Yavapai Oral History

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The Yavapai Community of the Fort McDowell Reservation east of the Phoenix area has fought for rights that have had nationwide implications. The Yavapai fought and won in court for voting rights in the 1940s, battled a federal dam and were the first to have gaming. In the 1970s, tribal elders Mike Harrison and John Williams sought to have their history recorded as they themselves knew it, passed down orally from generation to generation. The effort resulted in a book “Oral History of the Yavapai.” Book editor Caroline Butler will talk about the book.

Ted Simons: In the 1970s the Yavapai community of the Fort McDowell Reservation east of the Phoenix area fought off a proposed federal dam, which spurred tribal elders to have their histories recorded as they themselves knew it, passed down orally from generation to generation. The effort resulted in "Oral History of the Yavapai." A history of the Yavapai Nation. Joining us to talk about it is Carolina Butler. Why did you undertake this particular project?

Caroline Butler: Because it was not mine to do, but it just worked out that way. The oldest man of the tribe, Mike Harrison, asked me in 1973, I want you to write the history of our tribe. I said, well, I'm busy right now helping you fight off the dam, which would have forced them from their land. But I said, I'll get you someone. So I sent out a letter to a publisher in Tucson that I knew, and the letter found itself to the hands of Dr. Sigrid Cara, an ASU anthropology professor. She called up and said, I'm interested in doing this project. I took her out to Fort McDowell and introduced her to Mike Harrison. He had invited his cousin, John Williams. The three of them sat down and started recording, they recorded for two to three years. It ended up in 200 audio recordings of their interviews. And Mike and John died of old age and infirmity in 1983. And Dr. Cara unfortunately got cancer and she died in 1984. She knew that she was not going to get well, so she wrote her will and left me all her research material.

Ted Simons: Wow, wow.

Caroline Butler: Yes. So this big project landed in my lap. So I just put it aside for many, many years. Did some work on it, you know, reorganizing her color slides, et cetera. So anyway one day I said, I'm not getting any younger, I better get this thing done.

Ted Simons: And you got this thing done.

Caroline Butler: I'm very pleased.

Ted Simons: I'm sure you are.

Caroline Butler: The "Oral History of the Yavapai" is a very special and different book which all Arizona should know about. It's history from the Indians' point of view and told in their own words. You don't come across that in any book. Nobody's library shelf has a book like this one.

Ted Simons: You talked to two elders, mostly responsible for their earlier interviews. Were other people involved? Were others involved at later dates or was this mostly their remembrances?

Caroline Butler: It was their remembrances. You will read in the book that Dr. Cara writes that other people from the reservation came around and said, well, that's not exactly how it happened, you know. But anyway, this is to be expected. So she said after hearing from other people, there was no question that the ones that had the most knowledge about the old days was Mike and John.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned some other people involved and maybe they had different stories. How do you -- when you put an oral history together, how do you make sure the facts are the facts? How do you corroborate some of this information? Do you look in textbooks? Did you talk to other people? How did you make sure what you were getting was the real thing?

Caroline Butler: I remember that Dr. Cara, all of us became close friends. I remember, because she researched the Army records, the white people's records. She would say it's amazing what the two old fellows are saying, that it dovetails in with the records that the Army has, it was amazing.

Ted Simons: I'm sure. Your book includes some amazing photography. The photographs, where did you find those?

Caroline Butler: First of all, the cover is of Four Peaks. And that's on everybody's Arizona license plate, you know.

Ted Simons: We can almost all see it, too, at some times of the year.

Caroline Butler: But this photo was taken by my son who is a professional photographer. He gets his photographs in "Arizona Highways." He has taken so many photos. When I finished the text of the book, he said, Mom, you can have any photo you want from my inventory. I asked, do you have a photo of this? This? I don't want any buildings or people, I want landscape.

Ted Simons: And you got some landscape. We saw an amazing array of photographs there. When the project was finally done, you got the book, you leaf through it, was it what you expected?

Caroline Butler: I have to tell you that it brings me to tears. Because the story of the Yavapai is so painful, and no one knows about it. And these people walk among us today, and I say that for years the Yavapai people have been walking among us, holding this painful past in their hearts and souls. Because their history has not been out until now. And so imagine the black Americans walking among us today, and no history has ever been recorded of their painful past, let's say. It's the same way for the Yavapai.

Ted Simons: What reaction have you had from the Yavapai people, and from other historians?

Caroline Butler: Well, the historians, I'll tell you, even today when I was telling everybody, I alerted half of Arizona that I was going to be here --

Ted Simons: Good news.

Caroline Butler: - and that the book was going to be on this program. The professionals, anthropologists and professors I know that know about the book, they said, oh, it's so great. One e-mailed me today and he says, I've read the book; and he says, I had to skip some of the painful parts. It was just too much. I says, well, these people have been walking around with it in their hearts for 150 years.

Ted Simons: We've run out of time. Congratulations on the project. Obviously a long time in coming but you got it out there. The books is out there. Continued success. Thanks for joining us.

Caroline Butler: And the Yavapais have all loved it. I think every Yavapai is watching too.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here. That's good news.

Caroline Butler: Thank you, Ted.

Caroline Butler:Book Editor, "Oral History of the Yavapai";

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