The first Athapascan peoples arrived in the Southwest about A.D. 850, nomadic hunters and gatherers from what is now western Canada.
They spread throughout the arid tablelands of the Southwest, forming numerous bands, where they came to be known jointly among the region’s original inhabitants as the Apaches—probably meaning "enemies."
Even after having established their new homelands, the Apaches continued to wander over a wide range, raiding sedentary peoples for food and slaves.
Fierce fighters and masters of survival in the wilderness, they were feared by other inhabitants of the Southwest—Pueblo Indians, Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans—until their ultimate conquest.
Their presence and harassment checked Spanish and Mexican expansion northward.
And, some years after the United States takeover of the Southwest in 1848, when they then had become enemies of the Anglo-American occupants, they proved themselves the most stubborn of the Indian guerrillas.
General George Crook, who campaigned against the Apaches as well as against many other Indians, singled them out as the "tigers of the human species."
As masters of survival, the Apaches were wary of the American troops that began to arrive in great numbers after the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican War.
Therefore, during the 1850s, other than occasional attacks on Anglo-Americans traveling the Santa Fe Trail and Butterfield Southern Route, they preyed mostly on Mexicans south of the boarder.
Mishandling of an incident by the army, however, shifted the pattern, providing the spark for 35 years of Apache unrest.
In 1861, a rancher by the name of John Ward wrongfully suspected Cochise, the chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, of having abducted his children and stolen his cattle. He reported the raid to the garrison at Fort Buchanan, about 40 miles south of Tucson.
A lieutenant at the post, George Bascom, took it upon himself to organize a force of 54 men and ride to Apache Pass through the Chiricahua Mountains—the heart of Chiricahua Apache country, as well as the southern route westward.
Bascom set up base at the Butterfield mail station, then sent word to Cochise requesting a meeting.
On February 4, 1861, Cochise, suspecting no treachery, brought his brother, two nephews, a woman, and two children to the army tent.
Bascom wasted no time in accusing Cochise of the raid.
The chief claimed innocence, venturing a guess that the White Mountain Apaches—the Coyoteros—had enacted the raid, and offering to help recover the children.
With his men surrounding the tent, Bascom informed the chief of his arrest. Cochise drew a knife, slashed through the tent and escaped. Bascom took the other Apaches hostage.
Cochise and a war party soon began laying ambushes along the Butterfield Trail for their own hostages, killing Mexicans but taking Americans alive.
Several attempts at negotiations between Cochise and Bascom failed. In one, Cochise and his men killed two Butterfield employees and seized another.
The Chiricahuas were joined in further raids by White Mountain Apaches, as well as by Mimbreno Apaches led by Mangas Colorado, Cochise’s father-in-law.
They focused their attacks on stagecoaches on the trail. Bascom’s men managed to capture three more hostages—White Mountain Warriors.
Two dragoon companies out of Fort Breckinridge finally drove the rampaging Apaches into Mexico. But before leaving, they killed their hostages.
In retaliation, Bascom hanged all his male hostages including Cochise’s brother.
The Apaches, with bitter vengeance, swept down from their mountain hiding places in more attacks, killing, it is estimated, 150 whites and Mexicans during the next two months.
By the end of 1861, the troops had abandoned the forts in Chiricahua country because of the Civil War in the East.
To fill the vacuum and protect the northern and southern routes to California, Governor John Downey organized two volunteer columns, sending one to Utah under Colonel Patrick Connor (see "Shoshoni" ),
and another into the Southwest under Colonel (soon to be General) James Carleton.
Mimbrenos under Magnas Colorado and Chiricahuas under Cochise decided to lay a trap for the new troops invading their lands.
They set up breastworks near the now abandoned mail station at Apache Pass.
Carleton’s advance company under Captain Thomas Roberts entered it on July 15, 1862, but, with two howitzers and repeater rifles, they were able to fend off the attackers.
A private by the name of John Teal even managed to hold off the war party single-handedly with his carbine before his escape, striking Magnas Colorado in the chest.
