San Carlos Apache Tribe of the San Carlos Reservation


Last Updated: 5 years

The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, in southeastern Arizona, was established in 1872 as a reservation for the Ndeh or Chiricahua Apache tribe. It was referred to by some as “Hell’s Forty Acres,” due to a myriad of dismal health and environmental conditions. Today, this tribe is known as the San Carlos Apache Tribe of the San Carlos Reservation.

Official Tribal Name: San Carlos Apache Tribe of the San Carlos Reservation

Address: P.O. Box 1240, San Carlos, Arizona 85550
Phone: 928-475-2361

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Ndeh, meaning The People

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:

Chiricahua Apache

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Region: Southwest

State(s) Today: Arizona, Mexico

Traditional Territory:

Confederacy: Apache


Reservation: San Carlos Reservation

The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation spans Gila, Graham, and Pinal Counties in southeastern Arizona, roaming over a landscape that ranges from alpine meadows to desert. The San Carlos Apache Reservation was established by executive order on November 9, 1871.

Over one-third of the community’s land is forested (175,000 acres) or wooded (665,000) acres. Forest lands, with their jumbled topography, create a naturally superior habitat for many wildlife species causing elk, mule deer, turkeys, black bear and mountain lion to be at home on this reservation. A portion of the reservation is contiguous with the largest stand of ponderosa pines in the world.

The great Chief Cochise was taken there, along with his followers, after his surrender in 1873. Geronimo led his followers away from this reservation when they broke for freedom from the oppression of the U.S. military in 1881 and 1884.

Their reservation was created in 1871 and reduced five separate times to accommodate white miners seeking copper and silver, and Mormons whose need for water led to the reduction around the Gila Valley.

The Apache bands on this reservation include the Aravaipa, Chiricahua, Coyotero, Mimbreno, Mogollon, Piñaleno, San Carlos, and Tonto. More Chiricahua Apaches live on the Mescalero Reservation, in southeast New Mexico. The Mescalero reservation contains roughly 460,000 acres of land and is home in addition to the Mescalero and Lipan Apaches. Roughly 100 (as of 1992) Chiricahua Apaches still live at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. 

Land Area: 1,834,781 acres (Population Density: 3 persons per square mile)

Tribal Headquarters: San Carlos, AZ
Time Zone:

Population at Contact:

Registered Population Today: 10,068 as of the 2010 Census, estimated at approximately 12,000 in 2015.

Tribal Enrollment Office:  Ph. 928-475-2689

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The San Carlos Apache Tribe is a federally recognized tribe. They have established tribal governments under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (25 U.S.C. 461-279), also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act, and they successfully withstood attempts by the U.S. government to implement its policy during the 1950s of terminating Indian tribes.

They were granted U.S. citizenship under the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. They did not legally acquire the right to practice their Native religion until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (42 U.S.C. 1996).

Other important rights, and some attributes of sovereignty, have been restored to them by such legislation as the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1966 (25 U.S.C. 1301), the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act of 1975 (25 U.S.C. 451a), and the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (25 U.S.C. 1901).

The Wheeler-Howard Act, however, while allowing some measure of self-determination in their affairs, has caused problems for virtually every Indian nation in the United States, and the Apaches are no exception. The act subverts traditional Native forms of government and imposes upon Native people an alien system, which is something of a mix of American corporate and governmental structures.

Invariably, the most traditional people in each tribe have had little to say about their own affairs, as the most heavily acculturated and educated mixed-blood factions have dominated tribal affairs in these foreign imposed systems.

Frequently these tribal governments have been little more than convenient shams to facilitate access to tribal mineral and timber resources in arrangements that benefit everyone but the Native people, whose resources are exploited. The situations and experiences differ markedly from tribe to tribe in this regard, but it is a problem that is, in some measure, shared by all.

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Origins: The Apaches are decendants of the Athabascan family, which migrated to the Southwest in the 10th century. 

Apache Bands and Clans

The Ndeh people have a clan system stretching back more than 10,000 years. The Apache tribe bands as they are classified today are the Chiricahua (Ndeh), Jicarilla, Lipans, Mescalero, Plains Apache, and Western Apache. The seventh Apachean group, the Navajo, are now considered as a separate tribe. 

Social Organization:

For the Apaches, the family is the primary unit of political and cultural life. Apaches have never been a unified nation politically, and individual Apache tribes, until very recently, have never had a centralized government, traditional or otherwise.

Extended family groups acted entirely independently of one another. At intervals during the year a number of these family groups, related by dialect, custom, inter-marriage, and geographical proximity, might come together, as conditions and circumstances might warrant.

