The Apache Indians

The Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa-Apache make up the divisions of the Apache people, and, although the Navajo migrated together with the Apache and share many aspects of their language and other cultural elements, the word, “Navajo,” generally refers to a number of territorial groups. The Apache and the Navajo tribes called themselves, “Na Dené,” which means, “The People.” The word, “Dine,” also appears frequently in reference to the Apache.

Apache camp. San Carlos River, Arizona. ca. 1880-1890. Photo by Ben Wittick. Source – Denver Public Library

The Dine, recently arrived in the arid regions of the southwestern United States, were seen as outsiders by the natives who already inhabited the region, such as the Hopi, Zuni, and other Pueblo tribes. They undoubtedly lived the difficulties of newcomers in their newfound range. The Spanish conquistadores, when they invaded the Americas, again spurred the displacement of the Apache. The arrival of the horse facilitated Apache mobility, and they soon earned notoriety as they increasingly raided settlements and engaged in battle to defend their territory

The Spanish and, later, the U.S. Government displaced the Apache for nearly 300 years, until Dine chief, Cochise, signed a treaty returning land in Arizona to the Dine. The government moved the Apaches to Florida, Alabama, and the Oklahoma territory before they finally returned to the arid southwest.

Chief Geronimo Apache. 1904. Source – Library of Congress

The Apache history has been a turbulent one, and today these thoughtful and appreciative peoples number 111,810. They’re distributed in Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and many live on the reservations. Many others have migrated to California and Colorado and large cities throughout the United States.

Where Does Apache Come From?

Anthropologists believe that The Apache came to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico from northwestern Canada and eastern Alaska in the late 14th and 15th centuries. This group of hunters and gatherers spoke Athabascan, a language from their region of origin. The Tewa and the Zuñi, who occupied the region before these Athabascan-speaking people, called the newcomers, “Apachu,” meaning, “strangers,” or “enemies.” The Apachu learned to farm from the Indians of the region and settled.

The Spanish, when they arrived, picked up the Tewa reference to these people as, “Navahú,” which referred to their occupation of to largely cultivated lands. The Spanish called them “Apaches de las Nabahu,” or “Navajo,” meaning, “Apaches with the great planted fields.” The Apache, initially farmers when they settled in the region, soon adapted to sheep herding.

Apache Seals

A set of the official seals of some of the Apache Tribes


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Native American Art, Pottery, Gifts Native American Store. date unknown. Apache Indian Art. Native American Art. [Online] Native American Art, Pottery, Gifts Native American Store, date unknown. [Cited: February 1, 2015.]

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