Apache Indians

New e-book now available!Apache rancheria with two men holding rifles, NARA photo, ARC Identifier:530902

Life among the Apaches by John C. Cremony

The Apache Language | Apache Marriage Ceremonies |

Apache Burial Customs | Apache Conflicts | Wisdom of an Old Apache

Lieutenant Emory meets some Apaches near the Gila | Massai

Apache Warfare on the Mexican Border

Apache method of hunting geese and ducks
as witnessed by John Cremony, ca. 1850

"After leaving Dona Ana, our way led across the lower portion of the Jornada del Muerto until we arrived at what is known as the San Diego crossing of the Rio Grande, a mile or two below where Fort Thorne was subsequently built. As the Jornada del Muerto was the scene of another incident, its description is postponed for the present. The Rio Grande was crossed without much difficulty, and our camp formed near a large lagoon on the western bank of the river. This lagoon was infested by wild ducks and brant, and the Apaches took great numbers of them in the following manner.

"In the early winter, when these birds commenced to arrive in great flocks, the Apaches took large numbers of gourds and set them adrift on the windward side of the lagoon, whence they were gradually propelled by the wind until they reached the opposite side, when they were recovered and again set adrift. At first, the ducks and geese exhibit dread and suspicion of these strange floating objects, but soon they get used to them and pay them no further attention. Having arrived at this stage, the Indians then fit these gourds upon their heads, having been furnished with holes for the eyes, nose and mouth, and, armed with a bag, they enter the water--not over five feet deep in any part--and exactly imitating the bobbing motion of the empty gourd upon the water, succeed in getting close enough to the birds, which are then caught by the feet, suddenly dragged under water, and stowed in the bag. The dexterity and naturalness with which this is done almost exceeds belief, yet it is a common thing among them."

Apache method of hunting antelope
as witnessed by John Cremony, ca. 1850

Indians hunting deer

"About eighteen or twenty miles east of the Copper Mines of Santa Rita, is a hot spring, the waters of which exhibit a heat of 125 degrees Fahrenheit, and after having crossed the Mimbres, the whole party directed its course to this spring. After examining it thoroughly and having the qualities of its water tested by Dr. Webb, we prosecuted our march; but my attention was soon after arrested by a number of antelopes feeding on the plain, not more than half a mile distant. Anxious to procure one, I left the party, and, galloping in the direction of the herd, arrived within five hundred yards of it, when I dismounted and tying my horse to a yucca bush, proceeded cautiously on foot, carbine in hand. Crawling from bush to bush, and hiding behind every stone that offered any shelter, I got within handsome range of a fine buck, and feeling sure that the animal could not escape me, I raised to fire, when, just as I was taking aim, I was astonished to see the animal raise erect upon its hind legs, and heard it cry out, in fair Spanish, "No tiras, no tiras!" --"don't fire, don't fire!" What I would have sworn was an antelope, proved to be a young Indian, the son of Ponce, a chief, who, having enveloped himself in an antelope's skin, with head, horns and all complete, had gradually crept up to the herd under his disguise until his operations were brought to an untimely end by perceiving my aim directed at him. The Apaches frequently adopt this method of hunting, and imitate the actions of the antelopes so exactly as to completely mislead those animals with the belief that their deadliest enemy is one of their number."

The deer hunter drawing above is from the Indian Life in Pre-Columbian North America Coloring Book by John Green (Dover Publications, 1994, $3.95, ISBN 0486280470.) This 48-page book contains 40 interesting black and white line drawings of Native American life with informative captions. These drawings may be colored or used as is in graphics, educational, and crafts applications without special permission. Books are available directly from Dover Publications or through your local bookseller.

How Apaches Find Food
as told to John Cremony by Sons-in-jah, an old Apache warrior, ca. 1864

"How is it," said I, "that the Apaches contrive to live in places where there is neither game nor plunder?" The old man laughed heartily at my ignorance and simplicity, and replied:

"There is food everywhere if one only kows how to find it. Let us go down to the field below, and I will show you."

The distance was not more than six hundred yards, and we proceeded together. There appeared to be no herbage whatever on the spot. The earth was completely bare, and my inexperienced eyes could detect nothing. Stooping down he dug with his knife, about six inches deep, and soon unearthed a small root about the size of a large gooseberry. "Taste that," said he; I did, and found it excellent, somewhat resembling in flavor a raw sweet potato, but more palatable. He then pointed out to me a small dry stalk, not larger than an ordinary match, and about half as long: "Wherever you find these," he added, "you will find potatoes." This was in October, and a few days afterward the field was covered with Indians digging these roots, of which they obtained large quantities. Pursuing the subject, Sons-in-jah said: "You see that big field of sunflowers; well, they contain much food, for we take the seeds, reduce them to flour upon our metates and make it into cakes, which are very nice. Again: the mescal, which you white people would pass without notice, is convertible into excellent food by the simple process of roasting. Furthermore, we know exactly when, where and how to trap and catch small animals, like the prairie dogs, foxes, raccoons and others; besides which there are many plants containing nutriment of which you know nothing, or would not eat if you did."

[The above demonstration took place in northern New Mexico, near Fort Sumner. The native foods of Arizona would probably have been somewhat different, but the same principle applies.]

