Apache Before 1861
CultureThe Chiricahua Apache were a nomadic people. They lived off the land and moved with the seasons, usually spending winter on the warmer plains of the Southwest and summer in the cooler mountains. They were hunter gatherers who lived in huts called wickiups, constructed from grass, hides, and other materials.
It was a sacred vocation for a Chiricahua Apache to become a warrior. Both men and women could become warriors. Training began at a young age. Many toys were mock weapons, such as a bow and arrow. They trained to reach peak physical condition. The coming of age trial for a warrior was to run for two days straight with no food and no sleep. If they were low on water while doing something strenuous such as climbing a mountain, they would put a pebble in their mouth and breathe only through their nose. They were also trained to be able to lie completely still and disappear into their surroundings. They would toughen their bodies by diving into frozen rivers.
The Chiricahua hated the idea of imprisonment or dying helplessly (being hanged, for example). They were at peace with dying in combat or from natural causes. Once introduced to horses by the Spanish, the Apache became some of the best horsemen in North America. They had already been masters of the bow and arrow. The best bowmen could shoot seven arrows in the air before the first hit the ground. Upon discovering rifles, they became just as proficient with them.
The Chiricahua Apache had long practiced raiding--the capturing of other’s property, often done in surprise attacks. The Chiricahua raided other tribes and later the Spanish, the Mexicans, and American settlers. The taken property could include livestock, food, ammunition, and weapons. Sometimes these raids involved kidnapping or killing. The Chiricahua did not see a problem with this practice, as they relished combat and had been raiding for centuries. They also did not share the same principles of ownership and theft as other cultures.
Conflict with Spain and MexicoConquistador Francisco Vazquez de Coronado was one of the first Europeans to explore the Southwest in the 1500s searching for cities of gold. He did not run into the Chiricahua Apache, but some claim to have seen him and hidden for “an entire man’s lifetime.”
By the 1700s, the Apache were raiding into Mexico, which was under Spanish occupation at the time. The Spanish recognized this as a problem by the 1730s and began establishing forts and stationing more troops. The most intense part of this conflict occurred in the 1770s. Later, the Spanish began to hand out rations which resulted in relative peace.
In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain. Peace began to deteriorate with the Apache as Mexican soldiers withdrew from forts and rations were no longer handed out. The Chiricahua began raiding in Mexico again. In 1835, the Mexican government announced a bounty on Apache scalps.
The United States Gains the SouthwestThe Mexican American War began in 1846 and ended with a U.S. victory in 1848. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, and later the Gadsden Purchase, officially made the Southwest a part of the United States as it is today. These events brought U.S. settlement to the Southwest along with U.S. military.
Just before the Apache Wars in 1861, the Chiricahua Apache population was estimated to be around 1,200.
Last updated: June 23, 2018