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The Texas Apaches

by R Edward Moore ©

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An Apache woman with her baby in a cradleboard.

The Apaches migrated to Texas from way up in Canada. They arrived in the Texas panhandle region sometime around 1528. We know this because in 1541 the Pecos Pueblo people told the Spanish explorer Coronado about, "the new people" who had moved into the region just to the east of Pecos. The Apache spoke a form of the Athapaskan language group. They were not the only Athapaskan speakers who migrated south at this time. The Navaho and western Apaches also came south into New Mexico and Arizona.

The word Apache is probably Zuni and in Zuni means enemy. The Apache and Navaho called themselves the Dine, pronounced din-eh. Dine in Apache or Navaho means, "the people".

At first the Apache farmed on the south plains. They probably were semi-sedentary. This means they would farm and stay in one place part of the year. When the crops were in they would switch to a nomadic lifestyle and hunt and gather for food. They farmed corn, beans and squash like the other Indians around them. In fact, they probably learned to farm and got their first corn from the Pueblo Indians. This was before they got the horse.

Before horses, hunting buffalo on foot was hard to do.  One way they would hunt buffalo on foot was to stampede them over a cliff.  Men would surround a herd and start yelling and waving things in the air. The buffalo would run and the men would chase them towards a nearby cliff. When the buffalo in the front saw the cliff they would try to stop. But the buffalo in the back could not see the cliff and they would push the buffalo in front over the cliff. Men at the bottom of the cliff would shoot the hurt buffalo with arrows and stab them with spears to kill them.

Without horses, a herd of buffalo could easily outrun men on foot so trying to follow a herd or get close enough to shoot at them with arrows was too hard to do. It was dangerous too because angry buffalo could charge the men and gore them with their horns. The men could not run away fast enough to escape.

But when the horse arrived with the Spanish all this changed. Now Indian hunters on fast horses could zoom in on the buffalo and chase them. If the buffalo charged them they could ride away and escape. Hunters with horses  could also follow herds for several days and travel long distances to find herds. All this means that hunting buffalo became an easier way to get food than hunting. So the Apache quit farming and became nomadic hunter gatherers.

The Apache kept spreading farther south until they occupied the Texas Hill Country. This is where the second wave of Spanish explorers found them in the 1700s.

Around 1700 the Comanche came south along the same route the Apaches had followed years before. The Comanche were fierce warriors and chased everyone but the Kiowa out of the whole panhandle -- south plains, region. The Apache were pushed south. By around 1740 the Comanche occupied the same regions the Apache had occupied only a few years before. The Apache were forced south and west in two groups. The Lipan group went south into the south Texas region once occupied by the Coahuiltecan cultures and part of the western end of the Karankawa's lands. The Mescaleros went west into the regions the Jumano had once lived in.


On this map you can see the light yellow Comanche area in the middle. This is the region the Apache once occupied. The pink south Texas Coahuiltecan region and the western part of the dark blue Karankawa land is the area the Lipan moved into. The light blue west Texas Jumano region is where the Mescaleros moved.

Both the west Texas region and the south Texas regions are hot and dry. They are both arid environments. Much of the west Texas area is a desert. For a people who came from the icy cold of Canada to adapt their culture to live in a desert says a lot. The Apache culture was very adaptable.

Here is a map of the Comanche migration. The Apache would have followed about the same route, only they started even farther north than the Comanche did.

After the Comanches arrived, the Lipan Apaches settled around the Spanish missions for protection from the Comanche and other tribes. By this time they were refugees looking for help and a new place to live. The missions took many of them in. This did not work very well and the Apaches revolted and burned the first mission they stayed at and ran away. The Spanish then decided to put a mission at San Saba in Apache territory. This did not work very well either and the Apaches revolted here too. They attacked the mission along with some other tribes and killed the missionaries and burned the mission. The Spanish tried several more missions, but none of them was successful.  The last Spanish mission to take in Apaches was the mission in Refugio. 

