The story of Indian Agent John Clum and the first Apache Policeman, John Talkalai. 1877
Steadying his rifle against the corral for accuracy, Apache policeman John Talkalai took deliberate aim and shot and killed his brother, Tonto Apache chief Disalin. It was a few days before Christmas, 1875 and earlier that day, Indian Agent John Clum (later Tombstone Epitaph editor), was said to have scolded Disalin for beating his wife. The chief came back with a rifle, and tried to kill Clum and the five other non-Indians at the San Carlos agency. His attempt was thwarted when Talkalai stopped him with his fatal shot.
In a 1978 book published by Clum’s son Woodworth, the author pieces together his father’s life as an Apache agent in a book by the same name, Apache Agent. The book relies on the unpublished memoirs of the elder Clum who served as an Indian agent for the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in the Arizona Territory from 1874 -1877. The memoirs point out a unique friendship which developed at that time between Clum and John Talkalai, a San Carlos Apache who served on the first tribal police force established by Clum.
In the account regarding the killing of Talkalai’s brother, it is said Clum remembered looking over Disalin’s body when Talkalai said, “I have killed my own chief and my own brother. But he was trying to kill you, and I am a policeman. It was my duty.” The two men then sealed a mutual pledge of friendship with another clasping of hands and kept that pledge to the day of Talkalai’s death.
Clum , who was a New York farm boy and member of the Dutch Reformed Church had dropped out of Rutger’s college in the East half way through his education due to health reasons and headed west where he took a government job in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He had been at that job less than a year when President Grant decided to turn all Indian reservations over to missionaries, and the Dutch Reformed Church, of which Clum attended, selected the young college-educated man as agent to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.
The 22-year-old arrived at San Carlos on August 4th, 1874. At a time when reportedly many politicians saw Indians alike and agents routinely used their position to line their own pockets, Clum was an anomaly. He treated Apaches as friends and established the first system of self-rule by creating both the Indian Tribal Police and Tribal Court. John Talkalai was one of the first Apaches, along with Eskiminzin, Goodah and Sneezy to be selected to serve on with the Tribal Police and work with Clum to create a sense of law and order on the reservation.
Three years later, Clum, Talkalai and nearly one hundred Tribal police would play a major role in the capture of Geronimo, marking the only instance in which Geronimo was captured without a shot fired on either side. According to Clum’s memoirs, in April of 1877 he and about one hundred of his Apache police marched more than four hundred miles from the San Carlos reservation to the Ojo Caliente (Warm Springs) agency, near today’s Truth or Consequences, New Mexico in pursuit of Geronimo. Thinking there were only twenty police, Clum says Geronimo came in for a talk and was surprised when eighty more hidden Apache police burst out of the commissary. “Once rifles were leveled at Geronimo, he realized he could neither flee nor fight.” Their success in capturing one of the most elusive warrior of the Apache wars gave the Army a black eye and Clum’s career went down from there.
He reportedly fought with his superior officers who disagreed with his methods in giving self-rule to his Apache charges, and he grew increasingly frustrated with an uncaring and often times corrupt, Bureau administration.
Clum eventually resigned from his post just three years after he had arrived. He would later become a newspaper man, publishing the Tombstone Epitaph, and later a Postal Inspector for the Alaska Territory. As for Talkalai, little is known of his life after Clum left in 1877. Nearly 42 years later, in 1919 accounts of his life in Miami, Arizona turned up in the newspapers. By that time he was nearly 90 years old. The details of why he left the reservation are lost to history, but local speculation is that he was shunned because of his work for Clum and others. Adding to his woes, the Army had long ago denied Talkalai’s request for a pension because there was no record of military service, so he relied on the local community for his welfare.
Kelly, a well-known local photographer , provided the former Apache policeman with images he would take of him which the elder Talkalai then sold to tourists for ten cents each. Even the local Camp Fire girls were said to have raised money to help build a new porch on his house while others lent a hand from time to time as needed.
When John Clum visited Miami in 1929, Talkalai was over 105 years old. He found the elder Talkalai blind, deaf, and hardly able to walk, but said in his memoirs that the two greatly enjoyed their reunion. In a speech to Miami citizens, Clum emphasized how important Talkalai had been to early Arizona settlement and encouraged them to help his old friend. He lamented the fact that Geronimo, whom he and others of his era considered a murderer and thief, had become internationally famous and considered noble, while the others that he respected:
“Eskiminzin, Talkalai, Goodah, and Sneezer – red men who always had been loyal to the white man’s government, who had risked their lives to protect their white brothers, who had striven . . . for peace and justice – who had ever heard of them?”
Talkalai died the next year and is buried in the Pinal cemetery in Central Heights, not far from where he lived more than half his life. John Clum died two years after their meeting, in 1932, at the age of 80 at his home in Los Angeles where he is buried.
Jim Turner is an author, historian and speaker. His recent book, “Arizona: Celebration of the Grand Canyon State,” is a pictorial history of Arizona. He has contributed several historical pieces for Globe Miami Times.