The White Mountain Apache Tribe are Western Apache. They are closely related to the people of San Carlos, Payson, and Camp Verde. With differences in language, history, and culture, they are more distantly related to the Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarrilla, Lipan, and Kiowa-Apache peoples.
Official Tribal Name: White Mountain Apache Tribe of the Fort Apache Reservation
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:
Ndee, meaning “the people”
Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:
White Mountain Apache, after their sacred mountain
Alternate names / Alternate spellings:
Name in other languages:
State(s) Today: Arizona
Confederacy: Apache Nations
Reservations: White Mountain Apache Reservation
Land Area: 1.67 million acres (over 2,600 square miles) in east-central Arizona
Tribal Headquarters: Whiteriver, Arizona
Population at Contact:
Registered Population Today: Approximately 15,000 members.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
The White Mountain 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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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 nation—not 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.
- Apache Tribe of Oklahoma
- Aravaipa Apache – See San Carlos Apache Tribe
- Bedonkohe – (Chiricahua Apache Band name)
- Chiricahua – (Also See San Carlos Apache Tribe, White Mountain Apache Tribe, and Fort Sill Apache Tribe)
- Choctaw-Apache of Ebarb
- Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Community of the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation
- Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma
- Jicarilla Apache Nation
- Kiowa-Apache – (Also see Apache Tribe of Oklahoma.)
- Mescalero Apache Tribe of the Mescalero Reservation
- Lipan Apache
- San Carlos Apache Tribe of the San Carlos Reservation
- Tonto Apache Tribe of Arizona (Western Apache)
- White Mountain Apache Tribe of the Fort Apache Reservation
- Yavapai-Apache Nation of the Camp Verde Indian Reservation
Ceremonies / Dances:
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
The White Mountain Apache host The Apache Tribal Fair, which usually occurs on Labor Day weekend, at Whiteriver, Arizona.
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.
Art & Crafts:
Housing: Apaches lived in dome-shaped brush wikiups, which they covered with hides in bad weather. The doors always faced east.
The Fort Apache Timber Company in Whiteriver, Arizona, owned and operated by the White Mountain Apache, employs about 400 Apache workers. It has a gross annual income of approximately $30 million, producing 100 million board feet of lumber annually (approximately 720,000 acres of the reservation is timberland).
The tribe also owns and operates the Sunrise Park Ski Area and summer resort, three miles south of McNary, Arizona. It is open year-round, and contributes both jobs and tourist dollars to the local economy. The ski area has seven lifts and generates $9 million in revenue per year.
Another tribally owned enterprise is the White Mountain Apache Motel and Restaurant. The White Mountain Apache Tribal Fair is another important event economically.
Traditional 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.
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.
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When the United States took control of New Mexico during the Mexican-American War, some of the White Mountain Apache leaders went to Santa Fe to meet with those authorities. By the time the U.S. Army came to their lands, they knew much more about them than they did about the Apaches.
In July 1869 Brevet Colonel Major John Green of the U.S. 1st Cavalry led a scouting expedition of more than 120 troops into the White Mountains area from Camp Goodwin and Camp Grant to the south. Seeking to kill or capture any Apache people they encountered, the expedition headed north up the San Carlos River, across the Black River, and to the White River in the vicinity of the future site of Fort Apache.
Army scouts reported finding over 100 acres of cornfields along the White River. Escapa–an Apache chief that the Anglos called Miguel–visited the camp, and invited Col. Green to visit his village. Green sent Captain John Barry, urging him “if possible to exterminate the whole village.”
When Captain Barry arrived at Miguel’s village, however, he found white flags “flying from every hut and from every prominent point,” and “the men, women and children came out to meet them and went to work at once to cut corn for their horses, and showed such a spirit of delight at meeting them that the officers said if they had fired upon them they would have been guilty of cold-blooded murder.”
Green returned to the White Mountains in November, and met again with the Apache leaders Escapa (Miguel), Eskininla (Diablo), Pedro, and Eskiltesela. They agreed to the creation of a military post and reservation, and directed Green to the confluence of the East and North Forks of the White River.
Green wrote in a military report, “I have selected a site for a military post on the White Mountain River which is the finest I ever saw. The climate is delicious, and said by the Indians to be perfectly healthy, free from all malaria. Excellently well wooded and watered. It seems as though this one corner of Arizona were almost its garden spot, the beauty of its scenery, the fertility of its soil and facilities for irrigation are not surpassed by any place that ever came under my observation. Building material of fine pine timber is available within eight miles of this site. There is also plenty of limestone within a reasonable distance.”
“This post would be of the greatest advantage for the following reasons: It would compel the White Mountain Indians to live on their reservation or be driven from their beautiful country which they almost worship. It would stop their traffic in corn with the hostile tribes, they could not plant an acre of ground without our permission as we know every spot of it. It would make a good scouting post, being adjacent to hostile bands on either side. Also a good supply depot for Scouting expeditions from other posts, and in fact, I believe, would do more to end the Apache War than anything else.”
The following spring troops from the 21st Infantry and 1st Cavalry were ordered to establish a camp on the White Mountain River.
On May 16, 1870 they began construction of Camp Ord. Over the course of the next year, the remaining troops at Camp Goodwin moved to the site, and the camp would be renamed Camp Mogollon, then Camp Thomas , and finally, Camp Apache. The post was designated Fort Apache in 1879.
The Army abandoned Fort Apache in 1922. In 1923 the site became the home of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Theodore Roosevelt Indian Boarding School. First intended to serve Diné (Navajo) children, by the 1930s a majority of students at the school were Apache. Today T.R. School continues to serve as a middle school, under the administration of a school board selected by the Tribal Council.
In 1871 General George Crook was named commander of the Department of Arizona. Crook recognized that his regular soldiers were no match for the Native people he was sent to subdue, so he enlisted the aid of Indian men as scouts. In August 1871 he made his first visit to Fort Apache and engaged about 50 men from Pedro and Miguel’s bands to serve as Apache Scouts. The Scouts would play a decisive role in the success of the Army in the so-called “Apache Wars” of the next fifteen years, ending with the final surrender of the Chiricahua leader Geronimo in 1886.
In part because of the Scouts’ service, the White Mountain Apache were able to maintain a portion of their homeland as the White Mountain Apache Reservation. When Fort Apache was abandoned by the Army in 1922, the Apache Scouts transferred to Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona , where they continued to serve until the last three Apache Scouts retired in 1947.
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