views updated May 08 2018


by D. L. Birchfield


The name "Apache" is a Spanish corruption of "Apachii," a Zuñi word meaning "enemy." Federally recognized contemporary Apache tribal governments are located in Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Apache reservations are also located in Arizona and New Mexico. In Oklahoma, the Apache land was allotted in severalty under the General Allotment Act of 1887 (also known as the Dawes Act); Oklahoma Apaches became citizens of the new state of Oklahoma and of the United States in 1907. Apaches in Arizona and New Mexico were not granted U.S. citizenship until 1924. Since attempting to terminate its governmental relationship with Indian tribes in the 1950s, the United States has since adopted a policy of assisting the tribes in achieving some measure of self-determination, and the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld some attributes of sovereignty for Indian nations. In recent years Apache tribal enterprises such as ski areas, resorts, casinos, and lumber mills have helped alleviate chronically high rates of unemployment on the reservations, and bilingual and bicultural educational programs have resulted from direct Apache involvement in the educational process. As of 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 53,330 people identified themselves as Apache, up from 35,861 in 1980.


Apaches have endured severe economic and political disruptions, first by the Spanish, then by the Comanches, and later by the United States government. Apaches became known to the Spanish during authorized and illegal Spanish exploratory expeditions into the Southwest during the sixteenth century, beginning with the Coronado expedition of 1540, but including a number of others, at intervals, throughout the century. It was not until 1598, however, that Apaches had to adjust to the presence of Europeans within their homeland, when the expedition of Juan de Oñate entered the Pueblo country of the upper Rio Grande River Valley in the present state of New Mexico. Oñate intended to establish a permanent Spanish colony. The expedition successfully colonized the area, and by 1610 the town of Santa Fe had been founded. Until the arrival of the Spanish, the Apaches and the Pueblos had enjoyed a mercantile relationship: Pueblos traded their agricultural products and pottery to the Apaches in exchange for buffalo robes and dried meat. The annual visits of whole Apache tribes for trade fairs with the Pueblos, primarily at the pueblos of Taos and Picuris, were described with awe by the early Spaniards in the region. The Spanish, however, began annually to confiscate the Pueblo trade surpluses, thereby disrupting the trade. Nonetheless some Apaches, notably the Jicarillas, became friends and allies of the Spanish. A small group broke away from the Eastern Apaches in the 1600s and migrated into Texas and northern Mexico. This band became known as the Lipan Apaches and was subsequently enslaved by Spanish explorers and settlers from Mexico in the 1700s. They were forced to work on ranches and in mines. The surviving Lipan Apaches were relocated to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico in 1903.

The historic southward migration of the Comanche Nation, beginning around 1700, was devastating for the Eastern Apaches. By about 1725 the Comanches had established authority throughout the whole of the Southern Plains region, pushing the Eastern Apaches (the Jicarillas north of Santa Fe, and the Mescaleros south of Santa Fe) into the mountains of the front range of the Rockies in New Mexico. Denied access to the buffalo herds, the Apaches turned to Spanish cattle and horses. When the Spanish were able to conclude a treaty of peace with the Comanches in 1786, they employed large bodies of Comanche and Navajo auxiliary troops with Spanish regulars, in implementing an Apache policy that pacified the entire Southwestern frontier by 1790. Each individual Apache group was hunted down and cornered, then offered a subsidy sufficient for their maintenance if they would settle near a Spanish mission, refrain from raiding Spanish livestock, and live peacefully. One by one, each Apache group accepted the terms. The peace, though little studied by modern scholars, is thought to have endured until near the end of the Spanish colonial era.

The start of the Mexican War with the United States in 1846 disrupted the peace, and by the time the United States moved into the Southwest at the conclusion of the Mexican War in 1848, the Apaches posed an almost unsolvable problem. The Americans, lacking both Spanish diplomatic skills and Spanish understanding of the Apaches, sought to subjugate the Apaches militarily, an undertaking that was not achieved until the final surrender of Geronimo's band in 1886. Some Apaches became prisoners of war, shipped first to Florida, then to Alabama, and finally to Oklahoma. Others entered a period of desultory reservation life in the Southwest.


Apache populations today may be found in Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico. The San Carlos Reservation in eastern Arizona occupies 1,900,000 acres and has a population of more than 6,000. The San Carlos Reservation and Fort Apache Reservation were administratively divided in 1897. In the 1920s the San Carlos Reservation established a business committee, which was dominated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The business committee evolved into a tribal council, which now runs the tribe as a corporation. The reservation lost most of its best farmland when the Coolidge Dam was completed in 1930. Mount Graham, 10,720 feet in elevation, is sacred land to the Apaches. It stands at the southern end of the reservation. The Tonto Reservation in east-central Arizona is a small community, closely related to the Tontos at Camp Verde Reservation.

The Fort Apache Reservation occupies 1,665,000 acres in eastern Arizona and has a population of more than 12,000. It is home to the Coyotero Apaches which include the Cibecue and White Mountain Apaches. Approximately half of the land is timbered; there is diverse terrain with different ecosystems depending upon the elevation, from 2,700 feet to 11,500 feet. Fort Apache was founded as a military post in 1863 and decommissioned in 1922. The Fort Apache Recreation Enterprise, begun in 1954, has created much economic activity, including Sunrise Ski Area, which generates more than $9 million in revenue annually. In 1993, the White Mountain Apaches opened the Hon Dah (Apache for "Welcome") Casino on the Fort Apache Reservation.

The Camp Verde Reservation occupies approximately 500 acres in central Arizona. The reservation, in several small fragments, is shared by about an equal number of Tonto Apaches and Yavapai living in three communities, at Camp Verde, Middle Verde, and Clarksdale. About half of the 1,200 tribal members live on the reservation. Middle Verde is the seat of government, a tribal council that is elected from the three communities. The original tract of 40 acres, acquired in 1910, is at Camp Verde. By 1916, an additional 400 acres had been added at Middle Verde. In 1969, 60 acres were acquired at Clarksdale, a donation of the Phelps-Dodge Company when it closed its Clarksdale mining operation, to be used as a permanent land base for the Yavapai-Apache community that had worked in the Clarksdale copper mines. An additional 75 acres of tribal land surrounds the Montezuma Castle National Monument. Approximately 280 acres at Middle Verde is suitable for agriculture. The tribe has the highest percentage of its students enrolled in college of any tribe in Arizona.

The Jicarilla Reservation occupies 750,000 acres in north-central New Mexico. There are two divisions among the Jicarilla, the Olleros ("Potmakers") and the Llaneros ("Plains People"). Jicarilla is a Spanish word meaning "Little Basket." In 1907, the reservation was enlarged, with the addition of a large block of land to the south of the original section. In the 1920s, most Jicarilla were stockmen. Many lived on isolated ranches, until drought began making sheep raising unprofitable. After World War II, oil and gas were discovered on the southern portion of the reservation, which by 1986 was producing annual income of $25 million (which dropped to $11 million during the recession in the early 1990s). By the end of the 1950s, 90 percent of the Jicarilla had moved to the vicinity of the agency town of Dulce.

The Mescalero Reservation occupies 460,000 acres in southeast New Mexico in the Sacramento Mountains northeast of Alamogordo. Located in the heart of a mountain recreational area, the Mescaleros have taken advantage of the scenic beauty, bringing tourist dollars into their economy with such enterprises as the Inn of the Mountain Gods, which offers several restaurants and an 18-hole golf course. Another tribal operation, a ski area named Ski Apache, brings in more revenue. The nearby Ruidoso Downs horse racing track also attracts visitors to the area. From mid-May to mid-September, lake and stream fishing is accessible at Eagle Creek Lakes, Silver Springs, and Rio Ruidoso recreation areas. The Mescaleros, like the Jicarilla, are an Eastern Apache tribe, with many cultural influences from the Southern Great Plains.

Apaches in Oklahoma, except for Kiowa-Apaches, are descendants of the 340 members of Geronimo's band of Chiricahua Apaches. The Chiricahua were held as prisoners of war, first in 1886 at Fort Marion, Florida, then for seven years at Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama, and finally at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. By the time they arrived in Fort Sill on October 4, 1894, their numbers had been reduced by illness to 296 men, women and children. They remained prisoners of war on the Fort Sill Military Reservation until 1913. In that year, a total of 87 Chiricahua were allotted lands on the former Kiowa-Comanche Reservation, not far from Fort Sill.

