Tribal Origin: Apachean Family
Also known as: ápachu, means ‘enemy’
Native Name: N’de, Dĭnë, Tĭnde and Inde, means ‘people’
Home Territories: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and the Great Plains
Language: Chiricahua, Jicarilla, Lipan, Plains Apache, Mescalero and Western Apache
Enemies: Spanish, Mexicans and Americans
The Apache tribes are Native North Americans of the Southwest composed of six culturally related groups.
They speak a language that has various dialects and belongs to the Athabascan branch of the Nadene linguistic stock, and it is thought their ancestors entered the Southwest area about 1000 to 1100 AD.
Other Athabaskan-speaking people in North America reside in an area from Alaska through west-central Canada, and some groups can be found along the Northwest Pacific Coast. Linguistic similarities indicate the Navajo and Apache were once a single ethnic group.
The Navajo, who also speak an Athabascan language, were once part of the Western Apache; other groups east of the Rio Grande along the mountains were the Jicarilla, the Lipan Apache, and the Mescalero Apache groups.
In western New Mexico and Arizona, the Western Apache included the Chiricahua Apache, the Coyotero Apache (San Carlos Reservation and White Mountain Apache of the Fort Apache Reservation), and the White Mountain Apache.
The Kiowa Apache in the early southward migration attached themselves to the Kiowa, whose history they have since shared.
Subsistence in historic times consisted of wild game, cactus fruits, seeds of wild shrubs and grass, livestock, grains plundered from settlements, and a small amount of horticulture.
The social organization involved matrilocal residence, a rigorous mother-in-law avoidance pattern, and the husband working for the wife’s relatives.
Historically, the Apache are known principally for their fierce fighting qualities. They successfully resisted the advance of Spanish colonization, but the acquisition of horses and new weapons, taken from the Spanish, led to increased intertribal warfare.
The Eastern Apache were driven from their traditional plains area when (after 1720) they suffered defeat at the hands of the advancing Comanche Indians.
Relations between the Apache and the white settlers gradually worsened with the passing of Spanish rule in Mexico. By the mid-19th century, when the United States acquired the region from Mexico, Apache lands were in the path of the American westward movement.
The futile but strong resistance that lasted until the beginning of the 20th century brought national fame to several of the Apache leaders—Cochise, Geronimo, Mangas Coloradas, and Victorio.
Today the Apache, numbering some 50,000 in 1990, live mainly on reservations totaling over 3 million acres in Arizona and New Mexico and retain many tribal customs. Cattle, timber, tourism, and the development of mineral resources provide income.
In 1982 the Apaches won a major Supreme Court test of their right to tax resources extracted from their lands. In 1995, after much debate, the Mescalero Apache agreed to build a nuclear-waste storage site on their New Mexico reservation.
Entry into the Southwest
Archaeological and historical evidence seem to suggest the Southern Athabaskan entry into the American Southwest was sometime after 1000 AD.
Their nomadic way of life complicates accurate dating, primarily because they constructed less-substantial dwellings than other Southwestern groups, although substantial progress has been made in recent years in dating and in identifying their dwellings and other forms of material culture.
They also left behind a simpler set of tools and material goods. This group probably moved into areas that were concurrently occupied or recently abandoned by other cultures.
Other Athabaskan speakers, perhaps including the Southern Athabaskan, adapted many of their neighbors’ technology and practices in their own cultures.
Thus, sites where early Southern Athabaskans may have lived are difficult to locate and even more difficult to firmly identify as culturally Southern Athabaskan, although recent advances have been made in the regard in the far southern portion of the American Southwest.
There are several hypotheses concerning Apachean migrations. One posits that they moved into the Southwest from the Great Plains.
In the early 16th century, these mobile groups lived in tents, hunted bison and other game, and used dogs to pull travois loaded with their possessions. Substantial numbers and a wide range were recorded by the Spanish in the 16th century.
The Coronado Expedition 1540–1542
In April 1541, while traveling on the plains east of the Pueblo region, Francisco Coronado called them “dog nomads.” He wrote:
“After seventeen days of travel, I came upon a rancheria of the Indians who follow these cattle (bison). These natives are called Querechos.
They do not cultivate the land, but eat raw meat and drink the blood of the cattle they kill. They dress in the skins of the cattle, with which all the people in this land clothe themselves, and they have very well-constructed tents, made with tanned and greased cowhides, in which they live and which they take along as they follow the cattle.
They have dogs which they load to carry their tents, poles, and belongings.”
