The Apache is an indigenous Native American group that is related to each other culturally. Traditionally the Apaches were inhabitants of a varied topography that included the high mountains, the deserts and the plains of the land. They are distantly related to the Navajo Indians who share the same root language between them. Presently, the Apache is to be found on reservations that are located in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arizona.
Traditionally the Apache were considered hardened warriors and more as a hunter group than agriculturists. They were good at harnessing the products of nature in the many varied situations that they have found themselves in historically. Even today, the traditional values of living in harmony with the surrounding environment are ardently practiced by this ethnic group.
The Apacheria is the collective home grounds of the Apache Indians and is spread across vast tracts of land across the middle and southern United States presently. It was a traditional affair to combat the Mexican groups from across the border as the two communities sought to assert themselves over the other. Conflicts were never due to lack of resources but more of establishing hegemony over the other as far as possible. Equally noteworthy were the battles fought with the Spanish settlers towards the beginning of the 1700s and there are some legendary encounters that more or less set the agenda between these groups for ages to come.
The most striking feature of the old Apache settlements was that they were never permanent. It is this flexibility in keeping to a single place that brought on the survival of the tribes during times of extreme hardships which would normally have taken a heavy toll on a more fixed place of residence. With the strong hunting practices honed over many generations of warriors, the Apache never had a favorite game to go after.
What defines the Apache the most would be the Tepee tents which are essentially fabric or hide covering spread over a wooden frame. The basic structure of these Tepees was conical with a vent on the top to help ventilate the structure and to enable the use of small fires in the inside if it was so desired. There have been some notable art forms used on the outside of the Tepees and is considered to signify the residents standing in the tribal group.
When these Indian tribes did move on to the colder climates of Mexico, they introduced the use of mud hutments to keep out the cold. It is also relevant to note of the easy availability of mud components in the new places of stay.
Each of the Apache tribes or groups has a chieftain who more or less controlled the members. There was no hereditary chief hood, and it was more of the ability of the individual that made him one. It was common in larger community groups to have a small council that advised the chief on matters. The word was more of a consensus of the groups than a dictate of a single person.
The major constituents of the Apache Indians
The Apache people are best considered to be a collection of tribes that had some common traits. There was, of course, the shared ancestry, but the links were not that easy to differentiate. It doesn’t help that there are not much of official records of any kind to establish the connections that flowed between each group constituents.
By using historical facts and more of circumstantial evidence, it has been established that the Apache can be segregated into the following major tribes.
The major part of the Chiricahua tribe was to be found in Southeastern Arizona. They were defined by the dialect they used. Many historians and anthropologists would further classify the tribe to sub-sects, but these divisions were of academic interest and would serve little purpose in better understanding the Apache groups.
It must be said of the better adaptability of the Chiricahua that they have been better at assimilating themselves to the general society later on towards the end of the 19th century and in a way ensuring the relevance of the group to the community in general.
This ethnic tribe was localized to Mexico and the southern reaches of the United States. They have strong links to the Spanish groups prevalent in the region and the term Jicarilla is derived from the Spanish for “little gourd.” This is possibly due to the short and stout physical stature of the Jicarilla tribe members.
Despite the warrior background of the Apache Indians, the Jicarilla tribe took to more passive means of living from among the Indians. This could be attributed to the more agrarian societies of the land at those times and the more stable social settings of the southern parts of the country of the times.
This group of Native Apaches is to be found on reservations in Western Texas of today. Despite the relatively small numbers that constitute this group, they have been successful in maintaining a distinct identity for themselves. In many ways, it is the somewhat inward-looking structures of the group that made it so.
One of the main reasons the Lipan did not break up is the lack of access to mobility. The use of the horse or mule as a means of transport was not evident in this set of people.
These were the Apache group that took to the more hilly and mountainous terrains of the country. The rather heavy build of the Mescalero paid out in the rough, hilly terrains where it became necessary to use muscle power to keep the settlements supplied with food and water.
