Episode 37 – The Apache warriors of the Southwest
Who were the Apaches? As I’ve talked about in the past, if your idea of the indigenous peoples of the Americas is based upon movies and television then it’s most likely not accurate. If you do a quick google search on movies about the Apaches, you’ll find at least 24. Shoot, there have been numerous white actors who have portrayed Apaches such as Burt Lancaster in the movie “Apache”. The reality is often quite different than what has been portrayed, because honestly Hollywood didn’t really care to get it right. This was especially true in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. So who really were the Apache?
They are part of the southern branch of the Athabascan group. That group encompasses a very large family of people, and whose languages are found in Alaska, western Canada, and the American Southwest. Several branches lived in a region that went from the Arkansas River to Northern Mexico and from Central Texas to Central Arizona. Mostly they were divided into Eastern and Western, with the Rio Grande serving as the dividing line.
There are two groups, the Lipans and the Mezcaleros, that lived partially or entirely within the borders of Texas. The Apaches were known by multiple names. As a nomadic people, it is likely that several names were actually identifying the same band. Some of the Apache bands in Texas were Limita, Conejero, and Trementina. However, only the Lipan and Mescalero names survived into the nineteenth century. Most likely the name we know and use, Apache, came from the Zuñi word apachu, meaning “enemy,” or possibly Awa’tehe, the Ute name for Apaches. When they referred to themselves the words they used are Inde or Diné, which simply means “the people.”
Apaches migrated into the Southwest sometime between A.D. 1000 and 1400. Separated from their northern bands, they created a home for themselves in the Southwest. They seemed to have migrated south along the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, then spread west into what is now the states of New Mexico and Arizona. Once the Comanche began moving into the same area, they had to relocate further south and west.
Both the Lipan and Mescalero Apaches social unit was the extended family. Several families would usually stay together, and the leader was their most prominent member. This individual acted as chief advisor and director of group affairs. Several groups would live close to one another, so they were able to come together for both defense, offense, and the occasional social or ceremonial occasions.
The Lipan Apache apparently had no formal organization larger than the band. While being flexible for the immediate members, this type of loose organization did cause issues when it came to establishing relations with the Spanish, and later with the Mexicans, Texans, and Americans. For example while one band might make peace with its enemies, another was free to remain at war with the same group. The band leaders were males; however, females held a central place within the tribe. Once married, the groom would move in and live with his wife’s family. He was also required to hunt and work with his in-laws. If the wife should die, the husband was required to stay with her family, and most of the time they would furnish him with a new bride. In contrast, the wife had little to no obligation to the husband’s family. However, if he died, his family could provide a cousin or brother for her to marry. Men were allowed to marry more than one woman, but few besides wealthy or prestigious leaders did so. Now since they were required to live with their wife’s family, that meant that any other wife would have to be either a sister or cousin of their current wife.
As a nomadic people who subsisted almost entirely on the buffalo, they usually covered much territory. The buffalo provided clothing, and coverage for their tents, which whenever they moved were broken down and loaded onto sleds which were then pulled by dogs. After the Pueblos, the Apache were one of the first groups to learn to ride horses. Although previously they had maintained peaceful trade with the Pueblos, that changed once Spanish forced the Pueblos to work their farms and discouraged trade with the Apaches.
After trade with the Pueblos ceased the Apaches put their newly acquired skill with horse to use raiding Spanish settlements. Although the Spanish had first encountered the Apaches in 1541, when Francisco Vázquez de Coronado and his men encountered a band of “Querechos” on the journey to Quivira. Relations had been relatively quiet. However, from 1656 to 1675, Spanish settlers and Pueblo Indians of New Mexico suffered heavily from a steady flow of raids.
In 1680, the raids, along with a drought, the harsh rule of the Spanish, and missionary activities, eventually led the Pueblo Indians to revolt and attempt to force the Spaniards out of New Mexico, in what is known as the Pueblo Revolt. There was some success but when the Spaniards reconquered New Mexico in 1692, the Apaches had become a powerful nation of mounted warriors who raided whenever and wherever they desired.
Unfortunately for them, their dominance was short-lived. Their aggressive behavior turned their neighbors into enemies. A new and powerful tribe, the Comanches, began pressuring the Apaches from the north. By 1700 the Apaches began migrating southwest as the Comanche, Wichita, and Tejas Indians, better armed through trade with the French, began to dominate the region.. It didn’t help that the Apaches never quite adapted to a Plains culture.
The Apache tried to establish rancherías, where they built huts and tended fields of maize, beans, pumpkins, and watermelons. This attempt to improve their source of food was a major cause of their defeat by the Comanches. Every year when they were planting and then when harvesting, they were essentially homebound. This gave the Comanches a distinct advantage and they used it to launch devastating raids upon the Apache settlements. Every successful raid gave the Comanches strength and weakened the Apaches. As the Apaches moved under the onslaught of the Comanches, the Lipans and Mescaleros, fled southward into Central Texas and into northern Mexico.
With the founding of San Antonio in 1718, the Apaches found themselves with a convenient, very accessible location at which they could raid their European enemies. The Spanish tried to make peace with them but with little success. The viceroy ordered Fernando Pérez de Almazán, who was then the governor of Texas, to try and make peace with the Apaches through peaceful means. The viceroy having seen that the Jicarilla Apaches had made peace with the Spanish in New Mexico, thought there might be a similar result with the Texas Apaches. As a result in 1714 he forbade any further campaigns against the Apaches. This seemed to work and over the next 6 years there was indeed a drop in the number of raids the Apache made on the various settlements.
