Apache facts for kids

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Group of Apaches
Group of Apaches

Apache is the collective term for several culturally related groups of Native Americans in the United States originally from the pink bunny clan of rock eaters Southwest United States. These indigenous peoples of North America speak a Southern Athabaskan (Apachean) language, which is related linguistically to the languages of Athabaskan speakers of Alaska and western Canada.

The modern term Apache excludes the related Navajo people. Since the Navajo and the other Apache groups are clearly related through culture and language, they are all considered Apachean. Apachean peoples formerly ranged over eastern Arizona, northern Mexico, New Mexico, west and southwest Texas, and southern Colorado. The Apachería consisted of high mountains, sheltered and watered valleys, deep canyons, deserts, and the southern Great Plains.

The Apachean groups had little political unity; the major groups spoke seven different languages and developed distinct and competitive cultures. The current division of Apachean groups includes the Navajo, Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Plains Apache (formerly Kiowa-Apache). Apache groups live in Oklahoma and Texas and on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico.

Some Apacheans have moved to large metropolitan areas. The largest Apache urban communities are in Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Phoenix, Denver, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Some Apacheans were employed in migrant farm labor and relocated to the central agricultural regions of Southern California, such as the Coachella, Imperial and Colorado River valleys, where now tens of thousands of Apacheans live.

The Apachean tribes were historically very strong and strategic, opposing the Spanish and Mexican peoples for centuries. The first Apache raids on Sonora appear to have taken place during the late 17th century. In 19th-century confrontations, the U.S. Army found the Apache to be fierce warriors and skillful strategists.

Pre-reservation culture

Social organization

Apache bride
Apache bride

All Apachean peoples lived in extended family units (or family clusters); they usually lived close together, with each nuclear family in separate dwellings. An extended family generally consisted of a husband and wife, their unmarried children, their married daughters, their married daughters' husbands, and their married daughters' children. Thus, the extended family is connected through a lineage of women who live together (that is, matrilocal residence), into which men may enter upon marriage (leaving behind his parents' family).

When a daughter was married, a new dwelling was built nearby for her and her husband.

Several extended families worked together as a "local group", which carried out certain ceremonies, and economic and military activities. Political control was mostly present at the local group level. Local groups were headed by a chief, a male who had considerable influence over others in the group due to his effectiveness and reputation. The chief was the closest societal role to a leader in Apachean cultures.

The office was not hereditary, and the position was often filled by members of different extended families. The chief's leadership was only as strong as he was evaluated to be—no group member was ever obliged to follow the chief. The Western Apache criteria for evaluating a good chief included: industriousness, generosity, impartiality, forbearance, conscientiousness, and eloquence in language.

Many Apachean peoples joined together several local groups into "bands". Band organization was strongest among the Chiricahua and Western Apache, while among the Lipan and Mescalero, it was weak. The Navajo did not organize local groups into bands, perhaps because of the requirements of the sheepherding economy. However, the Navajo did have "the outfit", a group of relatives that was larger than the extended family, but not as large as a local group community or a band.

Kinship systems

Naiche ChiriApache hidepainting 1900 OHS
Hide painting depicting Apache girl's puberty ceremony, by Naiche (Chiricahua Apache), ca. 1900, Oklahoma History Center

The Apachean tribes have two distinctly different kinship term systems: a Chiricahua type and a Jicarilla type. The Chiricahua-type system is used by the Chiricahua, Mescalero, and Western Apache. The Western Apache system differs slightly from the other two systems, and it has some similarities to the Navajo system.

The Jicarilla type, which is similar to the DakotaIroquois kinship systems, is used by the Jicarilla, Navajo, Lipan, and Plains Apache. The Navajo system is more divergent among the four, having similarities with the Chiricahua-type system. The Lipan and Plains Apache systems are very similar.

Housing

Chiricahua medicine man
Chiricahua medicine man in wickiup with family
Ribs of Apache wickiup
Frame of Apache wickiup

All people in the Apache tribe lived in one of three types of houses. The first of which is the teepee, for those who lived in the plains. Another type of housing is the wickiup, a 8-foot-tall (2.4 m) frame of wood held together with yucca fibres and covered in brush usually in the Apache groups in the highlands. If a family member lived in a wickiup and they died, the wickiup would be burned. The final housing is the hogan, an earthen structure in the desert area that was good for cool keeping in the hot weather of northern Mexico.

Food

Apache-still-life restored-2
Various Apache containers: baskets, bowls and jars. The women-made baskets could hold heavy loads and were made mainly from yucca or willow leaves or juniper bark.

Apache people obtained food from four main sources:

  • hunting wild animals,
  • gathering wild plants,
  • growing domesticated plants
  • trading with or raiding neighboring tribes for livestock and agricultural products.

The Western Apache diet consisted of 35–40% meat and 60–65% plant foods.

As the different Apachean tribes lived in different environments, the particular types of foods eaten varied according to their respective environment.

