Dancing Gods, by Erna Fergusson, , at sacred-texts.com
Apaches are defeated. Pueblos move smoothly between an outward conciliatory conformity to American ways and an inner adherence to their own customs; Navajos yield nothing of their own integrity as they slowly adopt certain mechanical aspects of white civilization; but the Apache seems completely conquered. Even the casual observer gets the impression that his capitulation is deeper than any military surrender. His savage spirit is broken. The first Americans who met him found him shrewd, keen, even welcoming; later he proved himself the fiercest fighter in the southwest. His men, and even his women, showed more iron endurance, and his chief s more resource at strategy and skill at parley, than the American Army could match. It was only by sheer force of numbers that he was finally conquered and penned up on reservations; and that was not until 1887. Now he is sullen and uncommunicative, often drunken and lazy. In some ways the most tractable of all Indians, in others he is the most hopeless to reach.
Both Spain and Mexico found the Apache too much for them. They could do nothing except to barricade their thick-walled adobe houses with heavy gates and shutters
when they heard he was on the war-path. Pueblos were just as terrified of his very name, which is a Zuñi word meaning "enemy." Early American travelers, rushing across the desert at the dizzy speed of ten miles a day toward California and unlimited gold, found the Apache the greatest barrier across their path. From western Texas to California wandered unrelated bands of these naked, painted savages: shooting arrows from behind rocks, hurling spears from the backs of running mustangs, or in close encounter whirling their war-clubs with enough force to spatter out a victim's brains. The Apache was at home on the war-path; he made no settled habitations. He lived on what the country offered: mesquite roots, wild acorns, prairie-dogs, and rattlesnakes, and on the meat of the horse he had stolen and ridden to death. He knew his country, inch by inch: where there was water, where a hidden trail over an apparently impassable rock wall, where an Indian could lie hidden for hours within a few yards of a white man's wagon train. He could read a trail left on rocks or grass and know how many men had passed and when, and how many horses. He could leave a message for others of his tribe by turning a stone or snapping a twig-signs which few white men could read. It was said that white men could travel the Apache country for weeks without seeing a single Indian, and never be themselves unseen. Then, in the one hour when vigilance was relaxed, might come one of those terrifying sudden attacks. Men were killed, women and children carried off into slavery; and the entire band would disappear like mist, and no Apache could ever account for the outrage. Charles F. Lummis, writing of wars against the
[paragraph continues] Apache, said that the great difficulty of the American Army was not in fighting, but in finding him.
Naturally there was another side to the picture of Apache raids, one which American Army officers were quick to recognize. And that was that for every Indian outrage, there was a white outrage just as terrible. If the Indians could not control their men, neither could the United States. White men, too, captured women and children or shot them down. White men sold arms and liquor to Indians. Many savages, attacking white settlements, were incited by white men's whisky, armed with white men's guns, even encouraged by renegade whites.
Apaches, like Navajos, could not understand why the United States, having fought Mexicans, became the protectors of Mexicans. So they continued to attack Mexican villages, and to talk peace so successfully that treaties were made and broken faster than the Senate could ratify them. Real war started when Cochise, a Chiricahua Apache chief, met American officers for a parley about the theft of a cow and a child belonging to a Mexican woman. Cochise denied all knowledge of the affair. The officers, who did not believe him, broke the safe-conduct and seized and killed the chief's attendants. Cochise himself slit the tent with his knife and got away. It took ten years of warfare to capture him after that.
There were other warriors just as clever and just as vindictive, other officers just as mistaken in their policy. As they had no tribal union, the Apache bands had to be captured one by one in forty bitter years of fighting. One uprising did not differ much from another; the end was
inevitable. Major John C. Cremony, who fought Apaches for many years, has left an account of his enemy, which shows that the Major was a student as well as a soldier, and an officer willing to give full credit to his foe.
He was impressed with the fact that to the Apache the white man was always an enemy. He says that he knew of friendships between Apaches and white men, but in his experience they were extremely rare. The American was the arch enemy, and even small children would run screaming with fright from a white man. An outrage against a Mexican was good; one against an American was excellent. The Apaches knew who would defeat them in the end. Boys were encouraged to play games to develop their skill at hiding, at trailing, even at stealing. There is something strongly reminiscent of Sparta in this Apache educational system. A good thief was considered even more of a man than a good fighter. "Deceit," says the Major, "is regarded among them with the same admiration that we bestow upon one of the fine arts. To lull the suspicion of an enemy--and to them all other people are enemies--and then take advantage of his credence, is regarded as a splendid stroke of policy. To rob and not be robbed, to kill and not be killed, to take a captive and not be captured, form the sum of an Apache's education and ambition, and he who can perform these acts with the greatest success is the greatest man in the tribe."
