“Lozen is my right hand… strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy. Lozen is a shield to her people.” — Apache Chief Victorio
Lozen was born in about 1840 in Apacheria, which consisted of New Mexico, Arizona, and Northern Mexico. As a young girl, she showed little interest in the traditional roles of men and women and spent most of her time with her brother Victorio. She began riding horses at the age of seven, and soon, she could outrun any of the men. She also learned how to use a war club, spear, bow, and rifle from her brother. When she reached the age of her womanhood ceremony, she was courted by many men but let it be known that she would never marry. Instead, she undertook and succeeded at the hardship of a dikohe or a warrior in training. Afterward, the Council accepted her, and she became a warrior.
She also studied medicine and became a renowned medicine woman with extensive knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants and minerals. By the time she was 20-years-old, she had also become an expert at stealing horses, which earned her the name of Lozen, which means “dextrous horse thief.”
Fighting alongside her brother and other warriors, she participated in warrior ceremonies and often sat in on council ceremonies. When riding with the warriors, she was said to have been gifted with the ability to detect the movement of her enemies. To use this gift, she performed a ritual in which she sang, extended her arms, and turned in a circle until the palms of her hands tingled, a sign that let her know from which direction they were approaching. Armed with this knowledge, Lozen would help her people avoid capture. She was not the only woman warrior in her band. Dahteste, a member of the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua Apache, was a companion of Lozen on many raids.
Victorio formed a band of Eastern Chiricahua and Mescalero, numbering some 300, and began to retaliate against the Army. Those military officers who fought against Victorio regarded him as a sound tactician and a leader of men. However, by 1869, Victorio and his band were driven out of their lands west of New Mexico’s Black Mountain, subdued, convinced to move to a new reservation near Ojo Caliente, New Mexico. In 1869, they were settled near Fort Craig, New Mexico waiting for the completion of the reservation. Instead, they were moved to the deplorable conditions of the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona.
In 1877, Lozen joined her brother in leading 300 warriors, women, and children back to their home in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico. Immediately, the Army tried to force them back, and soon, the warriors, including Lozen, began marauding and raiding while evading capture by the military.
As Victorio and his warriors held off the cavalry, Lozen took the women and children ahead; the women and children were too scared to cross the turbulent Rio Grande. Immediately, the other women and the children followed her into the raging river.
“I saw a magnificent woman on a beautiful horse — Lozen, sister of Victorio. Lozen, the woman warrior!” — James Kaywaykla, Apache child
Lozen spoke to James Kaywaykla’s grandmother when they reached the far riverbank. “You take charge, now,” she said. “I must return to the warriors.”
Late in Victorio’s campaign, Lozen left the band to escort a new mother and her newborn baby across the Chihuahuan Desert from Mexico to the Mescalero Reservation. Equipped with only a rifle, a cartridge belt, a knife, and a three-day food supply. Traveling through territory occupied by Mexican and U.S. Cavalry forces, she used her knife to kill a longhorn in fear that a gunshot would betray their presence.
She then stole a Mexican cavalry horse for the new mother, escaping through a volley of gunfire, and stole a vaquero’s horse for herself. She also acquired a soldier’s saddle, rifle, ammunition, blanket and canteen, and even his shirt. Finally, she delivered her charges to the reservation.
Two years later, most of the Apache were sent to another reservation, but Victorio and his warriors continued fighting against their oppressors. In 1880, Victorio was killed in the Battle of Tres Castillos in northeastern Chihuahua. It is said that he fell on his own knife rather than die at the hands of the Mexicans.
Knowing the survivors would need her, Lozen immediately left the Mescalero Reservation and rode alone southwest across the desert, threading her way undetected through the U.S. and Mexican military patrols. She rejoined the decimated band in the Sierra Madre in northwestern Chihuahua, led by the 74-year-old patriarch Nana. Lozen and a small band of warriors began raids across New Mexico and Arizona in revenge.
Eventually, Lozen and her warriors joined forces with prominent Apache War Chief Geronimo in the last campaign of the Apache Wars. Lozen and another woman warrior named Dahteste then began negotiating peace treaties. One negotiating term was that the Apache leaders would only be imprisoned for two years before being freed. Though the American leaders dismissed the peace treaty, Lozen and Dahteste continued to negotiate.
In the meantime, the Apache rebels continued to resist until it was revealed that the Chiricahua had been rounded up and sent to Florida. In 1886, Geronimo and the rest of his followers agreed to surrender and laid down their arms. Five days later, Geronimo, Lozen, Dahteste, and the rest of the warriors were on a train bound to swampy prisoner camp Florida.
Later, Lozen traveled as a prisoner of war to Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama. Like many other imprisoned Apache warriors, she died in confinement of tuberculosis on June 17, 1889. She is said to be buried in Alabama in an unmarked grave.
“The stories of Geronimo, Crazy Horse, and Custer pale beside the tale of another warrior — one who fought relentlessly, successfully, and against all odds almost continuously for forty years… But you’ve probably never heard of her.” Sister of Chief Victorio — he called her “my right hand” — who went into exile with Geronimo as the last free Apaches, Lozen has been called “America’s greatest guerrilla fighter.” — Peter Aleshire, author Warrior Woman