The Apache Indian

The ancestors of the Apache Indian are believed by some scholars to have come to North America via the Bering Strait during the Pleistocene Period when a land bridge connected the Asian and North American continents. These Mongoloid people living as hunter-gathers slowly trickled south through the retreating glaciers deep into North America. These scholars believe that archeological evidence places hunter-gathers in what is today the United States at least 40,000 years ago. It should be noted that some other scholars believe that the direct ancestors of the Apache were among people who arrived in North America from Asia at a later time. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that their arrival in North America took place a very long time ago. Both schools of thought agree that the ancestors of the modern Apache traveled south from the MacKenzie River Basin in Canada along the slopes of the Rocky Mountains where individual family groups eventually established themselves in parts of what is today Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Over time these family groupings coalesced into clans and bands of people that shared slightly different customs.

Linguists assign the Apache to the Athapascan group of peoples which includes other Native American groups in North America, Alaska and Canada. The people that we call Apache refer to themselves as "Inde" which translates as "The People." (Apache dialect variations of the word include Tinde and N'de.) In the American southwest the most important of these linguistic and cultural distinctions describes a related tribe - the Navajo who refer to themselves as "Dine." Both Apache and Navajo are Athapascan languages and their cultures are very similar. It is believed that they are of the same ancestry but split apart a very long time ago in the southward migration. Today they live as separate tribes. The first Europeans to explore southwestern North America met these Native American bands and eventually made a distinction between the Apache and Navajo. The origin of the word Apache is thought to be the Spanish pronunciation of the Zuni word apachu which translates as enemy.

A distinction is also made between those Apache who lived east of the Rocky Mountains and those who crossed into what is today Arizona but remained distinct from their Navajo cousins. The former are usually called Eastern or Plains Apache while the later are sometimes referred to as Western or Mountain Apache. Within these two major groupings are a long list of sub-groups. The Plains Apache included Padoucas, Gattackas, Lipan, Teyas, Natagee, Lipiyane, Chipayne, Limita, Tremintina, Paloma, El Cuartelejo, Chalchufine, Carlana, Fleches de Palos, Penxaye, Cantasi, Conejeros, Achos, Perillo, Jicarilla, Rio Colorados, and Faraons. The Mountain or Western Apache included Mescalero,and Chiricahua. To make things even more complicated there were often multiple names for the same group, different names at different points in history for the same group, and of course alternative spellings for all of these words. Over the centuries, however, the one term that remained constant was Apache and it was a word that stirred great passions on both sides of the cultural divide between Anglo-European and Native American.

Apache groups related to one another and to other Native American groups in different ways at different times in history. Group social organization was very individualistic with weak leadership patterns. Influential individuals were important decision-makers relating to specific tasks, but individuals rarely had the ability to enforce their decisions within their band let alone beyond it. Most decisions required group consensus and the group usually accepted individual refusal to participate. From time to time Apaches formed alliances with other Native American groups, but conflict was more often the norm whenever access to resources was contested by different linguistic groups. Before the first Europeans arrived, Apache groups were engaged in important trading relations with the Puebloan groups. The Apache obtained agricultural products, ceramics, jewelry, and items traded from further afield. The Puebloan people obtained products from the plains including animal hides, meat, and slaves which the Apache captured from people living further to the east. The Apache also raided the pueblos, particularly when, for one reason or another, trading did not produce the desired results. By in large, the very first meetings with Europeans appear to have been dominated by curiosity on the part of the Apache and there are numerous examples of critical help being provided to early European explorers in Apache territory. Curiosity, however, transitioned to fear and anger as Europeans increasingly began to exploit the relationship.

In the sixteenth century unbelievably rich silver deposits attracted great interest in the northern reaches of New Spain just south of the lands occupied by the Apache. By the end of that century Spanish interest in what is today Arizona and New Mexico intensified. Religious missionaries sought to save heathen souls, slave traders sought labor for existing mines, explorers sought to discover a water passage across North America, prospectors sought new sources of precious metals, and Madrid sought to protect the northern border of New Spain. In 1598 Don Juan de Onate was appointed the first Governor of New Mexico and his relations with the Native American inhabitants of New Mexico including the Apache was one of exploiter and exploited. Apache resistance to Spanish initiative increased in direct proportion to increased Spanish settlement and activity in the area. As Puebloan settlements came under increasing Spanish influence during the seventeenth century Apache-Puebloan relations became strained, but various Apache groups united with rebellious Puebloans at the end of the century to drive the Spanish from New Mexico. Following the retreat of the Spanish, Apache and Puebloan trade continued, but so did Apache raiding. Poor relations between some pueblos and some Apache groups contributed to a situation that permitted Spain to reestablish itself in New Mexico at the end of the seventeenth century.

