Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 2 Number 2
May 1962


Steve and Helen Talbot

Historical Background

Historically, Apaches were nomadic peoples who travelled in groups to hunt and gather food. They carried on limited farming, remaining at the farm site at least during planting and harvesting seasons. From two to ten extended families formed a local group, based at a particular farm site. Each extended family had its headman, and each local group had its chief. These positions of leadership were based on both heredity and achievement. The economy was supplemented by raids for horses and cattle on other Indians and non Indians.
First, the Spanish conquerors, then the Mexicans and Anglos, found the Apaches difficult to subdue. These groups engaged in frequent warfare with Apaches until 1886, when the last of Geronimo's band surrendered. The San Carlos Reservation was established in 1872. Apaches from several separate bands were brought together on this reservation where they were governed by the Agency superintendent, issued rations of food and clothing, and forbidden to leave the reservation without special permission.

The Community of Bylas Today

The modern community of Bylas was formed by the merging of smaller local groups, strung along the Gila River in eastern Arizona. The consolidation of the present community is still continuing. Calva, several miles to the west, has now lost most of its population to Bylas since it was by passed several years ago by the construction of the new Highway 70. Black Point, the eastern section of Bylas which was formerly a separate local group, is now only separated from the rest of the community by a slight physical break and by a tendency of Black Point residents to keep somewhat to themselves. Considerations of school and transportation services, electricity and water lines, schools and stores have all had their influences on the consolidation process, although the community remains strung out in a long narrow strip between the river on the northeast and the highway and the Southern Pacific railroad on the southwest.
Total maximum population is estimated at 1,500, but the number of people at home is usually much less. People leave home often and for a variety of reasons to round up cattle, gather acorns attend religious camp meetings, attend boarding schools, or to work away from home a few months or a few years. Population is probably lowest during the hot summer months. Most of the residents are full blood Apaches; a few are part Apache; and a few are non Indian. Non Indians in Bylas include families of two white store employees, personnel at two missions, teachers at the government school (three grades), and the family of the community worker from the American Friends Service Committee.

Nearly all of the traditional wickiups are now replaced by small frame houses. A few families have recently built houses of cement block. Near each house is a rectangular brush "cooler" used extensively for summer housekeeping. Electricity is now in common use, but cooking is still done on wood or kerosene stoves in winter and over an open fire outside in summer. Water is piped to most houses in the community from a single water system. However, Black Point residents usually have to haul their water from the school. Cars and pick up trucks are owned by many families. Houses are grouped in clusters, or "camps," of several related households.

Tribal institutions located in Bylas are the general store (including the post office and Greyhound bus stop), the gas station, and farm lands, all of which are tribal enterprises; the combined police station, jail, and recreation hall; and a group of "old people's houses" assigned to needy families regardless of age. Government buildings are the health clinic, grade school, teachers' apartments, and 4 H building. These are all grouped near the center of town. Churches are the Mormon mission staffed by two young missionaries, the Lutheran mission which includes a grade school, the Catholic church visited each Sunday by a priest from San Carlos, Assembly of God church with its ordained Apache minister, and two Miracle churches with Apache lay ministers. A "Holy Grounds" is located in the Black Point area but does not seem to be in use now. There are a number of outlying cemeteries. Other local institutions are the ball park and the cooperative Indian craft shop, both located near the store.

Bylas children may attend school at the Lutheran mission, at off reservation boarding schools, at Bylas Day School (government), or at Fort Thomas public schools, located ten miles to the east of Bylas. The largest number of children attend the Fort Thomas grade, junior high, and high schools, commuting from Bylas by school bus.

Available sources of income are insufficient for the needs of the community. Individual cattle owners are organized into five cattle associations for the reservation of which only three are significant for Bylas residents. After the twice yearly cattle sales, a cattle owner usually receives his profits in the form of credit at the tribal store. There are many cattle owners who do not work their own cattle and, in this sense, cattle income is unearned income. Some young men are employed on the cattle round ups but they may be without steady employment for the remaining months of the year. Employment opportunities for Apaches in Bylas (steady jobs) consist of jobs at the store, service station, school, clinic, farm, and the police force about 25 jobs in all.

