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For other uses, see Chiricahua (disambiguation).
Apachean tribes ca. 18th century (Ch – Chiricahua, WA – Western Apache, N – Navajo, M – Mescalero, J – Jicarilla, L – Lipan, Pl – Plains Apache

Chiricahua (/ˌɪrɨˈkɑːwə/ US dict: chĭr′·ĭ·kâ′·wə) is a group of Apache Native Americans who live in the Southwest United States. At the time of European encounter, they, with their close kinsmen of the Tchihende and Ndendahe groups, were living in 15 million acres (61,000 km2) of territory in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona in the United States, and in northern Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico. Today, only two tribes of the Chiricahua Apache located in the United States are federally recognized: the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, located near Apache, Oklahoma; and the Chiricahua tribe located on the Mescalero Apache reservation near Ruidoso, New Mexico.


The Chiricahua Apache are also known as the Chiricagui, Apaches de Chiricahui, Chiricahues, Chilicague, Chilecagez, and Chiricagua. The White Mountain Apache, including the Cibecue and Bylas groups of the Western Apache, called them Ha’i’ą́há (meaning 'Eastern Sunrise"). The San Carlos Apache called them Hák’ą́yé. The Navajo, a group distinct from the Western Apache although related in language, call the Chiricahua Chíshí.


Further information: Apache Wars
Ba-keitz-ogie (Yellow Coyote), U.S. Army Scout

Tsokanende (Chiricahua) Apache division was once led, since the beginning of the 18th century, by chiefs as Pisago Cabezon, Relles, Posito Moraga, Yrigollen, Tapilà, Teboca, Vivora, Miguel Narbona, Esquinaline, and finally Cochise (whose name was derived from the Apache word Cheis, meaning "having the quality of oak") and, after his death, his sons Tahzay and, later, Naiche, under the guardianship of Cochise's war chief Nahilzay, and the independent chiefs Chihuahua, Skinya and Pionsenay; Tchihende (Mimbreño) people was led, during the same period, by chiefs as Juan Josè Compa, Fuerte aka Soldado Fiero, Mangas Coloradas, Cuchillo Negro, Delgadito, Ponce, Nana, Victorio, Loco, Mangus; Ndendahe Apache people, in the meanwhile, was led by Mahko, Mano Mocha, Coleto Amarillo, Luis, Laceres, Felipe, Natiza, Juh and Goyaałé (known to the Americans as Geronimo); after Victorio's death, Nana, Geronimo, Mangus (youngest Mangas Colaradas' son) and youngest Cochise's son Naiche were the last leaders of Central Apaches, and their mixed Apache group was the last to continue to resist U.S. government control of the American Southwest.[1]

Several loosely affiliated bands of Apache came improperly to be usually known as the Chiricahuas. These included the Chokonen (recte: Tsokanende), the Chihenne (recte: Tchihende), the Nednai (Nednhi) and Bedonkohe (recte, both of them together: Ndendahe). Today, all are commonly referred to as Chiricahua, but they were not historically a single band nor the same Apache division, being more correctly identified, all together, as "Central Apaches".

Many other bands and groups of Apachean language-speakers ranged over eastern Arizona and the American Southwest. The bands that are grouped under the Chiricahua term today had much history together: they intermarried and lived alongside each other, and they also occasionally fought with each other. They formed short-term as well as longer alliances that have caused scholars to classify them as one people.[2]

The Apachean groups and the Navajo peoples were part of the Athabaskan migration into the North American continent from Asia, across the Bering Strait from Siberia. As the people moved south and east into North America, groups splintered off and became differentiated by language and culture over time. Some anthropologists believe that the Apache and the Navajo were pushed south and west into what is now New Mexico and Arizona by pressure from other Great Plains Indians, such as the Comanche and Kiowa. Among the last of such splits were those that resulted in the formation of the different Apachean bands whom the later Europeans encountered: the southwestern Apache groups and the Navajo. Although both speaking forms of Southern Athabaskan, the Navajo and Apache have become culturally distinct.

