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The History of Native American Tribes. Apache. Indian-apache   Apache

   The Mescalero tribe of the American southwest were so-named by the Spanish for their practice of roasting and eating the mescal plant, an agave (Sonnichsen 18-19).

   The first mention of them as a separate people of the eastern Apache occurred in the eighteenth century. The Mescalero though have oral tradition from "the beginning time" that is sung at the annual girl's puberty festival in July.

The History of Native American Tribes. Apache woman

Apache woman

   Some scholars categorize the Mescalero as one branch of the eastern Apache, the other branch being the Jicarilla Apache. From language studies, it is believed that all the Apache, as well as the Navajo, are related to other speakers of Athapaskan languages in Alaska and northwestern Canada. There is also a tribe that speaks an Athapaskan language on the northwest coast of California.

Migration Historical evidence seems to indicate that the Apache came down from the north and reached the southwestern United States sometime around the year 1500. They hunted buffalo on the plains, using dogs to pull their few possessions. After taking horses from the Spanish, the hunting range of the Apache was greatly extended. The Apache lived in small bands that moved with the seasons and availability of resources. In the summer they went up to the mountains. In the winter they came down to the desert. They owed allegiance to no one and moved as they pleased.

The History of Native American Tribes. Apache wickiup woman

Apache wickiup

Homes and clothing Traditional homes of the Mescalero Apache are simple brush shelters called wickiups. Traditional clothing was buckskin: a skirt and jumper for the women, a shirt and breechclout for the men. It wasn't until 1898 that the U.S. government was able to get Mescalero men into trousers, and it took force and persistence to do it. Most Mescalero today dress in the modern style. Traditional clothing is usually only worn by some for ceremonies or special occasions.

The History of Native American Tribes. Apache hunting

Apache hunting

An Apache could find food where a white man would starve. This was demonstrated to the army officer John Cremony in the mid-nineteenth century. An Apache he was traveling with said there was food everywhere, then dug about six inches with his knife in what seemed to be bare earth to reveal a small tasty potato.

Camouflage Apaches could also blend with their surroundings. Cremony describes how an Apache can cover himself with grass and make himself invisible in a field. An Apache named Quick Killer demonstrates this ability to Cremony's astonishment. An Apache can cover himself with a gray blanket and with a sprinkling of dust appear to be a granite boulder. This lends credence to the stories of Geronimo (a Chiricahua Apache, closely related to the Mescalero Apache) standing still next to a mountain while U.S. cavalry troops rode right past without seeing him.

The History of Native American Tribes. Apache medicineman

Apache medicineman

Part of the problem lay in differing worldviews. The Mescalero, in common with many other Native American tribes, saw little value in work for work's sake. They were not acquisitive of material goods, partly because their nomadic existence limited how much they could acquire. They had a different sense of time. Where some Euro-Americans saw the Apache as lazy, some of the Apache saw Euro-Americans as working themselves to death, even as slaves to their work.

The History of Native American Tribes. Apache chief Victorio

Apache chief Victorio

   Another problem in cross-cultural contact was the Euro-American idea of leaders who could speak for a whole population. Mescalero Apache lived in small bands, usually but not necessarily kin-based, that formed from the choice of the individuals involved. Nobody could speak for another individual unless that individual consented to it, much less speak for another band or all the bands. Some Apaches felt it was unfair for them to be punished for breaking treaties to which they never personally agreed. Another major difference is the idea of communal access to resources, as opposed to the idea of private property so cherished by the Euro-Americans.

For many years the Apache were free to raid at their discretion anybody crossing their territory. Finally, the Apache were herded into small reservations and forbidden to have public gatherings. This effectively stopped Mescalero tribal ceremonies from 1873 until 1913. The ban on public gatherings was lifted in 1912, but the Mescalero wanted to wait until their Chiricahua brothers (remnants of Geronimo's band held prisoner until this time) joined them at the Mescalero reservation. This was both to show respect for the Chiricahua and to have time to gather money and resources for a proper ceremony.

The base metaphor is a quartered circle, with the axes representing the daily movement of the sun east to west and its annual movement south to north. Sound and silence complement each other. Balance and harmony are expressed in circularity. However, these are only partial meanings. It represents much more than that. There are four directions. The number four is sacred to the Mescalero, being the number of days of creation. Four is an even number and therefore balanced, another key concept for them. Each of the directions has seasons, animals, and character traits associated with it. Traveling around the circle can also represent the four stages of life, as enacted by the girls in their puberty ceremony (see Apache Sunrise Ceremony). This all ties in with the Mescalero cosmology and mythology. The girls re-enact the role of White Painted Woman, a key figure in Mescalero creation stories.

