The First Americans

Apache 001According to a study conducted by sixty investigators in over 15 countries [1], touted as the most comprehensive survey of genetic diversity of Native Americans, most populations descend from one migration period (although two additional migration periods were also significant).

Referred to as “First Americans” by academics, the earliest migrations began from Asia over a land bridge called Beringia around 13,000 years BC.  Subsequent migrants probably arrived in boats because the land bridge disappeared after the end of the ice age period.  Hence, academics conclude that rather than emerging from a single migration, the ancestors of American Indians emerged from several waves of migration over an extended period of time.  Once here, migratory trends continued as human groups dispersed within the Americas.  This study, by the way, confirmed the hypothesis of a linguist by the name of Joseph Greenberg in 1986.  The study’s conclusion resulted from more than 300,000 specific DNA markers from 52 Native American and 17 Siberian groups: Asian lineage of the First Americans was the oldest, and that Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene populations in Canada were more closely aligned to present-day East Asian populations.  Among the Eskimo-Aleut group, fifty percent of the DNA markers can be attributed to the First Americans, while ninety percent the Na Dene Chipewyan group DNA also descends from the First Americans.

We know that the First Americans gradually expanded southward.  We believe it is likely that in their southern migration, they established small tribal bands along the West Coast.  When these bands increased beyond forty or so people, groups split off from one another.  We also believe that after these groups split, there was very little subsequent contact among them.  Again, with time, their languages changed, even if only slightly.  Despite their initial dispersal, there is some evidence of a re-mix in two patterns: north-to-south and west-to-east.  In the former, there were some movements from South America northward (reflected in the DNA of Central Americans).  In the latter instance, some Eskimo-Aleut humans migrated back to Asia.  Despite the fact that this process took thousands of years, languages (with some differences) remained similar.  The development of their own unique cultural morés and folkways was likely dictated by their physical environments.

Apache Buffalo Hunt 001America’s Plains Indians (also, Interior Plains Indians and Indigenous people of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies) were nomadic hunter-gatherers.  They followed (migrated with) their source of food, the American Bison.  They used these animals to fashion their survival tools.  Indian groups included Anishinaabe, Apache, Arapaho, Arikara, Atsina, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Cree, Crow, Escanjaques, Hidatsa, Iowa, Kaw, Kiowa, Mandan, Metis, Missouri, Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, Ponca, Quapaw, Sioux (including Dakota, Lakota, Nakoda, and Nakota), Teyas, Tonkawa, Tsuu T’ina, and Wichita.

The first European to describe these Indians was Francisco Vásquez de Coronadoaround 1541.  It was Coronado who first came across the Querechosin the present-day panhandle of Texas.  He called these people Apachubecause this was the word used to describe Querechos by the Zuni (Puebla) Indians.  In the Zuni language, Apachu meant “enemy.”  By 1620, the Spanish regularly referred to Apache Indians as Apachu de Nabajo(Enemy of the Navajo)—perhaps not realizing (or caring) that there were several Apache bands: Lipan, Kiowa-Apache, Chiricahua, Jicarilla, and Mescalero.  Apache simply referred to themselves as “the people.”

 Historically, the Apache belong to the southern branch of the Athabascan group whose languages constitute a large family with speakers from Alaska, western Canada, and the American Southwest.  Divided into several branches, Apache tribes occupied an area that extended from the Arkansas River to Northern Mexico and from Central Texas to Central Arizona.  Academics generally classify Apache as either Eastern or Western Apaches; the Rio Grande generally served as the dividing line, east or west.  Of the several bands, two lived either partially or entirely within the confines of present-day Texas: The Lipan and Mescalero [2].

The Apache first arrived in the area of the American southwest between 1000 A.D., and 1400 A.D., a migratory process that led them south along the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains.  Eventually, they found their way into present-day Texas, New Mexico and Arizona —a consequence of pressure from stronger Indian groups.  See also: The Comanche.