The Kiowa-Apache are a part of the Kiowa Nation. The Kiowa-Apache are under the jurisdiction of the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Agency of the Anadarko Area Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In the 1950s, the Kiowa-Apache held two seats on the 12-member Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Business Committee. Elections for the Kiowa-Apache seats on the Business Committee were held every four years at Fort Cobb. The Kiowas and the Comanches now have separate business committees, which function as the equivalent of tribal governments, and the Kiowa-Apaches have remained allied with the Kiowas. The Kiowa-Apache are an Athapascan-speaking people. They are thought to have diverged from other Athapascans in the northern Rocky Mountains while the Southern Athapascans were in the process of migrating to the Southwest. They became allied with the Kiowas, who at that time lived near the headwaters of the Missouri River in the high Rockies, and they migrated to the Southern Plains with the Kiowas, stopping en route for a time in the vicinity of the Black Hills. Since they first became known to Europeans, they have been closely associated with the Kiowas on the Great Plains. The Lewis and Clark expedition met the Kiowa-Apaches in 1805 and recorded the first estimate of their population, giving them an approximate count of 300. The Kiowas and the Kiowa-Apaches eventually became close allies of the Comanches on the Southern Plains. By treaty in 1868 the Kiowa-Apaches joined the Kiowas and Comanches on the same reservation. A devastating measles epidemic killed hundreds of the three tribes in 1892. In 1901, the tribal estate was allotted to individual tribal members, and the remainder of their land was opened to settlement by American farmers. The Kiowa-Apache allotments are near the communities of Fort Cobb and Apache in Caddo County, Oklahoma. Official population reports for the Kiowa-Apaches put their numbers at 378 in 1871, 344 in 1875, 349 in 1889, 208 in 1896, and 194 in 1924. In 1951, historian Muriel Wright estimated their population in Oklahoma at approximately 400.


Apaches are, relatively speaking, new arrivals in the Southwest. Their language family, Athapascan, is dispersed over a vast area of the upper Western hemisphere, from Alaska and Canada to Mexico. Apaches have moved farther south than any other members of the Athapascan language family, which includes the Navajo, who are close relatives of the Apaches. When Spaniards first encountered the Apaches and Navajos in the sixteenth century, they could not tell them apart and referred to the Navajo as Apaches de Navajo.

Athapascans are generally believed to have been among the last peoples to have crossed the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska during the last interglacial epoch. Most members of the language family still reside in the far north. Exactly when the Apaches and Navajos began their migration southward is not known, but it is clear that they had not arrived in the Southwest before the end of the fourteenth century. The Southwest was home to a number of flourishing civilizationsthe ancient puebloans, the Mogollon, the Hohokum, and othersuntil near the end of the fourteenth century. Those ancient peoples are now believed to have become the Papago, Pima, and Pueblo peoples of the contemporary Southwest. Scholars at one time assumed that the arrival of the Apaches and Navajos played a role in the abandonment of those ancient centers of civilization. It is now known that prolonged drought near the end of the fourteenth century was the decisive factor in disrupting what was already a delicate balance of life for those agricultural cultures in the arid Southwest. The Apaches and Navajos probably arrived to find that the ancient puebloans in the present-day Four Corners area had reestablished themselves near dependable sources of water in the Pueblo villages of the upper Rio Grande Valley in what is now New Mexico, and that the Mogollon in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona and the Hohokam in southern Arizona had likewise migrated from their ancient ruins. When Spaniards first entered the region, with the expedition of Francisco de Coronado in 1540, the Apaches and Navajos had already established themselves in their homeland.


The Grand Apacheria, as it was known, the homeland of the Apaches, was a vast region stretching from what is now central Arizona in the west to present-day central and south Texas in the east, and from northern Mexico in the south to the high plains of what became eastern Colorado in the north. This region was divided between Eastern and Western Apaches. Eastern Apaches were Plains Apaches. In the days before the horse, and before the historic southward migration of the Comanche Nation, in the early 1700s, the Plains Apaches were the lords of the Southern Plains. Western Apaches lived primarily on the western side of the Continental Divide in the mountains of present-day Arizona and western New Mexico. When the Comanches adopted the use of the horse and migrated southward out of what is now Wyoming, they displaced the Eastern Apaches from the Southern Great Plains, who then took up residence in the mountainous country of what eventually became eastern New Mexico.

Acculturation and Assimilation

While adhering strongly to their culture in the face of overwhelming attempts to suppress it, Apaches have been adaptable at the same time. As an example, approximately 70 percent of the Jicarillas still practice the Apache religion. When the first Jicarilla tribal council was elected, following the reforms of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, ten of its 18 members were medicine men and five others were traditional leaders from chiefs' families. In 1978, a survey found that at least one-half of the residents of the reservation still spoke Jicarilla, and one-third of the households used it regularly. Jicarilla children in the 1990s, however, prefer English, and few of the younger children learn Jicarilla today. The director of the Jicarilla Education Department laments the direction such changes are taking, but no plans are underway to require the children to learn Jicarilla. At the same time, Jicarillas are demonstrating a new pride in traditional crafts. Basketry and pottery making, which had nearly died out during the 1950s, are now valued skills once again, taught and learned with renewed vigor. Many Apaches say they are trying to have the best of both worlds, attempting to survive in the dominant culture while still remaining Apache.


The most enduring Apache custom is the puberty ceremony for girls, held each summer. Clan relatives still play important roles in these ceremonies, when girls become Changing Woman for the four days of their nai'es. These are spectacular public events, proudly and vigorously advertised by the tribe.


Many Apache children were sent to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania not long after the school was founded in 1879 by Richard Henry Pratt; a large group of them arrived in 1887. Government and mission schools were established among the Apaches in the 1890s. These schools pursued vigorous assimilationist policies, including instruction only in English. By 1952, eighty percent of the Apaches in Arizona spoke English. Today, Apaches participate in decisions involving the education of their young, and this has resulted in exemplary bilingual and bicultural programs at the public schools at the San Carlos and Fort Apache reservations, especially in the elementary grades. In 1959, the Jicarilla in New Mexico incorporated their school district with the surrounding Hispanic towns. Within 30 years, its school board included four Jicarilla members, including the editor of the tribal newspaper. In 1988, the Jicarilla school district was chosen New Mexico School District of the Year.

Some Apache communities, like the Cibecue community at White Mountain Reservation, are more conservative and traditional than others, but all value their traditional culture, which has proven to be enduring. Increasingly, especially in communities such as the White Mountain Reservation, education is being used as a tool to develop human resources so that educated tribal members can find ways for the tribe to engage in economic activity that will allow more of its people to remain on the reservation, thus preserving its community and culture.


Baked mescal, a large desert agave plant, is a uniquely traditional Apache food and is still occasionally harvested and prepared. The proper season for harvesting is May or June, when massive red flowers begin to appear in the mescal patches; it requires specialized knowledge just to find them. The plant is dug out of the ground and stripped, leaving a white bulb two to three feet in circumference. A large cooking pit is dug, about 15 feet long, four feet wide, and four feet deep, large enough to cook about 2,000 pounds of mescal. The bottom of the pit is lined with stones, on top of which fires are built. The mescal is layered on top of the stones, covered with a layer of straw, and then with a layer of dirt. When cooked, the mescal is a fibrous, sticky, syrupy substance with a flavor similar to molasses. Portions are also dried in thin layers, which can last indefinitely without spoiling, and which provide the Apaches with lightweight rations for extended journeys.


Reconstructed traditional houses of the Apache, Maricopa, Papago, and Pima are on display at the Gila River Arts and Crafts Museum in Sacaton, Arizona, south of Phoenix. The gift shop at the museum sells arts and crafts from more than 30 tribes in the Southwest. Gift shops selling locally made traditional crafts can also be found at visitor centers, museums, or the tribal complex on the Apache reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. 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. Mescalero Apache women also fashion sandals and bags from mescal fibers.


Charlotte Heth, of the Department of Ethnomusicology, University of California, Los Angeles, has noted in a chapter in Native America: Portrait of the Peoples that "Apache and Navajo song style are similar: tense, nasal voices; rhythmic pulsation; clear articulation of words in alternating sections with vocables. Both Apache Crown Dancers and Navajo Yeibichei (Night Chant) dancers wear masks and sing partially in falsetto or in voices imitating the supernaturals."

The White Mountain Apache Sunrise Dance signifies a girl's entrance into womanhood. When a girl performs the elaborate dance she will be bestowed with special blessings. The ceremony involves the parents choosing godparents for the girl. Also, a medicine man is selected to prepare the sacred items used in the four-day event, including an eagle feather for the girl's hair, deer skin clothing, and paint made from corn and clay. The dance itself lasts three to six hours and is performed twice to 32 songs and prayers. The Crown Dance or Mountain Spirit Dance is a masked dance in which the participants impersonate deities of the mountainsspecifically the Gans, or mountain spirits. The Apache Fire Dance is also a masked dance. Instruments for making music include the water drum, the hand-held rattle, and the human voice. Another traditional instrument still used in ritual and ceremonial events is the bullroarer, a thin piece of wood suspended from a string and swung in a circle. Not all dances are open to the public. Visitors should call the tribal office to find out when dances are scheduled at which they will be welcome. The Yavapai-Apache, Camp Verde, Arizona, occasionally present public performances of the Mountain Spirit Dance. Oklahoma Apaches sometimes perform the Fire Dance at the annual American Indian Exposition in Anadarko, Oklahoma; and the San Carlos Apache, San Carlos, Arizona, and the White Mountain Apache, Whiteriver, Arizona, perform the Sunrise Dance and Mountain Spirit Dance throughout the summer, but their traditional dances are most easily observed at the San Carlos Tribal Fair and the White Mountain Tribal Fair.


