Wednesday, July 13, 2011



Entry into the Southwest

The Apache and Navajo (Diné) tribal groups of the North American Southwest speak related languages of the language family referred to as Athabaskan. Other Athabaskan-speaking people in North America reside in an area from Alaska through west-central Canada, and some groups can be found along the Northwest Pacific Coast. Linguistic similarities indicate the Navajo and Apache were once a single ethnic group.

Archaeological and historical evidence seem to suggest the Southern Athabaskan entry into the American Southwest was sometime after 1000 AD. Their nomadic way of life complicates accurate dating, primarily because they constructed less-substantial dwellings than other Southwestern groups, although substantial progress has been made in recent years in dating and in identifying their dwellings and other forms of material culture. They also left behind a more austere set of tools and material goods. This group probably moved into areas that were concurrently occupied or recently abandoned by other cultures. Other Athabaskan speakers, perhaps including the Southern Athabaskan, adapted many of their neighbors' technology and practices in their own cultures. Thus sites where early Southern Athabaskans may have lived are difficult to locate and even more difficult to firmly identify as culturally Southern Athabaskan, although recent advances have been made in the regard in the far southern portion of the American Southwest.

There are several hypotheses concerning Apachean migrations. One posits that they moved into the Southwest from the Great Plains. In the early 16th century, these mobile groups lived in tents, hunted bison and other game, and used dogs to pull travois loaded with their possessions. Substantial numbers and a wide range were recorded by the Spanish in the 16th century.

The Coronado Expedition 1540–1542
In April 1541, while traveling on the plains east of the Pueblo region, Francisco Coronado called them “dog nomads.” He wrote:
After seventeen days of travel, I came upon a rancheria of the Indians who follow these cattle (bison). These natives are called Querechos. They do not cultivate the land, but eat raw meat and drink the blood of the cattle they kill. They dress in the skins of the cattle, with which all the people in this land clothe themselves, and they have very well-constructed tents, made with tanned and greased cowhides, in which they live and which they take along as they follow the cattle. They have dogs which they load to carry their tents, poles, and belongings.
The Spaniards described Plains dogs as very white, with black spots, and “not much larger than water spaniels.” Plains dogs were slightly smaller than those used for hauling loads by modern northern Canadian peoples. Recent experiments show these dogs may have pulled loads up to 50 lb (20 kg) on long trips, at rates as high as two or three miles per hour (3 to 5 km/h). This Plains migration theory associates Apachean peoples with the Dismal River aspect, an archaeological culture known primarily from ceramics and house remains, dated 1675–1725 excavated in Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and western Kansas.

Although the first documentary sources mention the Apache and historians have suggested some passages indicate a 16th century entry from the north, archaeological data indicate they were present on the plains, long before this first reported contact.
Another competing theory posits migration south, through the Rocky Mountains, ultimately reaching the American Southwest by the 14th century or perhaps earlier. An archaeological material culture assemblage identified in this mountainous zone as ancestral Apachean has been referred to as the Cerro Rojo complex. This theory does not preclude arrival via a plains route as well, perhaps concurrently, but to date the earliest evidence has been found in the mountainous Southwest.

Only the Plains Apache have any significant Plains cultural influence, while all tribes have distinct Athabaskan characteristics. The descriptions of peoples such as the Mountain Querechos and the Apache Vaqueros are vague and could apply to many other Plains tribes; the specific traits of these groups do not seem particularly Apachean. Additionally, Harry Hoijer's classification of Plains Apache as an Apachean language has been disputed.

When the Spanish arrived in the area, trade between the long established Pueblo peoples and the Southern Athabaskans was well established. They reported the Pueblos exchanged maize and woven cotton goods for bison meat, hides and materials for stone tools. Coronado observed Plains people wintering near the Pueblos in established camps. Later Spanish sovereignty over the area disrupted trade between the Pueblos and the diverging Apache and Navajo groups. The Apache quickly acquired horses, improving their mobility for quick raids on settlements. In addition, the Pueblo were forced to work Spanish mission lands and care for mission flocks, thus they had fewer surplus goods to trade with their neighbors.

In 1540 Coronado also reported that the modern Western Apache area was uninhabited, although some have argued that he simply did not see them. Other Spaniards first mention "Querechos" living west of the Rio Grande in the 1580s. To some historians this implies the Apaches moved into their current Southwestern homelands in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Other historians note that Coronado reported that Pueblos women and children had often been evacuated by the time his party attacked these dwellings and some dwellings had been recently abandoned as he moved up the Rio Grande. This might indicate the semi-nomadic Southern Athabaskans had advance warning about his hostile approach and so they were not seen and reported by the Spanish. Archaeologists are finding ample evidence of an early proto-Apache presence in the Southwestern mountain zone in the 15th century and perhaps earlier. Their presence on both the Plains and in the mountainous Southwest indicate that there were multiple early migration routes.

Conflict with Mexico and the United States

In general, there seemed to be a pattern between the recently arrived Spanish who settled in villages and Apache bands over a few centuries. Both raided and traded with each other. Records of the period seem to indicate that relationships depended upon the specific villages and specific bands that were involved with each other. For example, one band might be friends with one village and raid another. When war happened between the two, the Spanish would send troops, after a battle both sides would "sign a treaty" and both sides would go home.