Apache Attack 001Lipan and Mescalero organized themselves through extended-family groupings.  Several families remained together and consented to the leadership of their most prominent member.  This individual acted as “chief” advisor and director of the band’s activities.  For the most part, the extended family lived in close proximity to each other, which enabled them to unite in times of danger and regularly participate in traditional rites and ceremonies.  Among the Lipan, there was no larger organization than the “band.”  It was a loose organization and one that would lead to problems with the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Texans, and the Americans. One Apache band may have made peace with their enemy; another Apache band would remain hostile.  To the Spanish, Mexican, and Texans —an Apache was an Apache.  If one group made peace and another made war, well … European groups simply concluded that the Apache were untrustworthy.  Over time, the Europeans decided that the only solution to the “Apache problem” was to wipe them out.

Apache bands were patriarchies, but females held a central place within the tribe.  After a ceremonial marriage, the groom moved in with his wife’s family where he served as a hunter and shared in the duties of his father-in-law.  Should the wife die, her husband was required to stay with her family, who would supply him with another wife —likely the sister or a cousin of his first wife. The Apache wife had little obligation to her husband’s family.  Should the husband die, his family might provide the husband’s brother or a cousin as a new husband.  Polygamous marriages did exist among the Apache, but they were rare and mostly confined to prominent members of the village.  Apache men who wanted more than one wife usually married the sisters or cousins of their wives.

As with other Plains Indians, the Apache lived almost completely from the American Bison (Buffalo). They dressed themselves in Buffalo robes, lived in tents made of tanned and greased hides.  When the band moved its location, the tents were carefully folded and loaded onto dogs.  Apaches were among the first to learn to ride horses.  They learned these skills from runaway or captured Pueblo Indians. Indian use of horse was upsetting to the Spanish, who in time forbade the Pueblo from trading with any Apache. Subsequently, no longer allowed to continue traditional trade relationships, the Apache began to raid Pueblo camps and took what they wanted.

Pueblo Revolt 001

The Pueblo Revolt

From 1656 to 1675, the Spanish settlers and Pueblo Indians of New Mexico suffered heavily from almost continuous Apache hostilities.  When added to drought, famine, harsh Spanish rule, and the activities of Spanish missions, it proved too much for the Pueblo Indians and they revolted, driving the Spaniards out of New Mexico in 1680.  By the time the Spanish reconquered New Mexico in 1692, the Apache were a powerful nation of ruthless mounted warriors.  Their power was short-lived, however.

Apache aggressiveness did little more than turn their neighbors into enemies and made them targets of an even greater powerhouse: The Comanche, who along with the Wichita and Tejas Indians, pushed the Apache deeper into the Southwest region of the present-day United States and Northern Mexico.  But the fact remains that the Apache were never able to adapt completely to Plains culture.  They tended to establish rancherias, where they constructed huts and tended fields of maize, beans, and pumpkins.  Tied to their fields during planting and harvesting seasons, their rancherias set them up as easy targets for the Comanche, who were expert at conducting swift and deadly raids, during daylight and at night.  With each assault, the Comanche grew stronger; the Apache grew weaker.

Many Apache groups fled westward into New Mexico and Arizona.  The Lipan and Mescalero tended to flee into the region of present-day Central Texas and Northern Mexico where they collided with the Spanish, who were at the time, moving northward.  Soon after the establishment of San Antonio de Béxar in 1718, the Comanche made their presence known to the Spaniards, but the source of Indian trouble came from the Apache, who found San Antonio a convenient target for raids against their European enemy.  In their naivete, the Spanish pressed for peaceful relations with the Apache and when that didn’t work, they instituted a carrot and stick approach to dealing with them. It must be observed that the Spanish were somewhat slow in their learning curve in dealings with the Indians, but in fairness, the Spaniard’s success with the Jicarilla Apache in New Mexico led them to a false supposition that all Apache were alike, that they were similarly motivated, and at their core, all Apache wanted to achieve peaceful coexistence.

In 1725, the Viceroy of New Spain ordered that a concerted effort be made to establish a peaceful arrangement with the Texas Apache.  In the next few years, there were only sporadic hostilities between the Spanish and Apache, and this led the Viceroy to direct a survey of the Spanish frontier.  Were so many soldiers really needed in these far distant colonies?  Pedro de Rivera y Villalónwas sent to inspect the frontier with a view toward answering this question.  Ultimately, he recommended a reduction in the size of the military frontier garrisons, including at San Antonio de Béxar.  The priests and settlers protested these cutbacks, but to no avail.  In 1729, the Viceroy forbade governors and military commanders from waging war on peaceful or indifferent Indians.

