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Camp of the Lipans, as depicted in an idyllic scene by Theodore Gentilz, 1840s. The artist lived in the Castro colonies, in present-day Medina County, where he surveyed land for new townsites. Although the Lipans and Comanches conducted brutal raids on the small communities, they generally spared Castroville, and Gentilz maintained a cordial relationship with the Lipans. Original painitng, Witte Museum.

Apache—without a doubt, the name is one of the most evocative of all Indian groups, charged with history and popularized in books and movies. However, the name Apache is a generic one, applying to several tribes that have shared—but unique—histories. The Apache include groups that have been known at various times as Apachu, Lipan, Mescalero, Faraones, Gilenos, Natagee, Querechos, Tontos, Ypandi, and Yutaglen-ne, to name but a few.

Many federally recognized tribes in the United States today have names that were given to them by Europeans or by other Indian groups in early historic times. In some cases, Spaniards or other Europeans assigned a name based on physical appearances, such as hairstyle, or a cultural aspect of the group. In other cases, the first name given a native people was based on a place. For example, Querecho was the name given to the native people on the Southern Plains by the people who lived in Pecos Pueblo who had close trade relations with that group of Apache.

The term Apache dates from the year 1601 when Onate used the term Apachu to refer to the people occupying the Southern Plains. The name was later changed by the Spanish to “Apache,” but the name was not universally used until the nineteenth century. Prior to that time, both they and others used distinct names for their various groups. Manuel Merino in 1804 wrote:

They can be divided into nine principal groups…. The names…in their language [are]….: Vinienctinen-ne, Sagatajen-ne, Tjusccujen-ne, Yecujen-ne, Yntugen-ne, Sejen-ne, Cuelcajen-ne, Lipanjen-ne, and Yutaglen-ne. We have replaced these naming them in the same order: Tontos, Chircagues [Chiricahuas], Gilenos, Mimbrenos, Faraones, Mescaleros, Llaneros, Lipanes, and Nabajoes [Navajos], all of them under the general name of Apaches.

A number of Apache peoples have roots in Texas, but during the prehistoric period they lived in the northern Plains and Canada. As they moved south, they did not settle in the Plateaus and Canyonlands but, rather, in and around the Southern Plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. While scholars dispute the route and timing of their migration south there seems to be fairly clear evidence that the Querechos and possibly the Teyas whom Coronado met on his march across the Southern Plains in 1541 were Apaches.

As we can tell from their names, the Apache are not just one group of people. Either prior to or shortly after their migration south, they divided into eastern and western groups and both of these geographic divisions subdivided further. Today they retain those same subdivisions. The eastern Apache generally occupied the lands and areas of the Southern Plains. Spanish documents make clear that subdivisions of the eastern Apache existed from their earliest encounter with those native peoples. We do not know, however, if these subdivisions were an artifact of their movement to the south, where separate bands occupied different regions, or if the subdivisions were a long-standing tradition. Eventually some Apache names began to take precedence over the variety of earliest appellations. Mescalero Apache, mentioned as early as 1725, and Lipan were maintained, while Pelones, Natagees, and Fararones were less frequently used and eventually disappeared from the documentary record.

The Apache in Texas began a gradual move toward the Plateaus and Canyonlands during the late seventeenth century and were gradually displaced by the Comanche as that group pushed them southward. Documents written by Spanish military officers with many years of experience on the northern frontiers and familiar with both the geography and the native peoples in the region place the Apache in the area of the Plateaus and Canyonlands by the eighteenth century. One of these military men, Joseph de Berroteran, wrote that the Apache “came from the Rio Puerco [Pecos] where it joins with the Rio del Norte [ Rio Grande].” He warned government officials that, if the presidios that had been established on the Rio Grande were not maintained, the Apache would control the Rio Grande from El Paso to San Juan Bautista (located between modern Eagle Pass and Laredo). Joseph de Urrutia, another military officer, wrote in 1733 that the Apache resided along the Pecos, frequently traveling east and west along the Rio Grande.