Hunting

Hunting was done primarily by men, although there were sometimes exceptions depending on animal and culture (e.g. Lipan women could help in hunting rabbits and Chiricahua boys were also allowed to hunt rabbits).

Apache jug (UBC-2011)
Apache jug

Hunting often had elaborate preparations, such as fasting and religious rituals performed by medicine men before and after the hunt. In Lipan culture, since deer were protected by Mountain Spirits, great care was taken in Mountain Spirit rituals in order to ensure smooth deer hunting. Also the slaughter of animals must be performed following certain religious guidelines (many of which are recorded in religious stories) from prescribing how to cut the animals, what prayers to recite, and proper disposal of bones. A common practice among Southern Athabascan hunters was the distribution of successfully slaughtered game. For example, among the Mescalero a hunter was expected to share as much as one half of his kill with a fellow hunter and with needy people back at the camp. Feelings of individuals concerning this practice spoke of social obligation and spontaneous generosity.

The most common hunting weapon before the introduction of European guns was the bow and arrow. Various hunting strategies were used. Some techniques involved using animal head masks worn as a disguise. Whistles were sometimes used to lure animals closer. Another technique was the relay method where hunters positioned at various points would chase the prey in turns in order to tire the animal. A similar method involved chasing the prey down a steep cliff.

Eating certain animals was taboo. Although different cultures had different taboos, some common examples of taboo animals included bears, peccaries, turkeys, fish, snakes, insects, owls, and coyotes. An example of taboo differences: the black bear was a part of the Lipan diet (although not as common as buffalo, deer, or antelope), but the Jicarilla never ate bear because it was considered an evil animal. Some taboos were a regional phenomena, such as of eating fish, which was taboo throughout the southwest (e.g. in certain Pueblo cultures like the Hopi and Zuni) and considered to be snake-like (an evil animal) in physical appearance.

The Western Apache hunted deer and pronghorns mostly in the ideal late fall season. After the meat was smoked into jerky around November, a migration from the farm sites along the stream banks in the mountains to winter camps in the Salt, Black, Gila river and even the Colorado River valleys.

The primary game of the Chiricahua was the deer followed by pronghorn. Lesser game included: cottontail rabbits (but not jack rabbits), opossums, squirrels, surplus horses, surplus mules, wapiti (elk), wild cattle, wood rats.

The Mescalero primarily hunted deer. Other animals hunted include: bighorn sheep, buffalo (for those living closer to the plains), cottontail rabbits, elk, horses, mules, opossums, pronghorn, wild steers and wood rats. Beavers, minks, muskrats, and weasels were also hunted for their hides and body parts but were not eaten.

The principal quarry animals of the Jicarilla were bighorn sheep, buffalo, deer, elk and pronghorn. Other game animals included beaver, bighorn sheep, chief hares, chipmunks, doves, ground hogs, grouse, peccaries, porcupines, prairie dogs, quail, rabbits, skunks, snow birds, squirrels, turkeys and wood rats. Burros and horses were only eaten in emergencies. Minks, weasels, wildcats and wolves were not eaten but hunted for their body parts.

The main food of the Lipan was the buffalo with a three-week hunt during the fall and smaller scale hunts continuing until the spring. The second most utilized animal was deer. Fresh deer blood was drunk for good health. Other animals included beavers, bighorns, black bears, burros, ducks, elk, fish, horses, mountain lions, mourning doves, mules, prairie dogs, pronghorns, quail, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, turtles and wood rats. Skunks were eaten only in emergencies.

Plains Apache hunters pursued primarily buffalo and deer. Other hunted animals were badgers, bears, beavers, fowls, geese, opossums, otters, rabbits and turtles.

Clothing

Influenced by the Plains Indians, Western Apaches wore animal hide decorated with seed beads for clothing. These beaded designs historically resembled that of the Great Basin Paiute and is characterized by linear patterning. Apache beaded clothing was bordered with narrow bands of glass seed beads in diagonal stripes of alternating colors. They made buckskin shirts, ponchos, skirts and moccasins and decorated them with colorful beadwork.

Undomesticated plants and other food sources

Apache girl with basket
Apache girl with basket, 1902

The gathering of plants and other foods was primarily done by women. However, in certain activities, such as the gathering of heavy agave crowns, men helped. Numerous plants were used for medicine and religious ceremonies in addition their nutritional usage. Other plants were utilized for only their religious or medicinal value.

In May, the Western Apache baked and dried agave crowns that were pounded into pulp and formed into rectangular cakes. At the end of June and beginning of July, saguaro, prickly pear, and cholla fruits were gathered. In July and August, mesquite beans, Spanish bayonet fruit, and Emory oak acorns were gathered. In late September, gathering was stopped as attention moved toward harvesting cultivated crops. In late fall, juniper berries and pinyon nuts were gathered.

