Whatever Happened to the Apache?
OF WHOM was it said, “Crueller features were never cut”? Yet, who was known for his outstanding courage and determination? He was the last Apache leader to surrender to the U.S. Army. He lived to be about 80 years of age and died in 1909 in Oklahoma, supposedly a Dutch Reformed Christian. He was Goyathlay (pronounced Goyahkla), better known as Geronimo, the last great Apache leader.
It is said that he came to be called Geronimo after Mexican soldiers cried out in fear to “Saint” Jerome (Jerónimo) when Goyathlay attacked them. About the year 1850, Mexican troops killed 25 Apache women and children who were camped on the outskirts of Janos, Mexico. Among them were Geronimo’s mother, his young wife, and his three children. It is said that “for the rest of his life Geronimo hated all Mexicans.” Spurred by a desire for revenge, he became one of the most feared Apache chiefs.
But what do we know about the Apache Indians, featured so often as the villains in Hollywood stereotypes? Do they still exist? If so, how do they live and what future do they face?
“The Tigers of the Human Species”
The Apache* (their name apparently comes from the Zuni word apachu, which means “enemy”) were known as fearless and resourceful warriors. Famous 19th-century Indian fighter General George Crook called them “the tigers of the human species.” Yet, one authority says that “at no time after 1500 did all the Apache tribes together exceed six thousand people.” But a few dozen warriors could tie up a whole enemy army in guerrilla warfare!
However, an Apache source states: “In contrast to the popular conceptions created by the Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans, Apaches were not war-like bloodthirsty savages. We raided for food only during times of shortage. Wars were waged not as random acts, but were generally well planned campaigns for revenge against injustices against us.” And of those injustices, there were plenty!
An exhibit at the San Carlos Apache Cultural Center, in Peridot, Arizona, explains Apache history from their viewpoint: “The arrival of outsiders into the region brought hostilities and change. The newcomers had little regard for our aboriginal ties to the land. In an effort to protect our traditions and culture, our ancestors fought and won many battles against the soldiers and citizens of Spain, Mexico, and the United States. But overwhelmed by superior numbers and modern technology, our grandfathers and great-grandfathers were forced to finally accept the demands of the U.S. Government. We were forced to give up our life of the wind and live on reservations.” The phrase ‘forced to live on reservations’ evokes deep feeling for about half a million reservation dwellers (out of over two million Native Americans) in the 554 tribes in the United States and the 633 bands across Canada. The Apache number about 50,000.*
Most experts on early Native American history accept the theory that the original tribes came from Asia by way of the Bering Strait and then slowly spread southward and eastward. Linguists relate the Apache language to that of the Athapaskan-speaking peoples of Alaska and Canada. Thomas Mails writes: “Their time of arrival in the American Southwest is placed by current estimates at between A.D. 1000 and 1500. The exact route they followed and the pace of their migration has not yet been agreed upon by anthropologists.”—The People Called Apache.
In earlier centuries the Apache often survived by organizing raiding parties against their Spanish-Mexican neighbors. Thomas Mails writes: “Such raids continued for almost two hundred years, beginning about 1690 and lasting until about 1870. The raids are not surprising, for Mexico proved to be a veritable cornucopia of needed supplies.”
Who Were the First to Scalp?
As a result of the constant conflicts between Mexico and the Apache nation, the Mexican Sonoran government “returned to the old Spanish method” of offering scalp bounties. This was not an exclusively Spanish innovation—the British and the French had followed this custom in earlier times.
The Mexicans scalped in order to claim a cash bounty, and it sometimes did not matter whether the scalp was Apache or not. In 1835 a scalp bounty law was passed in Mexico that offered 100 pesos for each warrior’s scalp. Two years later the price included 50 pesos for a woman’s scalp and 25 for that of a child! In his book The Conquest of Apacheria, Dan Thrapp writes: “The policy frankly sought extermination, evidence that genocide has widespread roots and was not a modern invention of a single nation.” He continues: “The Apaches themselves did no scalping.” However, Mails says that the Chiricahua did at times take scalps—but not often, “because of their fear of death and ghosts.” He adds: “Scalping was done only in retaliation after the Mexicans inaugurated the tactic.”