No supervisory position at Bylas is filled by an Apache except for the police captain's job. Even at the Bylas Trading Enterprise (store) the two top positions are held by white men. Monthly salaries for Apaches in the tribal stores range from $175 to $240 while white employees receive from $400 on up.

Additional ways of earning money are hauling water or people in one's private vehicle, wood cutting, and selling Indian hand crafts. Many families receive social security or welfare assistance. The latter rivals cattle income in total income for Bylas_residents. Off reservation, on nearby farms, a few fairly steady jobs are filled by Apaches (at low wages, e.g., six dollars per day) and there is some seasonal agricultural work such as cotton picking and chopping. Some people go away for months at a time to work in asbestos and copper mines (employment is down now) or in the lumber operations at McNary, Eager, and Springerville.

Tribal and government offices are located 30 miles away in San Carlos. The people of Bylas complain that they are neglected or ignored by the Agency and tribal government. Frequent trips are made to San Carlos to transact business at the welfare office, the cattle office, etc. The doctor for the Bylas clinic commutes from San Carlos five mornings a week. No doctor or nurse lives in Bylas.

Besides looking westward to San Carlos as the center of reservation life, Bylas Apaches look eastward for other satisfactions off the reservation. The eastern boundary of the reservation nuns near Bylas. Children of Bylas go to school in Fort Thomas. The Gila Valley provides agricultural jobs. Safford serves as a shopping center. There are a number of places off reservation where Apaches may buy and drink liquor. (It is lawful for Indians to drink but tribal ordinance forbids the sale of liquor on the reservation.) Graham County Electric Cooperative provides electricity to the community and the county sends its road graders out for road maintenance.

The people of the community are divided in their loyalties to family, place of origin, and religion. Old kin groupings are still functional to some extent in tribal and cattle association elections for councilmen and officers. The most obvious religious schism is between the Lutherans and the members of the Miracle churches. The Miracle church members oppose all drinking, gambling, dancing, movies, sports and rodeos; they strongly reject the old Apache religious beliefs. Lutherans indulge in these activities rather freely, and especially enjoy Apache ceremonies such as the curing "sings." Members of the Assembly of God maintain an intermediate position. These are the three most important organized religious groups in Bylas.

Practices that provide a basis for unity by cutting across these divisions are the use of the Apache language, customs related to outdoor living (cooking outside, cowboy life, gathering wild plants), and the retention of "beliefs that die hard" minor beliefs originally associated with religion. Owls, snakes, and lightning are still feared for their supernatural powers. Apaches are also united by the realization that they are objects of social and economic discrimination.

Social interaction is an important part of Apache life. Social occasions found in Bylas include church services and other church activities, wakes, baby showers, Apache "sings" (curing ceremonies), teen age dances, basketball games and tournaments, playing pool at the recreation hall, movies, gambling by groups of women "in the bushes," and visiting at the store and in each other's homes. Off reservation, Apaches drink together at several bars and attend school and recreation functions at Ft. Thomas High School.

In the system of tribal government, Bylas is a council district, having three elected representatives to the Tribal Council. Each district is supposed to hold monthly district meetings to discuss tribal affairs. Meetings were seldom held in Bylas (during the last few years) until the spring of 1962. After a tribal election in April, all the districts were encouraged to hold regular meetings. The first meeting in Bylas was well attended. However, many people came to ask help for personal concerns, in the traditional pattern of going to leaders for personal favors. The councilmen have tried to continue holding regular meetings, but only a few people attend.

It would be helpful to understand the characteristic Apache attitudes towards leadership. First there is dependency on the Bureau of Indian Affairs, on educated or powerful Apache leaders, and on powerful whites (such as employers) not associated with the governmental agencies. The role of the leader includes doing things for people, but not necessarily leading group undertakings. Therefore, leaders are expected to dispense a variety of aid to individuals and families, and they are expected to go ahead on their own with projects for local improvement. But there is also resentment of control by either whites or Apaches. Associated with this is suspicion of people in official positions, whether appointed or elected. This may partially explain a certain preference for informal organization. There is a display of lack of self confidence and of damaged self respect; at the same time there is a spirit of independence which shows up in the management of personal affairs.

