Lipan Apache

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Lipan Apache

ETHNONYMS: Chipayne, Flechas de Palo Apaches, Hipandis, Ipande, Lipane, Lipianis, Lipyane, Lypanes, Ypande


Identification. The Lipan Apache had ceased to exist as a separate tribe by 1905, when the last of them moved to the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation in south-central New Mexico. Anthropological fieldwork with Eastern Apache did not begin until Morris Opler's work in the 1930s, by which time the Lipan were virtually extinct. See the entry on the Mescalero Apache for all contemporary information. The following is a brief historical sketch reconstructed from archival documents and secondary sources. Usually, the name "Lipan" is said to have come from the name of a grand chieftain with a version of the suffix -ndé, "The People," appended. Archival documents, however, lead to an equally plausible explanation, since early mention (eighteenth Century) of Lipans is often spelled with one of the variations of "Lipiyane." Lí í is the Apachean word for "horse," and ' iyane is the word for "bison"; thus, their name could well have referred to their primary subsistence pattern: that of following bison herds on horseback.

Location. In the early eighteenth century, Lipan Apache were in central and western Texas, from approximately the Trinity River (east of present-day Waco, Texas) westward to the Pecos River, where they joined their Mescalero Apache "cousins." They were reported as far north as the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle and as far south as the Santander area of Mexico. Most reports of Lipan place them either in the vicinity of bison herds or occupying river bottom lands. Like most Apachean groups, they roamed over vast areas, but always they were reported in desert or coastal plains sites rather than in mountains, as were some other Apache groups. In general they lived in very warm to hot climates; night in desert areas, however, is usually cool and can be cold in the winter.

Linguistic Affiliation. Lipan Apache, still spoken by Perhaps two dozen or so people on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation, is a Southern Athapaskan language. As such it can be understood by speakers of other Apachean languages, although most of them maintain that Lipan speakers speak more slowly and with broader vowels than do speakers of other Apachean languages. The Southern Athapaskan Languages are related to other Athapaskan languages spoken on the north coast of California and in the Pacific Northwest, and through parts of northern Canada and Alaska. Despite attempts to record Lipan Apache, it remains largely unknown in a scholarly sense. The contemporary speakers are adamant that it not be recorded or written, believing that if the Language is meant to survive them, then it will do so, but that it is inappropriate for people to interfere with a process directed by the Creator.

Demography. Currently numbered with the Mescalero and Chiricahua, it is difficult to obtain precise numbers of Lipan. A reasonable estimate is that there are fewer than fifty people alive today claiming Lipan ancestry as their primary ethnicity. At their height, they probably numbered no more than five thousand, divided into about a dozen bands.

History and Cultural Relations

As with the other Apache groups, the Lipan were engaged in a protracted struggle over land use and settlement patterns with the Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. governments from the first mention of them in the early 1700s to their virtual extinction in 1905. Prior to the 1700s there was a plethora of names used for the Apachean people of eastern New Mexico, western Texas, and the Panhandle; it is likely, although not definitively demonstrated, that some of these (Trementina, Limita) were later called "Lipan." Unlike most Apache, the Lipan were missionized in the 1700s in the northeastern reaches of the Spanish empire, in the areas of Eagle Pass and San Antonio, Texas. The missionization effort cannot be termed a success, for the missions were poorly supplied and their inhabitants often left to pursue subsistence activities only to return when supplies were again available in the missions. For the most part, the Lipan were at war with the invaders until there were no longer enough of them left to fight.

Settlements and Economy

The Lipan were the most sedentary of the Apachean groups, for they planted crops, especially maize. The Spanish described them as living in rancherías, but also as living off bison. It appears that there were semipermanent dwellings of wickiups near fields during sowing and harvesting, and portable tipi dwellings used when following bison herds. They were probably transhumant, although this is an inference from documentary evidence rather than a generally accepted fact. In addition to reliance upon bison and maize, the Lipan Apache also gathered wild foods, especially varieties of cacti and agave. By the late eighteenth century, after generations of war with the Spanish and after acquiring the horse, the Lipan seem to have forsaken agriculture in favor of raiding; they maintained their bison protein resource, however.

Social Organization

Lipan were matrilineal and maintained close associations with their matrilaterally extended relatives. A household unit was usually composed of a woman and her husband or consort and her children; often unmarried sisters and brothers of the woman or her matrilineal relatives in the ascending Generation were also present. Unmarried grandchildren might be a part of the household, too. Band membership seems to have followed matrilineal and matrilateral principles as well. But though women ruled in the family, men were in charge of the band.

Religion and Expressive Culture

The Lipan are usually credited with introducing peyotism into Native North America. Despite the paucity of Lipan information, Opler managed to collect their mythology.


Opler, Morris E. (1940). Myths and Legends of the Lipan Apache Indians. Memoirs of the American Folklore Society, vol. 36. New York.

Tunnell, Curtis D., and W. W. Newcomb, Jr. (1969). A Lipan Apache Mission: San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz, 1762-1771. Texas Memorial Museum, Bulletin no. 14. Austin.