Apaches celebrate a number of holidays each year with events that are open to the public. The San Carlos Apache Tribal Fair is celebrated annually over Veterans Day weekend at San Carlos, Arizona. The Tonto Apache and Yavapai-Apache perform public dances each year at the Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff, Arizona, on the Fourth of July. The White Mountain Apache host The Apache Tribal Fair, which usually occurs on Labor Day weekend, at Whiteriver, Arizona. The Jicarilla Apache host the Little Beaver Rodeo and Powwow, usually in late July, and the Gojiiya Feast Day on September 14-15 each year, at Dulce, New Mexico. The Mescalero Apache Gahan Ceremonial occurs each year on July 1-4 at Mescalero, New Mexico. Apaches in Oklahoma participate in the huge, week-long American Indian Exposition in Anadarko, Oklahoma, each August.


Apaches have suffered devastating health problems from the last decades of the nineteenth century and throughout most of the twentieth century. Many of these problems are associated with malnutrition, poverty, and despair. They have suffered incredibly high rates of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis. Once tuberculosis was introduced among the Jicarilla, it spread at an alarming rate. The establishment of schools, beginning in 1903, only gave the tuberculosis bacteria a means of spreading rapidly throughout the entire tribe. By 1914, 90 percent of the Jicarillas suffered from tuberculosis. Between 1900 and 1920, one-quarter of the people died. One of the reservation schools had to be converted into a tuberculosis sanitarium in an attempt to address the crisis. The sanitarium was not closed until 1940.

Among nearly all Native peoples of North America, alcohol has been an insidious, destructive force, and the Apache are no exception. A recent study found that on both the Fort Apache Reservation and the San Carlos Reservation, alcohol was a factor in more than 85 percent of the major crimes. Alcohol, though long known to the Apache, has not always been a destructive force. Sharing the traditional telapi (fermented corn sprouts), in the words of one elder, "made people feel good about each other and what they were doing together." Alcohol as a destructive force in Apache culture is a phenomenon that dates from colonization, and it has been a byproduct of demoralization and despair. Tribal leaders have attempted to address the underlying health problems by trying to create tribal enterprise, by fostering and encouraging bilingual and bicultural educational opportunities, and by trying to make it possible for Apaches to gain more control over their lives.


The Athapascan language family has four branches: Northern Athapascan, Southwestern Athapascan, Pacific Coast Athapascan, and Eyak, a southeast Alaska isolate. The Athapascan language family is one of three families within the Na-Dene language phylum; the other two, the Tlingit family and the Haida family, are language isolates in the far north, Tlingit in southeast Alaska, and Haida in British Columbia. Na-Dene is one of the most widely distributed language phyla in North America. The Southwestern Athapascan language, sometimes called Apachean, has seven dialects: Navajo, Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa-Apache.

Family and Community Dynamics

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.

Apache culture is matrilineal. Once married, the man goes with the wife's extended family, where she is surrounded by her relatives. Spouse abuse is practically unknown in such a system. Should the marriage not endure, child custody quarrels are also unknown: the children remain 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. Apache women are chaste, and children are deeply loved.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Apaches can be found pursuing careers in all the professions, though most of them must leave their communities to do so. Some are college faculty; others, such as Allan Houser, grand-nephew of Geronimo, have achieved international reputations in the arts. 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. A chronic high level of unemployment is the norm on most reservations in the United States. More than 50 percent of the tribe is unemployed. The unemployment rate on the reservation itself is about 20 percent. U.S. Census Bureau figures show the median family income for Apaches was $19,690, which is $16,000 less than for the general population. Also, 37.5 percent of Apaches had incomes at or below the poverty level as of 1989.

A number of tribal economic enterprises offer some employment opportunities. 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.

The Jicarilla Apache also operate a ski enterprise, offering equipment rentals and trails for a cross-country ski program during the winter months. The gift shop at the Jicarilla museum provides an outlet for the sale of locally crafted Jicarilla traditional items, including basketry, beadwork, feather work, and finely tanned buckskin leather.

Many members of the Mescalero Apache find employment at their ski resort, Ski Apache. Others work at the tribal museum and visitor center in Mescalero, Arizona. A 440-room Mescalero resort, the Inn of the Mountain Gods, has a gift shop, several restaurants, and an 18-hole golf course, and offers casino gambling, horseback riding, skeet and trap shooting, and tennis. The tribe also has a 7,000-head cattle ranch, a sawmill, and a metal fabrication plant. In 1995, the Mescaleros signed a controversial $2 billion deal with 21 nuclear power plant operators to store nuclear waste on a remote corner of the reservation. The facility is scheduled to open in 2002, barring any legal challenges.

For the Yavapai-Apache, whose small reservation has fewer than 300 acres of land suitable for agriculture, the tourist complex at the Montezuma Castle National Monumentwhere the tribe owns the 75 acres of land surrounding the monumentis an important source of employment and revenue.

Tourism, especially for events such as tribal fairs and for hunting and fishing, provides jobs and brings money into the local economies at a number of reservations. Deer and elk hunting are especially popular on the Jicarilla reservation. The Jicarilla also maintain five campgrounds where camping is available for a fee. Other campgrounds are maintained by the Mescalero Apache (3), the San Carlos Apache (4), and the White Mountain Apache (18).

Politics and Government

The Apache tribes are federally recognized tribes. 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. 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.


Apaches 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). Under the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946, the Jicarillas have been awarded nearly $10 million in compensation for land unjustly taken from them, but the United States refuses to negotiate the return of any of this land. In Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Jicarillas in an important case concerning issues of tribal sovereignty, holding that the Jicarillas have the right to impose tribal taxes upon minerals extracted from their lands.

Individual and Group Contributions


Apaches are making important contributions to Native American literature and the arts. Lorenzo Baca, of Mescalero Apache and Isleta Pueblo heritage, is not only a writer, but also a performing and visual artist who does fine art, sculpture, video, storytelling and acting. His poetry has been anthologized in The Shadows of Light: Poetry and Photographyof the Motherlode and Sierras (Jelm Mountain Publications), in Joint Effort II: Escape (Sierra Conservation Center), and in Neon Powwow: New Native American Voices of the Southwest (Northland Publishing). His audio recording, Songs, Poems and Lies, was produced by Mr. Coyote Man Productions. An innovative writer, his circle stories entitled "Ten Rounds" in Neon Powwow illustrate his imagination and capacity to create new forms of poetic expression. Jicarilla Apache creative writers Stacey Velarde and Carlson Vicenti present portraits of Native people in the modern world in their stories in the Neon Powwow anthology. Velarde, who has been around horses all her life and has competed in professional rodeos since the age of 13, applies this background and knowledge in her story "Carnival Lights," while Vicenti, in "Hitching" and "Oh Saint Michael," shows how Native people incorporate traditional ways into modern life.

White Mountain Apache poet Roman C. Adrian has published poetry in Sun Tracks, The New Times, Do Not Go Gentle, and The Remembered Earth. The late Chiricahua Apache poet Blossom Haozous, of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, was a leader in the bilingual presentation of Apache traditional stories, both orally and in publication. One of the stories, "Quarrel Between Thunder and Wind" was published bilingually in the Chronicles of Oklahoma, the quarterly scholarly journal of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Jose L. Garza, Coahuilateca and Apache, is not only a leading Native American poet but a leading Native American educator as well. His poetry has appeared in such publications as Akwe:kon Journal, of the American Indian Program at Cornell University, The Native Sun, New Rain Anthology, The Wayne Review, Triage, and The Wooster Review. Garza is a professor at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania and is a regional coordinator of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Mentor and Apprentice Writers. In Wordcraft Circle, he organizes and helps conduct intensive writing workshops in which young Native writers from all tribes have an opportunity to hone their creative skills and learn how they can publish their work.

Other Apache writers include Lou Cuevas, author of Apache Legends: Songs of the Wild Dancer and In the Valley of the Ancients: A Book of Native American Legends (both Naturegraph); Jicarilla Apache scholar Veronica E. Velarde Tiller, the author of The Jicarilla Apache Tribe (University of Nebraska Press); and Michael Lacapa, of Apache, Hopi, and Pueblo heritage, the author of The Flute Player, Antelope Woman: An Apache Folktale, and The Mouse Couple (all Northland). Throughout the Apache tribes, the traditional literature and knowledge of the people is handed down from generation to generation by storytellers who transmit their knowledge orally.


Chiricahua Apache sculptor Allan Houser has been acclaimed throughout the world for his six decades of work in wood, marble, stone, and bronze. Houser was born June 30, 1914, near Apache, Oklahoma. He died on August 22, 1994, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His Apache surname was Haozous, which means "Pulling Roots."

In the 1960s, Houser was a charter faculty member at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, where he began to cast statues in bronze. He taught until 1975. After retirement from teaching, he devoted himself full-time to his work, creating sculptures in bronze, wood, and stone. In April 1994, he presented an 11-foot bronze sculpture to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington, D.C., as a gift from the American Indians to all people.