Past Efforts to Improve Community Life

Bureau of Indian Affairs:

The BIA, while providing services for individuals and technical help to the tribal government, has made little effort to help Bylas as a community. Four H clubs for boys and girls have been meeting in Bylas for a number of years under the supervision of the BIA staff, with some local volunteer assistance. Sewing and cooking classes held a few years ago for Bylas women have had a lasting influence. Some former participants in these classes are currently, on their own initiative, conducting summer classes for high school girls.

The present principal of the BIA school came to Bylas intending to develop the community. One of his expressed goals was to get the people away from the pool tables at the recreation hall. He started a library and game room at the school and organized a parents' club, now inactive. He welcomed community participation but was unable to relinquish control to Apaches. He still attempts to lead the community in attacking its problems but the people do not respond to his aggressive leadership.

United States Public Health Service:

In addition to conducting the daily clinic and monthly well baby clinic, the United States Public Health Service, employs a field nurse who visits in the homes and a reservation sanitation aid who assists families with construction of privies. A semi annual clean up campaign is conducted but with no organized community involvement; it is up to each family to clean its own yard. The Sanitation Aid (Apache) has assisted some of the sections of the community with pump repair for domestic water.

The only action program attempted by the Public Health Service was the organization of a group of women (by the Health Educator) who worked together to lose weight. This group no longer meets. They became disheartened when their successful garden project was destroyed by a group of boys. Later, the Health Educator moved away.

Tribal Government:

In 1954 the position of manager of Bylas Recreation Center was created by the Tribal Enterprises. Soon after his appointment the manager, who was also a leader in the community, gave a glowing account of Bylas community activity in the San Carlos Newsletter (April, 1954). He reported that the community well was dug and one and a half miles of water pipe laid. Seven showers were available for use behind the community hall. There were plans to develop a park, facilities for washing clothes, and a trash removal service. Today, the conununity well is in use but the showers are used by the prisoners only. There is no sign of a park, Laundromat, trash collector, or manager of the Bylas Recreation Center. (The recreation hall is run pretty much on a day to day basis by the police with prison labor.)

Bylas Community:

In 1952 all Bylas residents were invited to join Bylas Community Club, organized to sponsor adult education and community activities. Several large meetings were held, with speakers on various subjects. Then meetings were discontinued, but later the club was reorganized, at least twice meeting held presented a musical program from Fort Thomas High School in March 1958 with over 300 people in attendance. The leaders of this club were local Apaches who were active in tribal politics. The club apparently served an important function in bringing people together for lectures and programs. There is no record of club involvement in any community action project.

Another area in which leadership has been provided by local Apaches is recreational activity. Police and prisoners have supervised the community recreation hall with its pool tables, juke box, and sale of soda pop. In spite of organizational difficulties experienced by successive local recreation committees, a sports program has been developed and gradually strengthened. Basketball and baseball games and tournaments are held each year with more cooperation between teams in the last year and a half then heretofore. Most of the organization of these events is done by the team members and their sponsors (older men who have been active in sports in past years). In the spring of 1962 the recreation committee was revitalized, and its members cooperated with the community police force (there are members of the police force on the committee) to increase the facilities at the recreation hall. Basketball, volleyball, softball, ping pong, dominoes, and checkers are now available for those who desire them. Frequent teen age dances, with Apache rock n roll bands, have been held at the hall since last winter. The prisoners who used to sleep in one room of the hall have been moved by the police captain to another building in order to make more room for dances and movies. The police, with building materials supplied by the recreation committee, have built a new office for police use so that the old office can be used to sell soda pop and to dispense the recreation equipment.

