sale of cattle and timber for nearly a century, the Apaches have now established a profit-making corporation. White Mountain Recreation Enterprise, wholly owned by the 5,800-member tribe, which last year grossed some $1.5 million from the sale of permits for 408,923 days of fishing and the sale of tackle, food and the necessities of life to campers and fishermen and hunters. The business has just begun to bring returns, and the reservation is so big and so undeveloped that 10 times as many vacationers as will be there this summer can be taken in without crowding.
"We're not dying off," said Nelson Lupe, when I visited him not long ago in the town of Whiteriver. "We're growing." Lupe was the tribal chairman who persuaded the Apaches to set up Recreation Enterprise and let vacationers enjoy life on the reservation. He eased his burly frame out of a battered pickup truck and sat down on the porch of the tribal council building with an air of authority. It was Sunday morning; church bells were ringing; small Indian children, the girls in white dresses and the boys in trim suits, passed by on the path, going to Sunday School. Whiteriver, with a population of 1,500, is the largest community on the reservation. It is outside the forest area, a sprawling collection of government offices, a store, a big new school, a new courthouse and jail, scattered wooden houses and trailers.
Here the tribal council launched the Apaches' enterprise in outdoor recreation. "This was a wonderful adventure," said Lupe. "Let me tell you the beginning of how I got into this. I gained some knowledge working off the reservation during the war. I worked in Nevada on construction of an air base, and from there I went to Morenci, Ariz. to work in a smelter. The manpower shortage was awful; we worked 16 hours a day, six days a week. And then on Sunday, golly, you wanted to get out of that dreary place. We had an old pickup, just like this one here. We used to drive up the mountains above Morenci on the Coronado Trail. When you get on top there, you get beautiful springs, you know, and oak trees and beautiful shade. The kids loved that place. We did that every weekend. Four years I worked there. And I kind of thought about this place. I didn't think about it as outdoor recreation at the time. I just wanted to go to a place where there was a stream, where I could lay down just in the shade somewhere and get a little snack and a picnic and take the kids out there."
August 3, 1969
Nearly 10 years passed before Lupe had a chance to work out the notion that came to him on his days off at the smelter. Before the war he had served on the tribal council but, when he returned to the reservation after the war, the council's work seemed to him to be futile, and he decided not to stand for reelection. "My wife was in the hospital," he said. "I told her, 'I don't want to run for council any more. We're not getting anywhere.' She said, 'Nelson, come here.' I walked over to her. It was during visiting hours. She said, 'Nelson, I want you to run for council. I insist you run for council. One of these days the people are going to thank you for it.' So I stood for the council again.
"In 1950 they put me in there as chairman. And this was serious to me, right from the beginning." Lupe persuaded the council to make the chairmanship a full-time job and he enlisted the help of the late Silas Davis, an old-line Bureau of Indian Affairs official who had charge of the lookout towers and a crew of rangers to prevent forest fires. Davis loved the country and learned to know the woods intimately in the course of his work. He traveled with Lupe to look over the land and consider money-making projects the tribe could undertake. Davis knew many Arizona sportsmen and arranged for fishing permits for the few fishermen who made their way to the reservation. "But they sold very few permits," Lupe went on. "Most people who came here fished for free. It was just a summer sport for them, and they didn't pay anything to the tribe. It was Sy Davis who kind of pictured the whole thing to me. We'd talk about the streams. We'd drive out, and he'd say, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful, Nelson, to have a campground in here? We could sell fishing licenses and stock the stream with fish, so fishermen can come back here and give us some money in the summertime.' And right then and there, my mind went back to Morenci. That was the thing I was thinking about there."
With its three motels, five service stations, tackle stores, liquor stores, the Apache Flame Tavern, its trailer camp, boat rental business and its 130 employees—and its memorial plaque to Sy Davis at Hawley Lake—Recreation Enterprise has become so successful that few recall its early days. But they were tough. "There was opposition within the tribe, quite a bit," said Lupe. "The oldtimers, you know, they had this feeling about white people. Not trusting them. All the subchiefs were opposed. All the medicine men. The main opponents—let's see, F-1 was alive at the time and C-1. Then there was somebody from Carrizo. He took the place of N-1."