All this makes the Apaches sound ungrateful and warlike. After all, it seems like the Spanish were trying to help them.  However, Spanish missions were not very good places for Indians to live. The priests and monks who ran them treated the Indians much like slaves. They worked them from sunrise to sunset in the fields and shops. The food was poor and the living conditions were not very good. They had to get up very early every morning for Mass and spend a couple of hours in more church services every evening. Also living in the missions crowded the Indians and priests together in close quarters. When European diseases came to the missions this crowding made sure that almost all the Indians would catch the disease. Because the Indians had no immunity to the diseases many of them would die.

New Information.  Based on new research using church records, the diet of a mission Indian had about 1400 calories a day.  By comparison, an inmate in a Nazi concentration camp received about 1500 calories a day and a negro slave in a sugar plantation received about 4000 calories per day.   Church records also show there was an usually an abundance of food available from the mission farms and herds of cattle and sheep.  The same fields and herds the Indians were being used to tend.  While mission Indians were dying, the surplus food was being shipped back to Mexico for a profit. 

The Indians were forced to work at hard labor from dawn till dark six days a week.  Their living conditions were bad.  Records describe the Indian living quarters in missions as being like large wooden cattle pens.  There was little protection from the cold and from rain.  Each Indian was given a space of 2 feet by 7 feet  on the dirt floor  to sleep on. 

Men and women, even married, were kept separated from each other and from their children.   Only Indians confirmed by the Catholic Church as Christian Indians were allowed to marry and live together.  It could take several years for an Indian to get his or her official Catholic confirmation.  Most Indians in missions didn't live long enough to get confirmed.   So Indian family members were kept apart.

Studies have found that adult Indians in missions only lived a few years and children usually died in less than two years.  Death by disease is the usual cause of death given in records.  Malnourished people living in grossly substandard shelter being worked 100 hours a week at hard labor usually are very weak and in poor health.  Even a simple cold can be fatal. 

Most larger missions had a death rate of around 500+ Indians a year (missions varied greatly in size).  Do the math.  In Texas, with about 5 missions running at any given year, times 100+ years in operation, times 500 Indian deaths equals 250,000 Indian deaths.  

If things were so bad  why were Indians in the missions?  Many of them were rounded up by force and placed in the missions.  Others came into the missions because the missions promised to protect and care for them. They did not know what was going on.  Indians who tried to flee the missions were hunted down by solders, brought back the missions and severely punished for running away.

Sources, "A Small Matter of Genocide" and

"The California Missions"

A study of the California Indian missions shows once in the missions most of the Indians were dead after only a few years. Indian children died in less than 3 years living in a mission. The priests were more concerned with saving Indian souls for heaven than in making life tolerable here on earth. Indians who sinned or broke European rules of conduct were punished severely like slaves. Indians who tried to run away were hunted down by Spanish solders and returned to the missions and whipped. The priests and Spanish administrators were also racists. They looked down on the Indians and often made real slaves out of any Indians they could catch outside of a mission. It is little wonder the Apache wanted out of the missions once they found out what was going on in them.

Here is a clever Apache myth. Thanks to Jane Archer and Wordware Publishing for sharing it with us.

Wind and Thunder Quarrel

from Texas Indian Myths and Legends

by Jane Archer

"On this green Earth, I keep all in order," Wind said. "I do every bit of the work."
"No," Thunder said. "I keep this world in proper shape. I do the work."
"My power is greatest." Wind blew hard, scattering leaves and twigs to prove the point.
"The Earth needs me." Thunder grew angry.
"Not so much as me."
"Prove it." Thunder rumbled away into the distance, refusing to remain around Wind any longer.
Wind howled for a moment at being left alone, then thought better of it. "I can work by myself. I keep all in order anyway. I make the plants grow."
To prove this, Wind began to blow. And blow. And blow. Yet no plants grew. Earth slowly turned from green to brown, parched by the wind and lack of rain.
Finally Wind admitted that those hastily spoken words were not true. Earth needed Thunder.
Wind went to Thunder. "I cannot do this alone. Earth needs us both. Together. I want you to work with me again."
Thunder rumbled in agreement, then louder and louder. Soon rain fell on Earth. Plants turned green with new growth.
Wind followed Thunder, happy to rustle the stalks of tall grass again.
From that moment onward, Thunder and Wind worked together to take care of Earth.