In the aggregate, these groups might be identifiable as a tribal division, but they almost never acted together as a tribal division or as a nationnot even when faced with the overwhelming threat of the Comanche migration into their Southern Plains territory.

The existence of these many different, independent, extended family groups of Apaches made it impossible for the Spanish, the Mexicans, or the Americans to treat with the Apache Nation as a whole. Each individual group had to be treated with separately, an undertaking that proved difficult for each colonizer who attempted to establish authority within the Apache homeland.

Related Tribes

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies: Historically, the Apache made formidable enemies. Raiding was one of their most important activities. The main purpose of raiding, in which one sought to avoid contact with the enemy, was to gain wealth and honor. It differed fundamentally from warfare, which was undertaken primarily for revenge. Chiricahua Apaches did not generally take scalps, not did they maintain formal warrior societies. 

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Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Apache Stronghold Golf Course golf facilites include a grass range and large putting green, plus a pro shop and snack area/lounge. Stay and Play packages are available with the Best Western.

Apache Gold Casino featuring state-of-the-art video and reel slot machines and progressives, Black Jack “21” and bingo.  Open 24 hours a day, every day.

The San Carlos Apache Cultural Center tells its own history from the perspecive of the San Carlos Apache people and includes the Window on Apache Culture exhibit.

Tonto National Forest on San Carlos Indian Reservation
Tonto National Forest on San Carlos Indian Reservation
Photo By Janet Ward, (NOAA Photo Library: amer0013), CC BY 2.0,via Wikimedia Commons

The San Carlos Recreation and Wildlife Department manages four lakes on the reservation, which are a fisherman’s paradise. Their office issues fishing, hunting and camping permits. Phone – (928) 475-2343 

Annual Events 

Annual Pow Wow
Location: Apache Gold Casino
Date: March
Information: (928) 425-7800

All Star Bass Fishing Tournament, Inc.
Location: San Carlos Lake
Date: April
Information: (928) 890-2547

Apache Independence Day
Location: Apache Gold Casino Pavilion
Date: June 18
Information: (928)475-2241 (Marketing)

Apache ‘Jii’ Celebration
Location: Globe
Date: October
Information: (800) 804-5623

Annual Veteran’s Memorial Celebration
Location: San Carlos
Date: November
Information: (928) 475-2361 (Tribal Office)

Annual Christmas Jubilee
Location: Community Hall, San Carlos
Date: December
Information: (928) 475-2824

The San Carlos Apache Tribal Fair is celebrated annually over Veterans Day weekend at San Carlos, Arizona.

Location and Nearby Communities

The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation is located 20 miles east of Globe and approximatly 90 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona.

Apache Museums:

Albuquerque Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico
American Research Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Art Center in Roswell, New Mexico
Bacone College Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma
Black Water Draw Museum in Portales, New Mexico
Coronado Monument in Bernalillo, New Mexico
Ethnology Museum in Santa Fe, NM
Fine Arts Museum in Santa Fe, NM
Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Great Plains Museum in Lawton, Oklahoma
Hall of the Modern Indian in Santa Fe, NM
Heard Museum of Anthropology in Phoenix, Arizona
Indian Hall of Fame in Anadarko, Oklahoma
Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM
Maxwell Museum in Albuquerque, NM
Milicent Rogers Museum in Taos, New Mexico
Northern Arizona Museum in Flagstaff, AZ
Oklahoma Historical Society Museum in Oklahoma City, OK
Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, OK
Southern Plains Indian Museum in Anadarko, OK
State Museum of Arizona in Tempe, AZ
Stovall Museum at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK
San Carlos Apache Cultural Center in Peridot, Arizona.

Apache Legends

Art & Crafts: Traditional arts included fine basketry, pottery, and tanned hides.  Items for daily use included baskets (pitch-covered water jars, cradles, storage containers, and burden baskets); gourd spoons, dippers, and dishes; and a sinew-backed bow. The people made musical instruments out of gourds and hooves. The so-called Apache fiddle, a postcontact instrument, was played with a bow on strings.

San Carlos Apache women are famous for their twined burden baskets. They are made in full size and in miniature. Another specialty is coiled basketry, featuring complex designs in black devil’s claw.

Animals: The horse was introduced into the region in the seventeenth century. 

Clothing:  The Chiricahua traditionally wore buckskin clothing and moccasins. Moccasins were sewn with plant fiber attached to mescal thorns. As they acquired cotton and later wool through trading and raiding, women tended to wear two-piece calico dresses, with long, full skirts and long blouses outside the skirt belts. They occasionally carried knives and, later, ammunition belts. Girls wore their hair over their ears, shaped around two willow hoops. Some older women wore their hair Plains-style, parted in the middle with two braids. Men’s postcontact styles included calico shirts, muslin breechclouts with belts, cartridge belts, moccasins, and headbands. 

