A’AGA: Something to be told

August 5, 2016


Billy Allen

Gila River Indian Community


Sopol Esabig Masad (August) is the “short planting moon,” but with our changing climate, it’s a month of s-vauhug or sweat. When the power went out during the last big rain, everyone complained about the heat, but would O’otham and Piipaash make a mass migration anywhere else? We once had the opportunity to become “Okies,” but turned it down.


“Indian Agent” John Stout arrived at Gila River on July 24, 1871. The staff consisted of Reverend Charles Cook, a blacksmith, carpenter, farmer and an interpreter. In 1869, President U. S. Grant had just ushered in his Indian Peace Policy. Using Christian principles, Indians were to be assimilated into American society. The Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Unitarian churches were a few denominations assigned Indian agencies.


The Dutch Reform Church was to oversee the Colorado River and Pima agencies. While Agent Stout was informed that the immediate problems he had to handle were the illegal liquor trade, hostility with neighboring non-Indians, and O’otham and Piipaash distrust of the federal government, he quickly realized that our river water being stolen was the main problem.


Settlers upstream were taking water from our akimel, enraging one village leader who called for arms against upstream farmers and towns. The water theft led some O’otham and Piipaash to move to the Salt River, but confrontations between non-Indian farmers and O’otham and Piipaash continued. Since Arizona politicians didn’t see a need to appease O’otham and Piipaash, some possible solutions had no chance of happening: expand our reservation to include Salt River, or buy out non-Indian farmers.


Since another goal of President Grant’s Peace Policy was to place all Natives on reservations, Agent Stout thought that simply moving us elsewhere could solve our human need for water. The idea of relocation to Oklahoma was discussed before a council of village leaders in May of 1872. Antonio Azul wanted the leaders to visit the Oklahoma Indian Territory before a final decision was made.


Days dragged on, Grant won re-election and the winter of 1872 was a dry one. More O’otham and Piipaash moved to the Salt which prompted a delegation of non-Indian citizens from that area to confront Agent Stout and imply that if more tribal members moved north, blood might be spilled.


The government delayed the trip to Oklahoma and relations between O’otham and Piipaash and surrounding communities worsened. It reached a breaking point when Antonio Azul’s son was killed near Adamsville during a San Juan celebration of 1873. Adamsville no longer exists but was west of Florence and Little Florence village.


The next day, O’otham and Piipaash warriors took the suspect from the courtroom and beat him to death. A military detachment of troops from Fort McDowell had to be stationed outside Adamsville as protection. (Antonio Azul defused the situation by telling the warriors to go home, further bloodshed wouldn’t solve anything.)


The visit to Indian Territory was finally approved and a delegation of tribal leaders left in September of 1873. In their absence, O’otham and Piipaash consensus refused the move, saying that force would be needed.  


We did not move, a new administration took over and Agent Stout was replaced.  


O’otham and Piipaash move for various reasons but many return to this land which makes us sweat. To honor those O’otham and Piipaash who did not want to move, I raise my red solo cup. Just like good old boy Toby Keith.


Enjoy August while you can, it will take a whole year for it to come back around.


Information was taken from John H. Stout and the Grant Peace Policy Among the Pimas by Robert Trennert. Arizona and the West, A Quarterly Journal of History, the University of Arizona Press, volume 28, number 1, Spring of 1986.