The Apache Indians
The United States of America has an extensive and colorful history as a nation. Consequently, Americans as a people also have a long and rich history to speak of. The American community consists of many different groups of people, people who have contributed to the unfinished story that defined and continues to define the American legacy. One of those communities that are part of the American history is the Apache Indians. This research paper aims to discuss the history and culture of the Apache Indians as a people.
The Apache Indians are part of the Athapascan group, which is the most distributed among all Indians in North America (Faulk 4; Lockwood 2). The Athapascan people are divided into three groups: the Pacific, the Northern and the Southern (Lockwood 3). The tribes which belong in latter group are spread out in various areas in the Southwest. There were situated in the following states: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, Arizona and Texas (Lockwood 4).
Two of the Athapascan tribes who resided in these areas were the Navajo and the Apache (Lockwood 4).
In the beginning, the Apaches and the Navajos were part of the same group of people (Lockwood 4). This is the reason why they had several similarities. First, a relation between the two groups is quite evident in their physical appearance. Second, they also share a similarity in terms of their language; the key elements of their languages are distinctly alike, and so are their vocabularies. However, these two groups divided. The reason for the separation is still undetermined, but there are many speculations regarding this matter. It was said that the Navajos were significant in number compared to the Apaches. The inequality in number could have contributed to the departure of the Apaches from the clan. Another possibility as to why the Apaches separated from the Navajos was the difference in their way
of life. The Apaches had wanted and embraced a way of life that allowed them to move around. On the contrary, the lives of the Navajos were fixed due to their agricultural endeavors. When the Apaches were first historically recognized as a people in 1540, they were already acknowledged as separate from the Navajos (Lockwood 4).
The Apaches have no distinct recognition regarding their racial beginnings or their first habitat (Lockwood 5). It would be unlikely to find an Apache Indian who could provide knowledge about an ancestor other than his grandparents. In fact, the creation myth is the only source of origin about their people that is universally accepted. Meanwhile, others have believed in stories of migration. Majority of anthropologists agree with these stories, as most of them upheld the fact that Apaches have arrived in America through migration (Faulk 4). They believed that the Apache Indians came from the north western area of Canada and settled in America between 900 and 1200 A.D. (Faulk 4).
The name of these Athapascan Indians originated from a negative word. The name “Apache” was derived from the term “apachu,” a Zuñi term for the word “enemy” (Carlisle; Faulk 4). They call themselves “Inde” or “Diné,” which means “the people” (Carlisle; Faulk 4). The Apaches were distributed in the aforementioned states, but some of them had also reached the states of Chihuahua and Sonora in Mexico (Faulk 4). They were generally categorized into two groups: the Eastern Apaches and the Western Apaches (Carlisle). The Rio Grande functioned as the boundary between each area. Shortly after they settled in America, they further separated into sub-groups; each group had a corresponding unique vernacular (Faulk 4). In the east, there were the Lipan Apaches and Kiowa Apaches; they travelled from Texas to Kansas. Meanwhile, there were two subgroups of Apaches which resided in New Mexico. The Jicarilla Apaches occupied the northern part, while the Mescalero Apaches and Ojo Caliente Apaches, also known as the Warm Springs Apaches, covered the southern area. The Chiricahua Apaches, which belong to the same group as the Warm Springs Apaches, were situated in the boundary between Arizona and Mexico. Lastly, the Western Apaches are those who are located in Arizona. There are four Apache sub-tribes which lived in Arizona: the Cibecue Apaches, the Coyotero Apaches, the White Mountain Apaches and the San Carlos Apaches (Faulk 5). The San Carlos Apaches are further divided into three bands: the Pinal band, the Arivaipa band and the San Carlos band (Faulk 5).
The Apache Indians were known as a warring people (Faulk 5). It was their brutality and ferociousness that set them apart from other tribes. There were initially intimidated by the Pueblo Indians that came before them, and this was the reason why they resorted to warfare. The belligerent reputation may have been responsible for their name, which signifies an opponent (Lockwood 5). The Apaches were nomads, a group of mobile warriors (Carlisle; Faulk 5; Lockwood 5). They were murderers in motion; they were sly and swift in their attack, leaving their targets off guard and defenseless (Lockwood 5). As warriors, they did not show loyalty to a single leader (Lockwood 6). Even dedication to hereditary chiefs was questionable. The role of the leader was assumed on grounds of military expertise. In addition, a leader could only maintain his authority and encourage the other warriors to fight depending on his excellence as both plunderer and killer (Faulk 6).
