During the spring of 1882 a small group of White Mountain Apache warriors, sixty at the most, came out of their wilderness hiding and by early summer coalesced under the leadership of a man called Na-tio-tish.

In early July some of the warriors ambushed and killed four San Carlos policemen, including the police chief. Following the ambush Na-tio-tish led his band of warriors northwest through the Tonto Basin, raiding as they went. Central Arizona residents were greatly alarmed and demanded protection from the army which immediately sent out fourteen companies of cavalry from forts surrounding the Tonto Basin. 

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 precipitous gorge into the Mogollon Rim. The Apaches hid on the far side and waited.

The cavalry company was led by Captain Adna R. Chaffee. Unbeknown to Na-tio-tish, Chaffee was guided by the famous scout Al Sieber who soon discovered the Apaches’ trap and warned the troops. Also unbeknown to Na-tio-tish, during the night Chaffee’s lone company was reinforced by four more from Fort Apache under the command of Major A. W. Evans. 

Early 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. From sixteen to twenty-seven warriors were killed, including Na-tio-tish.

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.”


Drive north on Highway 87 through Pine and Strawberry to the top of the Rim. Continue past the Camp Verde turnoff (Highway 260) a few miles to Forest Road 300 on your right. Drive east to the end of this well-maintained gravel road, until you reconnect with Highway 260. En route you will find picnic grounds, the Crook Military Road, (which plays tag with your road), numerous views from the edge of the Rim, a monument to the Battle of Big Dry Wash (Arizona's last major battle of the Indian War), isolated graves of pioneers, wildlife and magnificent forest, by-ways to Rim lakes, and trails to hike.

*Ariticle provided by Stephen G. Maurer (Editor’s note: information for the above article was taken from “Apaches: A History and Culture Portrait” by James L. Haley, University of Oklahoma Press, 1981. The quote at the end is from Robert M. Utley’s “Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indians” Macmillan Co., 1973

© 2020 - Town of Payson 
Parks, Recreation & Tourism Department
1000 W. Country Club Dr.

Payson, AZ 85541  |  928-472-5110

  • Facebook Reflection
  • Twitter Reflection
  • Trip Advisor App Icon