European-Apache relations[edit]

From the beginning of EuropeanAmerican/Apache relations, there was conflict between them, as they competed for land and other resources, and had very different cultures. Their encounters were preceded by more than 100 years of Spanish colonial and Mexican incursions and settlement on the Apache lands.[3] The United States settlers were newcomers to the competition for land and resources in the Southwest, but they inherited its complex history, and brought their own attitudes with them about American Indians and how to use the land. By the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the US took on the responsibility to prevent and punish cross-border incursions by Apache who were raiding in Mexico.[4]

The Apache viewed the United States colonists with ambivalence, and in some cases, enlisted them as allies in the early years against the Mexicans. In 1852, the US and some of the Chiricahua signed a treaty, but it had little lasting effect.[5] During the 1850s, American miners and settlers began moving into Chiricahua territory, beginning encroachment that had been renewed in the migration to the Southwest of the previous two decades.

This forced the Apachean people to change their lives as nomads, free on the land. The US Army defeated them and forced them into the confinement of reservation life, on lands ill-suited for subsistence farming, which the US proffered as the model of civilization. Today, the Chiricahua are preserving their culture as much as possible, while forging new relationships with the peoples around them. The Chiricahua are a living and vibrant culture,[6] a part of the greater American whole and yet distinct based on their history and culture.


Although they had lived peaceably with most Americans in the New Mexico Territory up to about 1860,[7] the Chiricahua became increasingly hostile to American encroachment in the Southwest after a number of provocations had occurred between them.

In 1835, Mexico had placed a bounty on Apache scalps which further inflamed the situation. In 1837 Warm Springs Mimbreños' head chief and famed raider, Soldado Fiero aka Fuerte was killed by Mexicans soldiers of the garrison at Janos (only two days of distance from Santa Rita del Cobre), and his son Cuchillo Negro succeeded him as head chief. In the same 1837, the American John (aka James) Johnson invited the Coppermine Mimbreños in the Pinos Altos area to trade with his party (near the mines at Santa Rita del Cobre, New Mexico), and, when they gathered around a blanket on which pinole (a ground corn flour) had been placed for them, Johnson and his men opened fire on the Chihenne with rifles and a concealed cannon loaded with scrap iron, glass, and a length of chain). They killed about 20 Apache, including the chief Juan José Compá.[8] Mangas Coloradas is said to have witnessed this attack, which inflamed his and other Apache warriors' desires for vengeance for many years; he led the survivors to safety and, after, together with Cuchillo Negro, took Mimbreño revenge. The historian Rex W. Strickland argued that the Apache had come to the meeting with their own intentions of attacking Johnson's party, but were taken by surprise.[9] In 1839 scalps hunter James Kirker was employed by Robert McKnight to open again the road to Santa Rita del Cobre.

After the conclusion of the US/Mexican War (1848) and the Gadsden Purchase (1853), Americans began to enter the territory in greater numbers. This increased the opportunities for incidents and misunderstandings. Anyway, the Apaches were not hostile to the Americans, considering them enemies of their own Mexican enemies, and so were Mangas Coloradas and Cuchillo Negro.

Cuchillo Negro, with Ponce, Delgadito, Victorio and other Mimbreño chiefs signed a treaty at Fort Webster in April 1853, but, during the spring 1857 the U.S. Army set out for a campaign, led by col. Benjamin L.E. deBonneville, col. Dixon S. Miles (3° Cavalry from Fort Thorn) and col. William W. Loring (commanding a Mounted Rifles Regiment from Albuquerque), against Mogollon and Coyotero Apaches: Loring's Pueblo Indian scouts found out and attacked an Apache rancheria in the Canyon de Los Muertos Carneros (May 25, 1857), where Cuchillo Negro and some Mimbreño Apache were resting after a raid against the Navahos: some Apaches, including Cuchillo Negro himself, were killed.

