CompassData followed an invitation by the Yavapai-Apache Nation to survey the Exodus Trail.
By: Everett Phillips
Outside the Yavapai-Apache culture building in Camp Verde, AZ is a monument to the people who were forced by the U.S. government to march 200 miles southwest over the Matazal Mountains in winter, taking with them only what they could carry. The monument is a larger than life bronze statue of an old man carrying his wife in a traditional woven burden basket. She was unable to walk and would have been left to die if he had not carried her all the way from the Verde Valley to the San Carlos Agency. The monument is a testament to the endurance of the Yavapai and Apache that survived the 1875 relocation that is known among today’s Yavapai-Apache as Exodus.
The 2016 walk from the Verde Valley to San Carlos was not a reenactment of Exodus. It could not be. It was, however, a chance to revisit that event and re-establish its relevance in the present day. This is important not least of all because of the growing cultural gap between the youngest generation of Yavapai-Apache, the smartphone generation, and the generation that currently leads the nation who were raised by people who knew the old ways to live off the land. Using GIS mapping technology to document the trip fit with the objectives of the Yavapai-Apache preservation and technology program headed by Judie Piner. Jordan Lewis, Nancy Ruiz, Katherine Marquez and Fred Sanchez were the core group that hiked the majority of the way. Everett Phillips joined the team to bring CompassData’s mapping expertise to the project.
In the end, what Compass Data collected on the journey was a line. A line made up of thousands of points, one recorded every 16 feet for nearly 200 miles. In some sections I am confident that our group followed the steps of the original exodus. In other sections, it is possible we were on the other side of a ridge or across a valley from the true route. At Lake Roosevelt, and where towns and highways lay over the historic route, the landscape was dramatically different from what it was in 1875. Along the way, I asked myself over and over again: If it is not perfectly accurate as to the historical path then what does it represent? And of what good is it? The answer I have decided on is that this line is valuable because it is objective.
As a group, we were in those places at those times. It is not a myth, an over-simplification, or an argument. The line marks exactly where Jordan, Nancy, Fred, myself and others were in space and time as we walked over the earth tracing Exodus. The experiences we had along the way are the ends of a chain of cause and effect that passes through that ancestral event to us.
Within the data points we contended with the physical world of desert and mountains and the spiritual world of ghosts and spirits that in turn terrorized and uplifted us. I do not believe the value of our experience can be told. You may see the map, read the story, but you will be left with only an impression of the meaning.
With a handheld GPS unit (or better yet a smart phone), future generations may reach the same places we traveled and find traces and echoes of the past. Exodus is a significant event for the Yavapai-Apache. I am glad that our line is a precise and unbiased point of departure for those who wish to gain understanding.