In 1730, a large band of Lipan Apache attacked the settlement at San Antonio killing two soldiers, wounding thirteen others, and stealing sixty head of cattle.  The raid prompted the governor to organize a punitive expedition —a more or less usual Spanish reaction to Indian raids.  The leader of this campaign was Commandante Bustillo y Cevallos, who surprised an Indian encampment west of San Antonio, likely along the San Sabá River (a branch of the Colorado).  The attack resulted in the death of a large number of warriors, women and children. Cevallos claimed that he killed two-hundred Indians, but this was more than likely a gross exaggeration. Moreover, as we shall see, the expedition had no effect on the hostile Apache.

Mission San Lorenzo

Mission San Lorenzo

In 1732, a party of Lipan Apache appeared in San Antonio demanding to speak with the brown-robes (friars); they would have nothing to do with the soldiers.  What they wanted was a mission in their own country, in the area of the San Sabá River.  They claimed to want peaceful relations with the Spaniards.  The padres were overjoyed; the soldiers grumbled, rolled their eyes, and advised caution.  However, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of these priests and they struggled to develop a plan for Apache missions.  There were several proposals, all carefully considered, and within four years, the first Apache mission was established in Mexico, named Mission San Lorenzo.  It was located 54 miles due-west of the Presidio San Juan Bautista.

Initially, the mission proved successful under the leadership of Father Alonso Giraldo de Terreros, but when he was eventually assigned to other projects a year later, the mission began to fall apart.  Mission neophytes rebelled against the authority of the mission priests, burned the mission, and returned to their homeland.  Naturally, the missionaries blamed the Apache for the failure of the mission, which is partly true.  It is also likely that the Apache rejected the usually harsh treatment of the priests and friars.  The Apache reluctance to move away from their homeland supported additional efforts toward the construction of a new mission closer to Apache territory —called the Apachería.  Convenient, too, it seems, given the Spaniard’s renewed interest in mining in the region of San Saba.

In 1743, Fray Benito Fernández de Santa Anaurged approval for creating missions for the Apache on their own lands.  In his view, this was the best solution to the Spaniard’s most serious Indian problem in Texas.  In 1749, four Apache chiefs traveled to San Antonio with an offer of peace between the Apache and Spanish.  The Apaches, their populations decimated by Comanche raids, finally appeared willing to accept Christian conversion in exchange for their protection by the Spanish military.  Within a few years, Spanish authorities granted permission for the construction of a new Presidio and Mission in Apache country. It would be named San Luís de las Amarillas.  Toward this end, Father Terreros’ cousin, the mining magnate and philanthropist Pedro Romero de Torrerosmade generous contributions to the Franciscan Order in New Spain, including the construction of the new mission.  The initial plan for a mission was expanded to include a frontier (mining) colony and a nearby presidio.

Father Torreros arrived at San Saba in April 1757.  He was under the protection of Colonel Diego Ortiz de Parrilla, who would command the presidio.  The new mission was constructed of logs; it was surrounded by a palisade.  The separate Presidio was constructed a few miles away.  The Parrilla expedition had three tasks: (1) convert the Lipan Apache, thereby removing them as a threat to the safety of Spanish citizens; (2) extend Spanish power and influence into the region west of San Antonio, and (3) investigate claims of vast silver resources along the San Sabá River.  Coronado was not the last man to believe in mythical treasures.

While the Apache had appeared meek enough in San Antonio, in their own country they were dismissive of the Spanish soldiers and priests.  There was never any time for conversion; it was the hunting season. After hunting season, there were other excuses —and yet the padres persisted.  But something was amiss: The Apache were fidgety, and the Spanish couldn’t figure out why.

In fact, the Apache did have something up their sleeve.  Having been mauled by the Cevallos Expedition and shredded by the terrible force of Comanche in the north, the Apache intended to set both of these enemies upon each other.  They had not only lured the Spanish into the Apachería, but also beyond the border of Comanche country, the Comanchería.  The Apache eagerly awaited the Comanche reaction to the presence of these foreigners.