Houser was known primarily for his large sculptures. Many of these could be seen in a sculpture garden, arranged among pinon and juniper trees, near his studio. His work is included in the British Royal Collection, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, the Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado, the Museum of Northern Arizona at Flagstaff, Arizona, the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, the Fine Arts Museum of the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Apache Tribal Cultural Center in Apache, Oklahoma, the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the University Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Houser's work has won many awards, including the Prix de West Award in 1993 for a bronze sculpture titled "Smoke Signals" at the annual National Academy of Western Art show at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. "Smoke Signals" is now a part of the permanent collection of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

One of his best known works, a bronze statue of an Indian woman, titled "As Long as the Waters Flow," stands in front of the state capitol of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. At the University of Oklahoma, in Norman, two large Houser sculptures were on loan to the university and on display on the grounds of the campus at the time of his death. At the Fred Jones Jr. Museum on campus several Houser pieces from private Oklahoma collections were on view. Upon his death, the University of Oklahoma Student Association announced the creation of the Allan Houser Memorial Sculpture Fund. The fund will be used to purchase a major Houser sculpture for permanent display on the University of Oklahoma campus.

Jordan Torres (1964 ) is a Mescalero Apache sculptor from the tribe's reservation near Ruidoso, New Mexico. His work illustrates the Apache way of life. It includes "Forever," an alabaster sculpture of an Apache warrior carrying a shield and blanket; and a white buffalo entitled "On the Edge."



Apache Drumbeat.

Address: Bylas, Arizona 85530.

Apache Junction Independent.

Community newspaper.

Contact: Jim Files, Editor.

Address: Independent Newspapers, Inc., 201 West Apache Trail, Suite 107, Apache Junction, Arizona 85220.

Telephone: (480) 982-7799.

Apache News.

Community newspaper founded in 1901.

Contact: Stanley Wright, Editor.

Address: Box 778, Apache, Oklahoma 73006.

Telephone: (405) 588-3862.

Apache Scout.

Address: Mescalero, New Mexico 88340.

Bear Track.

Address: 1202 West Thomas Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85013.

Center for Indian Education News.

Address: 302 Farmer Education Building, Room 302, Tempe, Arizona 85287.


Address: Institute of American Indian Arts, Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501.

Fort Apache Scout.

Bi-weekly community newspaper.

Address: Box 898, Whiteriver, Arizona 85941.

Telephone: (520) 338-4813.

Four Directions.

Address: 1812 Las Lomas, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131.

Gila River Indian News.

Address: Box 97, Sacaton, Arizona 85247.

Jicarilla Chieftain.

Contact: Mary F. Polanco, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 507, Dulce, New Mexico 87528.

Telephone: (505) 759-3242.

Fax: (505) 759-3005.

San Carlos Moccasin.

Address: P.O. Box 775, San Carlos, Arizona 85550.

Smoke Dreams.

High school newspaper for Apache students.

Address: Riverside Indian School, Anadarko, Oklahoma 73005.


High school newspaper for Apache students.

Address: Albuquerque Indian School, 1000 Indian School Road, N.W., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103.


Address: Northern Arizona University, Campus Box 5630, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011.


KCIE-FM (90.5).

Jicarilla Apache radio station.

Contact: Warren Cassador, Station Manager.

Address: P.O. Box 603, Dulce, New Mexico 87528.

Telephone: (505) 759-3681.

Fax: (505) 759-3005.

KENN. Address: 212 West Apache, Farmington, New Mexico 87401.

Telephone: (505) 325-3541.

KGAK-AM. Address: 401 East Coal Road, Gallup, New Mexico 87301-6099.

Telephone: (505) 863-4444.

KGHR-FM (91.5).

Address: P.O. Box 160, Tuba City, Arizona 86519.

Telephone: (520) 283-6271, Extension 177.

Fax: (520) 283-6604.

KHAC-AM (1110).

Address: Drawer F, Window Rock, Arizona 86515.

KNNB-FM (88.1).

White Mountain Apache radio station. Eclectic and ethnic format 18 hours daily.

Contact: Phoebe L. Nez, General Manager.

Address: Highway 73, Skill Center Road, P.O. Box 310, Whiteriver, Arizona 85941.

Telephone: (520) 338-5229.

Fax: (520) 338-1744.


Address: 816 Sixth Street, Parker, Arizona 85344-4599.

Address: 115 West Broadway Street, Anadarko, Oklahoma 73005.

Telephone: (405) 247-6682.

KTDB-FM (89.7). Address: P.O. Box 89, Pine Hill, New Mexico 87321.

KTNN-AM. Address: P.O. Box 2569, Window Rock, Arizona 86515.

Telephone: (520) 871-2582.


KSWO-TV. Address: P.O. Box 708, Lawton, Oklahoma 73502.

Organizations and Associations

Apache Tribe of Oklahoma.

Address: P.O. Box 1220, Anadarko, Oklahoma 73005.

Telephone: (405) 247-9493.

Fax: (405) 247-9232.

Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma.

Address: Rural Route 2, Box 121, Apache, Oklahoma 73006.

Telephone: (405) 588-2298.

Fax: (405) 588-3313.

Jicarilla Apache Tribe.

Address: P.O. Box 147, Dulce, New Mexico 87528.

Telephone: (505) 759-3242.

Fax: (505) 759-3005.

Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

Address: P.O. Box 369, Carnegie, Oklahoma 73015.

Telephone: (405) 654-2300.

Fax: (405) 654-2188.

Mescalero Apache Tribe.

Address: P.O. Box 176, Mescalero, New Mexico 88340.

Telephone: (505) 671-4495.

Fax: (505) 671-4495.

New Mexico Commission on Indian Affairs.

Address: 330 East Palace Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501.

New Mexico Indian Advisory Commission.

Address: Box 1667, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87107.

San Carlos Apache Tribe.

Address: P.O. Box O, San Carlos, Arizona, 85550.

Telephone: (520) 475-2361.

Fax: (520) 475-2567.

Tonto Apache Tribal Council.

Address: Tonto Reservation No. 30, Payson, Arizona 85541.

Telephone: (520) 474-5000.

Fax: (520) 474-9125.

White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Contact: Dallas Massey Sr., Tribal Council Chairman.

Address: P.O. Box 700, Whiteriver, Arizona 85941.

Telephone: (520) 338-4346.

Fax: (520) 338-1514.

Yavapai-Apache Tribe.

Address: P.O. Box 1188, Camp Verde, Arizona.

Telephone: (520) 567-3649.

Fax: (520) 567-9455.

Museums and Research Centers

Apache museums and research centers include: 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; Fine Arts Museum in Santa Fe; Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Great Plains Museum in Lawton, Oklahoma; Hall of the Modern Indian in Santa Fe; Heard Museum of Anthropology in Phoenix, Arizona; Indian Hall of Fame in Anadarko, Oklahoma; Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe; Maxwell Museum in Albuquerque; Milicent Rogers Museum in Taos, New Mexico; Northern Arizona Museum in Flagstaff; Oklahoma Historical Society Museum in Oklahoma City; Philbrook Museum in Tulsa; Southern Plains Indian Museum in Anadarko; State Museum of Arizona in Tempe; Stovall Museum at the University of Oklahoma in Norman; San Carlos Apache Cultural Center in Peridot, Arizona.

Sources for Additional Study

Buskirk, Winfred. The Western Apache. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.

Forbes, Jack D. Apache, Navajo, and Spaniard. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969, 1994.

Kenner, Charles L. A History of New Mexican-Plains Indian Relations. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969, 1994.

Perry, Richard J. Apache Reservation: Indigenous Peoples and the American State. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.

Stockel, H. Henrietta. Women of the Apache Nation: Voices of Truth. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1991.

Trimble, Stephen. The People: Indians of the American Southwest. Santa Fe: New Mexico: Sar Press, 1993.

Wright, Muriel H. A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma, foreword by Arrell Morgan Gibson. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951, 1986.


views updated May 18 2018


For more information on Apache groups, please see Chiricahua Apache, San Carlos Apache, and White Mountain Apache entries.


Apache (pronounced uh-PATCH-ee) comes from the Yuma word meaning “fighting-men” or the Zuñi word apachu, meaning “enemy.” The Apache call themselves Inde or Ndé, meaning “people.”


The Apache once lived in a vast region stretching from what is now central Arizona to central Texas, and from northern Mexico to the high plains of southeastern Colorado. In the mid-2000s about 37,500 Apaches resided on nine reservations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The remaining Apaches were scattered throughout the United States.


At the end of the 1600s there were an estimated five thousand Apache. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 53,330 people identified themselves as Apache. In 2000 that number had risen to 57,199, and a total of 96,833 people claimed some Apache heritage, making the tribe the seventh largest in the United States.

Language family


Origins and group affiliations

According to European historians, the Apache people made a gradual move from western Canada to the American Southwest between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Apache oral history, however, indicates that their people migrated north, and those who live in the Southwest in modern times were the ones who stayed behind. The Apache were never one unified group, but rather a number of bands who spoke similar languages and shared similar customs. Today they are divided into two groups: Western Apache and Eastern Apache (also known as Plains Apache).

The Eastern Apache include the Chiricahua (pronounced CHEER-uh-KAH-wuh), Jicarilla (hi-kah-REE-yah), Lipan, Mescalero (mes-KAH-lair-ro), and Kiowa (KYE-o-wah) Apache peoples. Their descendants now live in New Mexico and Oklahoma. Western Apache include the Cibecue, Coyotero, Northern Tonto, Southern Tonto, San Carlos, and White Mountain Apache. Their descendants now live in Arizona.