American Friends Service Committee:

The AFSC is a private organization engaged in community work on the San Carlos Reservation. It first came to Bylas in 1951 at the invitation of community leaders in order to construct a community swimming pool. A work camp group of young people was brought to work on the pool during the summer. The Tribal Council provided money for materials. A number of people were involved in the planning and execution of the project. The work was directed by a particular Apache leader not technically qualified to construct a large swimming pool. The finished pool was never used as it immediately cracked after completion. An empty and unused bath house stands beside the pool.

In 1957 the American Friends Service Committee sent a resident conununity worker and his family to the reservation at the request of the Tribal Council. He had intended to live in San Carlos but the Council provided a house in Bylas. He stated his purpose as follows: "It is our objective to work in such a way as to stimulate and encourage people on this reservation in their desires to work out their problems, and to offer assistance as desired." He made himself available to all groups and individuals on the reservation. This resulted in many requests for individual services which were needed and appreciated but were not related to any program of over all community development. He installed electric wiring in many houses and trained a local man to do such work. He encouraged correspondence courses and helped several of the individuals with tutoring. He helped a small group of families at Black Point to pipe water to their houses from a nearby well. He showed an interest in sports and assisted one of the basketball teams to organize an annual tournament.

The AFSC worker tackled the problem of unemployment by attempting to attract light industry to Bylas, with the support and cooperation of the BIA. There were extensive negotiations with one company that seemed ready to set up a toy assembly plant in Bylas. But finally, the company decided against coming to the reservation.

He worked with the sub committees of the Tribal Council. He helped the Education Committee to organize a boys' summer work camp designed to meet the needs of boys from all the reservation communities the need to earn money for school supplies and clothes and the need for constructive activities during summer vacation. Bylas residents take an interest in the camp because it has demonstrated its value; a number of them have participated in the camp as campers or as staff.

The present AFSC worker replaced the original worker two years ago. He has continued to work with the tribal committees and with the Bylas recreation committee. Upon request of the tribal chairman, the community worker helped to organize a Bylas Boy Scout Troop. The troop was active for one year. The worker decided to withdraw from his active leadership role in the troop when it became apparent that the highly structured scouting program was not compatible with the social structure of the community.

The worker is helping the community to organize for attacking local water problems. These problems include the need for extension of the water system to Black Point, lowered pressure and frequent break down of the present Bylas water system each summer, high salt content, and discoloration of teeth. The worker has helped the people to organize meetings, to repair a pump, and to formulate a petition to the Public Health Service for a fill scale community water project under their sanitation facilities program. (This action was successful.)

The worker has increased AFSC participation in local recreation development, attempting to focus such activity in a coordinated manner around the community recreation hall as an incipient community center. That these efforts, although disappointing at times, have been partially successful is evidenced by the recreation development at the hall which was discussed above under "Bylas Conununity."

In May of last year a group of Bylas women opened a co operative shop to sell Indian handicrafts made by themselves and other local women. The wife of the AFSC worker helped them to organize and to learn elementary business procedures. Their determination has been sufficient and lasting enough to keep the project in continuous operation by volunteer labor (sales ladies actually receive a dollar per day expense allowance for their time.) This same group has sponsored two summer work projects for girls in the community in order to give them the same opportunities provided for boys at the boys' camp. The girls work each morning and attend classes in the afternoon. The classes in sewing, cooking, and beadwork are all conducted by Apache women. (These are the classes referred to under "Bureau of Indian Affairs.")


From this brief and incomplete survey we find no evidence of any coordinated attack on all the community's problems, no effort to develop the whole community as a unit. In many of the efforts described, the people had no part in the planning. There has been a pattern of paternalistic leadership by government staff and Apache leaders. The successes of the recreation programs and the crafts project are apparently due to the great interest (felt need), participation, and control by groups of individuals who expect to benefit from their own efforts. The community interest in improving the community water supply has met with response from the Public Health Service.
The tribal boys' camp is an example of a project that is probably too difficult for a local community. It was carried out by representatives of the whole reservation the larger community to which all San Carlos Apaches belong in Cooperation with government agencies. A more detailed report could illustrate the difficulties encountered in coordinating the effects of the various organizations and in attempting to keep the control in the hands of the Apaches illustrate the difficulties encountered in coordinating the efforts of the Apaches.