The History of Native American Tribes. White mountain apache scouts

White mountain
apache scouts

   Although the Spanish and the successive Mexican governments claimed the Apachean territories, numerous military forays failed to dominate them. Despite centuries of conflict the Spaniards never subdued the Apaches. The Apache tribes were the preeminent military powers in their respective regions until after 1856. The War on Mexico affected all the Apache tribes. With the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the 1853 Gadsden Purchase Mexico ceded and then sold the majority of the Apache territories to the United States. Spain, Mexico and the Unites States have never recognized Indian titles to their aboriginal territories.

After 1850 Anglo miners and ranchers invading the Apache territories clashed with the indigenous occupants. Numerous military forts were established by the United States. Most of the Apaches were confined to reservations by 1872, when General Crook ordered that any Indians not on the reservations be hunted and killed. In 1873 300 Indian men were executed for leaving the Fort San Carlos Reservation. By 1877 over 5,000 surviving Apaches were confined. Some Apaches still refused to capitulate. Most opposition was crushed by 1883. Military conflict ended with the 1886 surrender of Geronimo.

The Chiricahuas, Mescaleros and Western Apaches were, in all probability, derived from a single Athapaskan migration. They shared many common features of social organization. The extended matrilineal and matrilocal family, their basic social unit, was ideally composed of a couple, their unmarried children and the families of their married daughters. Extended family dwellings formed clusters with each nuclear family in a separate dwelling. The principal obligations of a married man were to the family of his wife. Women were the anchors of these basic social units. The matrilocal grouping endured for the lifetimes of the members. As a result of these characteristics, women enjoyed high status.

Extended families provided suitable-sized units for many activities, including hunting and food gathering and preparation. Division of labor by gender ordered these activities. Women gathered and preserved foods, preserved hides, built homes, gathered firewood, prepared food, cared for children, and wove baskets. Men were responsible for hunting, security, horses, making weapons and conducting warfare or raiding. With survival dependent on collective activity personal wishes were often subordinate to the extended family.

The Chiricahua and Mescalero local groups had as many as 30 extended families. Among the Western Apaches the local groups were comprised of from two to six large, extended family units with three to eight nuclear families each and as many as 200 people.

Each local group had a headman or leader. Local group leaders were invariably men. Typically the leader was the most respected extended family head in the settlement and the most influential member of the local group. Leadership was informal and advisory rather than compulsive. The headman exercised little arbitrary or coercive power over individuals and yet was the arbiter of disputes. An important chiefly role was prevention of disharmony. Leaders were called upon to speak at public occasions and were expected to be eloquent. The office of chief was not hereditary, though a tendency for sons to replace fathers existed.

The Chiricahua Apache were divided into three to five regional bands (depending on the source). Their total estimated population was 3,000. The Chiricahua were hunters and gathers with a limited amount of agriculture. The Eastern Chiricahuas territory was roughly southwestern New Mexico west of the Rio Grande. The Central Chiricahua band inhabited southeast Arizona, extreme southwestern New Mexico and a small range in Mexico. This group was also known as the Cochise Apaches, after their famous leader. The Southern Chiricahua band ranged in Mexico and a small area in southwestern New Mexico. Geronimo was their best known leader. Spanish accounts place Chiricahua Apache bands in these territories by the eighteenth century.

The Mescalero Apaches territory was east of the Rio Grande in New Mexico, along both sides of the Rio Grande in Mexico to below the Pecos confluence and along both sides of the Pecos River north to near Fort Sumner and Belen. Spanish slave trafficking prompted hostilities early in the contact era. The Spanish and Mexican eras were predominantly periods of hostilities, with only intermittent peace. There were probably around 2,500 to 3,000 Mescaleros in 1850. In 1881, at the end of hostilities with the United States, only 431 survived.

With the Mescaleros, unlike the Chiricahuas and Western Apaches, culture was uniform throughout, without notably distinct bands or moieties. The practice of hunting buffalo, available only in the eastern part of their territory, required a fluid spatial arrangement. By comparison, the Chiricahuas and Western Apaches could complete their annual rounds in distinct territories.

The Mescaleros were also hunters and gathers. Only a little agriculture was practiced by some families. From their settlements small groups exploited surrounding resources, and rarely would the entire population be in residence. During agave harvests and buffalo hunts most of the population would be absent. Unlike the Chiricahuas or Western Apaches, the Mescaleros adopted the tepee. Advantage attached to having large local groups. Many people were required for buffalo hunts and agave harvesting and large groups served as deterrence to attacks.