It is important to note that the Apache Indians were not only known as murderers; they were also well-known thieves (Faulk 6). They were preoccupied with killing and raiding wherever they went. In fact, theft was their main source of livelihood (Lockwood 6). Their economic life was highly dependent on the spoils of their raids (Faulk 6). Unlike other tribes who survived on tilling fields, the Apaches lived on stealing from others. When they fought with other tribes, usually the objective was to acquire material wealth. The strategy of Apache warfare could only be accomplished with speed and remarkable skill. They would suddenly attack in small groups, targeting unsuspicious areas. In the process, they would collect whatever spoils they could and immediately return to their hideaways in the mountains. More often than not, they would proceed to their target area on horses. However, they carried out their strategy on foot. This plan of attack implied that while the male warriors attacked the villages, the female Apache Indians as well as the children stayed behind. Next to the Pueblo Indians, the Apaches were the first ones to learn horseback riding (Carlisle). They had learned this ability through the Pueblos which they took captive (Carlisle).
The way of life of the Apache Indians is not only limited to theft, though it is a significant part of it. They were also involved in hunting and gathering. The Apaches were most dependent on buffaloes for their survival (Carlisle; Faulk 5). The buffalo not only provided food, but was also useful for housing and clothing. For purposes of nourishment, the Apache Indians took the flesh of the buffalo (Lockwood 9). They dried the flesh, made it into powdered form, and utilized it for soup. Sometimes, they would even eat the flesh raw. For their housing, the Apaches utilized the skins of the buffalo. They would tan the buffalo skins white, making their shelter appear like army tents. In the account of Franciscan missionary Alonso Benavides, he said that the Apaches “do not dwell in settlements, nor in houses, but in tents and huts” (qtd. in Lockwood 10). The huts that Benavides saw the Apache Indians use were the tipis or tepees; these were the cone-shaped dwellings made of buffalo hides (Faulk 5; Waldman). The Jicarilla Apaches and the Kiowa Apaches resided in these homes (Waldman). Another form of housing that Apaches utilized was wickiups; these were dome-shaped tents made of brush (Faulk 5; Waldman). It was the Western Apaches who were known to live in these dwellings. These housing arrangements were necessary for the Apache Indian way of life. It would be extremely inconvenient for a group of wandering individuals to put up houses only take them down again when they proceed to their next location. Tents and huts allow the Apaches to easily move around and settle wherever they please. They had dogs to help them carry their tents from one place to another. The tents would be placed in saddles that were attached to the dogs through leather thongs (Lockwood 9). Each dog would be burdened with a weight ranging from thirty to fifty pounds. This weight would include the tent poles and the tent itself. The tent would function as a net which would contain all the other possessions of the tribe. Then, the tent would be connected to the side saddles (Lockwood 9).
The buffalo skins were also used to clothe the Apache Indians (Lockwood 9). The skins were also utilized to create footwear. The Apache Indians were able to make use of the skins through a skinning technique that required an exceptional ability and swiftness. They took a flint about the size of a human finger, tied it to stick and used it like a knife. The edge of the flint was sharpened through their teeth. As for the hair of the buffalo, it was not wasted because it was needed to make rope (Lockwood 9).
Buffalo is not the only animal that the Apache Indians hunted. They hunted a variety of desert and plain animals, including lizards and deer (Hamond). It was said that deer skins, just like buffalo skins, were utilized for clothing purposes. In the aforementioned account of Benavides, he wrote that Apache Indians “go clad in skins of deer, very well tanned and adorned in their fashion, and the women gallantly and honestly clad” (qtd. in Lockwood 10). Apaches also hunted wild game and gathered wild plants (Faulk 5).
