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Apache Battle of Big Dry Wash and the Colonel Devin Trail in Northern Gila County:

The Apache Battle of Big Dry Wash MonumentMuch of this webpages information is cobbled together from various informational websites about the Apache Battle of the Big Dry Wash. There are several historical accounts and we have tried to bring them together here in a short synopsis.

In the spring of 1882, a party of about 60 White Mountain Apache warriors, coalesced under the leadership of a Tonto Apache warrior called Na-tio-tish. In early July some of the warriors ambushed and killed four San Carlos policemen, including the police chief. After the ambush, Na-tio-tish led his band of warriors northwest through the Tonto Basin. Local Arizona settlers were greatly alarmed and demanded protection from the army which immediately sent out fourteen companies of cavalry from forts in the region - Fort Thomas, Fort Apache, Camp Verde, Camp McDowell and Fort Whipple Barracks.

It all began to come together in the Tonto Basin, near the Payson area. In the middle of July, Na-tio-tish led his band up Cherry Creek to the Mogollon Rim, intending to reach General Springs, a well-known water hole on the Crook Trail. The Apaches noticed that they were trailed by a single troop of cavalry and decided to lay an ambush seven miles north of General Springs where a fork of East Clear Creek cuts a gorge into the Mogollon Rim. The Apaches hid on the far side and waited.

Fort Whipple Barracks military personnel used a trail in this location on a maneuver to find the renegade Apaches. The hiking trail today is named after Colonel Thomas C. Devin who led this group. The cavalry company was led by Captain Adna R. Chaffee. However, Chaffee's chief scout, Al Sieber, discovered the Apaches' trap and warned the troops. During the night, Chaffee's lone company was reinforced by four more from Fort Apache under the command of Major A. W. Evans.

The Colonel Devin Trail ends at the top of the Mogollon Rim at a monument to the Battle of Big Dry Wash Seven miles north of this point a band of Apache Indians were defeated by United States Troops on July 17, 1882. A group of tribesmen from the San Carlos Apache Reservation had attacked some ranches in the vicinity, killing several settlers. Cavalry and Indian scouts were immediately sent into the field in search of the hostiles. Five troops of cavalry and one troop of Indian scouts converged on the Apaches, surrounding them at the Big Dry Wash. The resistance of the Indians was broken after four hours of stubborn fighting. The casualties numbered two soldiers and more than twenty Apaches - Photo by Terry Wright on Arizona Hiking Gallery.comEarly in the morning of July 17 one company of cavalry opened fire from the rim facing the Apaches. Meanwhile Chaffee sent two companies upstream and two downstream to sneak across the canyon and attack the Apaches. Na-tio-tish failed to post lookouts and the troops crossed over undetected. The real fighting bregan about 3:00 pm and the battle lasted until nightfall. As the battle pitched in intensity, Lieutenant Frank West took command of Chaffee's cavalry troop while Chaffee was engaged with commanding the battle, when a heavy thunderstorm struck, bringing rain and hail. Under the cover of darkness and the storm, the remaining Apache warriors slipped away on foot and retreated to a nearby Apache reservation, about 20 miles away. From sixteen to twenty-seven warriors were killed, including Na-tio-tish The site of the battle is now a historical park, in Coconino County, Arizona..

The Battle of Big Dry Wash was the last battle fought between the Apaches and army regulars. It was also one of the few times that army soldiers fought and bested Apaches in actual battle but this was mainly because, as one historian noted, “it was one of the few instances in which Apaches allowed themselves to be drawn into conventional battle.”

The entrance to the Railroad Tunnel - Photo by Terry Wright on Arizona Hiking Gallery.comToday the Colonel Devin hiking trail starts together at the entrance to the Railroad Tunne Trail. The hike a very difficult one accourding to the USDA Forest Service website. Here is a synopsis of the hike from "At the edge of the Rim is the trailhead. The trail goes straight down and the footing is loose. Sand and loose rock make the going tricky. Pass the second electric poll and cross the wash to your left. The wind takes advantage of the natural depression of the Rim. The day I hiked the trail seconds after leaving the Rim the wind kicked in. Once returning the second I stepped up on the Rim the wind ceased. The trail continues straight down and curves to the junction with the Railroad Tunnel Trail. Actually you have been following the Colonel Devin Trail from the Rim and the Tunnel Trail is a spur trail that starts a half mile down. From the rim you have just dropped 760 feet, now you will work your way back up 300. If the trail signs are in place follow them. If not the Tunnel Trail starts to go over and back up where as the Colonel Devin Trail starts a switchback down the wash. From the junction it is a quarter mile over and back up to the tunnel. The trail is steep in sections so please be careful. A dark black rock formation tricked my senses into believing I was near the Tunnel."

Continued from "Well not much further over the tunnel came into view. What appears to be a recently constructed ruin is on the east side of the entrance. Upon first examining the tunnel, extensive graffiti is sad to see. Cool air inside makes the tunnel a great resting spot! The floor is fine grain sand. Sit back and imagine the man power it must have taken to drill here in the 1880's! Return back to the trailhead. Enjoy the ride home through the dense Ponderosa Pines along the Rim."

The hike on the Colonel Devin Trail up to the ' Apache Battle of Big Dry Wash' site is rated as 'Most Difficult'. The trail starts at the South end: (5,000 feet elevation) in the Tonto National Forest and ends at the Washington Park Trailhead on the North end: (7,280 feet elevation): at Forest Road (FR) 300 on the Coconino National Forest. The trail is open from April to October. No Motorized vehicles are allowed on the trail. This is a steep trail with loose footing and is not recommended for horses.


* Much of this articles information comes from a well sourced article on Wikipedia about the Apache Battleof the Big Dry Wash. Other information used is from the USDA Forest Service website. Other sources of information and some photos of the Railroad Tunnel Trail come from Terry Wrigh.t's photo page on


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