The Spaniards described Plains dogs as very white, with black spots, and “not much larger than water spaniels.” Plains dogs were slightly smaller than those used for hauling loads by modern northern Canadian peoples.
Recent experiments show these dogs may have pulled loads up to 50 lb (20 kg) on long trips, at rates as high as two or three miles per hour (3 to 5 km/h).
This Plains migration theory associates Apachean peoples with the Dismal River aspect, an archaeological culture known primarily from ceramics and house remains, dated 1675–1725 excavated in Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and western Kansas.
Although the first documentary sources mention the Apache and historians have suggested some passages indicate a 16th century entry from the north, archaeological data indicate they were present on the plains, long before this first reported contact.
Another competing theory posits migration south, through the Rocky Mountains, ultimately reaching the American Southwest by the 14th century or perhaps earlier. An archaeological material culture assemblage identified in this mountainous zone as ancestral Apachean has been referred to as the Cerro Rojo complex.
This theory does not preclude arrival via a plains route as well, perhaps concurrently, but to date the earliest evidence has been found in the mountainous Southwest.
Only the Plains Apache have any significant Plains cultural influence, while all tribes have distinct Athabaskan characteristics.
The descriptions of peoples such as the Mountain Querechos and the Apache Vaqueros are vague and could apply to many other Plains tribes; the specific traits of these groups do not seem particularly Apachean.
Additionally, Harry Hoijer’s classification of Plains Apache as an Apachean language has been disputed. When the Spanish arrived in the area, trade between the long established Pueblo peoples and the Southern Athabaskans was well established.
They reported the Pueblos exchanged maize and woven cotton goods for bison meat, hides and materials for stone tools. Coronado observed Plains people wintering near the Pueblos in established camps.
Later Spanish sovereignty over the area disrupted trade between the Pueblos and the diverging Apache and Navajo groups.
The Apache quickly acquired horses, improving their mobility for quick raids on settlements. In addition, the Pueblo were forced to work Spanish mission lands and care for mission flocks, thus they had fewer surplus goods to trade with their neighbors.
In 1540 Coronado also reported that the modern Western Apache area was uninhabited, although some have argued that he simply did not see them.
Other Spaniards first mention “Querechos” living west of the Rio Grande in the 1580s. To some historians this implies the Apaches moved into their current Southwestern homelands in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Other historians note that Coronado reported that Pueblos women and children had often been evacuated by the time his party attacked these dwellings and some dwellings had been recently abandoned as he moved up the Rio Grande.
This might indicate the semi-nomadic Southern Athabaskans had advance warning about his hostile approach and so they were not seen and reported by the Spanish.
Archaeologists are finding ample evidence of an early proto-Apache presence in the Southwestern mountain zone in the 15th century and perhaps earlier. Their presence on both the Plains and in the mountainous Southwest indicate that there were multiple early migration routes.
Conflict with Mexico and the United States
In general, there seemed to be a pattern between the recently arrived Spanish who settled in villages and Apache bands over a few centuries. Both raided and traded with each other.
Records of the period seem to indicate that relationships depended upon the specific villages and specific bands that were involved with each other. For example, one band might be friends with one village and raid another.
When war happened between the two, the Spanish would send troops, after a battle both sides would “sign a treaty” and both sides would go home.
The traditional and sometimes treacherous relationships continued between the villages and bands with the independence of Mexico in 1821.
By 1835 Mexico had placed a bounty on Apache scalps (see scalping) but some bands were still trading with certain villages.
When Juan José Compas, the leader of the Mimbreño Apaches, was killed for bounty money in 1837, Mangas Coloradas or Dasoda-hae (Red Sleeves) became principal chief and war leader and began a series of retaliatory raids against the Mexicans.
When the United States went to war against Mexico, many Apache bands promised U.S. soldiers safe passage through their lands. When the U.S. claimed former territories of Mexico in 1846, Mangas Coloradas signed a peace treaty, respecting them as conquerors of the Mexican’s land.
An uneasy peace (a centuries old tradition) between the Apache and the now citizens of the United States held until the 1850s, when an influx of gold miners into the Santa Rita Mountains led to conflict.
This period is sometimes called the Apache Wars. The United States’ concept of a reservation had not been used by the Spanish, Mexicans or other Apache neighbors before.
Reservations were often badly managed, and bands that had no kinship relationships were forced to live together.
There were also no fences to keep people in or out. It was not uncommon for a band to be given permission to leave for a short period of time.
Other times a band would leave without permission, to raid, return to their land to forage, or to simply get away. The military usually had forts nearby.