The Presidio-Mission had only been finished for a few months when a friendly Indian brought word to the padres of a terrible calamity in the offing.  Worried, the Spanish sent word to the entire frontier, warning everyone of impending Indian attacks —but nothing happened.  Summer and fall passed without incident; everyone relaxed.  It must have been a false rumor.  These things happened on the great plain.  Winter passed, and with the approach of spring, the grass turned green and lush.  These were the perfect circumstances needed to forage hundreds of horses on the great plain.  In early March 1758, the moon was full and no one in the garrison had ever seen such beauty in the night.  But it was the period known as the Comanche Moon —a time when mounted Comanche could ride at night, unseen by anyone for a thousand miles.

Quite suddenly, every Lipan Apache in the area disappeared.  No one saw an Indian for days, until one morning a rush of horsemen swooped down upon the Presidio.  Sixty head of horse were abruptly gone from the Spanish pasture.  Parrilla put all his men on the walls; he dispatched a messenger asking that the padres join him at once.  They refused.  After a few days, when nothing else happened, Parrilla went to the mission and argued with the priests.  They must, for their own safety, move to the Presidio.  The senior priest, Father Terrerosfinally agreed to join Parrilla the next day even though it was unlikely that “unseen Indians” would wish to do the padres any harm.   Colonel Parrilla detailed seventeen soldiers to remain with the priests and provide them with escort the next day.

Diego Ortiz de Parrilla 001

Diego Ortiz de Parrilla

The Comanche attacked the next morning during mass.  Soldiers ran to the parapet to take up firing positions; Father Terreros and Father Molina followed them.  What they observed was around 2,000 Comanche horsemen surrounding the mission.  Molina was terribly frightened and said as much, but Terreros insisted that these men must be friendly as no Spaniard had done them any harm.  The soldiers awaited the priest’s order to fire, but Terreros would not or could not command it.

 The Comanche warriors were wearing war paint of black and red; they wore headgear of buffalo horn, deer antlers, and eagle’s plumes.  All were armed with lances and bows; five score carried French made muskets. One Comanche dismounted and walked to the mission’s main entrance.  He pushed against the doorway and found it open.  Terreros hesitated, but the Indian did not.  He shoved the door open and quite suddenly, the mission was filled with Comanche Indians.  In sign language, the Comanche ordered the priest to send a message to Colonel Parrilla telling him to open his Presidio to the Comanche.  A large party of Indians took Father Terreros’ hand-written message and rode off.  Meanwhile, another Indian, someone other than a Comanche, had fled to the Presidio to inform Parrilla of these events.  The colonel immediately ordered a detachment of troops to reinforce the mission. These men mounted and rode off —directly into the war party coming from the mission with Toreros’ message.  The Spanish cavalry never had a chance.  In mere seconds, every soldier was killed, save one, who, though badly wounded was able to crawl away.  The Indians scalped every dead Spaniard.

Back at the mission, the Indians were no longer interested in gifts; they would take what they wanted.  As the looting began, frightened priests gathered in the center of the enclosure —but not for long.  Spanish troops inside the mission were the first to die.  One priest was lanced and then decapitated.  Terreros was grabbed and carried off, but before he could be tortured, another Comanche shot him in the head.  Molina was able to break away and, with a few others, hide inside one of the sleeping rooms.  They remained there for several hours.  When the looting and killing was done, the Comanche set fire to the mission and departed as quickly as they had arrived.  Molina was saved by the fact that the mission was constructed of green wood; it would not burn.  After dark, the wounded Molina led a handful of survivors to the Presidio.

Three days later, after scouts reported that the Comanche had left the area, Parrilla and Molina returned to San Sabá.  The remains of Terreros and others were given a Christian burial.  Afterwards, Parrilla gathered his force and withdrew to San Luís and asked for reinforcements.

The destruction of San Sabá caused consternation and rage at San Antonio de Béxar.  Spanish and ecclesiastical authorities strongly believed that the desecration of the mission and murder of priests should not go unpunished, but nothing was done.  After the San Sabá presidio was raided again in 1758, Spanish officials called a conference at San Antonio.  This time, they were serious: they planned another expedition.  All call went out to all other presidios in Texas for soldier reinforcements.  Friendly Indians were recruited to augment the military.  The Viceroy eventually approved the plan.