Some Apache Indians were also involved in farming, although in a limited extent (Waldman). They only learned to raise sheep after the Spaniards arrived. Though they have begun to become familiar with horses, the Apache Indians have never grown accustomed to it (Faulk 5). This was because they did not need horses the way the Spaniards, the Americans or the Mexicans needed them; they were used to travelling by foot, and they could easily move faster and farther on foot in the rocky terrain of the mountains or dry and hostile areas of the desert. In addition, the Apache Indians have also learned to create pottery and weave baskets (Faulk 5; Waldman). Both of these skills were acquired and taken from the Pueblo Indians, the same tribe which taught them how to ride horses (Faulk 5).
The arrival of the Spaniards was a significant part of the history of the Apache Indians. In fact, the existence of the Apaches was only known and determined through the accounts and testimonies of the Spaniards (Lockwood 8). These foreign colonizers sought to change the way of life of the Apaches, eventually shaping American Indian history in the process. Two of the things that the Spaniards tried to influence in the Apache Indian way of life were religion and trading relations. They failed with the former, but were successful with the latter.
The first time that the existence of the Apache Indians was acknowledged was in the text “The Journey of the Coronado” by Pedro de Castañeda (Lockwood 8). It was recorded in that text that the Spaniards have come across the Apaches near Chichilticalli, located in what is present day Fort Thomas in Arizona. Upon this first encounter, Castañeda had already described the Apache Indians as “barbarous” (qtd. in Lockwood 8). He had also observed that those people he considered as barbarians survived through hunting (Lockwood 8).
The second mention of the Apache Indians happened in 1541 and could be seen in the “Report,” again by Castañeda (Lockwood 8). The army of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado had first settled in New Mexico, but they proceeded to travel farther than the Pecos River (Carlisle; Lockwood 8). As they travelled to the northeast, they encountered a group of tribes they referred to as “Querechos” which was described to have “lived like Arabs” (qtd. in Lockwood 8). It was the same testimony that revealed a glimpse on the economic way of life of the Apache Indians. In the “Report,” it was written: “These people follow the cows, hunting them and tanning the skins to take to the settlements in the winter to sell, since they go there to pass the winter, each company going to those which are nearest…” (qtd. in Lockwood 8). In this account, it is clear that the Spaniards have not been familiar with buffaloes at this point. They merely refer to them as cows. Nonetheless, the observation regarding the hunting and tanning were accurate. However, the most important information that this testimony had provided is the involvement of the Apaches in selling. It is known that buffalo skins are very useful for the consumption of the individual tribes. This was the first time that any text had indicated business transactions between settlements.
The references to Apache Indians continued through time. In 1569, Juan de Oñate encountered the Apaches when he was in New Mexico (Lockwood 9). The account of that expedition was published in 1599; in that text, the name “Apache” was first attributed to the people he had encountered. In a text entitled “Obediencia San Juan Baptista,” the name was “Apaches” (Lockwood 9). In another document called “Carta Escripta,” the name given was “Apiches” (Lockwood 9).
It was also the Spaniards who also offered an account of the social and family life, as well as the values system of the Apache Indians. For the Apaches, especially the Lipan and Mescalero Apaches, the tribe was considered as a familial unit (Carlisle). Many extended families formed one unit; the head of this unit was the most dominant of the tribe, he who served as adviser and leader of group activities. Some groups lived near each other, which allowed them to come together for warfare or special ceremonies. The head of the unified groups was considered the band leader. Only men were allowed to assume the role of the band leader. However, this arrangement does not undermine the role of the women in the tribe (Carlisle). While the band leader expressed his authority through good example and reason, there was also a head woman who advised in the ways of life (Hamond). Benavides had observed that the Apaches were very respectful of elders and tribe leaders, and that they followed their wishes religiously (Lockwood 11). He also said that they put great significance on truth that they repudiate those who embrace falsity (Lockwood 11).
The married and family life of the Apache Indians is rather unique. After the wedding ceremonies, groom will live with his wife and her family (Carlisle). The husband was tasked to hunt for his in-laws. When the wife dies, the husband must still stay with her family; it would be the family’s task to provide him with another bride. On the contrary, the wife had limited responsibilities with regards to the husband’s family. However, the husband’s family must also provide another groom for the wife to marry in the instance that the husband dies. Marriage was taken seriously by the Apache Indians. In a testimony provided by Benavides, it was stated that when a wife commits adultery, the law demands that her ears and nose are cut off (Lockwood 10). She would then be rejected by the tribe. The same account indicates that the Apache Indians can “have as many wives as they can support” (qtd. in Lockwood 10). This was true; polygamy was allowed based on economic stability (Waldman). Most of those men who had several wives were rich or prominent leaders, because it is only they who have the economic capability to maintain multiple relationships (Carlisle). On certain instances, the other wives were sisters or close relatives of the first bride (Carlisle). As for the parenting style of the Apaches, Benavides noted that “they teach and chastise their children differently from other nations, who have no chastisement whatever” (qtd. in Lockwood 11).