The Apaches retreated into the wilderness.
Some of the wounded chief’s men took him all the way to Janos, Mexico, where they forced a Mexican doctor at gunpoint to remove the bullet in a successful operation.
Meanwhile, Carleton’s main column reached the mail station 10 days later. Realizing the importance of Apache Pass, the commander ordered the construction of Fort Bowie.
The following September, Carleton assumed leadership of the Department of New Mexico from General Edward Canby.
General Joseph West became commander of the department’s southern region.
With Apache raids still occurring, West decided to use treachery to capture the most venerable of the Apache chiefs, Magnas Colorado.
He had one of his captains request a parley with the chief.
Magnas unwisely accepted and came to the army camp near Pinos Altons on January 17, 1863, where he was immediately seized.
He was then imprisoned at Fort McLane on the Mimbres River.
There, as it was later confirmed by a private, General West let it be known he wanted Mangas’s death.
That same night, as witnessed by a prospector at the post, two sentries heated their bayonets in a fire and pressed them against the sleeping Indian’s feet.
When he jumped up in pain, they emptied their guns into him.
General West himself conducted the follow-up investigation and cleared all the soldiers involved, stating that the chief had tried to escape.
Meanwhile, to the east, the Mescalero Apaches were conducting their own raids near the El Paso end of the El Paso-Tucson link of the Butterfield Southern Route.
General Carleton resolved to move against them and chose Christopher "Kit" Carson, the former trader, scout, Indian agent, and, as of late Union soldier, to head up the operation.
In early 1863, Carson set up base at Fort Stanton in southeast New Mexico, and from there he launched repeated strikes.
One of his outfits, under Lieutenant William Graydon, managed to draw a war party into battle and kill two chiefs.
By the end of spring, the Mescaleros, tired of the relentless pursuit, yielded and agreed to settle on a reservation near Fort Sumner in the Pecos River Valley—
Bosque Redondo, as it was called, meaning "Round Grove of Trees," after a stand of cottonwoods on the parched flat.
They would soon be joined by Navajo prisoners captured in Carleton and Carson’s next campaign (see "Navajo" ).
Ten years after the Bascom Affair, the Apaches were given further incentive for depredations against settlers.
Chief Eskiminzin’s band of Aravaipa Apaches (also called Western Apaches), desirous of peace, had moved to Camp Grant, a desert army outpost north of Tucson in what was now Arizona.
(In 1863, Arizona had been organized as a separate territory from New Mexico.)
The Indians turned in their weapons to Lieutenant Royal Whitman and his garrison.
Citizens of Tucson, who feared and hated all Apaches, whether peaceful or not, organized a vigilante force of close to 150 Anglos, Mexicans, and Papago Indian mercenaries.
On the morning of April 30, 1871, they moved on the Aravaipas and, sweeping through the sleeping camp, massacred from 86 to 150 of the innocents, mostly women and children.
Of the survivors, women were raped and children carried into slavery.
President Ulysses Grant, who had devised his post-Civil War Peace Policy to avoid such massacres, was outraged and sent a peace commission to Arizona, led by General Oliver Howard and Vincent Coyler,
with instructions to establish a reservation system for Apaches.
By the fall of 1872, they had designated five agencies—four in Arizona and one in New Mexico—
and contacted many of the bands, most of whom agreed to resettle in exchange for regular food and supplies.
Howard also finally arranged a meeting with Cochise of the Chiricahuas that autumn, through the intercession of the frontiersman Thomas Jeffords.
After 11 days of negotiations, the general granted Cochise’s request for a reservation in the Chiricahua homeland, the Apache Pass, with Jeffords as the agent.
Cochise, who promised Howard to keep order along the pass, proved good as his word, his people peaceful until his death in 1874.
In the meantime, however, other Apaches continued their marauding, many also drawing rations at the agencies.
As a result of the public outcry, the military organized the Tonto Basin Campaign into the canyon and mountain country just to the south of the Mogollon Rim of central Arizona, where many of the guerrilla bands hid out.
