Apache Indian Tribe

Published on October 23, 2010 by John

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Kiowa Apache Essa queta
Essa-queta, Plains Apache chief

On hearing the name Apache, pronounced uh-PATCHee, many people think of the chief Geronimo, along with the warlike nature of the tribe. Throughout most of their history, the Apache raided other tribes for food and booty. The ZUNI, who feared them, gave them the name apachu, meaning “enemy.” The Apache also stubbornly resisted Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American expansion. But there was of course much more to Apache culture than warfare. Like all Indian peoples, the Apache had a well-defined society and a complex mythology.Different versions of the Apache native name include Tineh (Tinneh), Tinde, Dini, Inde (N’de), Deman, and Haisndayin for “the people”.

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The Apache ancestral homeland was located on the region of North America referred to as the Southwest Culture Area, and they are classified as SOUTHWEST INDIANS. The numerous Apache bands roamed far and wide in this region—territory that now includes much of New Mexico and Arizona, as well as northern Mexico, western Texas, southern Colorado, western Oklahoma, and southern Kansas.

The various Apache peoples migrated to the Southwest later than other Indians. Before Europeans reached North America, Athapascan-speaking bands broke off from other ATHAPASCANS in present-day western Canada and migrated southward, probably in about 1400 (although some scholars have theorized as early as 850), and became known as the Apache. Other Athapascans who migrated to the region became known as the NAVAJO.

The Apache can be organized by dialects into the following groups, each made up of various bands: San Carlos Aravaipa, White Mountain, Northern Tonto, Southern Tonto, and Cibecue in Arizona; Chiricahua and Mimbreno in Arizona and New Mexico; Mescalero in New Mexico and Mexico; Lipan in Texas and Mexico; Jicarilla in New Mexico and Colorado; and Kiowa Apache in Oklahoma. Members of these different groups intermarried or were placed together on reservations by non-Indians later in their history, altering the various subdivisions. For example, the San Carlos and White Mountain groups, sometimes together called the Western Apache (along with the San Carlos subgroup, the Aravaipa, as well as the Cibecue and Tonto), came to include members from other more easterly groups, such as the Chiricahua and Mimbreno.


The Apache were primarily nomadic hunters and gatherers, seeking whatever game, especially deer and rabbits, and whatever wild plant foods, especially cactus and mesquite seeds, found within their territory. (The Mescalero band was named after a kind of cactus important in the Apache diet, mescal.) When they could not find enough food to eat in their rugged lands, much of which was desert country, Apache raided the farming villages of the PUEBLO INDIANS, as well as, in later years,Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American settlements.

The various Apache groups adopted lifeways from other Indians with whom they came into contact. For instance, some of the Western Apache, living close to the Indians of the Rio Grande pueblos, took up farming. The Jicarilla Apache borrowed cultural traits from the PLAINS INDIANS. On acquiring horses in the late 1600s through raids on the Spanish and on Pueblo Indians,mounted Jicarilla often rode in pursuit of the great buffalo herds. The Kiowa-Apache lived close to the KIOWA, a Plains tribe, and their culture was closer to that of the Kiowa than to their own Apache kin. Similarly, the Lipan shared some traits with Mexican tribes to their south, such as raising dogs to eat. The most common type of dwelling for most Apache bands was the wickiup, a domed or cone-shaped hut with a pole framework covered with brush, grass, or reed mats.

Wickiups frequently had central fire pits and a smokehole.The Jicarilla and Kiowa Apache used hide tipis.The Apache originally wore deerskin clothing. They never grew or wove cotton as many Southwest peoples did,nor did they become sheepherders as the Navajo did, preferring to eat the sheep instead. But Apache acquired cotton and wool clothing through trade or raids.

The Apache made little pottery. Yet they were master basketmakers, crafting coiled baskets of many shapes and sizes and with intricate designs. After the coming of non Indians, the Apache became known for an instrument called the Apache fiddle. The painted sound box was crafted from a yucca stalk and held a single string of sinew attached to a tuning peg. The instrument was played with a bow made of wood and sinew.

Apache bands had a loose social and political organization. Each band, which was made up of extended families,had a headman who was chosen informally for his leadership abilities and military prowess. But other warriors could launch raids without the headman’s permission. Shamans presided over religious rituals. The Apache believed in many supernatural beings. They considered Ussen (also spelled Yusn), the Giver of Life, the most powerful of the supernatural beings. The Gans, or Mountain Spirits, who supposedly brought agriculture to the people and who are the guardians of wildlife, were especially important in Apache ceremonies. Men dressed up in elaborate costumes to impersonate the Gans in dances, wearing kilts, black masks, tall wooden-slat headdresses, and body paint, and carrying wooden swords. The headdresses of the dancers show four colors symbolizing the Gans: the white of pollen, the black of eagle feathers, the yellow of deerskin, and the blue of turquoise.

