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Apache tribe

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Apache tribe

The Apache conjure the image of a warlike people. Notorious for their grit, they demonstrated exemplary fortitude against the non-native Americans that invaded their land and neighboring tribes and towns. The defense of their culture, territory, and way of life led them to violent uprisings, raidings, resistance to reservation life, and first-hand conflicts with the U.S. government in the late 1800s. Who were the Apache people? What defined their culture? Where were they located? And are they still around today?

Apache Tribe Location

The Apache ancestral homeland is the region of North America known as the Southwest, consisting of present-day New Mexico, Arizona, northern Mexico, western Texas, southern Colorado, western Oklahoma, and southern Kansas.

The Apache, Where did the apache tribe live, Study smarter

This map shows the historical territories of the Apache bands and peoples, such as the Western Apache in red, the Plains Apache in brown, the Jicarilla in purple, and the Chiricahua in blue. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Apache Tribe Origins and Language

The various Apache peoples migrated to the Southwest much later than other tribes in the region. Before Europeans arrived in North America, several Athapascan-speaking peoples–the root language of the Apache language–broke off from different tribes in present-day southern Canada and migrated south around the year 1400. One of those tribes became the Apache, and the other became the Navajo.

The Apache can be organized into their indigenous bands by their dialects: San Carlos, Aravaipa, White Mountain, Northern, and Southern Tonto, the Cibecue, Chiricahua, Jicarilla, and others. Later in their history, members of these tribes intermarried or were forced to live on the same reservations, altering their various subdivisions.

Apache Tribe Culture and Religion

The Apache were primarily nomadic hunters and gatherers, though different bands adopted the culture of other tribes they encountered. Traditionally they would hunt whatever game they could find, such as deer and rabbits. While also gathering wild plants such as cactus and seeds.

Their warlike demeanor came from one aspect of their culture: their habit of raiding the farming villages of the Pueblo tribes and later the Spanish and English settlements when they could not find enough food to eat in the rugged Southwest land.

Examples of their cultural adaptation are the Western Apache tribes of the San Carlos and White Mountain bands and the Jicarilla bands of Apache. The Western Apache lived close to the Rio Grande Pueblo and adopted agricultural practices. The Jicarilla, after the introduction of the horse to the Great Plains in the 1600s, adopted a more nomadic lifestyle, like that of the Plains Native Americas, living in tipis, following buffalo herds.

Apache Tribe Culture
Apache Tribe Shelters

The Apache, where the Apache live, Study Smarter

An Apache Wickiup. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The most common type of Apache dwelling is the "wickiup." A domed or cone-like structure with a pole frame covered in brush, grass, or reed mats. Wickiup's had a smoke hole for a central fire at the top pit. Other bands adopted shelters such as Adobe housing near the Pueblo and tipis on the Great Plains.

Apache Tribe Clothing

The Apache originally wore deerskin clothing consisting of a breechcloth, vests, coats or ponchos, moccasins and calf-length boots, and pants to protect themselves from the underbrush of the high plains in the Southwest. Unlike other Southwest peoples, the Apache did not grow or weave cotton or raise sheep for wool, such as the Navajo. Later, the Apache would acquire cotton clothing through trade or raids.

Apache Tribe Craftsmanship

The Apache made little pottery as it was unnecessary to their nomadic and hunting lifestyle. Nevertheless, they are excellent basket weavers, crafting coiled baskets with intricate designs of many shapes and sizes. After contact with Europeans, the Apache became known for a musical instrument called an Apache fiddle: a painted soundbox with a single plucked string made of a bow and sinew.

Apache Tribe Social Organization

Apache bands and tribes had a loose social and political organization. Each band, comprised of extended families, had a headman chosen informally for his leadership abilities and military acumen. However, other warriors were able to conduct raids without the permission of the headman.

Apache Tribe Religion

Shamans presided over religious rituals and rites. The Apache believed in many supernatural entities. Ussen, the Giver of Life, was the most powerful. The Gans, mountain spirits, gave the Apache the gift of agriculture and guarded wildlife. Both of these spirits are central to many Apache religious rituals.

In some rituals, men dressed up in elaborate costumes to impersonate the spirits, such as the Gans, wearing deerskin kilts, black masks, tall wooden headdresses, body paint, and wielding wooden swords.

The Apache Wars

The strong and sometimes violent resistance to European encroachment made the Apache tribes famous throughout their time in contact with non-indigenous peoples. Beginning with their contact with the Spanish in the 1500s through the early 1900s with the United States.

