On May 21st to 23rd, 1872, representatives from the borderland's varied ethnic groups gathered together in a shady grove of cottonwood trees on the banks of the San Pedro River, near the juncture with Aravaipa Canyon. This unprecedented meeting grew out of the urgings of the Apache survivors at Camp Grant, who told U.S. officials that they wanted to reach a lasting peace with the "citizens who were annoyed by their presence." In response, federal officials summoned members of the region's Anglo American, Mexican American, O'odham, and Apache communities to a session where they could discuss their recent conflicts, especially the Camp Grant Massacre, in a public setting.
Unlike many U.S.-sponsored negotiations involving Indian peoples during the nineteenth century, this one aimed not at creating a written treaty, but rather at generating an oral understanding among the borderland's diverse population about how they might live in greater harmony with one another. This distinction between a written agreement and non-written agreement assumed great significance for the group's Anglo American and Mexican American participants. Both tended to consider written texts far more binding than verbal accords, and so they described the meeting along the San Pedro as a "talk," a term that implies considerable informality.
This difference between written and oral agreements, however, likely held far less meaning for the O'odham and Apache. Lacking a tradition of creating written records, members of each group stressed instead the power of the spoken word and of personal interactions. For them, the "talk" may well have been the equal of any of the written treaties produced at other times with the U.S. or Mexican government.
These negotiating sessions also serve as an important reminder that the ethnic groups in the borderlands were not in constant conflict with one another. Many of the Apache groups inhabiting Aravaipa Canyon during the 1870s had, in fact, lived peacefully in Tucson from the 1790s to the 1820s when the village was under Spanish rule, and in 1836, the Apaches inhabiting Aravaipa Canyon had negotiated a treaty with the new Mexican government. Once the United States assumed control of the region, the Apaches in Aravaipa Canyon reached agreements with representatives of the U.S. Army in 1859, 1866, and in 1871. Indeed, it was because of the last of these agreements that an unusually large number of Apaches were camped in Aravaipa Canyon on the morning of April 30, 1871.
The accounts of the peace negotiations come from two articles published in Tucson's newspaper, the Arizona Weekly Citizen, in late May and early June of 1872. Because of the linguistic diversity of the meeting's participants, many of the O'odhams' and Apaches' comments had to be translated into Spanish and then into English to be understood by the Anglo American observers at the conference. Similarly, many of the Anglo American responses had in turn to be translated into Spanish and then into O'odham or Apache to be comprehensible to members of these communities.