At Peace or in War, the Apache Indian Tribes Have Been a Proud People
The Apache Indian tribes believed in a time when there were many birds, beasts and monsters but no sun. The night showed no stars nor moon. The world existed in darkness. It was too dangerous for all but a few humans or deities. People would get eaten as soon as the monsters found them.
Finally, a boy defeated the dragon that was eating all the people. His uncle, Usen (God), helped him establish a world where humans could exist. The story goes:
“This boy’s name was Apache. Usen taught him to prepare herbs for medicine, how to hunt and how to fight. He was the first chief of the Indians and wore the eagle’s feathers [signifying] justice, wisdom and power. To him and to his people, as they were created, Usen gave them homes in the land of the West.”
Geronimo, a great leader of the Apaches, was born in 1829 and died 79 years later. Geronimo told the story of this people. (Public Domain)
The Apache sometimes call their six main tribes that survive the Inde or Diné, meaning the People. But many Apaches refer to themselves as Apache even when they are speaking their own language.
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Apaches, Originally Athabascans from the Far North
The Apache or Diné are Athabascan people who lived in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. The Athabascan family of languages is large and has speakers in Alaska and Canada as well as Northern Mexico, and Central Texas stretching to Central Arizona, says the Texas State Historical Association site .
These elaborately beaded Apache boots date from around 1890. (CC0)
The Apache are divided into Eastern and Western groups, and the Rio Grande River is the dividing line. The Apache arrived in the Southwest sometime between 1000 and 1400 AD, the site says:
“The Apaches were nomadic and lived almost completely off the buffalo. They dressed in buffalo skins and lived in tents made of tanned and greased hides, which they loaded onto dogs when they moved with the herds.
They were among the first Indians, after the Pueblos, to learn to ride horses. Learning from runaway or captured Pueblos, the Apaches quickly adapted to their use of horses.
Formerly peaceful trade relationships with the Pueblos deteriorated, however, as the Spanish discouraged trade with the Apaches and forced the Pueblos to work their farms. When the Pueblos became unwilling or unable to trade with the Apaches, the nomadic Indians turned their new equestrian skills to raiding for horses and supplies.”
Charles Marion Russell - Buffalo Hunt. (Public Domain)
Apache Foods: Farming, Hunting, Gathering
The Apaches’ food source was agricultural for some tribes as well as hunting various game and gathering. Some Apaches grew beans, corn, pumpkins, and watermelon. Agriculture hurt those bands in one way because the Comanches, who also lived in the region, knew right where to find the Apache during planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall, and they launched raids.
“With each successful raid the Comanches grew stronger and the Apaches weaker,” the Texas State Historical Association article states.
‘Comanche War Party on the March, Fully Equipped’ by George Catlin. (Public Domain)
The Comanches pushed the Apaches into New Mexico and Arizona and south into Central Texas and northern Mexico. The Apaches encountered the Spaniards, who were encroaching north into Texas. The next years saw peace between some Apache Indian tribes and the Spanish, and some war and raiding among other Apache groups.
Many Apache Indian Tribes or Bands Make for a Complicated History
It is complicated to describe the Apache people’s interactions between other native peoples and the Spanish and later other Europeans because some Apache bands had peace treaties, and others were at war.
The Apache tribes and Spanish and later the non-Native groups from more northerly parts enjoyed peace some of the time. But long after the Spanish arrived, in 1873, Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie was at the head of 400 soldiers who went into Mexico to raze the villages of the Lipan Apache tribes. He captured or killed almost all of the Lipans. Those who survived were said to have been sent to a reservation in New Mexico and
“In 1905 the remainder of the Lipans in Mexico drifted onto the Mescalero Reservation. In 1970 about 1,660 Indians were enrolled there-not only Mescaleros, but Chiricahuas, Lipans, Kiowas, and a few Comanches as well. Thirty-five Lipans were living in Oklahoma in 1940 but were not officially listed among the tribes of the state.”
A Lipan Apache warrior. (Public Domain)
Before the Apaches were decimated, they were of 11 big tribes: Chiricahua, Coyotero, Arivaipa, Faraone Gileno, Mescalero, Llanero, Mimbreno, Naisha, Tchikun, Mogollon, and Tchishi.
Today the total Apache population numbers about 5,000.
Apache Warriors had a Reputation of Being Fierce
The Apaches were known as strong warriors. Indians.com states: “The United States Army found them to be very fierce warriors and knowledgeable strategists. The last of the Apache tribe, the Chiricahua, surrendered in 1886. They were deported to Florida and Alabama prisons.”
Apache Religion was Informal
Apache religion was not the same for every tribe or band. However, the Apaches had two culture heroes who slew monsters and made the world safe for people. Some groups have creation stories of emergence from another place, but some do not. They also had medicine men who directed the rites and led prayers.
View of a Native American Apache camp, Arizona, shows a Chiricahua Apache medicine man with his family inside a brush wickiup. (Public Domain)
Regarding Apache religion, the website Geronimo: His Own Story states:
“Our life also had a religious side. We had no churches, no religious organizations, no sabbath day, no holidays, and yet we worshipped. Sometimes the whole tribe would assemble to sing and pray; sometimes a smaller number, maybe two or three. The songs had a few words but were not formal.”
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Geronimo said they prayed silently at times, other times aloud. Sometimes they prayed all together, or an aged person prayed for everyone. “At other times one would rise and speak to us of our duties to each other and to Usen. Our services were short.”
The Apaches also enjoyed dancing and playing sophisticated games. They would gather occasionally for four days and nights of feasting, dancing, and game playing.
Apache playing cards (either Chiricahua or Western), ca. 1875-1885, rawhide, Arizona, collection of the National Museum of the American Indian. (Public Domain)
Top image: Apache Indian tribes were known as good fighters and strategists. Some fought the encroachment of Europeans onto their lands, and others tried to get along with them. They did not have horses until shortly after the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the 1500s, but once they adopted them they became great horsemen. Source: The Commons
By Mark Miller