Apache Tribe Conflicts with the Spanish

Early Apache interactions with the Spanish in the 1540s were friendly. However, as the Spanish began to create permanent settlements in the Southwest, Apache bands swept southward in raids on the Spanish colonies. During the 1600s, the Spanish constructed a line of forts across northern Mexico to protect the settlements from Apache raids. The Apache preferred swift attacks instead of outright rebellion, such as the Pueblo Revolt, as they benefited from the plunder of horses and cattle. The Apache would continue to raid the Spanish colony through the 1700 and 1800s.

Apache Tribe Conflicts with Mexico

In 1821, Mexico and New Mexico gained independence from Spain. But the new nation faired no better with the Apache raids along the northern border. During this time, the Apache began hostilities toward the expanding American settlements of trappers and traders in Texas, Arizona, and Colorado.

Apache Tribe Conflicts and the Apache Wars with the United States

In 1848, with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo following the Mexican-American War, Mexico gave up its northern territory to the United States. Almost immediately, U.S. troops began to occupy Apache territory. In addition, during this same time, a discovery of gold in California caused a drastic increase in the number of Americans migrating west. The Apache considered these migrants trespassers since the United States defeated Mexico, but Mexico never successfully defeated the Apache, so their lands were still rightfully theirs.

During the 1850s, the Apache continued their raids, turning their attention to cattle ranchers in Mexico. The first major conflict with the United States began in the 1860s. A U.S. Army Lieutenant accused the Apache of kidnapping children and stealing cattle, and the Army took some Apache hostages. Under the leadership of a headman named Cochise, the Apache began raids and attacks on migrants on the routes from El Paso to Los Angeles. Other Apache bands joined the resistance. The U.S. Army was able to push these insurgent Apache bands into Mexico, but the American Civil War disrupted their efforts.

The Creation of an Apache Reservation and Apache Rebellion

In 1871, settlers from Tucson, Arizona, marched into a camp of Apache and massacred more than one hundred men, women, and children. This incident convinced President Ulysses S. Grant that there was a need for an Apache Reservation system separate from the American settlers. After extensive negotiations with Cochise, the Apache near the southern routes signed a treaty that maintained an uneasy peace until 1874, after the death of Cochise.

The Apache Rebellions and Geronimo

The final two episodes in the Apache Wars had much in common. In both rebellions, the Apache escaped from the reservation. They hid in the rugged wilderness of the Southwest and Mexico. The Apache, who had been wanderers throughout their history, had difficulty adapting to reservation life. The first of the conflicts between 1877 and 1880 was led by a headman named Victorio. The rebellion consisted of several skirmishes with both the U.S. and Mexican armies. Victorio's death at the Battle of Tres Castillos against the Mexica army ended the uprising.

The Apache, What is the apache tribe known for, StudySmarter

A photograph of Geronimo in 1887. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Geronimo led the final rebellion on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. Historically, tribes were not permitted to leave reservations, but Geronimo and his forces managed to break out three times.

From 1881 to 1884, the first breakout was a reaction to a shaman's death, Nakaidoklini, who had begun to preach a new religion on the reservation. When U.S. soldiers attempted to arrest him, fighting broke out in August 1881, and Geronimo and his forces fled the reservation. After a prolonged campaign and many negotiations, Geronimo and his men agreed to return to the reservation in 1884.

The second breakout was a reaction to banning an alcoholic beverage used in Apache ceremonies called "tiswin." The Apache resented the interference by the United States. Geronimo led his forces off the reservation into the highlands of Mexico. After negotiations, he surrendered in 1886 but escaped with some men on his way back to the reservation. Geronimo led his men in a guerilla campaign against nearly 5,000 U.S. soldiers for the following months, only surrendering due to hunger and weariness in late 1886. Geronimo and his men were put in chains and sent to an Indian reservation in Florida. By this time, Geronimo was a legend among the indigenous people and the non-native Americans; many people traveled to see him and take his picture.

U.S. officials never released Geronimo; he died in 1909 as a prisoner of war. The U.S. did allow some of its forces to return to their reservation in 1914.

Apache Tribe Today

The Apache tribe today still exists. They reside on several reservations, such as the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. The Apache also live on other reservations in Arizona: the Camp Verde Reservation, the Fort McDowell Reservation, and the Fort Apache Reservation. There are Apache reservations in New Mexico: the Mescalero and the Jicarilla.