Thrapp says that miners “often banded together . . . and went a-hunting Indians. When they could trap them, they killed them to the last man and, sometimes, to the last woman and child. The Indians, naturally, did the same to the whites and to other tribes.”
War with the Apache reached a point where it was profitable to the state of Arizona, says Charles Lummis, since “the continuance of the Apache wars [meant] that more than $2 million annually [was] disbursed within Arizona’s borders by the War Department.” Thrapp states: “There were powerful and unscrupulous interests wanting no peace with the Apaches, for when peace came, the streams of funds spent by the military would dry up.”
Were Reservations the Answer?
The constant clash between the white-settler invaders and the resident Apache led to the federal government’s solution of confining the Indians to reservations—often inhospitable tracts of land on which they were expected to survive. In 1871-72, reservations were established for the Apache.
From 1872 to 1876, the Chiricahua Apache had their own reservation. These free-roaming nomads felt confined. Even though they had 2,736,000 acres for between 400 and 600 people, this mainly arid territory did not allow them enough space to get food by hunting and gathering. The government had to supply rations every 15 days in order to stave off starvation.
Even so, the white settlers thought that the separate Chiricahua Reservation was a waste of land and that the Apache should be concentrated on one reservation. The white settlers’ ill feeling mounted after the death of the respected chief Cochise in 1874. They needed an excuse to chase the Chiricahua Apache off the reservation. What happened? “In 1876, a pretext presented itself. Two illegal whiskey-sellers were killed by two Chiricahuas when they refused to sell more [whiskey]. Rather than arrest the suspects, the [government] agent for the San Carlos reservation arrived with armed men and escorted the Chiricahua [tribe] to San Carlos. The Chiricahua Reservation was closed.”
However, the Indians were still allowed to roam freely beyond the reservation limits. The white settlers did not like that policy. “In response to the settlers’ demands, the government moved the San Carlos, White Mountain, Cibecue, and Tonto Apache, as well as the numerous bands comprising the Chiricahua Apache, to the San Carlos agency.”—Creation’s Journey—Native American Identity and Belief.
At one point thousands of Yavapai, Chiricahua, and Western Apache were detained on the reservation. This led to tension and suspicion, since some of these tribes were long-standing enemies. How did they react to the restrictions of the reservation? The Apache answer is, “Cut off from our traditional lives, we starved physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Our freedom had been taken away.”
However, a group of Chiricahua, led by the famous war chief Geronimo, fled the reservation in 1885 and escaped to Mexico. They were hunted down by General Nelson Miles with nearly 5,000 soldiers plus 400 Apache scouts—all trying to ferret out, by that time, only 16 warriors, 12 women, and 6 children!
Finally, on September 4, 1886, Geronimo surrendered. He was willing to return to the San Carlos Reservation. But it was not to be. He was told that all the Apache there had been shipped eastward, as prisoners, to Florida, where he too would go. He said in his Apache language: “Łahn dádzaayú nahikai łeh niʹ nyelíí k’ehge,” which means, “Once we moved like the wind.” Proud and wily Geronimo, now a prisoner, could no longer move as freely as the wind.
Eventually he was allowed to move westward, as far as Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he died in 1909. Like so many other Native American leaders, this Apache chief had been forced to submit to the stifling conditions of life in prisons and on reservations.
What Problems Do They Face Today?
The Apache occupy several reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. Awake! visited the San Carlos Reservation and interviewed several Apache leaders. An account of that visit follows.
Shortly after entering the reservation on a hot, dry day in May, we were received hospitably by Harrison Talgo and his wife. Harrison, an articulate speaker, over six feet tall, with a heavy mustache, is a member of the San Carlos tribal council. We asked him: “What are some of the problems affecting the Apache today?”
“We are losing our traditional values. TV has had a big negative influence, especially on our young people. One example is that they are not learning our language. Another major problem is unemployment, which reaches 60 percent in some areas. True, we have the gambling casinos, but they do not offer employment to many of our people. And the other side of the coin is that many of our own people go there and gamble away their general assistance checks, which represent their rent and food money.”
