- Dispatches from the Fort Apache Scout: White Mountain and Cibecue Apache History through 1881by Lori Davisson
The White Mountain and the Cibecue Apache (Ndee) have a rich oral history. The Nohwiké Bagowa Cultural Center and Museum staff has worked to ensure that this history, often told in family settings or during local gatherings, is preserved in scholarly and popular written form, on videotapes, in photographs, and through exhibits, educational programs, and performances. They have been assisted in their undertaking by a number of non-Natives, including Lori Davisson, a librarian employed for many years by the Arizona Historical Society. Davisson, who believed in outreach and community-driven research, spent years assisting the White Mountain Apache Tribe (a sovereign Native nation) and Arizona’s law enforcement community to preserve Ndee historical sites and prevent looting. She also conducted a series of educational projects with Edgar Perry, an Ndee elder and educator who spent much of his life working with the cultural center. Perry’s father, one of the last of the Western Apache scouts, told his son many stories; Perry remembered these and in the 1960s began conducting oral history interviews in his community. He and Davisson ensured these were preserved in the museum and then published in popular sources, including the Fort Apache Scout, the official newspaper of the White Mountain Apache tribe, as compelling stories about the Ndee’s past experiences defending their homeland. Perry and Davisson, along with other original staff members of the Nohwiké Bagowa Cultural Center (Marie Perry, Canyon Quinterro, and Ann Skidmore) also wrote a series of historical summaries with information for local readers between June 1973 and October 1977.
The Fort Apache Scoutis the official newspaper of the White Mountain Apache tribe and an important venue in which to publish histories for tribal members. But it is hard to find old issues. This means that the concise and very readable historical accounts are no longer readily available for individuals who do not live on the reservation. Lack of accessibility to written accounts of oral histories is a problem not unique to Native nations but to all communities whose histories are contained in newspapers with limited circulation. It takes hard work to keep the stories alive. Fortunately, John R. Welsh, an archaeologist who has worked collaboratively [End Page 520]with the Ndee for his entire career, has taken Davison and Perry’s efforts and edited twenty-eight of their episodic stories and transformed them into this succinct Ndee history, Dispatches from the Fort Apache Scout. In the process of continuing to make available that which has been preserved, Welsh has engaged the Ndee community in a project that should be considered a model of collaborative partnership. It has kept alive the spirit of Davisson and Perry’s own collaboration.
Turning newspaper accounts into a book is not an easy task, but Welsh has done an excellent job of melding short pieces into a narrative account from the Ndee perspective. One mark of his success is the reader’s guide that helps readers understand the Ndee cultural, philosophical and epistemological framework, their feelings about their homelands, and how they have tried to defend them from outside incursions. Equally important in this regard is Cline Griggs Sr.’s chapter on the creation of the Ndee world that emphasizes how the past is present. The episodic historical articles are presented in chronological order starting with Ndee travels to their homelands, followed by accounts of life during Spanish and American occupations. While all are fascinating, my personal favorites are those that recount the activities of individuals like Hashkee-Yánìltłì-dn and Hashkeeba, who served as important diplomats. We can only hope that there will be another volume of post-1881 histories in the future.