One of the most defining aspects of this group is the use of woolen body coverings to keep warm. They did resort to decorative woolen hoods and capes which were adapted later on as items of high fashion.
The Kiowa is located in Southwest Oklahoma and is referred to in a number of different names. These are the Indian tribe that established themselves around the plains and are hence termed as the Plains Apache.
- Western Apache
This is a term used to describe the loose groupings of Native Indians that were localized around the western reaches of the continental United States. The Western Apache took pains to remain steadfast to their roots and carve out their own distinct identity. Historians point to the use of a few sub-dialects within this homogenous group as well.
The weapons of choice with the Apache
As has been mentioned, the Apache Indians were predominantly warriors for the most of history. Like any of the fighting groups, it is essential to understand the kind of weaponry that was used by the fighters. More importantly the type of leverage that was afforded to the early warrior groups with the focus on its effect on history in general.
It must be said that the lances did have advantages in battle accorded by a few other alternatives. The warrior could inflict damage to the foe while at the same time maintaining a safe distance. This ensured that the possibility of the individual getting hurt was kept to the minimum. The lance could be used as a multi-purpose weapon as the long handles could come handy as leverage tools during campaigns.
With the Apache lances, they were made of wooden poles or even bamboo shafts. The ends of the spears were done with a metal piercing piece about 2-3 feet in length. Some of the old hands used the lance handles to mark out the kills and campaigns that they had partaken.
Bow and arrow
Most ancient cultures around the world used a bow and arrow sets. The use of the arrows was not restricted to the matter of battles but could be used effectively to kill the game for the kitchen. Most of the Apache bows were framed out of flexible mulberry or cedars which were endemic to the regions dominated by the Indian group. The strings were usually gut linings from ox or buffalo and provided the much needed tensile strength needed to have a good launch speed to the arrows.
The early arrowheads were shaped out of flint stones but by the start of the 1700s were replaced with scrap metal pieces crafted as arrowheads. The use of war booty to shape out the arrowheads were an accepted part of warfare of the times.
Ancient warfare probably started with the use of clubs to handle the opponents. It is best a primitive weapon that relied on sheer muscle power and the weight of the club to inflict damage to the person. However, this remained a favorite piece for the very reason that it is not at all complicated to make one and the effectiveness that it brought to the user.
By the 1750s the defining element in the fight with the Apache Indians was the use of rifles. This was purchased by the predominantly Spanish traders of the times, and it is well known that massive fortunes were made by some crafty traders who managed to supply both sides of some of the well-known conflicts.
However, the use of rifles brought in the significant issue of keeping the ammunition supplies coming. The more traditional weaponry did not have this issue at all, and most of the braves could fashion out a weapon from the surrounding materials and in quick time too.
How the horse came to be a prized possession to the Apache
History is replete with instances of some elements that more than provided just leverage to communities. The use of the horse has to be seen in this very context as it gave the user flexibilities and more importantly increased the operational range of the individual. A brief study of how the horse came to be used by the Apache would make it evident that the European settlers did have a substantial part to play.
One of the easy ways to handle a problematic topography has been to use beasts of burden, and this became evident as more horses and mules were used in the early settlements across the country. The Apache built on the supply of horses by getting to domesticate some of the wild horse variety that did exist along the prairies and fields. These animals were a lot harder for the ones being introduced by the new age settlers from Europe.
Later on, there were simple inbreeding programs that sought to mix the various desirable qualities to produce animals that took on the strong characteristics of the constituent breeding groups.
The Apache in warfare
Although the Apache Indians are known as a warrior group, the first instances of the tribe using raids were to steal livestock and farm produce. It was only with the arrival of the first European settlers that introduced the idea of warfare and the need for regional dominance. Historically there have been some notable conflict situations which included the Geronimo’s war that kind of sealed the fate of the Apaches to the settlements.
Quite unlike the Sioux Indians and other groups, the Apache never collaborated with the European settlers in any big way. There were the occasional mercenary fighters who were more attracted to the inducements than any sort of ideological calling.