In August 1759, Colonel Parrilla led six-hundred men with orders to sweep the Indian country north of Béxar.  About a third of his force were Lipan Apache.  He carried two field artillery guns and a supply train to sustain his force for an extended period.  It was the largest Spanish military expedition ever mounted in Texas.  Colonel Parrilla commanded more men than Coronado and Pizarro combined, but he had the good sense not to march his men into the heart of Comanche country.  He instead skirted the Comanchería.  He never met any of the Comanche, but he did locate a Tonkawa village.  At this point, one of two things must become apparent: either the Spanish were intent upon revenge for the death of Father Terreros, or Parrilla didn’t know one Indian from another.  Parrilla attacked the Tonkawa village, killed 55 Indian men and seized more than 150 women and children, who he ordered taken to San Antonio.

In October, Parrilla approached the Red River, the northernmost boundary of Texas.  Here he found more hostiles: Comanche, Kiowa, and Wichita among them.  At the moment Parrilla ordered his assault, the Lipan Apache deserted and ran for their lives. Colonel Parrilla fought his way out of an encirclement, and while his losses were comparatively small (discounting the Indians who ran away), he lost both of his field cannon and his supply train. It was the worst defeat by the Spanish military in the New World [3].

Within a few weeks, Colonel Parrilla reappeared at Béxar.  Casualties aside, Spanish power was dealt an enormous psychological blow. Colonel Parrilla was later court-martialed in Mexico [4].  A French agent working on behalf of the Spanish Viceroy recovered Parrilla’s cannon twenty years later.  Never again did the Spanish authorize a church mission for the hostile tribes of the Texas interior.  Never again did Spain mount a serious campaign against the Comanche.

The Parrilla campaign marked an important shift in the balance of power in Texas.  From 1759 onward, the Spanish adopted a defensive strategy when it came to hostile Indians.  Lipan Apache continued to terrorize frontier communities, the Comanche began to raid and plunder deep inside Mexico, and the Spanish presidios became targets of opportunity and sources of great entertainment for the plains Indian.  Wisely, Spanish soldiers refused to pursue attacking war parties.

Despite the disaster at San Saba and the generally untrustworthy Apache, Spaniards continued their efforts to keep the peace.  The Apache did barely enough to keep the Spanish interested.  Lipan Apache continued to ask for a mission but refused to settle near San Saba.  They wanted a location as far from the Comanche as possible.  A new Apache mission, San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz, was established near the Nueces River, halfway between San Saba and the Rio Grande. Several bands of Apache visited the new mission, but only about 300 ever settled there.  Within a month, an Apache chief asked for a second mission several miles downstream.  Mission Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria lasted only two years before a smallpox epidemic obliterated the Apache population. Beyond this, the priests themselves were too poor to feed the Indians on a regular basis and demanded too much labor from a physically emaciated people.  The Apache abandoned the mission.  By 1767, there were no Apaches at either of these missions.

Cayetano Pignatelli 001

Cayetano Pignatelli, 3rd Marquis de Rubi, 9th Baron de Llinars

About this same time, Cayetano Pignatelli [5], 3rd Marquis de Rubi, 9th Baron de Llinars, had completed his inspection of the Spanish frontier.  In his opinion, the only reason the Comanche were attacking Spanish settlements is because of their hatred of the Apache.  Since the Spanish had begun catering to the Apache, the Comanche classified Spanish settlements as friends of their enemy.  De Rubi was quite sure that the Spanish could cultivate friendship with the Comanche and enlist their aid in exterminating the Apache. Sr. Pignatelli apparently didn’t know the Comanche.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the Apache had become relatively quiet, with only occasional raids on Spanish settlements.  After the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence in 1811, however, the Apache became bolder in their attacks —attacks that continued until the end of Spanish rule in Mexico and Texas in 1821.  The Mexicans quickly signed treaties with the Apache, promising to provide annual gifts of gunpowder and corn in exchange for peace.  The thought process that went into this arrangement reveals to us the nature of Hispanic culture—but even this wasn’t enough to curb the Apache’s appetite for plunder.  By 1835, frequent hostilities resulted in Mexico offering a bounty for Apache scalps.  Within two years, Apache war parties began attacking Mexican settlements with some regularity, even to the extent of joining up with Comanche war parties.

