Rev. Alchesay Arthur Guenther Speaks About HIS PEOPLE

Below is a very interesting reprint of a 2005 article featured in the White Mountain INDEPENDENT newspaper, written by Jo Baeza. Alchesay Arthur spoke to the White Mountain United Methodist Church people about the Apache - who truly were "his people". 


Arthur Alchesay Guenther was called home to heaven on April 30, 2012. Arthur was 88 years old and was born on September 28, 1923 in Whiteriver, Arizona. He was the son of the Edgar and Minnie Guenther. Both father and son served the White Mountain Apache for decades and decades.



By: Jo Baeza Aug 29, 2005                               


SHOW LOW - With humor and with compassion, Rev. Alchesay Arthur Guenther spoke about the White Mountain Apache people to the congregation of the White Mountain United Methodist Church in Show Low Aug. 17.


Guenther said, "I'm not an authority, but I want to tell you a little bit about the Apache people."

In spite of this modest statement, he is an authority - not as a historian or anthropologist, but as a man who was born, raised and lived among the Apache people all his life. He served them as a Lutheran pastor for 58 years; he served them as a volunteer fireman for 58 years; and he has been married to his wife, Gloria, for 58 years.


Chief Alchesay, the last hereditary chief of the White Mountain Apache, whose name he bears, was his godfather.


Guenther held his audience spellbound as he spoke of the prehistory, history, and present of the Athabascan people whose territory once stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Plains.

The White Mountain Apache are part of a larger group known to anthropologists as the Western Apache. They were more sedentary than their eastern relatives, farming along the streams and rivers of Arizona. There was no such thing as an Apache "tribe" when the white man arrived.

Guenther said, "The Western Apache were clan-oriented. They allowed the land to sustain them." Their semi-migratory life wasn't suited to permanent dwellings like those of the Pueblo people, so the Apaches built temporary homes known as gowas.


Wherever they roamed, the women gathered juniper poles and put up a foundation for the gowa, with the opening facing east. They covered the pole frame with bear grass bound with ropes of broad leaf yucca. "The woman did most of the work," he said. "The man was the protector and the hunter."

The women also gathered the food. "Their diet was very balanced," Guenther said. They ate yucca 'bananas,' black walnuts, acorns, piñon nuts and a variety of berries. The men made bows and arrows and hunted. The women skinned and treated deer hides to make clothing and moccasins. When a woman had a baby, she made a cradleboard so she could carry the baby on her back while she worked at domestic chores, or when they were moving camp.


Guenther said, "They had their own version of disposable diapers. They lined the cradleboard with the inner bark of cedar and cliff rose." As he spoke of the Apache early life, he showed his audience artifacts he and his family have collected over the years.


Their life was hard and simple, completely attuned to their environment. "They were religious," Guenther said. "They prayed every morning at sunrise to the Creator of Life, but they had fears. They were superstitious."


Then white men came and disrupted the pattern of their lives, first the Spanish conquistadors and priests. He said, "The Apache drove the Spanish out of their territory, but guns and Spanish horses changed their way of life."


Later, other European Americans began to encroach on Apache territory. Miners, ranchers, farmers and soldiers came in the Nineteenth Century. The incursion into Apache territory created the longest military conflict in American history, the 40-year Apache Wars. One by one Apache leaders and their bands were defeated at great cost to the Americans.


One man fought on. Geronimo's family had all been massacred by Mexican soldiers. He and his followers began their own war of retribution. "Geronimo was a renegade medicine man and a brilliant military strategist," Guenther said. "He had 119 able-bodied men in his band. Five thousand American troops in the field couldn't find him, let alone defeat him."


Then Gen. George Crook was sent to the Department of Arizona. Guenther said, "Crook came out West riding on a red mule. He fell in love with the land and with the people." He realized he could never defeat the Apache with a conventional army. In 1871 he formed the Apache Scouts. No white soldier was ever known to have captured an Apache, but the Scouts sought them out and attempted to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Geronimo, of his own accord, came to Skeleton Canyon in 1886 and gave up fighting.


When the White Mountain Apache people were allowed to return to their homes from their forced relocation at San Carlos, they had a new enemy. It was a way of life totally foreign to everything they had known. They were at the mercy of all kinds of interests. Their reservation shrank to half its original size because of pressure from miners and white settlers.


Into this chaos came a lone missionary. "Missions were started on all the reservations, but nobody wanted the Apache," Guenther said. "In 1893 two German Lutherans got off the train in San Carlos. Chief Cassadore gave them land at Peridot for a school. In 1894 Lutherans came to Fort Apache with no resources at their disposal. The commanding officer at Fort Apache loaned them his pack horse and a tent. They pitched their tent under a cedar tree and began preaching. They stayed until 1903."



In 1910 a tall lanky farmer's son from South Dakota named Edgar Guenther finished seminary and volunteered to go to Fort Apache. The church wanted a married man. He had someone in mind, so he proposed. He married a girl named Minnie and the two went off on the railroad to start a school. They had to make all their own desks and equipment, but they finally got a little school going that preached the Gospel as well as reading, writing and arithmetic. An Apache with the tag number Y24 brought his kids to the Guenthers and said, "Teach them."


"School was a shocking change," Guenther said. "They survived the shock of change, and made the transition from running free to going to school."


Guenthers made a lifelong friend who supported them and helped them understand the Apache language and people. Edgar Guenther met former Apache Scout and Medal of Honor recipient Alchesay during the 'flu epidemic of 1918-19. The Guenthers did what they could to nurse him and others back to health. Alchesay reciprocated by giving them land for a church. When it opened in 1923 Alchesay asked to be baptized. One hundred of his band were subsequently baptized.


Arthur and Edgar Guenther put in a total of 101 years as missionaries on the Fort Apache reservation. During his tenure at the Church of the Open Bible, Guenther performed more than 1,000 baptisms. He had his share of defeats and discouragements along the way, but he never gave up doing what he believed in doing.


Guenther closed his talk on an emotional note, saying, "I'm not the pastor down there anymore, but those are my people and always will be."


There was no doubt of that in anyone's mind as the people of the Methodist congregation gave him a standing ovation.

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Pastor Dan Rautenberg

Native American Mission

Field Coordinator

Apache  Christian Training School  (ACTS) Director