Their job was keeping the various bands on the reservations by finding and returning those who left. The reservation policies of the United States kept various Apache bands leaving the reservations (at war) for almost another quarter century.
The warfare between Apachean peoples and Euro-Americans has led to a stereotypical focus on certain aspects of Apachean cultures that are often distorted through misperception as noted by anthropologist Keith Basso:
“Of the hundreds of peoples that lived and flourished in native North America, few have been so consistently misrepresented as the Apacheans of Arizona and New Mexico. Glorified by novelists, sensationalized by historians, and distorted beyond credulity by commercial film makers, the popular image of ‘the Apache’ — a brutish, terrifying semihuman bent upon wanton death and destruction — is almost entirely a product of irresponsible caricature and exaggeration. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the Apache has been transformed from a native American into an American legend, the fanciful and fallacious creation of a non-Indian citizenry whose inability to recognize the massive treachery of ethnic and cultural stereotypes has been matched only by its willingness to sustain and inflate them.”
The Bascomb Affair – The Bascom Affair is considered to be the key event in triggering the 1860s Apache War. The Apache Wars were fought during the nineteenth century between the U.S. military and many tribes in what is now the southwestern United States.
The triggering incident took place in 1861 in the area known as Arizona and New Mexico.
Battle of the Mimbres River – The Battle of the Mimbres River was a surprise attack launched by a troop of American militia against an encampment of Chiricahua Apaches along the western shore of the Mimbres River.
On December 4, 1860 a force of 30 armed miners attacked at sunrise, in retaliation for large amounts of stolen livestock. The surprised Apaches, led by Mangas Coloradas, were quickly defeated in a short close quarters action.
Four warriors were killed and an unknown number were wounded. The settlers’ casualties are unknown, if any at all.
Thirteen women and children were captured and several warriors fled, leaving their families behind. Mangas Coloradas survived. The Americans recovered some of their livestock.
Battle of the Diablo Mountains – The Battle of the Diablo Mountains was an early engagement of the Apache Wars. A small force of Mounted Rifles attacked a much larger force of Lipan Apaches at the base of the Sierra Diablo Mountains, commonly referred to as the “Diablos” in southwestern Texas.
Setting out from Fort Inge in South Texas on October 1, 1854, Captain John G. Walker in command of around 40 men of the Mounted Rifles, headed for the Diablo Mountains region along the Rio Grande border with Mexico.
Among the 40 enlisted men was the future American General; Eugene Asa Carr. Their mission was to investigate the reports from local settlers of stolen livestock, taken by Apache warriors.
On the third day out, in the morning of October 3, 1854, Captain Walker and his men encountered well over two-hundred Lipan Apache warriors near a herd of captured farm animals. Immediately Walker ordered an attack which surprised the Apaches significantly.
A brief skirmish ensued and the Apaches quickly fled, leaving most of the stolen livestock. Casualties are unknown, except for Second Lieutenant Eugene Asa Carr who was wounded by an arrow and subsequently commended by General Persifor F. Smith for his “gallantry and coolness” and promoted to first lieutenant.
This was the future general’s first combat action.
Battle of Ojo Caliente Canyon or Battle of Ojo Caliente – This was fought during the Apache Wars on April 8, 1854. The combatants were Jicarilla Apache warriors and the United States Army.
The skirmish was fought as result of the pursuit of the Jicarilla after the Battle of Cieneguilla over a week earlier. General Sturgis was in the battle of Ojo Calienta, serving under Colonel Cooke.
Battle of Cieneguilla – The Battle of Cieneguilla was an engagement fought between a group of Jicarilla Apaches and the U.S. 1st Cavalry Regiment on March 30, 1854, near what is now Pilar, New Mexico and was one of the most famous battles of the apache wars.
Companies F and I, regiment of the First Dragoons camped at Cantonment Burgwin, an army post 10 miles southeast of Taos.
While on patrol 60 dragoons engaged in an unauthorized attack on the Jicarilla Apache encampment near Pilar, then known as Cieneguilla after First Lieutenant John Wynn Davidson exceeded the orders of his superior Major Blake.
A combined force of Apaches and Utes, about 250 in number, laid an ambush for the U.S. dragoons.
In his report two days after the battle, Davidson stated that “[He] came upon the Apaches near Cieneguilla who at once sounded the war whoop.”
According to Private James A. Bennett, (aka James Bronson) a sergeant who survived the ambush, the battle lasted for about four hours. It started around 8 a.m. and ended when the dragoon regiments retreated at 12 p.m. to Ranchos de Taos.
