GEOG 571
Intelligence Analysis, Cultural Geography, and Homeland Security

The Western Apache


Contact with the Spanish did more to change life for the Apache than any other tribal group. The horse, an accidental gift from the Spanish, gave the Apache the means to make war on their neighbors. Although little is known about Apache life prior to first contacts with the Spanish, it is certain that they are first cousins to the Navajo, because both groups speak the Athapaskan language. Moreover, although anthropologists are convinced that the Athapaskan people slowly migrated into the border region from the north, the Apache and Navajo insist that their ancestors have always lived in the area.

Prior to gaining access to the horse, Apache raiders did not pose a significant threat to the other indigenous groups in the region. Nevertheless, even before learning to raid on horse-back, they were known as fierce warriors and raiders. Once the Spanish established pueblo settlements throughout the area that is now the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico, the Apache began raiding with a growing intensity. Perhaps this intensity was a result of Spanish settlements that restricted their nomadic life styles on the one hand, and encroachments by Comanches on the eastern margins of their homeland, on the other.

As early as the 1650s, Apache warriors raided Spanish and other Indian settlements situated on either side of the Rio Grande. At this time, Spanish villages kept huge stores of food. Therefore, they made great targets for Apache raids.

The Apache were a nomadic people who lived in small tribal groups and who answered to no central authority or government. Various affiliations included the Mimbreno, the Chiricahua, and the Arivaipa Apache.

In similar fashion to the Navajo, the Apache did not become part of the Spanish system, and much of their homeland was never settled by the Spanish. This distant relationship, however, did not stop the Apache from learning to use the Spanish horse. The fact that the Apache held Spanish slaves, and that the Spanish held Apache slaves, also provided a source of contact between the two groups. Whereas both the Navajo and Apache adopted artifacts of Spanish culture, the things that they decided to focus on were very different. The Navajo began to use horses, but also became sheep herders. The Apache on the other hand, used horses as a source of food and for increased mobility.  Moreover, the Navajo tended to interact with people who lived in pueblos and copied their agricultural techniques. For the most part, the Apache stayed apart and were far less interested in growing things.

For the agriculturally-oriented tribes who lived near them, the Apache raids were a disaster. Furthermore, after the revolution from Spain, the Apache regularly raided Mexican settlements.

Contacts between the Anglo Community and the Apache started in the 1880s, well before the northern border region became part of the United States. In the 1820s, American trappers began to work streams and rivers in Apache country. In 1826, twenty American trappers were killed by Apaches along the banks of the Gila River. Moreover, Apache warriors attacked Mexican settlements in Sonora and Chihuahua because the Mexican government failed to continue the Spanish practice of giving them rations. In response to these raids, the Mexican government offered bounties for Apache scalps, and some Anglos engaged in selling Apache scalps to the Mexican government. This brought about a great intensification of attacks by the Apache on both sides of the border.

At the conclusion of the Mexican/American War and the subsequent demarcation of the border via the Gadsden Purchase, the U.S. government met with the Apache, hoping to secure a permanent peace. The Americans told the Apache that in exchange for protection from Mexican violence against them, the Apache had to agree to stop raiding Mexican towns, ranches, and villages.

The Apache, on the other hand, argued that since they had never been conquered by the Mexicans, and therefore had never given up their land, the Mexicans could not sell it to the Americans. From the Apache point of view, both Mexicans and Americans were trespassing. The situation became even more explosive when a bunch of prospectors beat up Apache Chief Mangas Coloradas when he suggested they should look for gold somewhere else. Soon after this, the U.S. government persuaded some Mimbrenos Apache to come to the site of land set aside for them in order to receive food. The food never arrived, and the Apaches left in order to once again raid deep into Sonora, Mexico. These raids put the U.S. government in a difficult position because even though the Indians were not American citizens, they were wards (the responsibility) of the state. The government of Mexico viewed Apache raids as American attacks on their sovereignty.

In 1857, growing Apache violence motivated the U.S. government to seek a solution to the Apache problem. An American Indian Agent attempted to negotiate with Cochise, a strong Apache leader, and was able to convince him to allow the overland mail service to pass through Apache territory unmolested. At the same time, however, about four hundred American soldiers were looking for the Apaches who had murdered an Indian Agent named Dodge.

In 1861, an Army lieutenant named Bascom attempted to recover a Mexican captive from the Chiricahua Apache by holding Cochise hostage. Cochise got away, and the lieutenant killed several other Apache leaders in response. Cochise retaliated by killing an Anglo merchant. After that, it was all-out war.

Shortly after this, the American Civil War started and Confederate troops rode into Arizona. The Union cavalry left to fight on other fronts, thereby leaving most of the scattered Anglo settlements unprotected. Soon, Apache raids caused most people to leave the area for safer places.