Apache Wars

Early Apache contacts with non-Indians were friendly.The Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado called Apache people he encountered in 1540 the Querechos. Yet by the late 1500s, Apache bands were sweeping southward in raids on Spanish settlements.

During the 1600s, the Spanish established a line of presidios (forts) across northern Mexico to try to protect their settlements from Apache attacks. The Apache continued their raids, disappearing into the wilderness before the soldiers could rally an effective defense. The Spanish tried to convert Apache to Christianity and move them into missions, but with little success. However, the Apache did not mount an organized rebellion as the Pueblo Indians did in their successful revolt of 1680. Instead, the Apache preferred to raid the Spanish settlers for plunder, especially horses and cattle. The Apache kept up their raids against the Spanish throughout the 1700s and into the 1800s. The COMANCHE, who advanced into Apache territory from the east starting about 1740, managed to hold their own against the much-feared Apache.

In 1821, Mexico and New Mexico gained independence from Spain. But the new government in Mexico City did no better than the old one had in stopping the relentless Apache attacks along Mexico’s northern frontier. During this period, the Apache also proved hostile to early Anglo-American traders and trappers who traveled through or near their territory.

In 1848, with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo following the Mexican War, Mexico ceded its northern holdings to the United States. Soon U.S. troops began arriving in Apache country in great numbers. During this same period, with the discovery of gold in California, the number of Anglo-Americans traveling westward dramatically increased. Although the U.S. government now claimed their land, the Apache considered the travelers as trespassers. The United States had defeated Mexico, the Apache leaders reasoned, but since Mexico had never defeated the Apache, their lands still rightfully belonged to them.

During the 1850s, the Apache still preyed mostly on ranchers in Mexico. Major hostilities with the Americans did not occur until the 1860s. The first significant outbreak involved the Chiricahua Apache. Their headman at the time was Cochise. A lieutenant in the U.S. Army, George Bascom, wrongly accused Cochise’s band of kidnapping children and stealing cattle, and Bascom took some of Cochise’s people as hostages. In retaliation, Cochise and his warriors began laying ambushes along Apache Pass on the Butterfield Southern Route (or the Southern Overland Trail) that ran through the South west from El Paso to Los Angeles. Before long, the Mimbreno Apache, led by Cochise’s father-in-law, Mangas Coloradas, joined the resistance. U.S. troops managed to drive the insurgents into Mexico for a while but then abandoned the region to fight in the American Civil War. California volunteers under General James Carleton rode in to man the posts in Chiricahua country, but the Chiricahua and Mimbreno proved unconquerable to the new troops. The Apache lost one of their most important leaders, however. Mangas Coloradas was captured in 1862 through trickery and was later killed by his guards.

Meanwhile, to the east, the Mescalero Apache carried out raids on travelers near the El Paso end of the Butterfield Southern Route. General Carleton appointed the former fur trader, scout, Indian agent, and Union soldier Christopher “Kit” Carson as his leader in the field against the Mescalero. Through relentless pursuit, Carson and his men wore down the Mescalero and forced their surrender. The Mescalero were relocated to the east at Bosque Redondo in the barren flatlands of the Pecos River valley near Fort Sumner. After this phase of the Apache Wars, Carson turned his attention to the Navajo militants, who also were relocated to Bosque Redondo.

In 1871, settlers from Tucson marched on Camp Grant and massacred more than 100 innocent Aravaipa Apache—most of them women and children—under Chief Eskiminzin. This incident convinced President Ulysses S. Grant that there was a need for a reservation system to separate Apache from white settlers.After extensive negotiations, the formerly hostile Cochise of the Chiricahua signed a treaty, and from that time until his death in 1874, he helped keep peace along Apache Pass.Another important episode occurred in 1872–73, when General George Crook led the successful Tonto Basin Campaign against the Apache militants from various western bands and against their YAVAPAI allies.

