"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Cochise & Co

Even for a white boy like me, who, growing up in the 1950s, might well have been expected to cheer for the cowboys against the Indians, the Cheyenne and Sioux and Apaches and the others were really exciting. They were such good fighters and so clever and so skilled. They rode better and shot better and fought more fearsomely with a knife. Crossing a desert on foot and with no water? Child’s play. I was more than half on their side, even before the revisionist days of Little Big Man and Soldier Blue and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee when the US Cavalry suddenly became the bad guys.
But while Plains Indians in their war bonnets were all very fine, and those Mohawk haircuts were rather groovy and I liked those colorful Seminole costumes, nothing was as plain cool as an Apache.

Their look

Part of it was their costume. Those tall moccasins and red headbands. In fact the Apache adopted white man’s clothing very rapidly. They liked the colored cloth, and the trousers and jackets were practical. US Army officer coats were especially prized. There may also have been an idea that by appropriating and wearing the coat of a powerful soldier some of the medicine would be transferred to the new wearer.
Bacheth, 'Roaming Coyote', a "Chiricahua Prince" by A Frank Randall
I suppose that making clothes before the white men came was so hard for the women and the Apache were never the greatest weavers or spinners – they tended to use animal skins wherever possible. Anyway, Apaches looked really snazzy, as those old photographs show (and they seemed to like being photographed).

Their land

And then their terrain. They lived in one of the most hostile landscapes in America, the desert-mountain country of the Southwest.
For me, ‘hot’ westerns were always the purest form. It was OK to see Jeremiah Johnson or McCabe & Mrs. Miller wading through snowdrifts, I guess, but nothing beats US Army soldiers fighting Apaches under a grueling sun, riding through dusty canyons as those terrifying Indians rain fire down on them from the heights. I could watch Cheyenne or Sioux hunting buffalo on grassy plains, that was OK, but in my childhood dreams I was sheltering behind sweltering rocks as the sinister, silent enemy lurked somewhere out there poised to deal me out a grisly death - unless I was brave, resourceful and skilled enough to outwit him, which of course I was.

Their friends and enemies (and the ones in between)

My great heroes were the white men who seemed more than half Apache themselves, who understood them and who fought the Apache on their own terms: Louis L’Amour’s Hondo Lane, the great scout Al Sieber or the young Tom Horn. Or Burt Lancaster in Ulzana’s Raid (Ulzana, or Ulzanna, was really ferocious and one of the most successful raiders).
I also greatly admired those who knew the Apache and were on their side: Agent John Clum before he went to Tombstone, Tom Jeffords in Broken Arrow, Royal Whitman (what a raw deal he got). Because I was on the Apaches’ side too.
Col. Royal Whitman
Their chiefs

And then the chiefs! The great Cochise, of course, who was always Jeff Chandler in my fevered boyhood imagination but later took on a different aspect as I read about him and saw photographs. I admired Cochise’s sons, statesmanlike Taza and warlike Naiche.
Noble Victorio wasn’t actually killed in a fight with John Wayne and Ward Bond in Hondo, I was disappointed to find, or at Fort Bowie fighting Ben Johnson, but in the Sierra Madres by a Mexican force.

Loco was a great name, then there was Diablo, fantastic, and of course the greatest of them all, Geronimo. Actually, as far as I can ascertain now, Geronimo was a poisonous old man who, although he suffered terribly at the hands of treacherous white men, was just as perfidious in return and even more murderous. His word was worth little. He was disliked by many of his peers and died, of pneumonia caught after falling dead drunk into a creek, a rich farmer in Oklahoma in 1909. But at the time he was to me a great hero, noble, brave and true.

There was no doubt about it, if I was going to be an Indian, I’d be an Apache.

Their names

I was always kinda confused, though, about all the different kinds. Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Mimbre, White Mountain, Tonto (which seemed a rude name for an Apache to me), who were all these people? What was the difference? Were they the same, were they allies or were they enemies? Western movies didn't help me at all here.

Luckily, help was at hand.

The book

The help came in the shape of the best book on Apaches I have read. It is simply titled Apaches but it has an interesting subtitle: A History and Culture Portrait.


