A 105-year-old hunting tale

How a tenderfoot earned some respect

Taylor Gabbard and his wife Amanda established the first Indian school in the Verde Valley in September 1907 in the former administration building at the abandoned Fort Verde. Today the building serves as the administration building and museum at Fort Verde State Historic Park.

Taylor Gabbard and his wife Amanda established the first Indian school in the Verde Valley in September 1907 in the former administration building at the abandoned Fort Verde. Today the building serves as the administration building and museum at Fort Verde State Historic Park.

Exactly what motivated Taylor Gabbard to come to Arizona is unknown. Like so many young men of his time it was likely a combination of things, not the least of which was a chance to experience the American West before it became a thing of the past.

Gabbard was a rising star in his native Kentucky, a graduate of Berea College, a teacher, and had recently been elected to the state Legislature when he applied for and received a job with the U.S. Indian Service.

On Sept. 3, 1906, he boarded a train car on the Lexington and Eastern Railroad and set out for the Colorado River Boarding School in Parker, Ariz.

A four-inch long scorpion welcomed him to Arizona the first night. His first semester of teaching was trying to say the least, but in his spare time he made the acquaintance of Wyatt Earp and filed three gold claims, which he quickly abandoned.

He also became absorbed in a couple of sports he had not previously indulged in -- hunting and fishing.

Not long after he arrived he purchased a shotgun from the local chief. He also found some unused traps at the agency.

By all accounts the hunting went well but his trapping exploits left room for improvement. His first attempt to catch a coyote fetched him a crow. On his second attempt the coyote limped off with his trap.

But through it all, his remote and strenuous existence as well as his hunting hobby must have suited him.

In May 1907 he was assigned to start a day school for the Yavapai and Apache living in the Verde Valley.

He returned to Kentucky that summer, but only long enough to pick up his wife Amanda and their newborn daughter Lillian and return.

Coming to Camp Verde

In August 1907, the Gabbards arrived in Camp Verde, where Taylor assumed a dual role as schoolteacher and superintendent for the newly created Verde Indian District, and Amanda helped out in a variety of ways.

During the seven years they spent in Camp Verde, the Gabbards built a reputation for kindness and compassion toward the Indians. They not only educated the children but also found jobs for the men.

He was instrumental in a the purchase of a 40-acre parcel that became the beginnings of the Camp Verde Reservation and the seed for what is now the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

He also helped to begin bridging the gap between the Indians and the Anglo settlers, many of whom had never warmed to the Indians' return.

And, so it seems, he gained a reputation as a hunter of note.

In later years, Taylor Gabbard would write extensively about his time in Arizona, much of it about his years spent in Camp Verde.

He wrote both prose and poetry about the people and places he came to know and left several accounts of the Yavapai and Apache he came to love and admire.

But of all the things he wrote about, hunting seems to have topped the list. And the memory of one particular trip, which happened 105 years ago this week, lives on to this day, on the walls of the Phoenix library.

The stuff of legend

On the morning of Oct. 29, 1907, locals Will Price, Art Brown and the Mulhollands, Ed and Russ, took Gabbard for his first Verde Valley deer hunt.

A three-day journey took them up Beaver Creek, over to Page Springs and up Schnebly Hill to the Price family home in Munds Park, where the hunt began.

"Friday morning November 1 came with a clear sky, and the air calm and uncomfortably cool. After breakfast with the Price family, preparations were made for the day's hunt.

"A sort of council was held for the benefit of those of our party who might be lacking in knowledge of woodcraft and unaware of the difficulties and dangers awaiting the hunter in the deep solitude of the great pine forest surrounding Munds Park," Gabbard later wrote.

Duly noted, Gabbard agreed that if he should become separated, he would make his way to a "dark ridge" northwest of the park from which Munds Park could be seen and "all would be well."

It wasn't long before he understood why.

Lost and found

"For a time we kept in sight of each other, but erelong the inclination of each to go his own way led us to separate and almost before I was aware of it, I was completely out of contact with the others.

"It may be mentioned here that being lost in the unbroken woods among the ridges and mountains is an experience strangely disturbing to the human mind," he noted in his account.

Gabbard wandered about in search of his elusive quarry until deciding to make for the high ground and set his sights on getting back to the Price home before dark.

He reached the ridge about 2 p.m. discouraged he had seen no deer. He sat down on a boulder to rest and take in the scenery.

"While viewing the landscape I chanced to see what appeared to be a deer antler sticking out of the top of a bunch of grass and brush, and as I watched it I saw it move for sure. This thrilled me and I stood up, gun in hand, with eight shells in the magazine and one in the firing position," he stated.

His first shot flushed five bucks. And, as the deer jumped about, Gabbard continued to pull the trigger. When the shooting stopped only two ran off.

As the story goes, he told his friends he had shot "a deer," then proceeded to lead their wagon around the killing ground, rounding up his trophies.

"By this time the excitement was really going on and it broke out anew when we unloaded the bucks at the Price home, where they were hung and drawn and a supply of venison presented to the family," said Gabbard.

Getting cred

The hunt earned him credibility that would have been difficult to attain otherwise and went a long way toward his eventual efforts to assimilate the Indians into the white man's world.

And, so it seems, it also gained him credibility among Indians he served.

After the hunt, Tonto Jack, an Apache headman, asked for one of the buckskins. The next year he returned it to Gabbard as a gift, expertly tanned and covered with a pictographic story that contains a good deal of symbology, mythological figures, Indians, horses, cougars, snakes and, of course, a deer.

For the last 12 years the buckskin has been on display at the Burton Barr Library in Phoenix, where few if any passersby have the slightest idea how it came to be.

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