When asked about health problems in the tribe, Harrison did not hesitate to answer. “Diabetes,” he said. “Over 20 percent of our people are diabetic. In some areas it is over 50 percent.” He admitted that another major problem is the scourge that the white man introduced over 100 years ago—alcohol. “Drugs are also affecting our people.” Road signs on the reservation gave eloquent testimony to these problems, saying: “Let Sober Take Over—Be Drug Free” and, “Preserve Our Land. Preserve Our Health. Don’t Trash Our Wealth.”
We asked if AIDS had affected the tribe. With evident disgust, he answered: “Homosexuality is where the danger lies. Homosexuality is creeping into the reservation. TV and the white man’s vices are debilitating some of our young Apache people.”
We asked how things have changed on the reservation in recent years. Harrison answered: “In the 1950’s this was the order of priorities and influences: First was religion; second, the family; third, education; fourth, peer pressure; and, finally, TV. Today, the order is reversed, with TV the predominant influence. Peer pressure is the second strongest influence—pressure to abandon the Apache ways and follow mainstream America. Education still comes third, and many Apache are taking advantage of college openings and the increase in schools and high schools on the reservations.”
“What about family influence?” we asked.
“Unfortunately, the family is now relegated to fourth position, and religion is now last—whether it be our traditional religion or the white man’s religions.”
“How do you view Christendom’s religions?”
“We are not pleased with the churches’ trying to convert our people from the traditional beliefs.* The Lutherans and the Catholics have had missions here for over 100 years. There are also Pentecostal groups that have some emotional appeal.
“We need to restore our cultural identity through the family and bring back the use of the Apache language. At present, it is being lost.”
Apache Economic Progress
We visited another Apache authority, who spoke confidently about the economic prospects for the San Carlos Reservation. However, he explained that it was not easy to get investors to pour money into projects there. One good sign is an agreement with a major telephone company to form the San Carlos Apache Telecommunication Company. It is being financed by the Rural Economic Association and will create more jobs for Apache employees as well as expand and improve the meager telephone system on the reservation.
This official also spoke with pride of the dialysis center soon to be installed in the reservation hospital, which will give better and closer medical attention. He then showed us plans for the redevelopment of the commercial center in San Carlos, which should soon be under construction. He was optimistic about the future but emphasized that education must be the basis. ‘Education means better wages, which lead to a better standard of living.’
The Apache women are famous for their basket-weaving skills. A tourist guidebook says that “hunting, fishing, ranching, lumber, mining, outdoor recreation and tourism” are major factors in the local economy.
The Apache are trying to keep up with the outside world, in spite of heavy odds against them. Like so many other people, they want justice, respect, and a decent life.
When True Justice Will Prevail
Jehovah’s Witnesses visit the Apache people to tell them of the new world that Jehovah God has promised for our earth, so beautifully described in the Bible book of Isaiah: “For here I am creating new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart. And they will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. They will not toil for nothing.”—Isaiah 65:17, 21, 23; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4.
The time is near when Jehovah God will take action to cleanse the world of all selfishness and corruption as well as abuse of the earth. (See Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21.) People of all nations, including the Native American nations, can now bless themselves by turning to the true God, Jehovah, through Christ Jesus. (Genesis 22:17, 18) Jehovah’s Witnesses offer free Bible education for any meek ones who wish to inherit a restored earth and are willing to obey God.—Psalm 37:11, 19.
While some writers use “Apaches” as the plural, we follow the custom of using “Apache” for singular and plural.
The Apache are divided into various tribal subgroups such as the Western Apache, which include Northern and Southern Tonto, Mimbreño, and Coyotero. The Eastern Apache are the Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa Apache. Further divisions are the White Mountain Apache and the San Carlos Apache. Today, these tribes live mainly in southeast Arizona and in New Mexico.—See map on page 15.
A future issue of Awake! will consider Native American beliefs and religion.
[Maps/Picture on page 15]
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Area enlarged at right
Fort Apache (White Mountain)
Mountain High Maps® Copyright © 1997 Digital Wisdom, Inc.
[Picture on page 13]
Courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society/Tucson, AHS#78167
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Harrison Talgo, a tribal councilman
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Chief Cochise was buried in his Chiricahua stronghold
Satellite dishes bring TV into the reservation
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At Apache burials relatives lay stones around the grave. Ribbons in the wind signify the four cardinal points