The Apache believe they once lived beneath the earth’s surface. Long ago they came above ground and found themselves in the American Southwest, their sacred homeland. Apaches feel a powerful spiritual tie to their land, a place of majestic mountains, grassy hills, vast deserts, steep canyons, hot springs, and dense forests of pine, sycamore, cottonwood, juniper, and oak. They are a fierce, proud, religious people who, for centuries before Europeans came, wandered the Southwest, hunting game and gathering the abundant fruits and nuts there.


Trading and raiding

The Apache were wanderers in a harsh, dry land where temperatures could abruptly change from extremely hot to extremely cold. They often quarreled among themselves and had uneasy relations with their neighbors, especially the Pueblo and Pima tribes (see entries). They sometimes traded with those tribes, but they could also take up their weapons and raid Pueblo and Pima villages.

When the Spanish arrived in 1540, bringing guns and horses, the Apache happily traded with them at first. For more than 300 years the Spanish had heard stories about seven lost cities of gold, and they believed Apache land was its hiding place. Relations between the Apache and the Spanish disintegrated after the Spanish tried to take control of Apache land. The Apache carried out sneak attacks on Spanish settlements, stealing their guns, horses, cattle, and even their children. The Spanish, in return, took Apache women and children into slavery.

By 1700 the Comanche tribe (see entry) acquired horses, which allowed them to leave the Great Plains and travel greater distances than ever before. They entered Apache territory and forced the people out of their hunting grounds. Unable to hunt for buffalo, the Apache carried out more raids against Spanish settlements.

When the Spanish signed a peace treaty with the Comanche in 1786, they employed Comanche and Navajo (see entry) warriors to hunt down the Apache. The Spanish then offered bribes if the Apache people would agree to settle near Spanish missions, stop raiding Spanish livestock, and live peacefully. One by one, Apache groups accepted the terms. Some fled to the mountains, however, and continued to carry out raids against Spanish settlements in what is now Mexico. The Mexican government responded by offering to pay a price for every Apache scalp taken. (For more information, see Chiricahua Apache entry.)

Important Dates

1540: Spanish gold seekers encounter the Apache for the first time.

1847: The Apache come under American control.

1886: The final surrender of Geronimo’s band marks the end of Apache military resistance to white settlement.

1934: The Indian Reorganization Act results in self-government for Apache tribes.

Apache come under U.S. control

In 1821 the Spanish gave Mexico land in the Southwest that included Apache territory. In 1848 the United States took over part of the region under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which settled the Mexican-American War (1846–48; a war fought between the United States and Mexico which led to loss of about one-half of Mexico’s national territory to the United States). In the treaty U.S. government officials promised Mexico that if any Native Americans on the new American lands carried out raids in Mexico, America would punish them. Now, instead of the Mexican government, the Apache had a new enemy—the U.S. Army.

American settlers and gold seekers streamed through Apache territory. They did not try to get along with the Apache, as the Spanish had done. Instead, they called out the U.S. Army to subdue them. The Apache put up such a fierce resistance, however, that they were not conquered until the final surrender of the feared and respected Apache leader Geronimo (c. 1827–1909) and his band in 1886. (For more information, see Chiricahua Apache entry.) Newspaper headlines across the nation announced: “Apache War Ended!” The “roving Apache,” as one army general called them, were now under the control of the U.S. government.

Some became prisoners of war, shipped first to Florida, then to Alabama, and finally to the Fort Sill Reservation in Oklahoma. Others were placed on reservations in the Southwest. Different Apache groups had various destinies (see Chiricahua Apache, San Carlos Apache, and White Mountain Apache entries).


The Apache are very religious, and all of their actions are guided by their beliefs. They seek the help and guidance of the gods before hunting, farming, or going to war. The Apache believe in a creator called Usen, or Life Giver, who is the most important of their several gods. Other supernatural spirits include White Painted Woman, the symbol of life, and her children, Child of the Water and Killer of Enemies. The friendly Mountain Spirits are worshiped in special ceremonies led by spiritual leaders called shamans (pronounced SHAH-munz or SHAY-munz) who could also heal the sick.

Many Apache people converted to the Catholic faith under the influence of Spanish missionaries, but they never abandoned their ancient religion because it is such an important element in their way of life. In the late 1800s the U.S. government and Christian missionaries tried to suppress the old religion, and conducting rituals like the Sunrise Ceremony became illegal. To keep their traditions alive, the Apaches held their ceremonies in secret. In 1978 the American Indian Religious Freedom Act passed, and the tribe could once again hold these rituals openly. In the mid-2000s many Apache still practiced those customs, and it was not uncommon for Apache people to participate in both Christian and traditional religions.


The Southwestern Athabaskan language, which is sometimes called Apachean, has seven dialects (varieties): Navajo, Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa Apache. All Apache dialects differ from one another in some ways, but members of the different groups can still understand one another. Most dialects, especially Western Apache, are spoken in modern times.

When the Spanish came to the New World in the mid-1500s, the Apache easily communicated with them using sign language.


In the old times

For the Apache the family is the most important unit. Until the twentieth century they never had a government body that ruled over everyone. Instead family groups usually acted independently. Apache groups moved about constantly from place to place, and government officials found it hard to find them and reach agreements with them.

Apache Population: 2000 Census

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census in 2000, 57,199 people identified themselves as Apache. Because the government no longer keeps population figures for groups numbering less than fifty, no statistics were available for the Lipan Apache. The breakdown of population figures looked like this:

Apache Population: 2000 Census
Fort Sill Apache237
Jicarilla Apache3,109
Mescalero Apache5,482
Oklahoma Apache408
Payson Tonto Apache133
San Carlos Apache8,867
White Mountain Apache12,377

“2000 Census of Population and Housing. Matrix 7: American Indian and Alaskan Native summary file.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Data User Services Division, American FactFinder, 2004.

From time to time, a number of these family groups came together to make important decisions, such as whether to send out a war party. In those instances, the male heads of each family group formed a council, discussed the problem, and made a decision. Even if they decided to act together, though, the groups were never very large. When faced with threats from the Comanche tribe, the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the Americans; the Apache might have a war or raiding party consisting of a maximum of one hundred men (and sometimes women).

Although Apache men made decisions about war and whether to move to a new location, women had influence too. The oldest woman in a household acted as leader and was greatly respected.

On the reservations

Once on the reservations, the Apache came under the control of government agents who did not always treat them well. The government established a U.S. Indian Police force to oversee law enforcement, health, and the use of land. Government agents—mostly white men—were mainly interested in making Native Americans more like whites, and they devoted their efforts to getting the Native Americans to turn over decision-making power to them.

In 1934 the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act. American Indian tribes were given the opportunity to form their own elective tribal councils, a type of government the Apache still use in the twenty-first century.


Before the twentieth century

In the early days the Apache carried on a lively trade, especially with the Pueblo and Pima tribes. The Apache were very clever at hunting and manufacturing items from buffalo, especially robes and jerky (meat that is cut into long strips and dried in the sun or cured by exposing it to smoke). In return for these, the Apache received corn and beans, gourds, cotton cloth, and minerals from other tribes.

Later the Apache traded with the Spanish, exchanging buffalo hides for grain and cattle, as well as for horses and guns that allowed them to expand their hunting and trading opportunities. Raiding was as natural to them as trading, though, and they often took what they wanted from other tribes and from the Mexicans. Some Apache groups relied on a limited amount of farming for food, but once they had horses, they depended less on farming.

The U.S. government began moving the Apache onto reservations in the late 1800s. Life on the reservations was a great shock to a people who were accustomed to roaming. Men who were once warriors were expected to turn to farming, and they struggled to do so for a time. Some succeeded, but others did not because the land was poor and there was little water. Some left the reservations to work for wages.

The Recreation Business

Several Apache tribes have been successful at taking advantage of Americans’ interest in outdoor recreation. For example, many members of the Mescalero Apache find employment at their ski resort, Ski Apache. Others work at the tribal museum and visitor center in Mescalero, Arizona. A large Mescalero enterprise, the Inn of the Mountain Gods in New Mexico, has a gift shop, several restaurants, and an 18-hole golf course. It also offers horseback riding, skeet and trap shooting, and tennis.

For the Yavapai Apache, whose small reservation has fewer than 300 acres of land suitable for agriculture, the tourist complex at the Montezuma Castle National Monument—where the tribe owns the 75 acres of land surrounding the monument—is an important source of employment and revenue. The Jicarilla Apache operate a ski enterprise, offering equipment rentals and trails for a cross-country ski program during the winter months. The gift shop at the Jicarilla museum provides an outlet for the sale of locally crafted traditional items, including basketry, beadwork, feather work, and finely tanned buckskin leather.

Tourism, especially for events such as tribal fairs and for hunting and fishing, provides jobs and brings money into the local economies at a number of reservations. Deer and elk hunting are especially popular on the Jicarilla reservation. The Jicarilla also maintain five campgrounds where camping is available for a fee. Other campgrounds are maintained by the Mescalero Apache, the San Carlos Apache, and the White Mountain Apache.

Twentieth-century economy

After 1918 the U.S. government encouraged the Apache to begin raising cattle, and some tribes have done so very successfully. Others engaged in processing lumber. When large numbers of Americans began to own cars and travel in the 1950s, many Apache turned to the outdoor recreation business.

