Crook moved into the Tonto Basin at heart of central Arizona Territory, using elements of the 1st and 5th Cavalry and the 23rd Infantry Regiment. He configured them as five light and mobile units, just as he had done with his men in Oregon. Each of the columns would be accompanied by Indian scouts, including Paiute and Hualapai, as well as Apache.
The first major combat of the winter offensive came on November 25, when eleven Apache warriors were killed in a firefight at Hell Canyon. Another action on December 7 in the picturesque red rocks area near present-day Sedona, Arizona, resulted in thirteen Apache and one 5th Cavalry member killed. During the following week, a 23rd Infantry Regiment detachment under Captain George Randall chased the Apache led by Chief Delshay into the Sierra Mazatzal. Here they fought two significant battles that resulted in a total of twenty-five Apache killed in action.
On December 28, the companies of the 5th Cavalry cornered what they thought was Delshay's band, in a cave in the Four Peaks area of the Tonto Basin. Obviously trapped, the Indians refused to surrender, perhaps thinking that their position was defensible. After trading insults for a while, the troopers sprayed the cave with rifle fire. When the dust settled, it was discovered that the people within were not Apache, but their Yavapai allies. Of the seventy-seven occupants of the cave, fifty-seven had been killed. The survivors were mainly women and children, and most of them were wounded.