Eventually, the Union recovered control of New Mexico, and General Carleton, who was stationed in Santa Fe, issued a declaration of extermination against the Apache. To make this happen, he established Fort Bowie in what is now Cochise County, Arizona and beefed up troop numbers at Fort Webster. In 1862, U.S. troops killed Mangas Coloradas and managed to do serious damage to the Mimbrenos Apache. The Chiricahua Apache, however, remained strong and they continued to raid communities on both sides of the border.

In 1863, prospectors found gold near Prescott, Arizona and thousands of gold-hungry Anglos moved in. The Apache responded by killing as many of these people as they could, thereby making it necessary for the Army to establish a strong presence in North-Central Arizona. Eventually, the Army built a series of forts in Arizona to bring an end to Apache violence and raids. Even these measures did not bring Apache raids to a halt. In 1865, Chiricahua Apache warriors captured Fort Buchanan (located to the South of Tucson).

The situation continued to worsen over the next few years. In 1871, a large number of Arivaipa Apache were massacred in retaliation for raids that had been carried out by other Apache groups including the Chiricahua. Shortly thereafter, Congress dedicated seventy thousand dollars to the collection, removal, and relocation of all Apache Indians in Arizona and New Mexico. As a result, several reservations were created near Camp Verde and Camp Grant in Arizona.

Despite these efforts, however, the War Department was convinced that the Apache would not voluntarily submit themselves to reservation life. Accordingly, General George W. Crook was sent to Arizona to bring the Apache under control. After an attack on a stage coach during which Anglos were killed, General Crook announced that after February of 1872, he and his men would capture all Apache Indians who were not on their assigned reservations. He also enforced a regimented life on the reservations in which he made all who lived there answer a daily roll call.

Life on Arizona Indian reservations in the 1870s and 1880s was not pleasant. Indian agents often did not deliver the goods and services that had been promised, and white traders regularly cheated the Indians. By the end of 1872, many who had agreed to come to the reservations ran away and eventually started raiding settlements in order to survive.

In 1872, the Army established a Chiricahua reservation in Southeastern Arizona on the border with Mexico. This reservation was a place of miserable confinement for the Apache because government officials failed to deliver promised goods and services, leaving the Indians with scarcely enough to survive. Moreover, the situation was exacerbated by the fact that there was no general agreement within the federal government as to who was really in charge of the Indian reservations. Thus various offices within the government fought over jurisdiction, while other people got rich by stealing from the Indians. All of this confusion and ineptitude was not lost on the Apache leaders. They could see that it was often impossible to get definitive answers about anything because no one was formally in charge.

Eventually, the Department of the Interior started to push for the confinement of all Apaches on one large reservation. As a result, even groups such as the Apache who peacefully farmed their fields in the Verde Valley of Arizona were forced to relocate to the San Carlos Reservation. In all, about 1,600 people had no choice but to give up their irrigated fields and walk to San Carlos where they were once again confined, but with far less opportunity to prosper. Additionally, the Chiricahua Apache were also relocated to San Carlos. Once this was accomplished, there were about 5,000 Apache people situated on the San Carlos Reservation.

The San Carlos Reservation was the responsibility of Agent John P. Clum. Although he held the job for only three years, he was able to make life considerably better for reservation residents. He installed self-governance for the Indians and instituted an Indian police system. He also established courts in which Indians judged other Indians. Agent Clum also encouraged the Indians to move to economic self-sufficiency by helping them build irrigation works and roads. In 1877, however, Clum left because he was tired of continual arguments with the military.

After Clum’s resignation, Anglo farmers and miners began to encroach on the San Carlos Reservation, and the U.S. government did little about it. This greatly angered the Apache, and by 1881 many had become interested in the mystical teachings of Nocadelklinny, a shaman who claimed to be able to bring dead Apache leaders back to life if all white people were first eliminated. Eventually Nocadelklinny was killed in a battle, and the Apache attacked Fort Apache. After that they again began raiding in Arizona. Additionally, rebels under the leadership of Cibecue and Geronimo left the reservation and joined with Victorio, a Membrenos warrior living in Mexico. It took more than two years for the Army to gain control of the situation and return these renegades to the Reservation.

In 1884, peace was again restored, and the Nacadelklinny movement was quashed by the hangings of several Apache leaders. Peaceful conditions did not prevail, however, because General Crook banned the distribution and consumption of homemade liquor on reservation land. The Apache argued that he had no right to tell them what they could and could not drink, and went on making their beverage of choice anyway. Eventually, about 130 people under the leadership of Geronimo left the reservation. General Nelson Miles and his soldiers had the job of finding Geronimo and brining him and his band back to the reservation. After finding him in Mexico, Miles persuaded the Apaches to surrender, after which Geronimo and his followers were sent to Florida, and then finally relocated to the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico. Geronimo and a few others were held as prisoners of war at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In 1909, Geronimo, after living nearly ninety years, passed away and is now buried at Fort Sill. After his surrender to General Miles, he was never again allowed to return to his home in the Mountains of Arizona. Currently, there are no Apache settlements along the U.S./Mexico Border.