In the twenty-first century the Apache can be found pursuing careers in all the professions, though most of them must leave their communities to do so. Farming and ranching continue to provide employment for many Apache. The Apache are also known as some of the finest professional rodeo performers.

Those who live on the reservations face a persistently high level of unemployment. About 30 percent of tribal members who want to work cannot find jobs.

Daily life


Daily life revolved around the extended family, which included mother, father, children, grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts, who lived in single-family homes placed close together. Apache women bore few children. There was no word in the Apache language for “cousins,” and children considered their cousins to be their brothers and sisters.

Although Apaches had a reputation as warlike, they were gentle and affectionate with their own children and other relatives. Children were taught manners, kindness, endurance, and obedience. They played games to improve their skills and quickness.


The Apache usually built single-family homes called wickiups (pronounced WIK-ee-ups). These are cone- or dome-shaped structures with a framework of poles covered with brush, grass, reed mats, or sometimes skins. A fire pit in the center vented smoke through a hole directly above it. The Kiowa Apache and Jicarilla usually lived in Plains-style tepees covered with hides, although some Jicarilla may have lived in Pueblo-style homes.

Wickiups were easy to put up, take down, and carry to the different camps Apache bands lived in throughout the year. In very early times, before they acquired horses, they would strap their housing materials to the backs of dogs to carry to the new location.


In early times Apache children learned by listening to, observing, and imitating their parents. Both boys and girls learned survival skills like how to run swiftly, how to ride horses (the Apache were outstanding riders), and how to sneak up on enemy villages because these skills might one day save their lives. Games and contests were held that were fun and also made contestants stronger.

Boys trained for warfare by walking for miles without food and water. They learned to send and read smoke signals and to hunt silently. Girls learned to do household chores because they usually married very young.

Once they were on reservations and under the control of U.S. government agents, Apache children were expected to become “civilized,” or more like whites. Not long after the 1879 founding of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, many Apache children were sent there, to live unhappily far from their homeland and families. Government and mission schools were established among the Apache in the 1890s. All of these schools offered instruction only in English.

In the mid-2000s the majority of the Apache population was under the age of eighteen. Education remains highly regarded, and the Apache take an active role in making decisions about their children’s education. This has resulted in some Apache public schools being singled out by the U.S. government as model schools for their bilingual and bicultural programs, especially in the elementary grades.


The Apache were hunter-gatherers. They hunted bison, antelope, deer, elk, cougar, coyote, javelina, mountain sheep, and such birds as quail and wild turkey. Apache religion would not allow the eating of fish or bears. The people believed some animals were unclean—snakes, frogs, prairie dogs, and fish—so they never ate them. Bears resembled people because they sometimes walked on two legs, so most bands did not kill them. Before the men hunted for game, they greased their bodies with animal fat so their human scent would not scare off the prey.

After they acquired horses in the late 1600s, some Apache groups hunted buffalo like their Plains neighbors, but buffalo were not plentiful. They had to travel great distances to find buffalo, and sometimes approached the animals by crawling a long way through the underbrush to disguise their scent.

Gathered foods included agave (pronounced ah-gah-VEE; a plant with tough, spiny, sword-shaped leaves that grows in hot, dry regions), cactus fruits, pecans, acorns, black walnuts, pine nuts, chokecherries, juniper berries, and raspberries. The climate of the Southwest was not good for farming, and water was scarce. Some Western tribes who were willing to carry water, however, produced limited amounts of corn, beans, pumpkins, and squash.

Clothing and adornment

Apache men wore buckskin breechcloths (garments with front and back flaps that hung from the waist), ponchos (blanket-like cloaks with a hole for the head), and moccasins with attached leggings. Women wore buckskin skirts, similar ponchos, and high bootlike moccasins. These moccasins with their attached leggings protected the Apache from the rough terrain of the deserts, the spikes of spiny cacti, and snakes. Some leggings extended almost to the hip, and the top could be folded over to hold a knife.

Men usually cut their hair shoulder-length and tied a cloth headband across their forehead. They also wore deerskin caps with symbolic decorations. Women wore their hair long.

The Apache acquired cloth and wool through trade with other tribes. At the turn of the twentieth century they began to wear more American-style clothing, such as white cotton shirts and black vests for men and long-sleeved cotton blouses and full skirts for women. Even so, traditional clothing is worn on important occasions. A girl’s puberty ceremony costume generally consists of a two-piece buckskin dress of the highest quality, adorned with fringe, shells, beads, and metal pieces. A shaman’s buckskin garment might have feathers, beads, and paint.

Healing practices

The Apache believed that sicknesses were often (but not always) sent by evil spirits to people who had offended them. Such ailments were cured by healers called shamans, who could be either male or female and who cured with herbs and by dancing and chanting. A suffering person requested the aid of a healer, then sprinkled the healer’s head with pollen and offered a gift. The shaman would accept the gift only if he or she decided to take the case.

During the healing ceremony, the shaman sprinkled the patient with pollen and performed a ritual involving four dancers. The ceremony would be repeated over four nights.

Sometimes sweat baths were used as a remedy for colds and fever. The Apache also knew practical skills such as how to set broken bones with splints fashioned from cedar bark. Bleeding—draining blood from a sick person—was also a medical treatment used for headaches and other ailments.

Twentieth-century health problems

Well into the twentieth century ailing Apache continued to seek the services of shamans, but the kinds of ailments they suffer have changed. The Apache have suffered tremendous health problems associated with malnutrition (poor diet), poverty, and despair. They have incredibly high rates of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis. With the establishment of schools in the early 1900s the tuberculosis bacteria spread rapidly through the tribe. By 1914, 90 percent of the Jicarilla suffered from tuberculosis. Between 1900 and 1920, one-fourth of the people died. One of the reservation schools had to be converted into a tuberculosis sanatorium (a type of treatment facility) in an attempt to address the crisis. The sanatorium remained open until 1940.

Like other tribes the Apache have struggled with the ill effects of alcohol abuse. Alcohol, though long known to the Apache, has not always been a destructive force. In times past the custom of sharing the drink telapi, made from fermented corn sprouts, “made people feel good about each other and what they were doing,” said an Apache elder. Tribal leaders have attempted to address these health problems through education and by creating jobs that keep people from feeling despair.


Crafts revival

Many Apache are demonstrating a new pride in traditional crafts as they attempt to survive in the larger American culture while still remaining Apache. Basketry and pottery making, which had nearly died out during the 1950s, are now valued skills once again, taught and learned with renewed vigor.

Oral literature

The Apache tell stories about the creation of the universe and the supernatural, but these stories are considered sacred and are kept secret. Other tales about the adventures of Coyote and Big Owl are told to instruct young people and to entertain, and some of these stories have been written down.

Coyote is sometimes portrayed as a hero because he taught the Apache how to care for themselves. At other times Coyote plays the role of a fool, for he frequently makes bad moral decisions and then suffers from the consequences. The Apache believe Coyote was responsible for bringing death and darkness into the world.

The Emergence: How the Apache Came to Earth

Long ago they say. Long ago they made the earth and the sky. There were no people living on the earth then. There were four places under the earth where Red Ants were living. These Red Ants were talking about this country up here on the surface of the earth, and they wanted to come up here. Among them was the Red Ant chief and he talked about coming here. “All right, let’s go to this new place above!” all the Ants decided. There was a big cane growing in that place. This grew upwards toward the sky. Then all the Red Ant People started off from the bottom of this cane and traveled up it. When they reached the first joint of the cane they made camp there all night. The next day they traveled on from there, still upwards.

They spent many nights on their way, always making their camp at the joints of the cane. They kept on traveling that way, upwards, and then finally the chief told them to look around this place where they were. So all the people went out and looked around this new country and all of them said that this was a nice place. There were lots of foods growing all around. The chief said, “Bring in all those foods that are good to eat, to our camp.” So the people brought in the different kinds of foods and fruits that were good. They went all over the country for these wild foods. This way they found lots to eat and they found good places to live all over the new land.

After that the chief told the people to look around, and then he sang a song. At every song that he sang all the people were to come together again. Then the chief was singing and in his song he said, “You can go off any place you want to, and when you find a place that is good, then stop there and settle.” So this was the first place that people were living, and these were the first people, the Red Ants

Badger and Porcupine were the first ones on this earth also. Then all kinds of birds started to live on this earth; Eagle and Hawk and all the other kinds. Then God had made man on this earth and everyone was living well. This is the story about how man first became.

Bane, Tithla. “Hatc’onondai (The Emergence, or the Emerging Place).” Myths and Tales of the White Mountain Apache. Glenville Goodwin. New York: American Folk-lore Society, 1939.


Festivals and ceremonies

The Apache did not have rituals celebrating the harvest, as many other tribes do. Apache ceremonies focused on celebrating important life events such as the naming of an infant, a child receiving his or her first pair of moccasins, a first haircut, puberty, healing by shamans, and asking supernatural beings for power. There might be hundreds of ceremonies celebrating life events each year.

Most rituals involved the use of pollen and the number four. Pollen is a symbol of life, fertility, and beauty. The Apache believe it brings good luck and still use it in some ceremonies. The number four represents the four directions (north, south, east, west), and rituals are often performed four times.


