Cave Creek was named for the small stream that rises in the hills to the northeast and flows southwesterly for 25 miles before reaching Paradise Valley. The stream, in turn, was named from a high, overhanging bluff along its west bank that forms a wide, open cavern about two miles north of the present day Cave Creek. People have taken shelter there for centuries. A bloody skirmish occurred within the cave between Apache Indians and U.S. Troops in 1873.
Ancient Hohokam Indians stayed in the area from around 800 A.D. until 1400 A.D. Many reminders of their living in the area still remain. Stone huts, pit houses, terraced field and irrigation ditches were left behind. There are also many petroglyphs that were carved by the Indians.
The Cave Creek area has a rich archeological foundation. Dozens of prehistoric sites have been discovered. However, many more remain undisturbed.
During the 1400s, bands of Apache Indians began drifting into the area. Soon, the Apaches spread throughout the State. They brought with them different lifestyles than the Hohokams. Instead of farming, the Apaches lived by hunting, gathering, and raiding. The 1500s saw the arrival of Spanish explorers. The Spanish found the desert to be very inhospitable. On their maps, central Arizona was labeled as "deplobado" meaning, "desolate wilderness."
Mining began to become a focal point in central Arizona history in 1863. The call "Gold in the Bradshaws" rang out. Fabulous rich gold outcroppings were found in high peaks such as Antelope Hill. In 1864, Henry Wickenburg uncovered the richest strike, the Vulture Mine. Miners were sure that the Aqua Fria River, New River, Cave Creek and the stream of the Tonto were also rich with gold.
A few miners tried to find the treasures, but met the Apaches who ran them out of the area. The Tonto Apaches controlled the area, so for the time being, mining had to wait. Ranchers and farmers followed lured by reports of mild climate, plentiful water, tall timbers and lush grass. All of the reports failed to mention that hostile Indians surrounded the area. Of all the tribes in the area, the Tonto Apaches were the most feared. They ate animals they captured including horses, mules, oxen, and burros. The Tontos were highly mobile, unpredictable, and difficult to capture.
Newcomers to the State appealed to the Federal Government for assistance. The Civil War was demanding the need for every soldier. Washington leaders decided they did not want to lose the potential gold production capabilities of Arizona. In 1863, Arizona was declared a new and separate territory, splitting off from the territory of New Mexico.
A Governor was sent to Arizona along with a small force of troops to Fort Whipple in Prescott. In 1865, the army sent a small force of 300 volunteers from California to establish Fort McDowell. Fort McDowell was located 18 miles east of Cave Creek. One year after the Californians arrived, a regular army infantry unit settled into Fort McDowell. For 15 more years, skirmishes, ambushes, and bloody confrontations raged between the soldiers and the Tonto Apaches. On December 1, 1873, Lieutenant Walter S. Schuyler, of the 5th Cavalry, led a scouting expedition out of Fort McDowell that resulted in the first skirmish along Cave Creek. After weeks of searching for Indians, Lt. Schuyler and his troops found a band of Tontos held up on the West bank of Cave Creek. On Christmas morning the troops attacked the Tontos, killing 9, including one of the most fearless leaders named Nanotz.
Just North of Cave Creek, the area of Bloody Basin was the site of a bitter skirmish on March 27, 1873. Army scouts trailed a group of Apaches to the top of Turret Peak. The scouts crept up the peak during the night. At dawn they captured or killed nearly all of the Apaches. The pressure on the Tonto Apaches began to have its effects. With the army destroying any discovered food storage areas, the Apaches were beginning to suffer. Hunger drove the Apaches to surrender. By 1877 about 5,000 Indians from various tribes shared the San Carlos Reservation.
The Battle of Turret Peak proved to be a major turning point. The time of the Tonto Apaches along Cave Creek was over and a new era of mining was coming to Cave Creek.