During this time, Pedro de Rivera y Villalón made an inspection of the entire Spanish frontier and recommended, a reduction in the size of the garrison at San Antonio. The Regulation of 1729, was based largely on Rivera’s recommendations, forbade governors and commanders from waging war on friendly or indifferent Indians. This did not last and during the 1730s and 1740s, the Apaches and Spaniards continued to wage war on each other.
The San Antonio missionaries devised multiple plans to build missions for the Apaches, but, as with most things, nobody could agree on the best way to proceed. Eventually in 1754 Alonso Giraldo de Terreros established the mission of San Lorenzo, which was actually located in Mexico west of the presidio at San Juan Bautista. San Lorenzo had initial success but less than a year after San Lorenzo was established, its new converts became discontented, revolted, burned the mission buildings, and deserted.
While denying their own shortcomings, the missionaries blamed the failure of that first Apache mission on the members of the tribe. They claimed that since the mission was away from their native lands, the Apache were reluctant to live there.
This contributed to those who wanted to place a mission closer to Apache territory. Due to prospects for mining in the region of San Saba, coupled with it being in the heart of Apache territory, made it a logical choice for the mission.
When the Spanish began to build in 1757, there were no Indians in the area. Work began and in June of 1757 the first Apaches started arriving. And soon there were approximately 3,000 Apaches camped around and near the mission. This pleased the missionaries, and they were excited about the prospects until they discovered that the Indians were not going to enter the actual mission. They had instead gathered for their annual buffalo hunt and to wage war against the northern tribes.
The Indians departed, and they promised to return after they were finished. Over the next year small groups of Apache would appear at the mission, but none would stay. Finally in March of 1758, a party of 2,000 Comanche, Tejas, Bidai, Tonkawa, and other Indians attacked Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission. They killed eight of the inhabitants, stole the supplies, and burned the buildings.
Even though the mission at San Saba was a disaster, the Spanish kept trying to maintain peaceful relations. The Apaches, who really had no interest in what the Spanish desired, made just enough promises that the Spanish stayed interested. Members of the tribe joined Colonel Ortiz on his 1759 campaign to punish the northern tribes. The Lipans refused to settle near San Saba and wanted a mission further from the Comanche. Finaly, in 1762 a new Apache mission, San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz, was established on the upper Nueces River halfway between San Saba and the Rio Grande. While several Apache bands visited the mission only one band of about 300 actually settled at the mission. They did however, request a second mission downstream from San Lorenzo. So Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria Mission was established In 1762.
Due to disease, smallpox in 1764, not enough food, and missionaries using the Apache as forced labor, the Lipans abandoned mission life. The Comanche also began raiding the missions and so by the summer of 1767, both missions were empty of Lipan Apaches.
Meanwhile, the Marqués de Rubí completed an inspection of the frontier, and after he returned to Mexico he recommended that the Spanish cultivate relations with the Northern tribes and with their help the Apaches could be if not completely exterminated, sufficiently reduced. Due to decreased numbers and pressure from the Spanish and the northern tribes, by the 1790s the Apaches had become relatively quiet, although they continued to raid sporadically. Finally, the Spanish made peace treaties with them in 1790 and again in 1793.
With the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence in 1811, the Spanish began to pay less attention to the Indians thus giving them the ability to become bolder, and they again staged raids. These attacks continued until the end of Spanish rule in Texas and Mexico. Antonio María Martínez, the last Spanish governor of Texas, reported raids by Lipan and Comanche Indians, even on the capital of Texas, San Antonio.
The Mexican government was quick to sign treaties with the Lipans. In each case, the Mexicans promised to supply the Apaches with annual gifts of gunpowder and corn in exchange for peace. Once the Anglos began moving into Central Texas, the Apaches developed a friendship with them. Each side hoped that the other would help defend them against hostile tribes, such as the Comanche, who lived in the area. The Lipans often raided into Mexico and sold their stolen horses and goods to the Anglos. The Mexican government generally overlooked these raids, because of the usefulness of the Apaches against the formidable Comanches.
When Texas gained its independence, the relatively cordial relations between Whites and Apaches continued for a while. In 1838, the Texans drew up their own treaty with the Lipans; however, the treaty and alliance broke down in 1842, and 250 of approximately 400 Lipans left Texas for Mexico. Once in Mexico they joined the Mescaleros and for the next several decades they engaged on destructive raids across the border. In the years 1865–67, Uvalde County reported the theft of more than $30,000 worth of livestock and the deaths of eighteen people. The Mexican government was reluctant to act against this cross-border raiding primarily because several Mexican border towns profited handsomely from the purchase of stolen goods.
Eventually in 1873, Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie led a force of 400 soldiers across the border and into Mexico to destroy the Lipan villages. His army killed or captured virtually all of the surviving Lipans, and they were deported to the Mescalero Reservation in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico.
By 1905 the remainder of the Lipans in Mexico drifted onto the Mescalero Reservation. In 1970 about 1,660 Indians were enrolled there-not only Mescaleros, but Chiricahuas, Lipans, Kiowas, and a few Comanches as well. Thirty-five Lipans were living in Oklahoma in 1940 but were not officially listed among the tribes of the state.
That’s going to do it for this episode. Please subscribe to the podcast, I try to keep posting new episodes, sometimes though life gets in the way and there’s a gap between. But hey and remember if you want more information on Texas History, visit the Texas State Historical Association. I also have three audiobooks on the Hidden History of Texas one which deals with the 1500s to about 1820, one 1820s to 1830s, and the latest release the 1830 to 1836, the Texas revolution period. You can find the books pretty much wherever you download or listen to audiobooks. Just do a search for the Hidden History of Texas by Hank Wilson and they’ll pop right up. Links to all the stores are on my publishers website https://ashbynavis.com or at my website https://arctx.org
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