Housing: Chiricahua Apaches lived in dome-shaped brush wikiups, which they covered with hides in bad weather. The doors always faced east. Eastern Chiricahua sometimes used tipis. 

Subsistance: Chiricahua Apaches were primarily hunters and gatherers. They hunted buffalo prior to the sixteenth century, and afterward they continued to hunt deer, elk, antelope, rabbits, and other game. They did not eat bear, turkey, or fish.

Wild foods included agave; cactus shoots, flowers, and fruit; berries; seeds; nuts; honey; and wild onions, potatoes, and grasses. Nuts and seeds were often ground into flour. The agave or century plant was particularly important. Baking its base in rock-lined pits for several days yielded mescal, a sweet, nutritious food, which was dried and stored.

Traditional farm crops were obtained from the Pueblos by trade or raid. The Chiricahua, particularly the Eastern Band, also practiced some agriculture: Corn, for instance, was used to make tiswin, a weak beer.

Economy Today:

Farming and ranching continue to provide employment for many Apaches, and Apaches have distinguished themselves as some of the finest professional rodeo performers.

By 1925, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had leased nearly all of the San Carlos Reservation to non-Indian cattlemen, who demonstrated no concern about overgrazing. Most of the best San Carlos farmland was flooded when Coolidge Dam was completed in 1930. Recreational concessions around the lake benefit mostly non-Natives.

By the end of the 1930s, the tribe regained control of its rangeland and most San Carlos Apaches became stockmen. Today, the San Carlos Apache cattle operation generates more than $1 million in sales annually. Cattle, timber, and mining leases provide additional revenue.

There is some individual mining activity for the semiprecious peridot gemstones.

The Tribe operates the Apache Gold Casino which opened in June, 1994. Construction is currently underway to expand the casino and add a hotel, restaurant and RV park.

The median household income for the San Carlos Apache Tribe is $26,915, less than the County ($37,580) and far less than the State ($51,310). 40% have an income under $20,000.

Poverty rates on the San Carlos Apache Tribe (46%) are triple those of the State (15%) and more than double those of the County (19%). Half (49%) of all children under 18 years of age are considered to be living in poverty, while one-third (39%) of tribal members between 18 and 64 also live in poverty. Almost half (45%) of persons living in families on the San Carlos Apache Tribe live in poverty, triple the rate of families in poverty at the state level (13%) or the County (17%). Almost half of persons over 65 years of age (45%) live in poverty, four to five times the State (8%) and County (10%) poverty rates for this age group.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

The Apache are devoutly religious and pray on many occasions and in various ways. Recreated in the human form, Apache spirits are supposed to dwell in a land of peace and plenty, where there is neither disease or death. They also regarded coyotes, insects, and birds as having been human beings.

Apache religion is based on a complex mythology and features numerous deities. The sun is the greatest source of power. Culture heroes, like White-Painted Woman and her son, Child of the Water, also figure highly, as do protective mountain spirits (ga’an). The latter are represented as masked dancers (probably evidence of Pueblo influence) in certain ceremonies, such as the four-day girls’ puberty rite. (The boys’ puberty rite centered on raiding and warfare.)

Supernatural power is both the goal and the medium of most Apache ceremonialism. Shamans facilitate the acquisition of power, which can be used in the service of war, luck, rainmaking, or life-cycle events. Power could be evil as well as good, however, and witchcraft, as well as incest, was an unpardonable offense. Finally, Apaches believe that since other living things were once people, we are merely following in the footsteps of those who have gone before.

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Apache women were chaste before marriage. Apache culture is matrilineal. Once married, the man went with the wife’s extended family, where she is surrounded by her relatives.

Spouse abuse is practically unknown in such a system. Divorce was unusual though relatively easy to obtain. Should the marriage not endure, child custody quarrels were also unknown: the children remained with the wife’s extended family.

Marital harmony is encouraged by a custom forbidding the wife’s mother to speak to, or even be in the presence of, her son-in-law. No such stricture applies to the wife’s grandmother, who frequently is a powerful presence in family life. The mother’s brother also played an important role in the raising of his nephews and nieces. 

Although actual marriage ceremonies were brief or nonexistent, the people practiced a number of formal preliminary rituals, designed to strengthen the idea that a man owed deep allegiance to his future wife’s family.


Apache People of Note

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