The Apache, particularly the Lipan and Mescalero, had a major presence in the Plateaus and Canyonlands in the early eighteenth-century period. The westward movement of English-speaking settlers across North America and the Spanish colonization of the Southwest combined to create great unrest and turmoil among native peoples. As the Apache were forced from the Southern Plains by the quickly-moving Comanche, they began to align themselves with other native peoples, including the Jumano and Tonkawa, groups with whom they previously had hostile relations They also sought peace with the Spanish. Those peace efforts resulted in the establishment of a Spanish mission, Santa Cruz de San Sabá and presidio at San Sabá and, later, the two missions, San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz and Nuestra Senora de Candelaria on the Nueces River, all during the mid-eighteenth century.

Ultimately, the San Sabá mission was destined to fail because the Spanish ignored—or were unaware of—the volatile relationships among native groups. As Maria Wade notes in her 2002 volume on the Native Americans of the Edward Plateau, the Spaniards made a significant error in establishing the mission :

At issue is the assumption of the Spaniards that they could be friends with everyone regardless of Native internal enmities, as well as the political arrogance of making new alliances without informing former allies, especially when the new alliances were made with their bitter enemies.

The mis-step by the Spanish led to an assault on the mission, orchestrated by Tonkawa, Comanche, Bidais, Wichita, and Caddo Indians, all enemies of the Lipan and other Apache.

Mission San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz, established in 1762, postdates the disaster at San Sabá. Although it lasted longer, San Lorenzo was never officially approved and was burned and then abandoned in 1771. Situated on the upper Nueces River at present-day Camp Wood, Texas, the mission was founded to serve the Lipan Apache. Missionaries reported that some 3,000 Lipan were at the mission; Spanish reports, however, indicate that there was a regular coming and going of individual bands of groups of Lipan. The priests sought to teach the Lipan to grow corn and other crops. However, raids by hostile native groups plagued the mission and in 1771 it was abandoned. Curiously, however, the Lipan and Mescalero continued to frequent the area of this mission and Mission Candelaria in the century to come, often to grow crops when they could not access other food

In the second half of the eighteenth century and after their mission on the San Sabá was destroyed, the Apache ranged from the Bolson de Mapimi to the Rio Grande to the Nueces. In 1772, 300 Lipan Apache attacked haciendas and pueblos in Coahuila. A Spanish military map dated 1773 continued to call the Pecos River the “Salado o rio del Apache del Nataje que la Fora lo llama del Pecho y Danville de los 7 Rios,” meaning “the Salty River or river of the Nataje Apache whom Spanish engineer and cartographer Nicolas la Fora calls the Apache of the Pecos and whom Danville calls the Apache of the Seven Rivers.” On that same map, several other Apache groups are shown in or close to the Plateaus and Canyonlands—the Apaches Jumanes just north of the Lipanes and on the east side of the Pecos, with the Natajes and Mescaleros depicted on the west side of the Pecos. Two years later, Juan del Ugarte also noted their presence in the region. Traveling north of Monclova some 740 miles in an effort to force the Apache away from Coahuila, he found them on the Rio San Pedro or Devils River. The Mescalero were, by the late eighteenth century, roaming the Plateaus and Canyonlands, and Spanish armies repeatedly found them between the Rio Sabinas, Piedras Negras, and the mouth of the Pecos, either alone or in the company of Lipan, or other Apache bands.

The Apache maintained a presence in northern Mexico in subsequent decades, but the Lipan and Mescalero were often found in the region of south and Central Texas, particularly on the Nueces, the San Antonio, and Guadalupe river areas as well as the Colorado. Their presence on the Pecos River can be well documented in the nineteenth century including the area of Toyah Creek’s confluence with the Pecos.

The Apache presence in the Plateaus and Canyonlands was quite broad during the nineteenth century. Manuel Merino, a prominent government official in Chihuahua, issued a report on the Apache in 1804 that describes their territory. He wrote that the Apache nation “inhabits the vast empty expanse living between 20 and 38 degrees of latitude and 264 and 277 degrees of longitude…to that of La Bahía del Espiritu Santo.” Elsewhere, Merino described the territories of the various Apache subdivisions:

[The Faraones] are still quite numerous. They inhabit the mountains lying between the Rio Grande del Norte and the Pecos, maintain a close union with the Mezcaleros, and make war on us. The two provinces of New Mexico and Nueva Vizcaya have been and still are the scene of their incursions. In both provinces they have made peace treaties various times, but have broken them every time, with the exception of a rancheria here or there whose faithful conduct has obliged us to let them settle at the presidio of San Elcerio [San Elizario]. They border on the north with the province of New Mexico, on the west with the Mimbreno Apaches, with the Mezcaleros on the east, and on the south with the province of Nueva Vizcaya….[The Mezcaleros] generally inhabit the mountains near the Pecos River, extending northward to the edge of the Cumancheria. They approach that territory in the seasons propitious to the slaughter of bison, and when they do this, they join with the Llanero tribe, their neighbors….These Indians usually made their entry through the Bolson de Mapimi whether they are going to maraud in the province of Coaguila or in that of Nueva Vizcaya….They border on the west with the Faraon tribe, on the east with the Llaneros, and on the south with our frontier of Nueva Vizcaya and Coahuila. Llaneros occupy the plains and deserts lying between the Pecos and the Colorado…. It is a very populous tribe, which is divided into three categories: Natages, Lipiyanes, and Llaneros….[The Lipan] is probably the most populous of all Apache tribes, and for many years it has lived in peace on the frontiers of Coahuila and Texas.

Other names for Apache:
Apachu, Apaxches, Cuelcajen-ne, Faraones, Gilenos, Natagee, Natajee, Nataxe, Lipan, Lipanjen-ne, Mescalero, Mimbreno, Querechos, Azain, Duttain, Negain, Pelones, Sagatajen-ne, Sejen-ne, Siete Rios, Teyas, Tjusccujen-ne, Tontos, Vinienctinen-ne, Yecujen-ne, Yntugen-ne, Ypandi, and Yutaglen-ne

map of Texas
Southern Plains and southwest Texas in pre-horse times, showing location of early Apache groups, Teyas and Querecho, in Panhandle area. (Map after Newcomb 1961: Map 2.)
drawing of Apache
Lipan Apache brave wearing breastplate. Watercolor by Frederich Richard Petri, circa 1850s. The artist lived in the area of Fredericksburg, Texas, and was on peaceful terms with many of the native peoples.
Rancherias of the Natagee, an early Apachean group, are shown in a 1729 map of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Texas in 1729, drawn by Francisco Alvarez Barreiro. Note the Pecos River in west Texas is also identified as Rio de Natagee. Click to see larger image.

Documentation of Apache Groups in Plateaus/Canyonlands in 1700s
(View full table)

Source Description
Jesuit Priest Apaches Fahanos [Faraone] are present north of the Rio Grande on the Pecos River; Apaches Necayees [Natajee] are east of Pecos Pueblo in the Southern Plains
Joseph Vargas The salines near Hueco Mountain are “lands of the Apaches"
Map Pecos River is called “rio salado o del Natagee” meaning “salty river or the river of the Natagee people”
photo of Apache woman
Hattie, Chiricahua Apache, circa 1899. She is wearing traditional hide clothing, with added brass tinklers at neckline, and bone and shell bead necklaces.
San Juan, a Mescalero Apache chief
San Juan, a Mescalero Apache chief. National Archives.
photo of bison
Bison on the Plains, circa 1906. Library of Congress.

Apache Lifestyle

When the Apache were first encountered by the Spanish, they were described as hunters and gatherers with a focus on bison hunting. In 1686, the Apache were termed "the owners of all the buffalo plains." People do not live by meat alone, however. Some researchers believe that the Apache practiced agriculture by the time they arrived in the Southern Plains. Early Spanish accounts do not confirm that practice, and others believe that any extensive agricultural efforts began in the late nineteenth century

The Apache were not ignorant of agricultural practices, however, and we do know that some crops were grown by the eighteenth century: "They each sow corn and beans near where the Spaniards live." While sporadic, these efforts to grow corn continued, often focused on the area of the Toyah Creek confluence with the Pecos River in the Trans-Pecos region. When the Texas legislature briefly flirted with the idea of establishing an Apache reservation in 1853, the area they considered for the reservation was along this creek because the Apache had such a long association with that area. In Texas, the Lipan and Mescalero were also known to consume pecans, prickly pear tuna, and agave when they were in season.


paiting of Lipan girl
Lipan Apache girl with melon. The Lipan were known to grow small patches of corn, beans, and other plants even before the mission period. Painting by Fredrich Richard Petri, circa 1850s.
Apache women preparing to harvest mescal Apache woman cutting mescal Apache woman loading mescal Mescal woman preparing agave mound
In this series of early 1900s photos by Edward S. Curtis, Apache women are shown harvesting and processing mescal, or agave, for food. So important was this plant to native subsistence that the Mescalero Apache derived their name from it. Photos from the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Click on each image to enlarge and learn more.

