The Apache were one of the fiercest Native American tribes. No one is sure what the name Apache meant, but is believed to mean either “enemy” or “fighting men.” Over centuries, the Apache fought their way through many hostile tribes, across much of what would become the western United States. Eventually they settled in the mountains of southern Arizona and New Mexico.
In the early 1700s, the Apache often fought with the Spanish. These battles were often long and very bloody. Finally a Spanish leader agreed to stop fighting and set aside certain lands in Texas for the Apache. To show that the battles were over, an Apache chief buried a hatchet. From this gesture, we get the term “bury the hatchet.”
In the early 1800s, the Apaches were often in conflict with Mexico. Their hatred of Mexico was so great that when the United States went to war with Mexico in 1846, the Apache offered American troops safe passage through their lands.
The calm between the US and the Apache did not last. A gold rush brought thousands of miners into Apache land. When the Apache leader, Mangas Coloradas, was attacked and beaten by miners, the Apache viewed as a betrayal of the treaty they had signed. Apaches, who were quick to defend their land, fought back against the miners. Mangas Coloradas was eventually killed.
The country in which the Apache established themselves was a difficult place in which to live. It is made up of desert and mountains, and a hot, harsh climate. Years of surviving there toughened the Apache. This toughness, and their long history of fighting many other tribes earned them a reputation as savage warriors. They were among the most dangerous tribes the US Army ever fought!
The next chief after Mangas Coloradas was the famous Apache warrior, Geronimo. Geronimo spent years fighting both Mexicans and Americans. Geronimo was never actually an Apache chief. Although he was a fierce warrior, his people considered him too impulsive. He was often too vengeful. They admired his skill in battle, but they did not think he had the qualities of a great chief.
In 1886, Geronimo and fewer than fifty Apache were surrounded by five thousand troops. By this point, Geronimo was the last Native American who was still resisting US troops. Because he had resisted them so fiercely, US troops viewed him as the most evil of Native Americans. After their surrender, they were taken to prisons in the southeast. Most of them never saw their homeland again. Geronimo, a proud warrior, spent the last years of his life as a celebrity. He wrote his autobiography and appeared at fairs.
Some Facts About Geronimo:
- He married the daughter of a famous Apache chief, Cochise
- Geronimo died after being thrown from a horse. He lay outside in the cold all night before he was found, and developed pneumonia, which killed him.
- His last words were, “I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man.”