F-1? C-1? N-1? What sort of names were these? "They're just brand names," he explained. During the Indian Wars in the Southwest, when Congress authorized a special force of Indian scouts, Company A was composed of White Mountain Apaches. Army paymasters had trouble spelling such Indian names as Boggynoggy, Gushonay, Dahkoshay, Noshchuggy and the like, so the scouts were identified by a number and letter on identity tags that they carried on cords worn around the neck. Alchesay, the last hereditary chief of the Apaches, became A-1. Indian scouts existed as a special force in the Army from 1866 until 1947 and, as Fort Apache was a cavalry post for more than 50 years, the scouts and former scouts—they received the same pay and allowance as cavalrymen—became prominent figures in tribal affairs. Such wealth as the Apaches had was in cattle, and the descendants of the scouts used the old Army identity numbers for their cattle brands.
"These people, you know, they objected to it," said Lupe. "Very much. They said, 'We been giving the white people a free hand and we been losing our land." They said, 'Our land used to go beyond Springerville, way back behind that white mountain, and the other way the boundary went way back toward Tonto, Camp Verde, Flagstaff, all over that place. Apaches used to roam between Camp Verde and Pleasant Valley. And they went along that river towards where Roosevelt Dam is and back up the Sierra Ancha and on the east side and on the west side.'
" 'We got to forget about this,' I told them. 'Let these people—white people—come to our reservation. We'll start selling fishing permits. We'll start making money from them.' The oldtimers felt that we were going to lose our land, and the white people were going to come in on us and take over our land. I said, 'As long as we develop our land, from corner to corner, we'll have something to hold and something to be proud of and something that we can claim as our own and something that we have done ourselves in developing the resources.' I said, 'This is the only way we can keep up our fence pretty strong.' "
Were there many supporters within the tribe? "Well, actually, I was the only one that had that idea about letting white people into the reservation for recreation," he said. "It took me about two years after I became full-time chairman. I used to go from one council member to the next one. 'What is your idea? Have you changed your mind? Are you still going along with somebody's oldtime idea?' " The first major project of Recreation Enterprise was to build an earth dam and create 250-acre Hawley Lake. All reservation land is owned by the tribe collectively, with the Government as trustee, but half-acre lots are now leased for 25 years for cabin sites in the recreation area around the lake at rentals of $40 to $175 annually, with cabin designs (in the $5,000 to $30,000 class) approved by the tribe. "We took some of the Apaches opposed to Recreation Enterprise, cattle owners from the North Fork, over to Hawley Lake," Lupe said. "We pictured to them—we pictured the dam, the lake, home sites, the fishing, everything. They objected to it. They said, 'It's going to take a lot of our grazing land.'
"I said, 'Cattle raise us money, all right. But we got to think about the members of the tribe that don't have cattle. The day might come when they going to tell you they might tax you for the income from your cattle. The cattle belong to you. The grass the cattle eat belongs to you. But the grass belongs to them, too. They might tell you they going to tax you for the grass so they can get some money from the cattle you have.' " Lupe's logic won the opposition over and Recreation Enterprise got started.
After a few days on the reservation you begin to wonder how it came about that the boundaries were set as they were, virtually monopolizing all the green and well-watered vacationland of Arizona. The southern boundary of the reservation is the Black River, a big, wild stream flowing through a deep canyon, the principal source of the Salt River, a region still untouched even by such meager developments as the cleared spaces on the riverbanks that form the campgrounds of Recreation Enterprise. Part of the northern boundary lies about 20 miles beyond the White River, near a fairly well-built-up area around Show Low and Pinetop, small towns that have expanded greatly because of vacationers who use the reservation's recreational riches but do not want to stay on the reservation itself. The northeastern portion of the reservation is high mountain country (Baldy Peak reaches 11,590 feet and holds snow on its north slope through July), enclosing the biggest ponderosa pine forest in the U.S. The southwestern half is an eerie, bleached, uninhabited high desert land ending in the chasm of the Salt River, which is not so big as the Grand Canyon but still awesome in its depths and sheer walls.