Agave is also called mescal, and it is the use of agave that gave the Mescalero their name. Early twentieth-century ethnohistorians Edward Castetter and Morris Opler observed the Mescalero Apache during a season of agave harvesting and processing. They noted that when the agave ripens, women would make expeditions to regions where it grew in abundance. They would dig out the bulbs of the plants, chopping off the surface leaves, stalk,and roots. Pits 10-to-12 feet in diameter were dug, then lined with flat rocks. Wood was then placed on these rocks and set on fire.

When the fire burned down, moist grass was placed over the rocks, and the mescal bulbs placed on top of the grass. Grass was again laid over the bulbs and covered with dirt. After approximately 12 to 24 hours, the mescal was removed. Pulpy white centers of the black, roasted crowns were removed and spread out to dry. Alternatively, the roasted crowns could be carried for several months as a food source. This preparation of agave, repeated many times, appears to be the process that created the burned rock middens commonly found in the Plateaus and Canyonlands throughout much of prehistory.

painting of Apache
Lipan Apache encampment in the Texas hill country, as depicted by artist George Nelson. Note the large, hide-covered tipis used by later groups when horses were readily available to move the heavy camp materials. Image courtesy of the Institute of Texan Cultures, University of Texas at San Antonio.

Family Life

Apache family life was close knit, and families tended to live together. Since Apaches are matrilineal—where descent is traced through one’s mother—the local group was typically an extended family where the fathers had married daughters or granddaughters of a woman, with each married couple keeping their own residence. Mothers and daughters were quite close, and much of their work (collecting, cooking, caring for children, etc.) was done together, further binding them during their lifetimes. Grandparents were often teachers of the young, teaching them skills and disciplining them to respect the customs and behavior of the group. Children of the same sex within the extended family were taught to cooperate, become close friends, and refrain from rivalry. Grandparents also taught the children that men married into the family protected their wife’s family, provided food for them, and obeyed them.

Several extended families lived in close proximity to each other and cooperated in obtaining food and defending each other. As the Apache were not sedentary throughout most of their history, families living near each other also tended to travel together. When encountered Juan Oñate, the first governor of New Mexico, encountered the Apache on the Southern Plains, he described them as people::

who live in tents of tanned hides among the herds of Cibola [buffalo]. The Apiches [sic Apaches} are infinite in number….They live in rancherias, and from the few days I spent in their area, I have discovered they live like the people who live in pueblos. One [rancheria] located about 18 leagues from here has 15 plazas [presumably, he meant 15 extended family groups].

Typically, one man among the various extended families was perceived as the leader of the overall group. His leadership was based on his power to persuade the others to follow his directions. Individual families and/or persons were free to make up their own minds or to leave the group at will. Father Jimenez, a priest with many years working with other native peoples, was struck by the Lipan Apache when he labored at Mission San Lorenzo de Santa Cruz. He found them to be a proud people of great courage.

Daily or seasonal tasks carried out by the families were jointly shared among both men and women, although some tasks were more frequently carried out by one or the other. Collecting nuts or vegetables (such as agave) was usually undertaken by women. While men were the principal hunters and made most weaponry and horse trappings, women (particularly the Lipan women) participated in rabbit and antelope hunting. Women made baskets and tanned animal hides for making tipis and clothing, but men were known to repair or make clothing, especially if it was an item they would use.

Spanish observers in the 1600s noted that the Apache wore little clothing, but all was made from tanned hides, particularly the buffalo. Through time, clothing styles changed,and Apaches began using woven European cloth to make clothing in traditional styles. A Lipan man and woman, drawn by a member of the Berlandier expedition of 1828 (see image by Lino Sanchez y Tapia, top of page), illustrates how clothing and other aspects of Apache customs incorporated European-made goods, but each within the overall Apache traditions. The man carries a rifle rather than the bow and arrow, but the rifle has a fringe placed beneath the barrel, reminiscent of fringes found on some bows. His loincloth appears to have been made from red cloth rather than hide, but his moccasins and the throw over his shoulder are from hides. The woman wears a shawl and skirt made of cloth, but her moccasins also are of hide.

