H is a 50-year-old Caucasian-Native-American male originally from Tucson, Arizona. H is currently a corporate manager based in Austin, Texas.
H performed this folklore while visiting LA on a business trip. I met H in Downtown LA for lunch in order to collect folklore he had previously agreed to perform for me. The following is the first of two stories he provided.
H: This is a story of the Salt River, as told by my Grandfather, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The Apaches did not call themselves Apache. The called themselves “Dene,” or “people.” The term Apache comes from the Zuni for “Apachu” or “the enemy.” Well the Apaches were raiders and warriors, but overtime they settled in Northern Arizona in the Mogollon Rim.. and led peaceful lives.. hunting, fishing.. and living off the land. They battled the Spaniards, and then ultimately the Calvary.. And the government came in and took their land, they acquiesced and lived on the reservation. And the treaty they signed so they could stay on the reservation as long as the grass grew and the rivers ran.. One group of Apache’s however, refused to sign the treaties. And they lived in a basin. The Apaches called them “Tonto,” or “fools” for continuing to fight. That basin the “Tonto Basin,” is ultimately where the Salt River is. The creek that was found was named “Tonto Creek,” but ultimately became the Salt River. As the Calvary tried to capture their chief, Del Shay, they were unable to do so. They fought fiercely, they tried to shoot him, and poison him. But ultimately, the Federal Government gave a few silver dollars to one of Del Shay’s nephews, to kill him. And they went into town-camp, took his head, and brought it back to the Calvary. His wife it is said, cried for a hundred days and her tears filled the river of the Tonto Basin and turned it salty. And forevermore, the Tonto Basin river remains salty from her tears with the Calvary capturing her people and killing her husband.
Reflection: I was impressed with H’s telling of this creation myth, as I could tell he had the whole story well-memorized and rehearsed. I was also able to gain a greater appreciation for the Salt River, a body of water with great significance where I grew up in Arizona. The way the story links American violence against the Apache and a permanent change to the landscape (Tonto Basin becoming forever salty) appears to be a symbolic microcosm of how American atrocities against the Native Americans wrought irrevocable consequences for all their land and people.