Benavides once wrote about the Apache Indians: “They have no more idolatry than that of the Sun, and even that is not general to all of them, and they scoff much at other nations that have idols” (qtd. in Lockwood 10). This was his observation about the religion of the Apaches. The Spaniards had sought to influence the religion of these Indians, but they failed and lost many of their comrades. Religion was a crucial part of the life of every Apache Indian (Waldman). They strongly believed in the supernatural (“Religion”). They upheld that supernatural beings with powers were responsible for the occurrence of natural phenomena. The powers in question are neutral in terms of determining that which is good or evil. The said powers can also be utilized for specific individual objectives. These powers can only be manipulated through two options: it can be found and developed, or the control can be given. The belief in the supernatural was grounded on mythology which introduced several deities. The most important of all deities is the Ussen or Yusn (Hamond; Waldman). This deity is considered the Giver of Life and the fundamental source of supernatural power (Hamond). The Apache Indians have prayed to this deity to ask for power and strength in the most important moments of their lives. The Giver of Life is sometimes associated with the sun, which is the reason why Benavides arrived at that conclusion (“Religion”). There are other deities in the Apache Indian religion. One of them is known as the Changing Woman, from which life and eternal youth can be derived. The Changing Woman has twins, namely Slayer of Monsters and Child of Water. These three deities are said to be the Apache Indian equivalent of the God, Jesus and Mary. In the religion of the Apaches, there are also mountain spirits referred to as “gaan” or “ga’n” (“Religion”; Waldman). These spirits play a vital role in religious ceremonies like healing and puberty rites (Waldman). In these occasions, men dress up like the deities for representation; they use kilts, black masks, headdresses, and wooden swords. They even use body paint (Waldman). The other significant figures in Apache Indian mythology include the Old Man Big Owl and Coyote (“Religion).
In the Apache Indian religion, there are two known figures of religion. The first one is the “diyin,” which is also known as a shaman (“Religion”). These people are known as “agents of powers” (“Religion”). The second figure is called the “‘ilkashn” (“Religion”). These people are those who use their powers secretly and only for their own purposes. There were several religious ceremonies in the religion of the Apache Indian. Ceremonies for healing purposes were common, and were practiced depending on the treatment needed. Healing is needed to restore a person after another had used witchcraft on the former. In the traditional healing rites, the shaman would sing to establish balance after it has been disrupted by unintended contact or disregard shown to a power. Curing rites were minor compared to the religious ceremony of the puberty of a young girl. This ceremony is crucial, as it serves both as a rite of passage and a ritual for the community. In this occasion, the Changing Woman is sought to provide health and long life not only to the girl but also to the community. Over time, the ceremony had been modified. It recently involved the giving of gifts between the girl’s kin and the godparents’ kin many years after the ceremony occurred (“Religion”).
The Spaniards went to America with the objective of colonizing with the use of religion as a means (Faulk 6). In 1598, they first colonized New Mexico; after a hundred years, they proceeded to Arizona. Their goal was to influence the Indians to turn Christianity, in hopes of making them civilized. In the beginning, they tried to teach Indians about farming and agriculture. However, the warring Apache Indians were not interested with herding sheep or cattle. They were also hesitant to embrace a new religion. As early as 1672, the Apaches have murdered some friars (Lockwood 11). By 1676, they have killed many Spaniards and have also demolished several churches. In 1696, a priest named P. Casanes died as he was killed by severe beating with stones and clubs. These incidents forced the Spaniards to fight back against the Apaches. They knew that the only way the Apache Indians would respond to the priests was through violence (Faulk 6).