The commandant of the operation was General George Crook, recently assigned to the Southwest after establishing his reputation as an Indian-fighter in the Snake War in Idaho and Oregon (see "Paiute" ).
During the winter of 1872-73, nine small, mobile detachments, using Apache scouts recruited from the reservations, crisscrossed the basin and the surrounding tablelands in constant pursuit of the militants.
They wore down their quarry, forcing as many as 20 clashes, during which they killed about 200.
One outfit, under captains William Brown and James Burns, won a decisive battle at Salt River Canyon on December 28, the Battle of Skull Cave, against a band of Yavapai hostiles who had fled their reservation at Camp Verde and hid out with the Apaches (see "Yavapai" ).
And, on March 27, 1873, an outfit under Captain George Randall gained a decisive victory on Turret Peak which broke Indian resistance.
The weary warriors and families began surrendering in April.
By the following autumn, there were more than 6,000 Apaches and Yavapais, including those previously enrolled, on the reservation rolls in Arizona and New Mexico.
For the Apaches, reservation life proved an ordeal—scarce rations, disease, boredom.
To escape the misery, many fled to the wilderness for a life of hunting, gathering, raiding, and plundering.
In order to better control the many bands and at the same time open more territory to white settlement, officials ordered all Apaches west of the Rio Grande to the San Carlos reservation on the Gila River in Arizona in 1875.
Yet some Apaches continued to resist.
Two leaders became prominent—one from each of the two bands that in the 1860s had proved the most intractable.
Victorio, who had grown up under the leadership of Magnas Colorado, led his Mimbreno Apaches and others in an uprising from 1877 to 1880.
Geronimo, who had fought with Cochise, rallied his own band of Chiricahuas and others in the last major Indian stand, from 1881 to 1886.
In doing so, his name became a war cry in the conquering culture.
The patterns of the two rebellions were similar. Both began on the San Carlos reservation and involved at least one breakout from it.
Both took the guerrillas to the mountains, canyons, and deserts of the American Southwest and Mexico.
And both necessitated a large number of troops on two sides of the border to win through the process of attrition.
On September 2, 1877, Victorio and more than 300 followers slipped away from San Carlos into the wilderness.
Many gave themselves up within a month at Fort Wingate, New Mexico, but Victorio and 80 warriors remained in the mountains. Victorio hoped to settle his people at the Mescalero reservation at Ojo Caliente in western New Mexico, but negotiations failed.
On September 4, 1879, his war party attacked a cavalry horse camp and killed the eight black guards.
Joined by Mescaleros, Victorio led his force into Mexico, then Texas, then back into New Mexico, and into Arizona, carrying out a number of attacks.
Both the United States and Mexico mobilized forces—under Colonel Edward Hatch in New Mexico, Colonel Benjamin Grierson in Texas, and General Geronimo Trevino in Chihuahua, Mexico.
American troops regularly crossed the international border, this exception in policy made because of the Apache menace.
Victorio and his men eluded them all, surviving a number of skirmishes.
In the fall of 1880, while fleeing an American command of Colonel George Buell into the Chihuahua desert,
Victorio let his guard down long enough to be attacked by 350 Mexican and Tarahumara Indians under Colonel Joaquin Terrazas.
In the two-day Battle of Tres Castillos, meaning "Three Peaks," more than half of the Apaches were killed and all but a few of the rest were taken prisoner.
Victorio turned up among the dead. It is not known whether he died fighting, or as legend has it, he took his own life before the enemy could get to him.
Meanwhile, the Chiricahua Apache known as Geronimo had been living among Chief Juh’s nomadic and predatory Nednhi band in the Sierra Madre, on Mexico’s side of the border, ever since the dissolution of the Apache Pass reservation in 1875.
In 1876, he and some others of the band appeared at the Mescalero agency at Ojo Caliente,
the San Carlos agent apprehended him along with Victorio’s people and led him back to Arizona.
After about a year, Geronimo had fled across the border again with Juh.
And then, because of increased Mexican troop activity, the young warrior returned to San Carlos.