As Anglo-Americans began moving into Central Texas, the Apache were quick to nurture a friendly relationship and beneficial arrangements for their mutual defense against Comanche raids.  In terms of trade, the Apache found the Texians a dependable market for stolen Mexican horses and other goods [6].  Cordial relations continued after Texas Independence.  A formal treaty after 1838 lasted for several years, but finally broke down around 1845.  At this time, over half of the Lipan Apache band in Central Texas broke off and relocated to Mexico, where they joined with Mescalero in cross-border raids.  Mexico’s government refused to act because their border towns profited from the Apache raids.

When the United States went to war with Mexico in 1846, Apaches provided aid and comfort to the Americans.  By 1856, Apache and Comanche raids into Durango, Mexico had claimed 6,000 Mexican lives, the abduction of nearly 1,000 people, and the abandonment of 358 settlements.

R S Mackenzie 001

Col. R. S. Mackenzie, US Army

Between 1865-1867, Apache depredations resulted in the deaths of 18 Texans and the loss of livestock exceeding $30,000.  Raids continued until 1873 when Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie led an expedition into Mexico and destroyed the Lipan Apache villages.  Mackenzie either killed or captured virtually every Lipan Apache.  Those who escaped death were deported to the Mescalero  Reservation in New Mexico where many of their descendants remain to this day.

Ultimately, the US-Apache relationship was little improved over that with Mexico.  The influx of gold and silver miners in the Santa Rita Mountains led to an increase in hostilities, often referred to as the Apache Wars.  Previously, the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 marked the beginning of US federal government policy of forcibly removing Indian populations away from white settlements.  Today, many under-educated Americans see these steps as examples of cruelty toward the Indians, but this is a very narrow view.  It is also possible that US officials earnestly wanted to protect the Indians from annihilation at the hands of vengeful whites.  There are numerous examples of Indian depredations between 1800—1870  where literally thousands of whites died, were grievously wounded, raped, and kidnapped by hostiles.  The fact is that Anglo/Indian cultures were so incongruent that there could never have been a peaceful solution to the problem.  The Indians were not willing to give up their land without a fight, and whites, having embarked upon westward migration, were never going to return to the east.  People died on both sides of this issue.

A careful reading of history reveals that white officials gave careful consideration to the Indian problem as evidenced by the Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 and President Grant’s Indian Peace Policy of 1868.  In the former, the US government created Indian Reservations [7]; in the second, Grant sought to avoid violence between Indians and whites.  Grant also reorganized the Indian Service, replacing government officials with religious men who were nominated by their churches, to oversee Indian agencies, to teach Indians the basic tenets of Christianity, and to assimilate them into mainstream American society [8].

Unhappily, President Grant’s policy toward the Indians was a disaster on many levels, not to mention controversial from its beginning.  Reservations were established by Executive Order rather than by acts of Congress.  It wasn’t long before Congress learned of widespread corruption among federal Indian agents; the standard of living within Indian settlements was (and in many cases, continues to be) appalling.

Many tribal leaders correctly observed that Indian relocation and assimilation had but one purpose: to suppress Indian culture.  These leaders either resisted forced removal or, after “surrendering” to federal authority, later escaped the reservation and returned to their old ways.  In both cases the result was more bloodshed.  Two of the more famous of these conflicts was the Sioux War and Nez Perce War, which took place between 1876—1881.  In 1882, President Hayes put an end to the Grant Peace Policy.  We can say with certainty that Grant’s Indian policy was a failure, but we cannot fault the man for trying to find solutions to the volatile relationship that existed between whites and Indians.

As previously demonstrated, the Apache War in the United States was an outgrowth of the much older Apache-Mexican conflict which had been ongoing since around the 1620s. In 1873, the Mexican Army initiated another eradication campaign against the Apache and after months of fighting, both sides agreed to a peace treaty at Casas Grandes in Chihuahua, Mexico.  Having concluded the treaty, the Mexican provided mescal to the Apache and when they became intoxicated killed a few dozen of these men and took the others into captivity.

One of the Apaches who escaped this massacre was named Geronimo [9].  The fact that the Apache were always outnumbered by both the Mexican and US military did little to prevent Geronimo from conducting raids through 1886 and his ability to evade capture made him into a legend.  One particularly odious incident made him “the worst Indian who ever lived.” According to James Haley, a white family had been massacred near Silver City and one young girl was taken alive and then hanged from a meat hook jammed under the base of her skull.  It was alleged that Geronimo’s band of some 38 warriors was responsible for this crime.