The Apache support themselves through several tribal economic practices, including ranching, sawmills, oil and gas leases, and tourist facilities. In recent years, the Apache used tribal-run casinos to increase the number of tourists to tribal lands. Individual tribal members also farm and hire themselves as farm laborers to make a living. Some support their income by selling Apache craftwork such as baskets and beadwork.

Apache Tribe Facts

The table below shows the changes in Apache population from before the Indian Wars and current populations on the reservation lands.

Apache Tribe Facts: Population1
Before the Indian Wars
An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Apache lived in the region of present-day Arizona before 1860.
After the Indian Wars
It is estimated that 900 Apache men died during the conflicts with the United States, and 7,000 Apache families were displaced onto reservation land.
The Apache Today
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are at least 64,000 Apache people over the several reservations–this number includes those who have at least 1/16 Apache blood.

The Apache - Key takeaways

  • The Apache ancestral homeland is the region of North America known as the Southwest, in the territory that consists of present-day New Mexico, Arizona, northern Mexico, western Texas, southern Colorado, western Oklahoma, and southern Kansas
  • The Apache were primarily nomadic hunters and gatherers, though different bands adopted the culture of other tribes they encountered.
  • Their warlike demeanor came from one aspect of their culture: their habit of raiding the farming villages of the Pueblo tribes and later the Spanish and English settlements when they could not find enough food to eat in the rugged Southwest land.
  • The strong and sometimes violent resistance to European encroachment made the Apache tribes famous throughout their contact with non-indigenous peoples: with the Spanish from the 1500s to 1800s, and then with the U.S. government through the early 1900s.
  • Geronimo led the more famous episodes of Apache rebellion in the late 1800s into the early 1900s.

1. U.S. Census Bureau. (2012, January). The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010. U.S. Department of Commerce. https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/c2010br-10.pdf

Frequently Asked Questions about Apache tribe

The Apache ancestral homeland is the region of North America known as the Southwest, in the territory that consists of present-day New Mexico, Arizona, northern Mexico, western Texas, southern Colorado, western Oklahoma, and southern Kansas.  

The Apache tribe is known for their prolonged conflict with the United States Military starting in the 1860s through to the 1890s, as they resisted living on reservations. 

The various Apache peoples migrated to the Southwest much later than other tribes in the region. Before Europeans arrived in North America, several Athapascan-speaking peoples –the root language of the Apache language– broke off from different tribes in present-day southern Canada and migrated south around the year 1400. One of those tribes became the Apache, and the other became the Navajo.  

he Apache tribe today still exists. They reside on several reservations such as the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. The Apache also live on other reservations in Arizona: the Camp Verde Reservation, the Fort McDowell Reservation, and the Fort Apache Reservation. There are Apache reservations in New Mexico: the Mescalero Reservation and the Jicarilla Reservation.  

Shamans presided over religious rituals and rites. The Apache believed in many supernatural entities. Ussen, the Giver of Life, was the most powerful. The Gans, mountain spirits, gave the Apache the gift of agriculture and guarded wildlife. Both of these spirits are central to many Apache religious rituals. 


In some rituals, men dressed up in elaborate costumes to impersonate the spirits, such as the Gans, wearing deerskin kilts, black masks, tall wooden headdresses, body paint, and wielding wooden swords

Final Apache tribe Quiz

Question

Where did the ancestors of the Apache originate from? 

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Answer

Southern Canada

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Question

Which of the following present-day regions were not a part of the ancestral homelands of the Apache? 

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Answer

Southern Nevada 

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Question

What other large indigenous tribes in the Southwest have related linguistic roots to the Apache? 

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Answer

The Navajo 

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Question

Which of the following was the main source of sustenance for the Apache? 

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Answer

Hunting and Gathering 

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Question

What "habit" did the Apache have, used to supplement their hunting and gathering when food was scarce? 

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Answer

Raiding nearby villages of other tribes.

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Question

True or False: The Apache maintained an isolated internal culture that would not adapt to other tribal influences.

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Answer

False 

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Question

Which of the following was the main form of a dwelling used by the Apache? 

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Answer

Wickiup

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Question

Instead of clay pottery, the Apache were skilled in what form of craftsmanship? 

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Answer

Basket weaving 

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Question

In Apache religion which supernatural being was the Giver of Life? 

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Answer

Ussen

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Question

Which European nation made the first contact with the Apache? 

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Answer

The Spanish 

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Question

Who was the famous Apache leader who led two rebellions, breaking out of the Apache reservation, and fighting a guerilla war with the United States? 

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Answer

Geronimo

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