The final two episodes in the Apache Wars had much in common. Both involved warriors from earlier fighting. Victorio, a Mimbreno Apache, had fought alongside Mangas Coloradas. Geronimo (or Goyathlay, “he who yawns”), a Chiricahua, had fought alongside Cochise. Both Victorio and Geronimo began uprisings on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. In both rebellions, the insurgents escaped from the reservation and hid out in the rugged country in much of the Southwest as well as in Mexico. In both cases, the army was forced to put many men in the field for long campaigns.The first of the two conflicts, sometimes referred to as Victorio’s Resistance, lasted from 1877 to 1880. After numerous skirmishes with both U.S. and Mexican armies, he was defeated by a Mexican force at the Battle of Tres Castillos. His death in that battle brought the Mimbreno resistance to a virtual end.

Some of the survivors of Victorio’s Resistance joined Geronimo’s Resistance of 1881–86, the last sustained Indian uprising in the United States.The Apache, who had been wanderers throughout their history, had a hard time adapting to reservation life. Geronimo spent some time on the Ojo Caliente Reservation (established for the Mescalero) in New Mexico. Then he joined his people, the Chiricahua, at the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. At that time in history, Indians on reservations were not permitted to leave. But Geronimo and his followers managed to escape three times.

The first breakout resulted from the death of the White Mountain medicine man named Nakaidoklini, who preached a new religion claiming that dead warriors would return to drive the whites from Apache territory. Soldiers out of Fort Apache, Arizona, tried to arrest Nakaidoklini for his teachings, but when fighting broke out at Cibecue Creek in August 1881, they killed him instead. Chiricahua and Apache from other bands fled the San Carlos Reservation and began a new series of raids. After a prolonged campaign led by General George Crook and after many negotiations, Geronimo and his men agreed to return to San Carlos in 1884.

The second breakout resulted from the reservation ban on a ceremonial alcoholic drink of the Apache called tiswin. Again, the Apache resented interference in their religion by white officials. Crook’s soldiers tracked the militants to Cañon de los Embudos in the rugged highlands of Mexico; after negotiations, Geronimo and his men surrendered a second time, in 1886. Yet on the return trip to San Carlos, Geronimo and some of his followers escaped.

Because of this incident, General Crook was relieved of his command, replaced by General Nelson Miles. Miles put some 5,000 men in the field. They rode through much of the Southwest, on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border, in pursuit of the Indian guerrillas.Hunger and weariness brought in Geronimo and his followers the final time. They surrendered at Skeleton Canyon in 1886, not far from Apache Pass, where the Apache Wars had started 25 years before.

Geronimo and the other men were put in chains and sent by train to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida. They were also imprisoned for a time at Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama. Confined under terrible conditions, many died from tuberculosis. Finally, survivors were allowed to return to the West. Because the citizens of Arizona opposed the return of the Chiricahua to San Carlos, Geronimo and his followers were taken to Fort Sill on Comanche and Kiowa lands in the Indian Territory. By that time, Geronimo was a legend among non Indians as well as his own people. People came from far away to get a glimpse of him and to take his picture.U.S. officials never let Geronimo return to see his homeland. When he died many years later, in 1909, he was still a prisoner of war. The other Chiricahua were permitted to return home in 1914.

Contemporary Apache

The San Carlos Reservation still exists. It is located inGila and Graham counties of Arizona. Apache also live on other reservations in Arizona: on the Camp Verde Reservation, which they share with the Yavapai, in Yavapai County; on the Fort McDowell Reservation, which they share with MOJAVE and Yavapai, in Maricopa County; and on the Fort Apache Reservation in Apache, Gila, and Navajo Counties. In New Mexico, there is the Jicarilla Reservation in Rio Arriba and Sandoval Counties; and the Mescalero Apache Reservation in Otero County. The Fort Sill Apache have their business committee headquarters in Apache, Oklahoma. They are sometimes referred to as Chief Geronimo’s Band of Apache. Some of the Apache groups, such as the Jicarilla, have been expanding reservation lands by purchasing new real estate.

Apache support themselves through a number of tribal enterprises, including stock raising, sawmills, stores, gas stations, oil and gas leases, and more and more, tourist facilities. In recent years, tribally run casinos in New Mexico and Arizona have increased the number of visitors to Apache lands. Individual tribal members also farm and hire themselves out as laborers to earn a living. Some Apache supplement their income by making traditional arts and crafts, in particular, baskets, cradleboards, and beadwork.

In 2005, Mary Kin Titla, a San Carlos Apache and a news reporter appearing on television in Arizona, including the cities of Tucson and Phoenix, created an Internet magazine,http://www.nativeyouthmagazine.com. The online magazine gives Native young people the opportunity to explore the world of journalism as guest writers.

Source: Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes by Carl Waldman

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