In 1875, the US Army forcibly removed an estimated 1,500 Yavapai and Dilzhe’e (Tonto) Apache from the Rio Verde Indian Reservation (consisting of several thousand acres promised to them by the US government) to the San Carlos Indian agency, some 180 miles distant.  It was winter, the rivers were flooded, and among the very young and old, several hundred Indians died.  The Apache who managed to survive the journey were held at San Carlos for 25 years while whites took over their “promised” lands.  Beginning in 1879, an Apache uprising (led by Chief Vittorio [10]) battled the US 9th Cavalry Regiment through 1886.  It took more than 5,000 US soldiers to defeat him.

Geronimo 001During Geronimo’s final period of conflict (1876-1886), he surrendered to the American army on three occasions and accepted life on the Apache reservations in Arizona.  But the Apache were a nomadic people who found life on the reservation confining and lacking in dignity.  American whites might have understood this had they given it much thought.

With the Apache Wars over, the Chiricahua tribe was evacuated from the West and held as prisoners of war in Florida, Alabama, and at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for 27 years.  In 1913, surviving members of the tribe were given the choice of accepting parcels of land in Oklahoma or living on the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico.  Two-thirds of the remaining tribe opted for living in New Mexico.  Today, the descendants of the Apache number around 100,000.


  1. Bannon, J. F. The Spanish Borderlands Frontier, 1513-1821.  New York: Hold, Rinehart, Winston, 1970.
  2. Hyde, G. E. Indians of the High Plains: From the Prehistoric Period to the Coming of Europeans. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959.
  3. Mails, T. E. The People Called Apache.  New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1974.
  4. Newcomb, W. W. The Indians of Texas.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961.
  5. Terrell, J. U. The Plains Apache.  New York: Crowell, 1975.

[1] Coordinated by Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares of the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London and David Reich, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School.

[2] Naming conventions were the product of a nomadic lifestyle.  They were identified as different names by people who observed or interacted with them at different times.

[3] Colonel Parrilla reported that he fought 6,000 warriors under the French flag; he opined that French military officers likely commanded them.  Historians discount Parrilla’s claim; there may have been French agents among the Indians, but there was no evidence produced by Parrilla of a French military operation, nor has there ever been any evidence of a direct participation in the Indian alliance by the French.  It is more likely that Parrilla exaggerated the numbers of Indians and that his claim was made to place his defeat in a better light.  It was one thing to be defeated by other Europeans, another matter to have been routed by savages.

[4] The court-martial didn’t hurt Parrilla’s career; he was later promoted to Brigadier and offered a post with some distinction in his native Spain.

[5] B. 1730. Rubí, who had achieved the high rank of field marshal and knight commander in the Order of Alcántara, arrived at Veracruz on 1 November 1764, as part of the expedition of Juan de Villabla, who had been sent to New Spain to organize regular army and colonial militia units. On August 7 of the following year, King Charles III appointed Rubí inspector of frontier presidios and commissioned him to remedy economic abuses and other urgent matters.

[6] The Mexican government generally overlooked these incursions because the Apache were useful to them against the Comanche.

[7] Indian reservations were generally established on lands unsuitable for farming, and barely adequate for ranching.  When white settlers complained about the size of tracts allocated to Indian settlements, the reservations were arbitrarily reduced in size.

[8] Indian children were forced to live away from their families, forced to wear western clothing, prohibited from speaking in their native language or participating in traditional rites or ceremonies.  Apparently, these “religious men” failed to realize that Spain’s efforts to Christianize Indians over 300 years was an utter failure.

[9] A Mescalero-Chiricahua Apache who lived from 1829-1909.  Geronimo means “The one who yawns.”  He was not an Apache chief, but a leader and medicine man who carried out raids upon Mexicans and Americans between 1850-1886.

[10] Vittorio (1825-1880) was a warrior and chief of the Warm Springs band of the Membreños central Apache (present day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua).  Victorio was killed by the Mexican Army at Tres Castillos.

About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
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1 Response to The First Americans

  1. That was an in depth study of American history I had never encountered.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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