The forested section contains about half of all the trout streams of Arizona. Jim Sparks, an amiable ex-Texan who is the manager of Recreation Enterprise, has measured some 400 miles of trout streams in the reservation. The mule deer herd is very large, but the Apaches will not let anyone except tribal members shoot deer. They also reserve wild turkeys for tribal hunters, with the result that you see many turkeys in the woods. Recreation Enterprise issues around 700 elk permits a year at $30 each, around 100 antelope permits at $25 and 400 bear permits at $10. Javelina, mountain lion, quail and dove are also hunted. So many different kinds of outdoor recreation are found within the reservation's boundaries that the question grows the more you travel in it: Who set those boundaries in the first place?
It is a mystery. During the wars led by the Apache chiefs Cochise and Mangas Coloradas after the Civil War, the Army set up Camp Apache, a regiment-size post some 200 miles from Tucson, then the only big town (2,000 inhabitants) in the territory. On Nov. 9, 1871 President Grant signed an executive order making a reservation of the White Mountain region around Camp Apache. All the reservation land titles (and all the land titles to the property adjacent to the reservation) are traced back to this executive order. But if you look up the order you find there are no boundaries in it. "The boundaries of which," it reads, "were defined in letter of H. M. Robert, major of engineers, dated headquarters military division of the Pacific, San Francisco, Calif., Jan. 31, 1870."
This is getting a little closer. You know the name of Major Robert, though not in this connection. He was Henry Martyn Robert, the author of Robert's Rules of Order. He was born in South Carolina, graduated from West Point in 1857 and had an undistinguished career in the Civil War because of ill health and, perhaps, because so many of his relatives were Confederate officers. He was given such unimportant tasks as preparing the defenses of New Bedford, Mass. While in Philadelphia he was required to act as chairman at a public meeting. When he looked for a manual of instructions, he found there was no such work. So he wrote his own, based on the usages in the House of Commons and the U.S. Congress. In the enthusiasm for public meetings of all kinds after the war Robert's Rules of Order sold a million copies.
The Army was unimpressed by Major Robert's reputation as a parliamentarian and sent him to the Far West to measure the distances between military posts. He had a wagon with a wheel 12' 7" in circumference, attached to a device that recorded each revolution of the wheel. With this contraption he painfully made his way over the bare, rocky miles from Tucson to Camp Apache, and from there across the Superstition Mountains and the desert to Yuma, and then over dunes and more desert to San Diego, until he had measured 1,700 miles of the best routes from one fort to the next.
In San Francisco he was given the task of outlining the boundaries of the new reservation as an authority who had been on "a four months tour of inspection of all the military posts in Arizona and Southern California." Major Robert said the Apache reservation boundary should start at the New Mexico border, run west to "a point due north of Sombrero or Plumoso Butte," then, vaguely, "in the direction" of the Picache Colorado River, which no longer exists on maps, to the crest of the Apache Mountains and then up Pinal Creek to the crest of the Pinal Range, the Gila Mountains, the Almagra Mountains and, as he said with grand vague finality, along the crest of "other mountains...to the New Mexican boundary near Steeple Rock." Since this was barely mapped and nobody knew where these landmarks were, nothing was clear about the reservation except that it was big. Later executive orders set aside the southern half of this immense terrain as the San Carlos Reservation and removed sections here and there and returned them to the public domain, so the Apaches always had an understandable uneasiness as to what the boundaries actually were.
And yet for once in the dark history of the Indian Wars the Government acted with humanity and good sense. The original executive order setting aside the White Mountain Reservation read, "There are several bands of peaceably disposed Apaches, who have for many years lived in this country, who cannot be removed without much suffering to themselves, risk of war, and expenses to the Government." So they were allowed to remain where they were, and with their passionate attachment to a world of streams and shade they undoubtedly communicated their wishes to the officers at Camp Apache who advised Major Robert.