The Apache warriors used flintlock rifles and arrows.Of the 60 dragoons present, the U.S. suffered twenty-two killed and a further thirty-six wounded, along with a loss of twenty-two horses and much of the troops’ supplies.
Another version of the fight presents the view that Davidson and his troops were not ambushed, but rather were taunted by the Apaches into attacking a superior force, one that also employed superior tactics. This modern version also has the duration of the fight being closer to two hours than the four that Davidson and Bennett were to claim.
Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke of the Second Regiment of Dragoons at once organized an expedition to pursue the Jicarilla. With the help of Pueblo Indian and Mexican scouts under Captain James H. Quinn and with Kit Carson as the principal guide.
After a winter pursuit through the mountains, Cooke caught and defeated them April 8th, at their camp in the canyon of Ojo Caliente. Dispersing in small bands, the Jicarilla evaded further pursuit but many died from the harsh cold weather.
Much of the blame for the loss of life was put on Lt. Davidson. Lt. David Bell accused Davidson of risking the lives of his soldiers when he could avoid the ambush.
However, Brig. Gen. John Garland praised Davidson when stated that “The troops displayed a gallantry seldom equalled in this, or any other country and the Officer in Command, Lieut. Davidson, has given evidence of soldiership in the highest degree creditable to him.”
“To have sustained a deadly control of three hours when he was so greatly outnumbered, and to have retired with the fragment of a company, crippled up, is amazing and calls for the admiration of every true soldier.”
On March 10, 1856, John Garland called a court of inquiry to meet at Taos, New Mexico.
After many witnessing declarations, the court declared that Davidson could not have avoided the confrontation and “that in the battle he exhibited skill in his mode of attacking a greatly superior force of hostile Indians; and prudence, and coolness, and courage, throughout a protracted engagement; and finally, when he was obliged to retire from the field, owing to the great odds opposing him, the losses he had sustained, and the scarcity of ammunition; his exertions to bring off the wounded men merit high praise.”
In 1875, an estimated 1,500 Yavapai and Dilzhe’e Apache from the Rio Verde Indian Reserve were removed from several thousand acres of treaty lands promised to them by the United States government.
Indian Commissioner L.E. Dudley and U.S. Army troops made the people, young and old, walk through winter-flooded rivers, mountain passes and narrow canyon trails to get to Indian Agency at San Carlos, 180 miles (290 km) away.
The trek resulted in several hundred lives lost. There they remained in internment for 25 years while white settlers took over their land. On their release, only about 200 were able to return to their lands.
Last Apache Defeat
Most American histories of this era say the final defeat of an Apache band took place when 5,000 troops forced Geronimo’s group of 30 to 50 men, women and children to surrender on September 4, 1886 at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona.
This band and the Chiricahua scouts who tracked them were all sent to military confinement in Florida at Fort Pickens and, subsequently, Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.
Apache Social Issues
In the post-war era, many Apache children were taken for adoption by white Americans, who didn’t teach them anything about their previous culture, and over the ensuing generations, much tribal knowledge was lost. Today there are laws that give relatives and tribal members first preference in adoptions.
Jicarilla Apache Indians
Tribal Origin: Athapascan tribe
Native Name: Jicarillo Apache, means ‘little basket’
Home Territories: Colorado and New MexicoLanguage: Southern Athabaskan
Enemies: Mescaleros and Navajo
Many of the historical names of Apache groups that were recorded by non-Apache are difficult to match to modern-day tribes or their subgroups. Over the centuries, many Spanish, French and/or English-speaking authors did not differentiate between Apache and other seminomadic non-Apache peoples who might pass through the same area. Most commonly, Europeans learned to identify the tribes by translating their exonym, what another group whom the Europeans encountered first called the Apachean peoples. Europeans often did not learn what the peoples called themselves, referred to as their autonyms.
While anthropologists agree on some traditional major subgrouping of Apaches, they have often used different criteria to name finer divisions, and these do not always match modern Apache groupings. Some scholars do not consider groups residing in what is now Mexico to be Apache. In addition, an Apache individual has different ways of identification with a group, such as a band or clan, as well as the larger tribe or language grouping, which can add to the difficulties in an outsider comprehending the distinctions.
The great grandson of Geronimo says he wants to know whether Skull and Bones secret society at Yale University has the remains of the famous Apache chief and shaman. He’s filed a lawsuit to find out.
At the start of the Mexican-American War in 1846, many Apache bands promised U.S. soldiers safe passage through their land. When the U.S. claimed the former frontier territories of Mexico in 1848, Mangas Coloradas signed a peace treaty, respecting them as conquerors of the Mexicans’ land.