Use of cloth, weapons, and other items manufactured by the Spanish or Americans did not, however, fully replace traditional goods. Bows and arrows continued in use up until the late 1800s, and numerous formal portraits taken on reservations show Apache in traditional dress with traditional weapons. One item that was not typically manufactured by the Apache is pottery. Of the pottery at Mission San Lorenzo de Santa Cruz, only 48 pieces of broken pottery may relate to the Lipan for whom the mission was dedicated. Those sherds are from a large vessel with a smoothed surface that may resemble other vessels from the Southern Plains. Recent study of Chiricahua and Mescalero pottery confirms that pottery was not commonly manufactured by eastern groups of Apache.

Spiritual Life

Mescalero and Lipan spiritual life was rich and included many ceremonies. Both men and women were active participants in that aspect of their lives and women often served as shamans (medicine men). Girl’s puberty ceremonies practiced on the Mescalero Apache Reservation today reflect the participation of both sexes and all age groups in the ceremony. Older women instruct the girls and care for them between their dancing in a specially erected tipi. These dances are accompanied by the chants of adult males. In between their dances, males chant while other males of the Clown Societies perform dances in the plaza outside the tipi. Families prepare food and drink in a pavilion adjacent to the plaza, and other members of the tribe, as well as the public, watch from the sidelines. Because there is much gift-giving during the ceremony and because it takes place over several days, this, like other ceremonies continues to solidify the tribe as one people

The Apache believe in supernatural power “that pervaded the universe and could be utilized for human purposes by ritual procedures known to priests or learned in personal revelation by shamans.” Thus, many rituals revolved around curing sickness caused by sorcery or the anger of a higher being or because the ill person had committed a transgression.

Death carries a number of important burdens in Apache life. Certainly, there is mourning among the immediate family. Ghosts, however, can return to inflict damage on the living. In the past, the family and others in a camp would depart as soon as the individual was buried. Later, all the possessions and items that might remind the family of the person were removed from the dwelling. When the person is elderly, however, these concerns were relaxed among the Lipan and Mescalero. Given the emphasis on grandparents as instructors, as the elderly approach their death they are sought out for advice and blessings.

Recent History

By the late nineteenth century, some Apache bands had settled in northern Mexico while those in the United States were placed on a series of reservations. The Fort Sill Apache Reservation in Oklahoma mostly held displaced Chiricahua Apache (part of the western Apache) although a few Lipan also resided on that reservation. The White Mountain Apache in Arizona are largely descended from the Gila Apache while the Jicarilla Apache of the Southern Plains descend from the Faraones. They were placed on a reservation in northern New Mexico.

In 1873, President Grant signed the Executive Order establishing the Mescalero Reservation in southeastern New Mexico near Ruidosa. Today, the Mescalero Reservation is the “official” home of both the Lipan and the Mescalero. This reservation constituted a small fraction of the large region that the Mescalero and Lipan had previously occupied, but it was, at least, within their traditional lands. Over the next century, their people faced great challenges—extreme poverty, epidemics, military attacks, and intrusions from white settlers. In the early twentieth century, Lipan from Mexico were brought to the reservation; still others who had been interned at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, were brought to the reservation in 1913. Over the next decades and world wars, their people struggled.

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Apache woman
Apache woman carrying baby on back. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
photo of deer mask
Deer head mask worn by Apache hunters.
photo of pot
Reconstructed hand-thrown pot, likely made by Lipan Apaches at Mission San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz. Image from Tunnell and Newcomb 1969: Fig.39.
photo of Jicarilla
Shee-zah-nan-tan, Jicarilla Apache brave, 1870s. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
medicine man
Apache medicine men, as depicted by the Native American artist, Koba, in 1875. Image courtesy of Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives (#08547618)
photo of Apaches
Apaches in camp. Note meat on drying racks. Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Chiricahua Apache man, No-talq. Photo taken in 1886 by John Hillers. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.