The History of Native American Tribes. San Carlos Apache flag

San Carlos Apache flag

   (San-Carlos-Apache-flag)The Western Apaches were established in their Eastern Arizona territory during the 1700's. By the middle of the eighteenth century they had, by means of the addition of horses to their cultural inventory, established a far reaching network of trading or raiding relationships with a dozen other groups, spanning from Northern Arizona to Central Sonora. Aspects of their culture were influenced by these contacts. There territory was remote from Spanish intrusions. They were not as affected by hostilities as the Chiricahuas and Mescaleros, a fact perhaps reflected on their greater sedentism and established horticultural traditions.

The History of Native American Tribes. white mountain seal apache

White mountain
seal apache

   Western Apache sub-tribes were the White Mountain, Cibecue, San Carlos and Tonto. Each group had two to five bands with separate hunting territories. The 1880 mean size of these bands has been computed at 387 individuals, with considerable variation. Within the local groups family clusters had a headman who led daily affairs, with the best headman as local group chief.

The Western Apaches led a uniform leafy. Their subsistence was about 75 percent wild food and 25 percent horticulture. Older members tended mountain gardens in the summer. Their adoption of horticulture was of sufficient extent to produce seasonal sedentism. A unique feature of the Western Apache kinship pattern seems to have developed in connection with the management and transmission of claims to horticultural lands, that being a system of matrilineal clan designations. There are 62 Western Apache clans. These derive from three archaic clans, on which basis they are grouped into phratries. Clans are associated with the clan mother's garden site. The clan name is related to this place of its origin.

In these three Apache tribes we see both the communality of their origins as expressed in their similarity, and their subsequent differentiation in response to distinct territories and environments, both physical and political. Today they have been forced to readapt by new circumstances, the forced reduction of their territory to several small reservations by the United States government. In the future these changes too will be reflected in their social organization.

Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation

The History of Native American Tribes. Fort mcdowell yavapai nation

Fort mcdowell
yavapai nation

   Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation is located within Maricopa County about twenty-three miles northeast of Phoenix. The desert landscape is contrasted by the Verde River, which flows north to south through the reservation. Thirty miles east of Fort McDowell, the Four Peaks rise from the desert floor to an elevation of more than 7,000 feet.

The community was created by Executive Order on September 15, 1903. The 40-square mile reservation is now home to 600 community members, while another 300 live off reservation. The reservation is a small parcel of land that formerly was the ancestral territory of the once nomadic Yavapai people, who hunted and gathered food in a vast area of Arizona's desert lowlands and mountainous Mogollon Rim country.

The reservation is governed by a Tribal Council elected by tribal members pursuant to the Tribe's Constitution. The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation takes pride in its economic development and the expansion of direct services to meet the changing needs of all tribal members while at he same time preserving traditional values.

Symbolism of the newly adopted Great Seal of the White Mountain Apache tribe

The History of Native American Tribes. white mountain seal apache

White mountain
seal apache

   The universe, spanning an eternity of darkness to the beginning of time is where the Creator of Life gave light and breach to the White Mountain Apaches.

The universe became the background for colorful creations of life. Apaches have been guided since time immemorable by these sacred symbols given by the Creator.

The Creator of the Apaches has bless them with a beautiful way of life symbolized by the life sustaining waters flowing from the melting snows of the White Mountain - a mountain of Sacredness. Its' ridges abound with deer and elk and many animals small and large which have been provided for the Apaches to hunt.

The rainbow brilliantly ovals the crest of the White Mountains adding a crown to the beauty of the land...the rainbow is a symbol of peace. The tree symbolizes the predominant forests growing on the White Mountain Apache lands; a resource that is providing a livelihood for Apaches today.

The wicki-up is an ancient and unique Apache habitat; as is the tus (pronounced toose), a water container made from native reeds and coated with pitch from the pinon trees - only the Apaches have maintained the ancient craft in the making of the tus.

The four Sacred colors, black, blue, yellow and white have guided the Apaches in their prayers to the Great Creator - from the universe to the creations; from night to daylight.

The mountain spirits have taught the Apaches to perform the Apache Crown Dance as a means of curing. The crown headdress is be-decked with eagle feathers; the teacher that flew the highest in the Heavens.

The signs of lightning are sacred symbols of the Apaches which are placed on the bodies of the Apache Crown Dancers who are instructed by the mysterious mountain spirits to perform healing rituals for the Apaches. The crown dance is authentically performed today.

The White Mountain Apaches have existed throughout centuries with great strength and integrity inhabiting the beautiful land; through severe winter storms, through turbulent summer rains, through the autumn frosts, guided by the Great Spirit, their Creator, who Blessed his creatures that they can enjoy the spring of life - that is the beauty of life.


Ronnie Lupe
Apache Scout 10/05/79


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