Skip to Main Content
El Paso Community College
Library Research Guides

Borderlands: Apache Indians Defended Homelands in Southwest 18 (1999)

A unique resource of faculty edited college student articles on the history and culture of the El Paso, Juárez, and Southern New Mexico regions.

Apache Indians Defended Homelands in Southwest

Article first published in Vol. 18, 1999.

By Emma Uzzelly and Todd Uzzelly

No other Indians in the Southwest caused the terror and constant fear in settlers as the Apaches did throughout their fierce existence. They raided Spanish, Mexican and American settlements and were expert guerrilla fighters who defended their homelands.

The Apaches were essentially nomadic hunters and warriors, dwelling at any one place only temporarily in brush shelters known as wickiups, short, rounded dwellings made of twigs and mud, or tepees of cow or buffalo hides. Of Athabaskan linguistic stock, Apache tribes included the Jicarilla, Mescaleros, Mimbreño, Lipan, Mogollon, Gila, Tonto, White Mountain, San Carlos and Chiricahuas." "

When the Spanish came to New Mexico in the late 1500s, they brought horses with them, and the Apaches raided their settlements for the animals which they learned to ride in expert fashion. The Spanish fought back, enslaving the Apaches and sending them south to work in mining camps. Spaniards entered Apache villages and took women by force, stole their food which was gathered every month, and seized their blankets, sometimes leaving the people naked, even in winter when it was snowing. Raids against the Spanish intensified, with the Apaches intent on destroying Spanish settlements wherever they existed.

go to top

By the late 1600s, the Apaches occupied lands stretching westward from Texas to the lower Colorado River and southward from Colorado into Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico. They acquired the reputation of being exceedingly elusive, wild and warlike.

When the Comanches invaded Apache territory in the early 1700s, the Lipan and other Apaches were forced to move south away from the buffalo, their main food source, and the Apaches began to raid for food.

Image caption: Model of an Apache Wickiup at the Museum of Archaeology at Wilderness Park.  Photo by Grace Walker.

In the late 1700s, the Spanish began to offer the Apaches plots of land and rations in exchange for peace- an arrangement similar to what the Anglos would later call reservations. The Apaches would often make peace with one Spanish province and raid all the others. The Spanish even enlisted the Comanches, a traditional Apache enemy, to help them, to no avail. Leon Metz writes that around 1800, Spanish scouts found many Apaches living near the presidio of San Elizario on the Rio Grande. The Mescalero Apaches looted wagon trains traveling between El Paso and Chihuahua City. In fact, the entire upper part of the Camino Real was exposed to attacks from the Mescalero and Mimbreño Apaches. The Spanish resumed their earlier policy of offering bounty money for Apache scalps.

As Americans began moving westward in great numbers, the Apaches and the military met in frequent battles. The gold rush of 1849 also brought prospectors to the West and further encroachment on Indian land. The Apaches continued their reign of terror against settlers, which now included great numbers of Anglos.

go to top

Drawing of snake motifWarriors and chiefs like Mangas Coloradas, Cochise, Geronimo, Victorio, Nana and others staged numerous bloody battles in the Southwest. They led their warriors into Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Sonora, and Chihuahua, Mexico, causing hundreds of deaths. Even the settlers of El Paso del Norte became the victims of the relentless and destructive Apache raids.

Historian Howard Lamar says that in 1872, the U.S. Army pursued a policy to exterminate all Indians unless or until they agreed to surrender and live on reservations "where they could be taught Christianity and agriculture." Geronimo and his people reluctantly agreed to accept the Chiricahua Reservation in southeast Arizona, but the Apaches found it difficult to adjust to confinement and some kept raiding.

In 1876, after an altercation where several settlers died, the federal government split the reservation into two parts. Geronimo and his warriors escaped to Mexico. Eventually, the U.S. government undertook a long pursuit of Geronimo and his warriors in the Sonora Mountains, finally forcing him to surrender to General Nelson Miles in 1886.

Geronimo and the Apaches were sent by train to a confinement center in St. Augustine, Florida, that same year and relocated to Oklahoma in 1864. It might have been the end for them because of exposure to malaria and tuberculosis, but the Apache have prevailed. Oscar J. Martinez notes that Apaches continued their guerilla tactics from the border mountains as late as the 1920s, despite the elimination or capture of famous leaders.

Today, seven reservations in the United States are under Apache sovereignty: Camp Verde, White Mountain and San Carlos in Arizona; Jicarilla and Mescalero in New Mexico; and Fort Sill and Anadarko in Oklahoma.

The famous ski resort and casino at the Inn of the Mountain Gods operate profitably on the Mescalero Reservation near Ruidoso, New Mexico. Located in high-forested land, the Mescalero have fought for a century to retain their independence and culture. In the 1970s, they opened their resort offering outdoor recreation both summer and winter, including excellent skiing and golfing, and attracting conventions and tourists from all over. In the 1990s, the Mescalero expanded their gambling facilities and appear to be one tribe who not only survived but prospered.

go to top

EPCC Web site || EPCC Libraries Web Site || EPCC Library Catalog
Report a problem