The traditional and sometimes treacherous relationships continued between the villages and bands with the independence of Mexico in 1821. By 1835 Mexico had placed a bounty on Apache scalps (see scalping) but some bands were still trading with certain villages. When Juan José Compas, the leader of the Mimbreño Apaches, was killed for bounty money in 1837, Mangas Coloradas or Dasoda-hae (Red Sleeves) became principal chief and war leader and began a series of retaliatory raids against the Mexicans.

When the United States went to war against Mexico, many Apache bands promised U.S. soldiers safe passage through their lands. When the U.S. claimed former territories of Mexico in 1846, Mangas Coloradas signed a peace treaty, respecting them as conquerors of the Mexican's land. An uneasy peace (a centuries old tradition) between the Apache and the now citizens of the United States held until the 1850s, when an influx of gold miners into the Santa Rita Mountains led to conflict. This period is sometimes called the Apache Wars.

The United States' concept of a reservation had not been used by the Spanish, Mexicans or other Apache neighbors before. Reservations were often badly managed, and bands that had no kinship relationships were forced to live together. There were also no fences to keep people in or out. It was not uncommon for a band to be given permission to leave for a short period of time. Other times a band would leave without permission, to raid, return to their land to forage, or to simply get away. The military usually had forts nearby. Their job was keeping the various bands on the reservations by finding and returning those who left. The reservation policies of the United States kept various Apache bands leaving the reservations (at war) for almost another quarter century.

The warfare between Apachean peoples and Euro-Americans has led to a stereotypical focus on certain aspects of Apachean cultures that are often distorted through misperception as noted by anthropologist Keith Basso:
"Of the hundreds of peoples that lived and flourished in native North America, few have been so consistently misrepresented as the Apacheans of Arizona and New Mexico. Glorified by novelists, sensationalized by historians, and distorted beyond credulity by commercial film makers, the popular image of 'the Apache' — a brutish, terrifying semihuman bent upon wanton death and destruction — is almost entirely a product of irresponsible caricature and exaggeration. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the Apache has been transformed from a native American into an American legend, the fanciful and fallacious creation of a non-Indian citizenry whose inability to recognize the massive treachery of ethnic and cultural stereotypes has been matched only by its willingness to sustain and inflate them."

Forced Removal

In 1875, an estimated 1,500 Yavapai and Dilzhe’e Apache from the Rio Verde Indian Reserve were removed from several thousand acres of treaty lands promised to them by the United States government. Indian Commissioner L.E. Dudley and U.S. Army troops made the people, young and old, walk through winter-flooded rivers, mountain passes and narrow canyon trails to get to Indian Agency at San Carlos, 180 miles (290 km) away. The trek resulted in several hundred lives lost. There they remained in internment for 25 years while white settlers took over their land. On their release, only about 200 were able to return to their lands.


Most American histories of this era say the final defeat of an Apache band took place when 5,000 troops forced Geronimo's group of 30 to 50 men, women and children to surrender on September 4, 1886 at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona. This band and the Chiricahua scouts who tracked them were all sent to military confinement in Florida at Fort Pickens and, subsequently, Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.

Many books were written on the stories of hunting and trapping during the late 19th century. Many of these stories involve Apache raids and agreements with Americans and Mexicans.

In the post-war era, Apache children were taken for adoption by white Americans in programs similar in nature to those involving the Stolen Generations of Australia.

Apache Chiefs


Cochise was born about 1805 in an area that is now the northern Mexican region of Sonora, New Mexico and Arizona as a member of the Chokonen-Chiricahua Apache tribe.

Cochise grew to be about 5'10" tall and weighed about 175 pounds.    He was very strong and in his language his name was "Cheis" which meant "having the quality or strength of oak."
Cochise was involved in the following conflicts:

The Bascom Affair
The Battle of Dragoon Springs
The Apache Pass Conflict

Cochise died on a reservation in 1874 of natural causes.

Read more about Cochise here.


Geronimo (Also known as Goyaale, Goyathlay and Goyahkla) was born on June 16, 1829, to the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache, near Turkey Creek, a tributary of the Gila River in the modern-day state of New Mexico (then a part of Mexico).

Spiritual powers

Geronimo said he was not a chief, but he was certainly a great military leader.  He was one of many people with special spiritual insights and abilities known to Apache people as "Power". Among these were the ability to walk without leaving tracks; the abilities now known as telekinesis and telepathy; and the ability to survive gunshot (rifle/musket, pistol, and shotgun). Geronimo was wounded numerous times by both bullets and buckshot, but survived. Apache men chose to follow him of their own free will, and offered first-hand eye-witness testimony regarding his many "powers". They declared that this was the main reason why so many chose to follow him (he was favored by/protected by "Usen", the Apache high-god).

Daring exploits

Though outnumbered, Geronimo fought against both Mexican and United States troops and became famous for his daring exploits and numerous escapes from capture from 1858 to 1886.


In February, 1909, Geronimo was thrown from his horse while riding home, and had to lie in the cold all night before a friend found him extremely ill. He died of pneumonia on February 17, 1909 as a prisoner of the United States at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. On his deathbed, he confessed to his nephew that he regretted his decision to surrender. He was buried at Fort Sill in the Apache Indian Prisoner of War Cemetery.

Read more information about Geronimo here.

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