Unlike many other tribes Apache boys and girls did not go on vision quests to receive the spiritual guidance some call Power. Instead Power came to them suddenly and unexpectedly, and this could happen several times throughout a person’s life. Without Power, a man could not be a leader, and a woman had no influence.

A girl’s coming-of-age was the occasion for a major ceremony, the Sunrise Ceremony, which lasted four days and was hosted by her parents. Part of the ceremony is called the Dance of the Mountain Spirits, in which masked participants pretend to be gods of the mountains. The young girl being honored impersonated White Painted Woman, who is like Mother Earth. Performance of the dance brought good fortune to the entire tribe. During the ceremony the young girl was attended by an older woman who would be her guide throughout life. After four days of constant singing and dancing, a girl took four days to recover. This puberty ceremony is still observed today, although, because of the expenses involved in paying dancers and providing food for the tribe, it may last only a day or two, or several girls may share the same ceremony.

The boy’s version of a puberty ceremony was his first four raids on enemy settlements. After he completed them, he was considered an adult.

Courtship and marriage

Young Apache women were supervised to limit their contact with young men, and dances provided rare and welcome opportunities for socializing. A young man’s entire family decided on his choice of a bride. Once all his relatives had voiced their approval of his choice, the young man’s parents or their representative offered presents to the girl’s parents.

If the bride’s parents accepted the gift, the couple was often considered married with little or no further ceremony. Author Michael Melody described one simple Apache wedding that he observed: “A basin made of buffalo hide was carried to a secluded place and filled with fresh water. The bride and groom stepped into it, held hands, and awaited the appearance of both sets of parents, who had to acknowledge the matrimony.” Afterward, the couple joined a public dance.

Married life

The Apache trace their ancestry through the mother, and married couples set up housekeeping near the wife’s parents in a separate wickiup. The Apache believed a marriage would be happier if the wife’s mother never spoke to, or even appeared in the presence of, her son-in-law. No such rule applied to the wife’s grandmother, who today remains a powerful presence in family life.

A man had to take care of his wife’s family, and if she died, he had to marry her sister or unwed cousin. Several wives might be taken by successful hunters or warriors or others who could afford it. In the case of divorce, children remained with the wife’s extended family. Modern-day Apache have adopted American marriage customs.

War rituals

Warfare was a major part of the Apache existence until almost 1900. Michael Melody wrote that most Apache battles “were undertaken to avenge deaths of group members, usually killed during raids. The slain warrior’s family led the way during battle.” The Apache requested the help of the gods prior to battle in a ceremony that included warriors in costume. The dancers acted out the brave deeds they intended to perform. If the warriors were successful, another dance was held in which they acted out their achievements.

War parties might consist of a maximum of one hundred warriors who bravely faced much larger forces. During the late 1800s they took on the U.S. Army. When a cause seemed hopeless, however, warriors would scatter rather than fight to the bitter end.

Death and burial

Death of loved ones was a source of great dread for Apache, who feared they would be haunted by the ghost of the deceased. They painted the face of a corpse red, and wrapped the body in skins and disposed of as soon as possible to hasten the spirit’s journey to the underworld. They loaded the body onto a horse and took it to a cave or some other secluded area, where they entombed it and sealed the tomb opening. Then the horse was killed, and the deceased’s house and belongings were destroyed. Survivors did not go near the burial ground, nor did they ever again speak the name of the dead person.

In the twenty-first century the Apache seek the services of funeral homes, in part because of state laws, but also because it allows for a quick disposal of a body.

Current tribal issues

Poverty—and what to do about it—is a constant concern. The Apache have proved very modern in their efforts to resolve this issue.

Another issue is the illegal seizure of Apache lands. The Jicarilla Apache were awarded nearly $10 million in a lawsuit for land unjustly taken from them, but the United States will not return any of the land. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Jicarilla have the right to impose tribal taxes on minerals extracted from their lands by others.

Environmental problems also concern many Apaches. On the Fort Sill Apache lands, many people have developed lupus and and cancer. They believe this is related to the oil drilling on their land. The Mescalero Apache are working to reduce hazardous fuels, clean up their water, and prevent forest fires. A forest fire in 1996 destroyed a large portion of the Jicarilla Apache lands and has adversely affected the wildlife and fish. The Jicarilla tribe are also struggling with problems related to clear-cut logging, overgrazing, erosion, and pollution. On the Fort McDowell and Camp Verde Indian reservations good water supplies are an ongoing concern.

Notable people

Jicarilla Apache scholar Veronica E. Velarde Tiller is the author of Discover Indian Reservations USA,Tiller’s Guide to Indian Country: Economic Profiles of American Indian Reservations,The Jicarilla Apache Tribe: A History, and other works. Apache-Hopi-Pueblo author Michael Lacapa, who was raised as an Apache, has written award-winning children’s books both alone and with his wife, Kathleen, a Mohawk. They co-authored Less than Half, More than Whole (1994), about a part-Native American child troubled by his mixed heritage. The works of poet and educator Jose Garza (Coahuiltec-Apache) and poet and short-story-writer Lorenzo Baca (Mescalero Apache), appear in Returning the Gift: Poetry and Prose from the First North American Native Writers’ Festival (1994) and elsewhere.

Ball, Eve, Nora Henn, and Lynda A. Sánchez. Indeh: An Apache Odyssey, reprint. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

Behnke, Alison. The Apaches. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 2006.

Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Chip. Massacre at Camp Grant: Forgetting and Remembering Apache History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007.

Jastrzembski, Joseph C. The Apache Wars: The Final Resistance. Minneapolis: Chelsea House Publications, 2007.

Miller, Raymond H. North American Indians: The Apache. San Diego: KidHaven Press, 2005.

Robinson, Sherry. Apache Voices: Their Stories of Survival as Told to Eve Ball. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003.

AAA Native Arts. (accessed on June 29, 2007).

“Apache Indian Language.” Native American Language Net: Preserving and Promoting Indigenous American Indian Languages. (accessed on June 1, 2007).

“Apache Nation: Nde Nation.” San Carlos Apache Nation. (accessed on June 29, 2007).

“Apache Tribal Nation.” Dreams of the Great Earth Changes. (accessed on June 29, 2007).

“The Children of Changing Woman.” Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. (accessed on June 29, 2007).

Jicarilla Apache Nation. (accessed on June 29, 2007).

“Native Americans and Public Policy.” Native American Guide. The University of Oklahoma: Carl Albert Center Congressional Archive. (accessed on June 29, 2007).

Ned Blackhawk, Associate Professor, Department of History, American Indian Studies Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Laurie Edwards

Laurie Edwards


views updated Jun 08 2018


APACHE. The ancestors of the American Indians known as the Apaches, who call themselves the Inde, are believed by scholars to have migrated south from western Canada around 1200 a.d. They left behind the forebears of such tribes as the Carrier and Chipewyan Indians, all of whom are classified in the Athapascan language family.

Traveling along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountain cordillera, these Apache ancestors eventually settled on the western edge of the Great Plains. Living in skin tepees and hunting buffalo afoot, they composed one of the largest prehorse Plains Indian cultures. In 1541 Spanish explorers observed them in what is now eastern New Mexico and western Texas.

As the Plains population bulged westward, fed by the collapse of the prehistoric Cahokia culture of the Mississippi River Valley and the advent of European settlement on the Atlantic coast, the Apaches also migrated west, though the band now known as the Kiowa Apaches stayed behind in territory later called Kansas. Known as the Tanima, or "liver eaters," the Kiowa Apaches became the bane of American settlers, fighting fiercely to defend their land. Their descendants live on the Kiowa-Apache reservation in Oklahoma.

The band known today as the Lipan Apaches also remained on the Plains. Early in the seventeenth century, as their fellow tribesmen migrated into New Mexico, the Lipans chose to remain in what is today south-central Texas. Primarily hunter-gatherers, the Lipans were accomplished buffalo hunters, seasonally breaking down into two subgroups to maximize their kill. Following the hunt, the Lipans reorganized into small extended family groups. Led by respected headmen, each matrilocal family functioned autonomously until the next buffalo hunt or until threatened by their traditional enemies, the Comanches. The Lipans were deeply tied to their homeland, and were known to roll on the ground in reverence upon returning to their own territory. Modern descendants of the Lipans can be found in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.

Closely related to the Lipans were the Jicarilla Apaches, "the little basket makers," who chose to push west into what is today northern New Mexico. Though extended matrilocal families formed the basic unit of social organization, the Jicarillas broke down into two subgroups for ceremonial purposes. Those living east of the Rio Grande were known as the Llaneros, or "Plains people." Those living west of the Rio Grande were known as the Olleros, or "potters." Contrary to the theories of modern anthropologists, the Jicarillas believe they originally emerged from beneath the earth at a sacred site thought to be near Taos, New Mexico, or San Juan, Colorado. The Pueblo culture of New Mexico heavily influenced the Jicarillas. It is believed that they adopted their ritual relay race from the Pueblos, and imitated the Pueblo agricultural complex. The Jicarillas cleared fields, cut irrigation ditches, built dams, and cultivated crops on family plots.