The Apache campgrounds are free, except in a few improved areas where the fee is 75¢ a day. Most of the people who stay in them travel in campers or with trailers behind their cars. They seem to be always on the move. Even fishing—often a contemplative sport—is a strangely busy pastime here. You see anglers hurrying from one pool and clambering over boulders to another.
Gripped by the universal restlessness, I borrowed a spinning outfit and on successive days fished in Diamond Creek, the East Fork, the North Fork, Hawley Lake, Bear Lake and A-1 Lake. A Government biologist estimated that, on the average, a fisherman on the reservation catches one fish for each hour and 20 minutes of fishing; my record reduced the average, but I caught a lot of fish, more fish than I ever caught before, hatchery trout, some 10 to 12 inches, and released them all.
In the small campgrounds in the forest the individual camps are usually widely separated, but still within sight of each other. You see firelight the last thing at night, gleaming through the tree trunks, and in the morning you see the fires built up again and the fishermen driving away in their cars to try a new spot on a lake.
As for the Indians, they leave you alone. On my last evening on the reservation I drove toward a campground near the headwaters of the East Fork, but the road turned out to be so narrow and rough that I thought I might not be able to get to my destination or find a place wide enough to turn the trailer around. On a little wooded terrace about 20 feet above the river an Apache family was camped, a man and wife, the children and a grandmother. I asked if I would be intruding if I parked the trailer on the same shelf, which would be about 200 feet from their camp. They were astonished at the question—anyone can camp anywhere—and politely guided the vehicle into place between two pine trees before returning to the privacy of their own campfire.
I went to the river to catch a trout for supper. My experience up to then made me think it would be easy to do so. A thunderstorm broke before I got my line in the water, and I went back to shelter. When the storm ended my neighbor built up his campfire again and brought me two trout: he had caught his limit before the storm broke.
Early in the morning I went back to the river with a fresh angleworm for bait—it was what my neighbor used—to catch a fish that I would want to keep. There was a small pool, lined with concave rock walls, directly below my camp. It did not look right, but just beyond it was a larger pool, the size of a couple of boxcars, that seemed promising, and the narrow chute that led from one pool to the other appeared clear enough so a fish could be brought in through it without the line snagging on rocks. I dropped the worm in the chute and immediately had a strike.
The fish did not jump; it simply seesawed back and forth, back and forth, going nowhere. When I reeled in I could not get back any line at all. I had hooked something too big for me to handle.
The fish ran, and the line was strung out like a displaced telephone wire, not in the second pool or the one below it, but the next one beyond that. Somewhere along that rocky route the line was fouled. There was nothing to do but break off, and I hoped it would break in such a fashion that the fish would not be swimming around dragging 200 feet of line the rest of his life. So I yanked and it pulled free. I cranked in the line and somehow got its hook over the rocks separating three different pools. It was as good a way as any to end my last day of fishing.
Fishing on the reservation is so popular that Recreation Enterprise no longer has to promote it. Now the planning is concentrated on a ski resort on Mount Ord, with a chair lift to the 11,335-foot summit, a 75-room lodge at the 9,200-foot level, ski runs with a vertical drop of 2,000 feet and a season from December through April.
Nelson Lupe has his own hopes for the future. He is no longer the tribal chairman—his son Ronnie holds that post now—but he still serves on the council. "We found out what we lack," Nelson said. "We lack business knowledge. When we began our recreation program, we hired our own Apaches to run the business. And it was a failure, a complete failure. We had to hire white people to run it. We lack so many things, you know, experience in handling money, in bookkeeping and the things we do in stores. And this is where we need education. To take over our business. This recreation is getting to be a pretty big business for the tribe. We need our own tribal members to take responsible positions as managers or clerks or something, to really make it go.
"And what I would like to see is individual Apaches go into private business on their own, establishing filling stations, motels and little grocery stores, places where they sell fishing supplies and things that fishermen need. As individuals we can't operate anything like that now. We have those operations only as tribal enterprises belonging to the whole tribe with managers we hire. But now there are indications that the boys—and the girls—would like to go in there and see what they can do. And at this point I think we're taking hold of the thing that I envisioned before we went into this Recreation Enterprise."