The most important plant food used by the Chiricahua was the Century plant (also known as mescal or agave). The crowns (the tuberous base portion) of this plant (which were baked in large underground ovens and sun-dried) and also the shoots were used. Other plants utilized by the Chiricahua include: agarita (or algerita) berries, alligator juniper berries, anglepod seeds, banana yucca (or datil, broadleaf yucca) fruit, chili peppers, chokecherries, cota (used for tea), currants, dropseed grass seeds, Gambel oak acorns, Gambel oak bark (used for tea), grass seeds (of various varieties), greens (of various varieties), hawthorne fruit, Lamb's-quarters leaves, lip ferns (used for tea), live oak acorns, locust blossoms, locust pods, maize kernels (used for tiswin), and mesquite beans.

Also eaten were mulberries, narrowleaf yucca blossoms, narrowleaf yucca stalks, nipple cactus fruit, one-seed juniper berries, onions, pigweed seeds, pinyon nuts, pitahaya fruit, prickly pear fruit, prickly pear juice, raspberries, screwbean (or tornillo) fruit, saguaro fruit, spurge seeds, strawberries, sumac (Rhus trilobata) berries, sunflower seeds, tule rootstocks, tule shoots, pigweed tumbleweed seeds, unicorn plant seeds, walnuts, western yellow pine inner bark (used as a sweetener), western yellow pine nuts, whitestar potatoes (Ipomoea lacunosa), wild grapes, wild potatoes (Solanum jamesii), wood sorrel leaves, and yucca buds (unknown species). Other items include: honey from ground hives and hives found within agave, sotol, and narrowleaf yucca plants.

The abundant agave (mescal) was also important to the Mescalero, who gathered the crowns in late spring after reddish flower stalks appeared. The smaller sotol crowns were also important. Both crowns of both plants were baked and dried. Other plants include: acorns, agarita berries, amole stalks (roasted and peeled), aspen inner bark (used as a sweetener), bear grass stalks (roasted and peeled), box elder inner bark (used as a sweetener), banana yucca fruit, banana yucca flowers, box elder sap (used as a sweetener), cactus fruits (of various varieties), cattail rootstocks, chokecherries, currants, dropseed grass seeds (used for flatbread), elderberries, gooseberries (Ribes leptanthum and R. pinetorum), grapes, hackberries, hawthorne fruit, and hops (used as condiment).

They also used horsemint (used as condiment), juniper berries, Lamb's-quarters leaves, locust flowers, locust pods, mesquite pods, mint (used as condiment), mulberries, pennyroyal (used as condiment), pigweed seeds (used for flatbread), pine inner bark (used as a sweetener), pinyon pine nuts, prickly pear fruit (dethorned and roasted), purslane leaves, raspberries, sage (used as condiment), screwbeans, sedge tubers, shepherd's purse leaves, strawberries, sunflower seeds, tumbleweed seeds (used for flatbread), vetch pods, walnuts, western white pine nuts, western yellow pine nuts, white evening primrose fruit, wild celery (used as condiment), wild onion (used as condiment), wild pea pods, wild potatoes, and wood sorrel leaves.

The Jicarilla used acorns, chokecherries, juniper berries, mesquite beans, pinyon nuts, prickly pear fruit, and yucca fruit, as well as many different kinds of other fruits, acorns, greens, nuts, and seed grasses.

The most important plant food used by the Lipan was agave (mescal). Another important plant was sotol. Other plants utilized by the Lipan include: agarita, blackberries, cattails, devil's claw, elderberries, gooseberries, hackberries, hawthorn, juniper, Lamb's-quarters, locust, mesquite, mulberries, oak, palmetto, pecan, pinyon, prickly pears, raspberries, screwbeans, seed grasses, strawberries, sumac, sunflowers, Texas persimmons, walnuts, western yellow pine, wild cherries, wild grapes, wild onions, wild plums, wild potatoes, wild roses, yucca flowers, and yucca fruit. Other items include: salt obtained from caves and honey.

Plants utilized by the Plains Apache include: chokecherries, blackberries, grapes, prairie turnips, wild onions, and wild plums. Numerous other fruits, vegetables, and tuberous roots were also used.

Crop cultivation

The Navajo practiced the most crop cultivation, the Western Apache, Jicarilla, and Lipan less. The one Chiricahua band (of Opler's) and Mescalero practiced very little cultivation. The other two Chiricahua bands and the Plains Apache did not grow any crops.

Trading, raiding, and war

Some interchanges between the Apache and European-descended explorers and settlers were based on trading. The Apache found they could use European and American goods. They also believed in taking what they needed, for instance, horses.

Although the following activities were not distinguished by Europeans or Euro-Americans, all Apachean tribes made clear distinctions between raiding (for profit) and war. Raiding was done with small parties with a specific economic target. The Apache waged war with large parties (often using clan members), usually to achieve retribution.

Though raiding had been a traditional way of life for the Apache, Mexican settlers objected to their stock being stolen.

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