While the Kiowa Apaches and Lipans developed ceremonial curing rites to ensure their survival on the dangerous Plains, the Jicarillas' spirituality focused on hunt medicine, to guarantee success while hunting far to the east of their homeland. Unlike other Apaches, the Jicarillas caught and ate fish as part of their diet. But it was the women's labor in gathering edible food that provided the mainstay of the Jicarillas' diet. Jicarilla women found ample time to devote to food gathering because their social organization accented the grandparent-grandchild relationship, freeing middle-aged women from the day to day rigors of raising children.

Scholars classify the Kiowa-Apaches, the Lipans, and the Jicarilla Apaches as the eastern group of the southern Athapascans. The Mescaleros, Chiricahuas, and Western Apaches comprise the western group of southern Athapascans, along with the closely related Navajo tribe. While the Jicarillas migrated to northern New Mexico, to land they still maintain as a reservation, the Mescaleros settled in south-central New Mexico, where their reservation was still located in the early 2000s.

The Spanish first observed the Mescaleros in 1653, calling them the Faraones (pharaohs). Secure in permanent villages in the Sierra Blanca Mountains, the Mescaleros maintained close relations with the Jicarillas, sometimes intermarrying with them. Also at times they aided the Lipans in their struggle against the Comanches. With less access to the Plains than the Lipans and Jicarillas, the Mescalero food complex centered on venison and natural harvests, most especially the mescal cactus, for which they were later named. In relation to certain ceremonies, the Mescaleros occasionally ate mountain lion and bear. Though seasonal nomads, extended matrilocal families

regularly settled in wickiup villages to repair hunting and farming implements and sit out severe winter weather.

Southwest of the Mescaleros, the Chiricahuas inhabited the mountains of present-day southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Masters of their rugged mountain strongholds, the Chiricahuas scourged the Spanish to the south, and raided the Piman-speaking peoples to the west. By 1790, allied with the Lipan and Mescalero Apaches, the three Chiricahua subbands, the Chokonens, Chihennes, and Nednai, formed an impenetrable barrier to encroaching Spaniards. Despite their strength, Americans eventually defeated the Chiricahuas, exiling them to Florida. Not until the twentieth century did they find an adopted home with the Mescaleros.

North of the Chiricahuas lived the largest Apache band, the Western Apaches, composed of twenty subbands, of which the White Mountain Apaches were most numerous. An overarching matrilineal clan system linked the various subbands of the Western Apache, creating an enduring net of obligatory clan bonds and obligations. While they were the most agricultural of the Apache bands, the Western Apaches also raided deep into Mexico. They avoided the Chiricahuas, with whom they occasionally intermarried. The Western Apaches aided the Americans in their fight against the Chiricahuas, however, strengthening their hold on their own homeland, where they still lived in the early 2000s.

By the time Americans arrived in the Southwest, an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Apaches controlled an area of the Southwest one thousand miles east to west and five hundred miles north to south, from mountaintops to the desert floor. It took the Americans almost forty years before they could be confident of their authority in what had previously been Apacheria.


Basehart, Harry W. Mescalero Apache Subsistence Patterns and Socio-Political Organization. New York: Garland, 1974.

Basso, Keith H., ed. Western Apache Raiding and Warfare, from the Notes of Grenville Goodwin. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1971.

Bender, Averam Burton. A Study of Western Apache Indians, 1846–1886. New York: Garland, 1974.

———. A Study of Jicarilla Apache Indians, 1846–1887. New York: Garland, 1974.

Goodwin, Grenville. The Social Organization of the Western Apache. With a preface by Keith H. Basso. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1969.

Gordon, Burton Leroy. Environment, Settlement and Land Use in the Jicarilla Apache Claim Area. New York: Garland, 1974.

Opler, Morris E. An Apache Life-Way: The Economic, Social, and Religious Institutions of the Chiricahua Indians. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941.

Ray, Verne Frederick. Ethnohistorical Analysis of Documents Relating to the Apache Indians of Texas. New York: Garland, 1974.

Schroeder, Albert H. A Study of the Apache Indians. New York: Garland, 1974.

Sonnichsen, C. L. The Mescalero Apaches. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958.

Thomas, Alfred Barnaby. The Mescalero Apache, 1653–1874. New York: Garland, 1974.

———. The Jicarilla Apache Indians: A History, 1598–1888. New York: Garland, 1974.

United States Indian Claims Commission. Jicarilla Apache Tribe: Historical Materials, 1540–1887. New York: Garland, 1974.

Victoria A. O.Smith

See alsoKiowa ; Tribes: Great Plains, Southwestern .


views updated May 23 2018


The Apaches are twelve linguistically related tribes that occupied an extensive territory (known as Apachería) from the Colorado River to the Rio Grande, and from northern canyons in present-day Arizona and New Mexico extending south a thousand miles into present-day Mexico. They combined hunting and gathering with small-scale agriculture. Initially attracted to the material benefits of the Spanish missions, they subsequently rejected the regulation of their lives and the attempt to suppress their traditional religion and its practice. They launched a general rebellion in 1677, initiating a century of hostility that halted the extension of the northern frontier of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Bourbon crown's expansion of presidio garrisons and initiation of subsistence rations in the 1770s brought generally peaceful relations into the 1820s, with a substantial growth in the Hispanic population south of Apache-dominated areas.

The gradual dissolution of the presidio garrisons for want of material support, and the attempt by state officials in the early 1830s to force the Apaches to become sedentary workers in order to receive subsistence rations, led to a renewal of the periodic, devastating Apache raids. The frontier countryside was slowly depopulated. Though U.S. annexation after 1848 carried with it the promise of controlling Apache incursions, for nearly three decades the United States limited itself to protecting the settlements on its side of the border. In 1873 Colonel Ronald Mackenzie led 400 U.S. soldiers in an extermination campaign against the Lipan Apache; survivors were deported to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico, established in that same year. Only in the 1880s, when the U.S. and Mexican governments reached an agreement on mutual border crossing were the Apache raids ended, with the remnants of the tribes permanently restricted to reservations. The Apaches are known to be among the last indigenous peoples to accept colonial domination. Chief Geronimo (1829–1909), of the Chir-icahua Apache, was one of the more famous Apache warriors, battling and evading both the Mexican and U.S. troops for more than twenty-five years, finally surrendering in Arizona in 1886.

As of the 2000 U.S. Census, many of the 66,800 people who make up the ten tribes of the Apaches still reside in reservations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Reservation life, marked by poverty and limited economic opportunities, continues to be a challenge for the Apache; for example, in the late 1990s over 50 percent of the San Carlos Apache were unemployed. However, in the late twentieth century many of the reservations initiated casino operations, tourism, and timber and agricultural businesses that have improved the standard of living on the reservations. The resort and casino run by the Mescalero Apaches attracts visitors year-round. Many Apaches are nationally and internationally respected artists, writers, and scholars, such as the poet Jose L. Garza (Coahuilateca and Apache), the historian Veronica E. Velarde Tiller (Jicarilla Apache), and the sculptor Allen Houser (Chiricahua Apache).

See alsoIndigenous Peoples .


John Upton Terrell, Apache Chronicle (1972).

John L. Kessell, Friars, Soldiers, and Reformers: Hispanic Arizona and the Sonora Mission Frontier 1767–1856 (1976).

David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821–1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico (1982).

Francisco R. Almada, Diccionario de historia, geografía y biografía de sonorenses (1983), pp. 56-63.

Additional Bibliography

León García, Ricardo, and Carlos González Herrera. Civilizar o exterminar: Tarahumaras y Apaches en Chihuahua, siglo XIX. Tlalpan, Mexico: CIESA, INI, 2000.

Thrapp, Dan L. The Conquest of Apacheria. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967.

                                         Stuart F. Voss


views updated May 23 2018

A·pach·e • / əˈpachē/ n. 1. (pl. same or A·pach·es) a member of a North American Indian people living chiefly in New Mexico and Arizona.2. the Athabaskan language of this people.• adj. of or relating to the Apache or their language.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Apache Athabascan-speaking tribe of Native North Americans that live in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. Divided culturally into Eastern Apache (including Mescalero and Kiowa) and Western Apache (including Coyotero and Tonto), they migrated from the nw with the Navajo in about ad 1000 but separated to form a distinct tribal group. They retained their earlier nomadic raiding customs, which brought them into military conflict with Mexico and the USA during the 19th century. The total population is now c.11,000.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Apache ★★½ 1954

Lancaster is the only Indian in Geronimo's outfit who refuses to surrender in this chronicle of a bitter battle between the Indians and the U.S. cavalry in the struggle for the West. First western for Aldrich is a thoughtful piece for its time that had the original tragic ending reshot (against Aldrich's wishes) to make it more happy. Adapted from “Bronco Apache” by Paul I. Wellman. 91m/ C VHS, DVD . Burt Lancaster, John McIntire, Jean Peters, Charles Bronson, John Dehner, Paul Guilfoyle; D: Robert Aldrich; C: Ernest Laszlo.


views updated May 21 2018

a·pache / əˈpash; äˈpäsh/ • n. (pl. a·paches pronunc. same) a violent street ruffian, originally in Paris.