James L Haley

Its author, James L Haley, who has written extensively on the history of Texas as well as being a novelist, says in his preface that he set out to write not just a history of the wars between the whites and the Apache, and not even just a history of the Apache, but to add an account of Apache culture and life so that we might better understand them. A noble aim, and it has been achieved. I do urge you to read Apaches: A History and Culture Portrait by James L Haley, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1981. You won’t regret it.

All those Apache tribes

First of all, I was able to understand clearly that there was an essentially Apachean people and this adjective Apachean was an umbrella term covering groups which were ethnically, linguistically and culturally related, those Southern Athapascans who had come south from Alaska at some distant time in the past but had since developed separately. Apaches, Navajos, Lipans and Kiowa-Apaches were Apachean. They could more or less understand each other and had some cultural practices and beliefs in common but were often traditional enemies, for example the Navajo and the Apache.

Apaches themselves, ‘true’ Apaches, called themselves Tin-ne-áh, the People, but they seem to be broadly grouped into four types:

·         To the east there were the Mescaleros, living in the area east of the Rio Grande known today as south-eastern New Mexico and down into Mexican Chihuahua towards Coahuila. Gomez was their great leader.

·         West of them, straddling the modern border of New Mexico and Arizona and running down into Chihuahua, lay the Chiricahua. Often known as Mimbres or Mimbreños, these people were themselves sub-divided into (broadly) three: to the east, the Nde-nda-i, the ‘Enemy People’, whose greatest chief was Geronimo. In the middle, the Tsoka-ne-nde, whom Cochise, and then his sons Taza and Naiche led. And the most westerly, the Red Paint Mimbres, whose leaders were Mangas Coloradas, Victorio and Loco.

·         And to the west, roughly in the middle of present-day Arizona, lived the Western Apaches, who were grouped into the North and South Tontos, either side of the Mogollon Rim, the Cibicue south-east of them, the White Mountain Apaches south-east of them and the most southerly, along the Gila River, the Gileños or San Carlos Apaches.

·         Lastly, in today’s north of New Mexico and southern Colorado and isolated from the rest, lived the Jicarillas. They were the first to be dominated, the battle of Cieneguilla in 1854 being the high point of their resistance. 

Well, any Apache readers of this blog (or indeed James Haley) may well write and tell me I am wrong (and I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert) but that’s what I understood from Mr. Haley’s book. It certainly helped me to get things clearer anyway and there are useful maps on pages 6 – 7 and 182 – 183 which I can't reproduce here but below is one from Wikipedia.
Map from Wikipedia. WA = Western Apache, Ch = Chiricahua, M = Mescalero, J = Jicarilla
(N = Navajo, Pl = Plains Apache and L = Lipan)

Another difficult area which other books never bothered to help the reader with, is the way different groupings are referred to. What is the difference between a nation, people, tribe, band, group and clan of Apaches? Some authors sloppily use these terms interchangeably. One, Hampton Sides, in his (otherwise excellent) book about the Navajo and Kit Carson, Blood and Thunder, even invents a new term, “outfit”. As if there weren't enough already. 

Apaches doesn’t entirely sort out this confusion for us but it does better than any other book I have read. Once again my understanding is (and again, correct me if I am wrong) that Apaches are divided into tribes, such as the Mescaleros, Jicarilla, etc., as listed above. Some of these tribes are divided into groups. The Western Apaches for example are White Mountains, Cibicue or others. These groups are made up of bands, three bands of Cibicue, for example, two of White Mountain Apache and four San Carlos bands. These bands were pretty separate and would have their own chiefs (who, by the way, were accepted by the other members of the band for a convenient time and were not usually hereditary). In each band there would be extended families or clans, locally grouped and living in proximity.

So I have mentally discarded other terms and use to myself tribe, group, band and clan. It may be wrong but it’s simple and I am a bear of very little brain.

Coming soon

In later posts I will look at Apache customs and way of life. Haley is very interesting on what Apaches believed, wore, ate, drank made, danced and so on.

And I’ll describe some of the eminent Apaches, like the great Victorio and his fascinating warrior sister Lozen, for example.