Women could fight if necessary, but one gathers that as a rule they were too busy, for they did everything else except hunt. They built the brush wikiups which were their homes, and when it was necessary to move, they packed and
moved. They planted and tended little patches of beans and corn between raids, and they made blankets and baskets. The work was so heavy that most girls preferred marriage with an older man who already had several wives, especially if he were a good thief, and consequently a good provider. So polygamy was general. American Army men reported that Apache women were on the whole more chaste and less accessible than Navajo women; and they probably knew.
Major Cremony concluded that "those who believe that they [the Apaches] can be tamed and rendered peaceable under any circumstances, are wonderfully in error." The error, though, seems to be on the part of the Major; for the Apaches have not only been tamed and rendered peaceable, but they seem to come closest to the professed government ideal of the Indian who gives up his own ways and adopts the dress, speech, manners, and religion of the American.
The taming process began when General Carleton issued his ultimatum of warfare against all unfriendly Indians. In the round-up which followed, many Apaches were conquered, along with the Navajos, and moved with them to the Bosque Redondo. There they fought with the Navajos, and unconquered tribes attacked them. When the government began to establish them on reservations, Apaches came into conflict with white men who protested against giving desirable land to Indians. So the Apaches were moved from place to place, subjected to distress, in unaccustomed climates, and extreme irritation due to the vacillating policy of the authorities. Many a band, driven to frenzy by unfair
treatment, went on the war-path and killed hundreds of whites before they could be subdued. The best Apache trick was slipping across the border into Mexico, where American troops could not follow; but the two countries stopped that by a treaty permitting troops to follow the savage across the international line. The end followed soon.
In 1885 Geronimo, the last defiant chief, was captured by American troops in Mexico. He and his band were taken to Florida and put at hard labor. They were later moved to Alabama, then to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and now the last of Geronimo's warriors are on the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico. The old chief died at Fort Sill, always longing to return to his Arizona mountains. He is quoted as saying just before his death: "The sun rises and shines for a time. Then it goes down, sinks, and is lost. So will it be with the Indian. . . . It will be only a few years when the Indian will be heard of only in books which the white man writes."
Apaches now live on four reservations: the Mescalero and the Jicarilla in New Mexico, and two in the White Mountains of Arizona. There are about five thousand altogether. The men hate and resent farming, and even the Mescaleros, who have fertile land, wander about with their sheep, goats, and a few cattle. What farming they do is simple. A week in the spring to scratch the soil and plant, a couple of weeks at midsummer for weeding, a week for harvesting in the fall, suffice. They succeed better at herding sheep, an occupation which suits their nomadic nature and allows some scope for their gifts of observation and their knowledge of country, of weather, of desert forage.
[paragraph continues] The Jicarillas are the most successful; they own sixty sheep per capita, more than any other people in the world.
Apaches still make tiswin, the tribal intoxicant, and mescal, and they take readily to American whisky. The problem of drink, for their agents, is exceeded only by the problem of tuberculosis. Among the Jicarillas eighty per cent of their people under thirty have tuberculosis, and schools have been transformed into hospitals.
During the conquest and the captivity, at least a generation lost its arts. Now Apache women are again making blankets and baskets, and interested people are helping them, here and there, to get back to the old designs and patterns.
Of Athabascan stock, the Apache closely resembles the Navajo in many of his ways. The legends are similar. The Apache uses sacred pollen, though his comes from the tule cat-tail rush and not from corn. He has medicine-men, medicine "sings," and much magic. He wore, in his fighting days, a medicine hat or a medicine shirt to protect him from arrows, he knew incantations, he recognized witchcraft and magicians. The tribe is divided into clans, though no organization appears except as the government has brought it about to assist in administration. Nobody of scientific attainment has studied Apache ceremonial life as Matthews studied the Navajos, or Fewkes the Hopis, or Stevenson the Zuñis. Many ceremonies are lost. Generally the Apache has become so sullen and so unapproachable that the white man knows him least of all the southwestern tribes. The old fighter, defeated, holds sternly to his last stronghold, that of silence concerning his own inner life.