See also, uses of agave as food, drink, thread, rope, and soap

Mangas Colorado
as witnessed by John Cremony, ca. 1850

"Mangas Colorado, or Red Sleeves, was, undoubtedly, the most prominent and influential Apache who has existed for a century. Gifted with a large and powerful frame, corded with iron-like sinews and muscles, and possessed of far more than an ordinary amount of brain strength, he succeeded at an early age, in winning a reputation unequaled in his tribe. His daring exploits, his wonderful resources, his diplomatic abilities, and his wise teachings in council soon surrounded him with a large and influential band, which gave him a sort of prestige and sway among the various branches of his race, and carried his influence from the Colorado river to the Guadalupe mountains. Throughout Arizona and New Mexico, Mangas Colorado was a power in the land. Yet he could assume no authority not delegated to him by his people. He never presumed to speak for them as one having authority, but invariably said he would use his influence to perform certain promises and engagements. Mangas, in one of his raids into Sonora, carried off a handsome and intelligent Mexican girl, whom he made his wife, to the exclusion of his Apache squaws. This singular favoritism bred some trouble in the tribe for a short time, but was suddenly ended by Mangas challenging any of the offended brothers or relatives of his discarded wives. Two accepted the wager, and both were killed in fair duel. By his Mexican wife Mangas had three really beautiful daughters, and through his diplomatic ability, he managed to wive one with the chief of the Navajoes, another with the leading man of the Mescalero Apaches, and the third with the war chief of the Coyoteros. By so doing, he acquired a very great influence in these tribes, and, whenever he desired, could obtain their assistance in his raids. His height was about six feet; his head was enormously large, with a broad, bold forehead, a large acquiline nose, a most capacious mouth, and broad, heavy chin. His eyes were rather small, but exceedingly brilliant and flashing when under any excitement--although his outside demeanor was as imperturbable as brass. This is the man we met at the Copper Mines; but as his name will be mentioned in the course of this narrative, in connection with his acts, no more need be added at present. His most immediate counselors and attaches were Delgadito, Ponce, Cuchillo Negro, Coletto Amarillo, El Chico, and Pedro Azul. These were all appellations bestowed by Mexicans, and not their Apache names, which I never learned."

Mangas Colorado's New Clothes
as witnessed by John Cremony, ca. 1850

"Mr. Bartlett, in order to retain the supposed friendship of Mangas, had a fine pair of blue pants, ornamented with a wide red stripe down the outside of the legs, made for that respectable individual. To this were added a good field officer's uniform and epaulettes, given by Col. Craig, a new white shirt, black cravat, and an excellent pair of new shoes, such as are furnished to our soldiers. It was my duty to invest Mangas in his new suit, but some difficulty was experienced in getti ng him to wear his shirt inside of his pants instead of outside. After a time he made his appearance in grande tenue, evidently in love with his own elegant person. During the whole day he strutted about the camp, the envied of all beholders, and as vain of his new dress as a peacock of his feathers. The next day Mangas failed to put in an appearance; but the day after he came, with his pantaloons wrapped around his waist; his shirt, dirty and partly torn outside; his uniform coat buttoned to his chin; one epaulet on his breast, and the other fastened, bullion down, between the hind buttons of his coat. In this guise he fancied himself an object worthy of universal admiration; and as he walked along, he would turn his eyes over his shoulder to relish the brilliant flashes of his posterior ornament. In less than a week, coat, shirt, pants and epaulettes were sported by another Indian after his fashion. Mangas had gambled them away, and the wearer was the fortunate winner."

Apache camouflage
As witnessed by John Cremony, ca. 1864

While crossing an extensive prairie, dotted here and there by a few shrubs and diminutive bushes, Quick Killer volunteered, while resting at noon, to show me with what dexterity an Apache could conceal himself, even where no special opportunity existed for such concealment. The offer was readily accepted, and we proceeded a short distance until we came to a small bush, hardly sufficient to hide a hare. Taking his stand behind this bush, he said: "Turn your back and wait until I give the signal." This proposition did not exactly suit my ideas of Apache character, and I said: "No, I will walk forward until you tell me to stop." This was agreed upon, and quietly drawing my pistol, keeping a furtive glance over my shoulder, I advanced; but had not gone ten steps, when Quick Killer hailed me to stop and find him. I returned to the bush, went around it three or four times, looked in every direction--there was no possible covert in sight; the prairie was smooth and unbroken, and it seemed as if the earth had opened and swallowed up the man. Being unable to discover him, I called and bade him come forth, when, to my extreme surprise, he arose laughing and rejoiced, within two feet of the position I then occupied. With incredible activity and skill he had completely buried himself under the thick grama grass, within six feet of the bush, and had covered himself with such dexterity that one might have trodden upon him without discovering his person. I took no pains to conceal my astonishment and admiration, which delighted him exceedingly, and he informed me that their children were practiced regularly in this game of "hide and seek," until they became perfect adepts. We have far-reaching rifles and destructive weapons, but they must ever be ineffective against unseen enemies; and it is part of a soldier's duty, while engaged in Indian countries, to study all their various devices.

Another excellent illustration of their skill in concealment was given me by Nah-kah-yen. We were hunting together, when a large herd of antelopes made its appearance. Nah-kah-yen immediately tore off a small strip from an old red handkerchief and tied it to the point of a yucca stalk, at the same time handing me his rifle and saying: Ah-han-day anah-zon-tee--"go off a long way"-- he instantly buried himself under the sand and grass with the ease and address of a mole. I at once moved away several hundred yards, and sought to creep up to the antelopes, who were evidently attracted by the piece of red rag fluttering on the yucca stalk. Not wishing to interrupt the sport of my savage comrade, and anxious to witness the upshot of his device, I remained a "looker on and a spectator" of the affair. In a little while a marked commotion was noticeable in the herd, which galloped off very rapidly for a hundred yards or so, but soon recovered their equanimity, and again approached the attractive red rag. These strange agitations occurred several times, until the antelopes finally dashed away over the plains with wonderful speed. Nah-kah-yen then arose and beckoned me to come, which I did, and found that he had killed four of the herd. We had all the meat our horses could well pack, but the distance to camp was only five miles and soon made.

See also The Battle of Apache Pass

Apache Warfare on the Mexican Border

General Miles' Capture of Geronimo

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