Tonto Apache history has been that of tribe of hunters and gatherers; they hunted deer, elk, rabbits, quail and other small game animals. They gathered nuts when in season such as walnuts, acorns, and pinions. They also gathered blackberries, blueberries, sour red berries, and grapes. Enough was gathered to last from season to season.
Jerky was made from the deer and elk meat so it would last for a long time. Agave leaves and stalks were roasted in large cooking pits and eaten, or pounded into cakes and dried in the sun for meals later. Squash, corn, wild spinach, pumpkins and beans — when available — were part of their diet.
The Tonto Apache Reservation (originally named Te-go-suk,“Place of the Yellow Water”) is located south of Payson, Arizona on the outskirts of the town in northwestern Gila County, approximately 95 miles northeast of Phoenix and 100 miles southeast of Flagstaff. The Reservation was established October 6, 1972 with 85 acres. Recently, an additional 293 acres was put into trust for the Tribe. It has the smallest land base of any reservation in the state of Arizona, with 150 enrolled tribal members.
The Tonto Apache are the direct descendants of the Dilzhe’e Apache who lived in the Payson area long before the arrival of the Anglos. During the first reservation era, they were moved to the large Rio Verde Reserve, near Camp Verde, which was established in 1871 for the Tonto and Northeastern Yavapai. The Reserve was dissolved in 1875 and the people were forcibly marched in the winter during harsh weather conditions to relocate to the San Carlos Reservation. Many died along the way. Some Tonto Apache gradually returned to Payson after 20 years of exile to find white settlers had taken much of their land. Jeri J is a descendant of the Tontos who returned to their homeland.