Apache – The Fiercest Warriors in the Southwest

In 1872 the Chiricahua were visited by a special commissioner, who concluded an agreement with Cochise, their chief, to cease hostilities and to use his influence with the other Apache to this end. By Fall, more than 1,000 of the tribe were settled on the newly established Chiricahua Reservation in  southeast Arizona. Cochise died in 1874, and was succeeded as chief by his son Taza, who remained friendly to the Government; but the killing of some settlers who had sold whisky to the Indians caused an intertribal broil, which, in connection with the proximity of the Chiricahua to the international boundary, resulted in the abolishment of the reservation against their will. The Camp Apache agency was established in 1872, and in the year following 1,675 Indians were placed there. But, in 1875 this agency was discontinued and the Indians, much to their discontent, were transferred to San Carlos, where their enemies, the Yavapai, had also been removed.

The members of Geronimo’s band, were the last to resist U.S. government control of the southwest. They finally surrendered in 1886 and were exiled to Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma. The tribe was then released to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico where the majority of the tribe live today.

Geronimo’s last stronghold was the Chiricahua Mountains, in southeastern Arizona, part of which is now inside Chiricahua National Monument.


The Jicarilla Apache were just one of six southern Athapascan groups which migrated out of Canada sometime around 1300 to 1500 A.D.  Moving their way south, they settled in the southwest where their traditional homeland covered more than 50 million acres across north New Mexico, southern Colorado and western Oklahoma.

The geography of the region shaped two bands of the Jicarilla – the Llaneros, or plains people, and the Olleros, or mountain-valley people. The name Jicarilla, pronounced hek-a-REH-ya, means “little basket maker” in Spanish

When Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s expedition journeyed through the northeastern plains of New Mexico in search of gold, the Jicarilla were living a nomadic lifestyle and were generally indifferent to the intruders. That was until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 triggered the re-conquest of New Mexico.

Prior to that time, there were approximately 10,000 Jicarilla Apache, but by 1897, their population had plummeted to just a little more than 300 souls, lost to disease, war, and famine.

In 1887, a reservation in northern New Mexico was established for the Jicarilla, who prior to that time were considered squatters on their own lands, denied citizenship and the right to own land.

Today, the Jicarilla Nation, of more than 3,000 members is self-sufficient with a strong economy of sheep herding, oil and gas wells, and casinos. They continue to be acclaimed for the beauty and excellent craftsmanship of their traditional basket-making, beadwork, and clay pottery.


Mescalero Warriors, 1898

Mescalero Warriors, 1898

The Mescalero Apache were one of the fiercest of the Apache groups in the southwest when defending their homelands. Nomadic hunters and warriors, they moved from place to place setting up their wickiups, ranging in Texas, Arizona and Mexico. Between 1700-1750, many Mescalero bands were displaced from the Southern Plains in northern and central Texas from the enemy Comanche, at which time, they took refuge in the mountains of New Mexico, western Texas, Coahuila and Chihuahua, Mexico.

A reservation was established for them in 1873 first located near Fort Stanton, New Mexico. Ten years later, another reservation was established, which was situated almost entirely in Otero County. Later, they opened their doors to other Apache bands, the Chiricahua who were imprisoned at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the Lipan Apache.

The tribe is federally recognized as the Mescalero Apache Tribe of the Mescalero Apache Reservation in south central New Mexico. They are comprised of three sub-tribes — the Mescalero, Lipan and Chiricahua, and have more than 3,000 members. Many of them live on the 720 square mile reservation that was once the heartland of their original territory.

Ranching and tourism are major sources of income.

In 2000 U.S. census about 57,000 people identified themselves as  Apache only; an additional 40,000 people reported being part Apache. Many Apache live on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. Farming, cattle herding, and tourist-related businesses are important economic activities. The modern Apache way of life is a mixture of traditional beliefs and rituals, such as mountain spirit dances, and contemporary American culture.


Apache Dancers, Edward S. Curtis, 1906

Apache Dancers, Edward S. Curtis, 1906

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June, 2017.

Also See:

Apache Legends

Chief Victorio



Vintage Apache Photographs


Apache Slide Show:

All images available for photographic prints  & commercial downloads HERE!

1 thought on “Apache – The Fiercest Warriors in the Southwest”

  1. So sad! They respect human life and all humanity and treated by the Spanish, French and mostly Britain
    And the genocide and the facts are we whites taught them how to kill, with guns, and have moved them from “reservations all ove. Places unfit to thrive, then cut them down
    I am so ashamed. My family and I were taught respect for all life with all animals including the homosapian it humans we call all life. What happened to life, respect for others with the love all our “fathers” taught us. Me and mine still have it and I am proud of us all. I am the oldest of ten and my family came from Ireland. I am a cradle Catholic. We all believe life begins at conception. And we do a birth control. Failure and conception means to have a human child…..

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