And later still, a look at some of the white men who played such a key role in Apache history, soldiers like Generals Crook and Nelson A Miles, Indian Agents like Michael Steck and Thomas Jeffords, and scouts such as Archie MacIntosh.
They didn't get on. Generals George Crook and Nelson A Miles
And we’ll look at the attitude of white miners, townsfolk and farmers and the malign influence of the sinister Indian Ring.

“So little done, so much to do.” (Supposed dying words of Cecil Rhodes).




  1. More!

    I, too, grew up fascinated by the Apaches — and remain so to this day. I HIGHLY recommend you check out the work of Edwin Sweeney (if you haven't already). He has written several definitive books: a biography of Cochise, a biography of Mangas Coloradas, and the masterful "From Cochise to Geronimo," chronicling the later Apache wars.

    An indefatigable researcher, Sweeney has dug deep into archives in Mexico as well as the U.S. Great stuff. Per Sweeney, be cautious about the Lozen story.

    Jim Cornelius

  2. Excellent tip-off. Thanks, and I'll certainly follow that up.

  3. Your first two photos--supposedly of Coche and Taza--are not Cochise and Taza. The first one is of Chato taken in 1886 (ten years after Cochise died) and can be found at the Smithsonian Institution (SPC Sw Apache NM No ACC # Cat 128391 02074800, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution). The second one is actually of George Noche or Naiche (not to be confused with Naiche, Cochise's younger son). This one is also at the Smithsonian: BAE GN 02495A 06407700, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

  4. Yeah. Edwin Sweeney published that photo of Taza in his book on his biography of cochise but the National Archives does say it is Noche taken ten years after Taza died in 1886. There is no known photo or authentic image of Cochise.

    1. That's interesting. Thank you, both commentators. I'll change the post. Best wishes, Jeff.

  5. A heads up: The picture you have of Col. Royal Emerson Whitman is not him. That is his son, Dr. Royal Whitman (famous orthopeadic surgeon and my great, great grandfather). You can find lots of images of Col. Royal Emerson Whitman online.

    1. Thank you for this correction. I have changed it, and hope it is right now.
      Dr. Whitman was certainly a very distinguished looking gentleman!

  6. Contrary to what you have written here, my research has led me to believe that the Chiricahuas contained four different factions;Bedonkehe (Mimbrenos, Geronimo, a faction that was very close to dying out), Chihenne (those who painted their faces red, sometimes referred the "Warm Springs Apaches"; Victorio, Nana, Loco, Mangas Coloradas),Chokenen (Cliff people; Cochise)and the Nedni of the Sierra Madre (Juh, chief and brother-in-law to Geronimo). Now, there are many different claims of who's who in Apacheria but these are the best explanations that resonate best with me. Thanks.

    1. Thanks. Good to have a comment from a knowledgeable person on the subject. I am actually currently reading Utley on Geronimo and he talks about the Bedonkhe.

  7. Jeff, a really good write-up on Apaches. I have always been confused about what to actually call the Apache, whether it be what they call themselves, tribe, group, band, clan, faction, and now an outfit. Well, that is what makes it more interesting, I guess.

    1. In common with many Native Americans, the Apache called themselves simply 'the people' - that might be a satisfactory translation of their word Tin-ne-ah anyway. 'Apache', according to Haley, probably comes from the Zuni word 'apachu', enemy. Thomas Berger in his novel Little Big Man used the English term 'human beings' instead of 'people', which was quite amusing because it implied that all non-Sioux (in that case) were not.
      As for the taxonomy (as we might call it) of tribes, bands, groups, clans and the rest, that seems to vary from author to author.

  8. Jeff, I have found this article only by chance opening up the Geronimo's article post. I am not yet 100% familiar with your blog configuration or ergonomy... Anyway this article would deserve to be added in the right column aka "labels" don't you think? Maybe somewhere throughout the blog I will find an equivalent for the Sioux - maybe an even more complicated indian nations' structure with many tribes, bands, clans etc than tbe Apaches, Chiricahuas, Mescaleros, Mimbres etc. I agreewith you on Mr Utley's easy to read works. JM