Increasingly, Geronimo was respected by the other warriors for his bravery and cunning,
but he was still at this stage one of many leaders. He would soon prove to be the most tenacious.
On August 30, 1881, the military at Fort Apache north of San Carlos made a move to arrest Nakaidoklini,
a White Mountain Apache who preached a new religion involving the return of dead warriors to rid native peoples of whites.
Fighting erupted at Cibecue Creek.
The mystic was killed. Some of his followers, including Apache army scouts in revolt, attacked Fort Apache but were driven back.
Additional troops were called up to curb any more violence.
The Chiricahua leaders at San Carlos resented and feared the growing number of troops.
One month after Cibecue Creek, Geronimo and Juh, along with Nachise (the son of Cochise), fellow brave Chato, and 74 followers, departed San Carlos for Mexico.
They returned in April 1882, in a raid on the reservation in which they killed the chief of police and forced Loco and his Mimbreno Apaches to accompany them southward.
Another attack followed that July by White Mountain warriors, still bitter over the death of Nakaidoklini, resulting in the Battle of the Big Dry Wash.
Alarmed at the mounting level of violence, the military turned over the command to General George Crook,
who had proven effective against Apaches in his Tonto Basin Campaign and had since been campaigning against the Sioux Indians.
Crook organized a number of mobile units, including White Mountain Apache scouts, the only men who could track fellow Apaches.
With permission from Mexican authorities, Crook led units under Captain Emmet Crawford and Lieutenant Charles Gatewood into the Sierra Madre in May 1883.
They used mules instead of horses since the former were better suited to desert campaigning.
Crook managed an attack on Chato’s camp on May 15. The skirmish proved inconclusive,
but it was a way of announcing the military’s presence and determination.
In a follow-up parley, the Apache leaders agreed to return to the reservation. It took a year for all to comply, however. Juh had been killed earlier in an accident.
But the others—Chato, Nachise, Loco, and Nana, who was the leader of the Mimbrenos since Victorio’s death—trickled in with their followers.
And finally in March 1884, the chief who had come to be revered as the most effective of the war leaders also came in—Geronimo.
Yet he was to burst forth from the confinement two more times.
The next-to-last breakout in May 1885 resulted from a reservation ban on tiswin, the alcoholic beverage of the Apaches. Geronimo, Nachise, Nana, and almost 150 followers once again headed for the Sierra Madre.
And once again, Crook’s soldiers tracked them relentlessly until they finally agreed to a parley—this one at Canyon de los Embudos on March 25, 1886.
Crook demanded unconditional surrender and imprisonment in the East for two years.
But while being led to Fort Bowie by Apache scouts, he, Nachise and 24 others broke free once again.
The embarrassed army relieved Crook of his command, replacing him with General Nelson Miles, another proven Indian-fighter.
In order to capture the 24 renegade Apaches, Miles put 5,000 soldiers in the field.
Captain Henry Lawton led a unit into Mexico, which caught up with the fugitives on July 15. But Geronimo successfully eluded the troops.
Finally, after another month and a half of hiding out, Geronimo again agreed to surrender, but only to Miles.
On September 4, 1886, at Skeleton Canyon, about 65 miles south of Apache Pass, where the Apache Wars had commenced 25 years before,
the weary Geronimo and his faithful followers gave themselves up for the last time.
Soon afterward, Geronimo and nearly 500 Apaches, including some who had served as scouts for the army, were sent by rail, in chains, to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida.
After a miserable one-year internment, they were relocated to Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama, where about a quarter of them died from tuberculosis and other diseases.
Although Eskiminzin’s Aravaipas were finally allowed to return to San Carlos, the citizens of Arizona refused reentry to Geronimo and the Chiricahuas.
Comanches and Kiowas in the Indian Territory offered to share their reservation with the Apache freedom fighters.
They were led to Fort Sill in 1894.
Although already a legend to many white schoolboys throughout the United States, Geronimo was never granted permission by his former enemies to return to his homeland.
He died a prisoner of war in 1909.