Western Women: Viola Jimulla was longtime chieftess of Yavapai tribe
The San Carlos Indian Reservation was established in 1871 to maintain control over the Apaches. In February 1875, about 1,500 Yavapai and Tonto Apaches were force-marched to San Carlos from the Camp Verde Indian Reservation, a 200-mile trek.
One young girl remembered, “There was no road, and very few trails. Many had no moccasins, but those who did gave them to others who needed them more. Even the moccasins wore out on the sharp rocks. Our clothing was torn to rags on the brush and cactus. With bleeding feet, weary in body and sick at heart, many wanted to die. Many did die.”
Two Yavapai who did survive were Woo-wah (Singing Cricket) and Ka-hava-soo-ah (Turquoise). Three years later, Sicatuva (Born Quickly) was born on the reservation to this couple, probably in early summer as she eventually chose June 15, 1878, as her birth date.
Around age 15, Sicatuva attended the Indian school in nearby Rice, Arizona. By this time her father had died and her mother had married a man named Pelhame. Sicatuva enrolled in school as Viola Pelhame.
She continued her education by attending Phoenix Indian School, learning the refinements of cooking and sewing while improving her mastery of the English language and gaining an understanding of Christianity.
While Viola was at school her mother and stepfather were allowed to return to the Prescott area and settle on land around Fort Whipple. Viola visited her mother in 1900 and chose to remain rather than return to school. She found work cooking at the Blue Bell Mine near Mayer, and the following year, she married Sam Jimulla who had also been born on the San Carlos Reservation.
Viola and Sam had five daughters. Daisy was born in 1902 but only lived 7 months. Grace arrived in 1903 followed by Lucy in 1906. Amy was born in 1912, dying at age 28. In 1913, Rosie was born. She died about a year later.
In 1872, a Yavapai Indian mission was established in the Prescott area although rarely active until 1922 when a small building run by the Presbyterian Church served the Yavapai people. Every other Sunday, a minister from Clarkdale attended the congregation relying on Sam and Viola to act as interpreters. Viola became the first Yavapai baptized in the Yavapai Indian Presbyterian Church.
She was part of the community that helped revitalize the Yavapai Indian Mission and joined with the Presbyterian Church to form the Trinity Presbyterian Church for the Yavapai people. She represented the congregation at the Southwest Missionary Conference in Flagstaff in 1938 and again in 1940. She was a delegate to a meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that was comprised of 14 different tribes. In 1946 she was instrumental in organizing the first Indian Camp Meeting held by the Presbyterian Church, and in 1950 was a commissioner to the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In the early 1930s, Viola and Sam were part of a contingent of Prescott pioneers that facilitated acquiring 75 acres of land recognized as the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Reservation, one of the smallest reservations in the country. The Bureau of Indian Affairs appointed Sam as chief of the Yavapai-Prescott tribe although he did not consider himself chief until elected by his own people.
Sam headed a Civil Works Administration project to construct more sustainable housing for the Yavapai. Saving the construction of his own home until last, money gave out before the Jimulla residence was completed. Contributions from their own people allowed Viola and Sam to finally build their home.
When daughter Amy died in March 1940 leaving four young children, Viola made a home for them. But tragedy struck again two months later when Sam was thrown from his horse and killed.
Viola took Sam’s place as head of the Yavapai-Prescott tribe, acquiring the title of chieftess and set off to better the lives of her people. “We do not want anything fancy,” she said. “No fine homes, nor much land. All we want is equal opportunity and the right to take our place as full-fledged Americans.” She was instrumental in establishing the Prescott Tribal Council, overseeing and approving issues that affected the welfare of the Yavapai.
For 26 years, Viola advocated for better living conditions, more modern facilities, and better education. She agreed to withdraw tribal claims to land grants at old Fort Whipple in exchange for a community college and park built on the property. The Prescott campus of Yavapai College now stands on this site.
Viola also served as interpreter for court cases involving non-English speaking Yavapai, and when asked to speak about the history and culture of her people, she never hesitated knowing that knowledge would bring understanding.
She took on an obligation far beyond her 73 years in 1951 when she set out as counselor for 30 schoolchildren on a four-day camping trip through Yosemite National Park, plus a weeklong sightseeing tour of San Francisco. For many of these children from five different tribes, this was their first excursion off the reservation.
As a child on the San Carlos Reservation, Viola wove her first basket under the tutelage of her mother. She became one of the preeminent basket weavers among the Yavapai, teaching others as her mother had taught her. The symbol on the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribal flag was derived from one of Viola’s designs.
Viola died Dec. 7, 1966. Her daughter, Grace Jimulla Mitchell, succeeded her as chieftess and later Lucy Jimulla Miller filled those dusty, history-laden shoes. Her granddaughter Patricia McGee followed as president of the Yavapai-Prescott tribe.
Former U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater once said of Viola. “To me Viola was never an old person; she was forever young ... endowed with a calmness of heart and kind to all. ... Viola was one of those rare people whose walk down the pathway of life raised a fine dust, which falling on those who travel the trail at the same time was beneficial to them. She was generous of heart and kind to all.”