Although Spain had established a foothold in New Mexico it was unable to extend it or even to solidify it. One of the most important reasons for this failure was determined Apache resistance. One of the most important reasons for the effectiveness of Apache resistance was their mobility. Apache mobility in turn was made possible by the horse. Horses had existed in North America during the period of the mega fauna, but disappeared along with the giant sloth, the mastedon and the last ice age. They were reintroduced by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, but the Apache did not acquire them in any appreciable numbers until the beginning of the seventeenth century. The horse made it possible for the Apache to extend their reach and to carry more with them whenever they chose to move. The Spanish attempted to limit Apache access to horses but to no avail. By the middle of the seventeenth century the Apache were defining wealth in terms of the number of horses possessed. Spain also attempted to limit Apache access to firearms, but this too was unsuccessful. Apaches rarely enjoyed a position of superior firepower in their conflict with the Spanish, but they made effective use of the guns and ammunition that they were able to obtain.

In the eighteenth century Spain officially viewed hostile Apaches as its enemy and permitted Spanish slavers to take Apache men, women and children to be sold in Mexico as slaves. This, in turn, increased Apache resentment and anger and made the relationship even more violent and hateful - on both sides. The beginning of the eighteenth century also saw an increased threat to New Mexico from France which had gained control of the Mississippi Valley and appeared to be interested in extending its influence westward. French traders were active in Texas and were providing Pawnee and other Native American groups hostile to the Apache with better firearms and more ammunition than the Apache could obtain. In addition, the Comanche and Ute Indians were beginning to move south and to war with the Apache. They too received support from the French and, as their numbers increased, were soon able to best the Apache in their vicious inter-tribal warfare. Madrid was sufficiently concerned with the French threat that it flirted briefly with the idea of forging an alliance with one or more Apache groups against the French-Comanche menace, but it did not amount to much. Bloody warfare continued to characterize the Spanish-Apache and Apache-Comanche relationships. Things were going downhill for the Apache and by 1720, in order to avoid trouble with the new immigrants, the Spanish were permitting Comanches to openly attend trade fairs held in New Mexico.

In 1724, on instructions from Paris, the French concluded a treaty with some of the northern Apache groups in an effort to extend their trading further to the west. This treaty was unpopular with the Comanche and with the local French traders. Their opposition succeeded in ending it in 1728, but Madrid remained concerned with New Spain's eastern border. As Paris and Madrid traded the Louisiana Territory back and forth Madrid saw the French threat wax and wane and eventually be replaced by the more immediate danger posed by the United States. During the remainder of the eighteenth century Comanche pressure steadily depleted the number of Apache who were able to remain in their ancestral home territories east of the Rocky Mountains. How many were killed and where the survivors went is unknown, but it is thought that many assimilated with Apache groups living to the south and west. Some of these refugees from the east gathered together as Mescalero Apaches and are now considered to be part of the Western Apache grouping while others settled in Mexico. Spanish involvement with the bulk of the Western Apache was every bit as difficult as it had been with the Plains Apache. During the second half of the eighteenth century many Apache refugees fleeing the wrath of the Comanche became full-time outlaws and bandits plundering Spanish and Puebloan settlements and then absconding with their loot to their camps in the surrounding wilderness. The Mexican Revolution in 1810 severely weakened Spanish defenses in New Mexico and widespread Western Apache raiding flared up for a decade.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the United States took control of New Mexico and quickly inherited Mexico's "Apache Problem." In 1848 Western Apaches offered to assist Washington in it's war with Mexico, but were spurned. As Anglo-European settlement increased pressure on limited resources in the Southwest, Apache groups increasingly included the encroaching Americans in their list of enemies. Initial meetings between the two frequently erupted into a bitter fire fight that killed most or all of one group or the other. Both sides frequently found it difficult to identify, locate, and punish those responsible for any specific atrocity. Indians wronged by one group of "white men" would take vengeance on the next group of "pale faces" that they saw. Settlers, on the other hand, quickly began to believe that "the only good Indian was a dead Indian." In 1861 the "Bascom Affair" at Apache Pass triggered a decade long war with Cochise's Chiricahua Apache followed by another decade of raiding by Apache War Chief Geronimo and a group of so-called "renegade Indians." The United States Government eventually adopted an official policy that declared open war on any "hostile Indian" and "hostile" was often equated to an Indian found off of a reservation. Prior to and during the Civil War the Apache pretty much held their own, but after 1866 the tide turned and Geronimo's final surrender in September 1886 marked the end of all active Apache resistance.