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Geronimo – the word has become an accepted part of the English language. Unfortunately, not much else remains of the once proud, defiant people who were led by the aging warrior who bore that name. The Apache had a long and distinguished history already behind them when it was decided by European officialdom that they were to be banished from their homelands and either converted to Christian farmers or exterminated.

The name Apache comes from a Zuni word which means ‘enemy’. They are divided into various tribal subgroups such as the western Apache, which include Northern and Southern Tonto, Mimbreno, and Coyote. The Eastern Apache are the Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicirilla, Lipan, and Kiowa Apache. It is widely accepted that the original Native American tribes came from Asia by way of the Bering Strait. The Apache are believed to have arrived in the Southwest some time between 1000 and 1500 C.E. The language of the Apache has been linked by linguists to that of the Athapaskan speaking peoples of Alaska and Canada.

It didn’t take long for a conflict to develop between the Apache and their Mexican neighbours. In fact, the Mexican Government actually offered bounties for Apache scalps. In 1835, a warrior's scalp would bring 100 pesos, and by 1837 Mexican officialdom was offering 50 pesos for a woman’s scalp and 25 pesos for that of a child.

About the year 1850, Mexican soldiers attacked and killed 25 women and children who were peacably camped just north of the Mexican border. Among those massacred were the wife, mother and three young children of a rising warrior by the name of Goyathlay. From that moment on Goyathlay was motivated by a burning desire for vengeance. Shortly thereafter, he led an attack on a group of soldiers who, taken by surprise, cried out in fear to Saint Jerome. Thereafter this fear inspiring warrior was known to the outside world as Geronimo.

By the 1850’s, war with the United States Army was just as much an issue as that with Mexico. Hunters and miners who ventured into Apache territory were not averse to hunting Indian. The reprisals would be swift and violent. The answer to these clashes was seen by the United States Government as quite simple – herd the Apache into reservations where they would be safely away from civilization. Consequently, reservations were established in 1871-2. Initially the different tribes were separated onto their own reservations. But, in 1876, it was decided that this was a waste of resources and the already bad conditions on the reservation were exacerbated when several of them were abandoned and all of the Apaches were concentrated on one reservation.

In 1885, the now aged Geronimo led a small band of followers in an outbreak from the reservation at San Carlos. It took the United States Army nearly 5,000 soldiers, 400 Apache scouts and over a million dollars to capture the 15 warriors, 12 women and 6 children who followed the Tiger of the Plains into the wilderness of Mexico. After recapture they were shipped eastward to Florida in shackles. Geronimo died, old and defeated, in 1909.

Today the Apache face battles of another kind – the lure of drugs and alcohol, the demoralising effects of unemployment, the vices of gambling and immorality – all of these have made inroads into the Apache lifestyle to detrimental effect.

Left alone, the Apache would still be a proud, athletic, culturally rich people. As it is, they are yet another indictment to the legacy of Europoean Colonial plunder.