Copyright, 2000, Jane Archer

If you enjoyed this myth, read more in Texas Indian Myths and Legends by Jane Archer. You can order a copy here at our e-Book store, or ask your librarian to order Texas Indian Myths and Legends for your school.

Did you like that myth? To learn more about Indian myths and for activities using myths check out our Indian Myths page.

The Apaches were organized into bands. If you do not know what bands means or the difference between band organization and tribe organization read the Anthropology for beginners page. There was no one tribal leader over all the bands. Each band consisted of several families and could have several hundred members. Usually one capable man would be the leader of the band. At times two or more bands would join forces to make war or protect themselves. The young men and women would often marry Apaches from other bands. Sometimes smaller bands would join larger ones or join another small band. The Europeans had a hard time understanding how band organization worked. They wanted one leader who could speak for all the people like a king or President. They would make a treaty or agreement with one band and think the other bands were part of the treaty. This was not so. The other bands would ignore treaties they did not agree to.

There used to be quite a few Apache bands. The Lipan and Mescalero are just two of them. By the nineteenth century the survivors of the other bands had joined the Lipan and Mescalero and only they remained.

The Mescalero Apaches became famous for fighting on and resisting the Comanche, Spanish and Americans who tried to take their lands. Geronimo was a famous leader of the Mescalero Apaches. In the 1870s he and Nana led a famous raid in southern New Mexico and far west Texas.


Here is Geronimo, on the right, and some Apache warriors. Notice their high leather boots made of soft leather. They would roll the soft leather tops up past their knees to protect them from cactus and thorny brush when they needed to. Or they could be rolled down to cool off. Often they would store small items in the rolled up part. Look at the wide cloth headbands. These are another Apache trademark. Almost all the men wore them. They would absorb sweat and keep it from trickling down into the eyes. The headbands are also thick to absorb the heat of the hot sun in their desert environment. The short skirt or breechcloth is another standard piece of clothing for Apache men. They are wearing European style shirts and maybe pants too. They probably got these from traders. This is what Apache men wore after 300 years of contact with the Europeans. Their coats, belts, vests, and guns are all European and not Indian.

Before European contact we are not sure what they wore. The men probably had breechcloths and leather moccasins. They could get cotton cloth from the Pueblos so they might have had the headbands too. In the winter they would wear a buffalo skin to keep warm.

The Apache had many religious ceremonies. I am not going to try to explain Apache religion here. But, dances and singing were a big part of Apache religion. Here are some Apache dancers in costume. These costumes looks more like powwow costumes than traditional costumes.

The Apache lived in both tee-pees and wickiups. Tee-pees are easy to move around when hunting and gathering. Wickiups take more work to build and cannot be moved and are best for semisedentary people. Here is a picture of an Apache camp with tee-pees. The wagon would date this camp to the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Below is a wickiup frame without covering. For lots more on wickiups go to our wickiup page.

Building the wickiup used several kinds of plants. The wood is willow. It would be tied together with leather strips of with plant fibers. To see how to make some plant fiber cords to tie things with check out the lechuguilla cord page.

In the 1860s most of the Lipan moved across the border into Mexico. From Mexico they would raid into south Texas. In 1873 the US army crossed the border into Mexico and captured the Lipan villages. They took the Lipan to the New Mexico reservations to live with the Mescalero Apache. That is where the descendants of the Lipan and Mescalero Apache still live.

Copyright© by R. Edward Moore and Texarch Associates, 2000, all rights reserved. Graphics may not be used or reproduced without prior permission. Short parts of text may be quoted in school reports. Longer quotes require prior written permission.






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