Trading relations of the Apache Indians were not clearly documented. However, the fact that the Apaches were involved in trade was recorded in the accounts of the Spaniards. Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, the Apache Indians had maintained friendly trade relations with the Pueblo Indians (Carlisle). With the arrival of the colonizers, the relations changed. The Spaniards had coerced the Pueblos to work on their plantations instead; they also prohibited trade with the Apaches. When the trade relations were severed, the Apaches resorted to raiding to get what they needed. Due to the lack of supplies, the Apaches continually raided the settlements of the Spaniards and the Pueblos of New Mexico from the year 1656 to 1675. When the Spaniards pursued the Indians in battle, the Apaches were forced to develop peaceful relations with them (Faulk 7). The Spaniards would present the Apaches with various things, including low quality weapons and alcoholic drinks. The colonizers were convinced that peace with the Apaches could easily be maintained with the appropriate gifts. Nonetheless, not all Apache Indians were easily swayed. This was because the trading arrangement was foreign to them. In the trading system that the Spaniards installed, the trading stations were situated in close proximity with the villages. It was only in those designated stations where the Apache Indians could get their presents. Such arrangement allowed the Spanish traders to watch over the Indians and influence them into becoming more civil with the Spaniards. The strategy of the Spaniards to use both friendship and bribery was successful enough to maintain the peace for a while. In the 19th century, after the gift giving tradition had stopped, the Apache Indians revolted against Mexico (Faulk 7).
Despite the influence that the Spaniards had on the Apache Indians, there were still some aspects of Apache Indian culture that remained untouched. These included tribal traditions and customs. In the account given by Geronimo, a well-known Apache leader, every important event was accompanied with dancing and a feast (Burke). The entire celebration took four days. The feast occurred in the day time, while the dancing happened at night. The music that accompanied the dancing was the beating of what is called the esadadedne, an instrument made from a hoop covered with buck skin. The warriors also sung, but instead of lyrics, there were only tones. After the feast and dancing was over, they take part in various games like wrestling and horse racing. Both of these games are still played at present (Burke).
Another original tribal game that is truly an Apache tradition is the Kah (Burke). The game involved four moccasins which are placed on the ground and are separated from each other at a distance of four feet. There are two teams involved in this game. The side with the bone is the feathered tribe while the other side consists of the beasts. The objective of the game is to determine in which moccasin the bone is placed. With the blanket to serve as a cover, one side would hide the bone in one of the moccasins. Then, the other team would guess where the bone was located by hitting the particular moccasin. If the right moccasin was hit, that would gain one point for the team. After which, the other team will have its turn to hide the bone. The team with the most number of points wins. The game of Kah was considered as a gambling game, but it was the most popular of all Apache games. The game usually takes four to five hours to complete. The Kah is only played in the night time (Burke).
The Apache Indian community still exists at present. In 2000, those who considered themselves as pure Apache totalled 57,000 (Waldman). Consequently, those who acknowledge the fact that they are part Apache totalled 40,000. Though it appears as if the Apache Indians have vanished, there are still many of them in America. Also, they have adapted well into contemporary life but had retained some traditional rituals, such as the mountain spirit dances (Waldman).
The history and development of the Apache Indians is an extensive and colorful one. They were known as brave and belligerent individuals, but these qualities should not overshadow their resourcefulness and creativity as a people. Though they are more recognized for the violence, it must be known that they were strong enough to resist colonization and maintain their culture. Indeed, Apache Indians are contributors to American history.
Burke, Paul. “Tribal Amusements, Manners and Customs.” First People Web Site. 18 Nov. 2008 <http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/Geronimo_His_Own_Story_1d.html#Tribal_Amusements_Manners_and_Customs>.
Carlisle, Jeffrey D. “Apache Indians.” The Handbook of Texas Online. 8 Jan. 2008. 18 Nov. 2008 <http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/AA/bma33.html>.
Faulk, Odie B. The Geronimo Campaign. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Hamond, Jason. “Dine (Apache).” Minnesota State University Web Site. 18 Nov. 2008 <http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/cultural/northamerica/apache.html>.
Lockwood, Frank C. The Apache Indians. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.
Waldman, Carl. “Apache.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 2008. 18 Nov. 2008 < http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761552000/Apache.html>.
“Western Apache: Religion and Expressive Culture.” World Culture Encyclopedia. 18 Nov. 2008 <http://www.everyculture.com/North-America/Western-Apache-Religion-and-Expressive-Culture.html>.
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