In December 1860, after several bad troubles provoked by the miners led by James H. Tevis in the Pinos Altos area, Mangas Coloradas went to Pinos Altos, New Mexico trying to convince the miners to move away from the area he loved and to go to the Sierra Madre and seek gold there, but they tied him to a tree and whipped him badly.[10] His Mimbreño and Ndendahe followers and related Chiricahua bands were incensed by the treatment of their respected chief. Mangas had been just as great a chief in his prime (during the 1830s and 1840s), along with Cuchillo Negro, as Cochise was then becoming.[11]

A few years later, in 1861 the US Army seized and killed some of Cochise’s relatives near Apache Pass, in what became known as the Bascom Affair. Remembering how Cochise had escaped, the Chiricahua called the incident "cut the tent."[12] In 1863, gen. James H. Carleton set out leading a new campaign against the Mescalero Apache, and capt. Edmund Shirland (10° California Cavalry) invited Mangas Coloradas for a "parley", but, after he entered the U.S. camp to negotiate a peace, the great Mimbreño chief was arrested and convicted in Fort McLane, where, probably after gen. Joseph R. West's orders, Mangas Coloradas was killed by American soldiers (Jan. 18, 1863). His body was mutilated by the soldiers, and his people were enraged by his murder. The Chiricahuas began to consider the Americans as "enemies we go against them." From that time, they waged almost constant war against US settlers and the Army for the next 23 years. Cochise, his brother-in-law Nahilzay (war chief of Cochise's people), Chihuahua, Skinya, Pionsenay, Ulzana and other warring chiefs became a nightmare to settlers and military garrisons and patrols. In the meantime, the great Victorio, Delgadito (soon killed in 1864), Nana, Loco, young Mangus (last son of Mangas Coloradas) and other minor chiefs led on the warpath the Mimbreños, Chiricahuas' cousins and allies, and Juh led the Ndendahe (Nednhi and Bedonkohe together).

In 1872, General Oliver O. Howard, with the help of Thomas Jeffords, succeeded in negotiating a peace with Cochise. The US established a Chiricahua Apache Reservation with Jeffords as US Agent, near Fort Bowie, Arizona Territory. It remained open for about 4 years, during which the chief Cochise died (from natural causes).[13] In 1877, about three years after Cochise's death, the US moved the Chiricahua and some other Apache bands to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, still in Arizona. The mountain people hated the desert environment of San Carlos, and some frequently began to leave the reservation and sometimes raid neighboring settlers. They surrendered to General Nelson Miles in 1886. The most well-known warrior leader of the renegades, although he was not considered a chief', was the forceful and influential Geronimo. He and Naiche (the hereditary leader, after Tahzay's death, and son of Cochise) together led many of the resisters during those last few years of freedom.

They made a stronghold in the Chiricahua Mountains, part of which is now inside Chiricahua National Monument, and across the intervening Willcox Playa to the northeast, in the Dragoon Mountains (all in southeastern Arizona). In late frontier times, the Chiricahua ranged from San Carlos and the White Mountains of Arizona, to the adjacent mountains of southwestern New Mexico around what is now Silver City, and down into the mountain sanctuaries of the Sierra Madre (of northern Mexico). There they often joined with their Nednai Apache kin.

General George Crook, then General Miles' troops, aided by Apache scouts from other groups, pursued the exiles until they gave up. Mexico and the United States had negotiated an agreement allowing their troops in pursuit of the Apache to continue into each other's territories.[14] This prevented the Chiricahua groups from using the border as a shield; as they could gain little time to rest and consider their next move, the fatigue, attrition and demoralization of the constant hunt led to their surrender.

The final 34 hold-outs, including Geronimo and Naiche, surrendered to units of General Miles' forces in September 1886. From Bowie Station, Arizona, they were entrained, along with most of the other remaining Chiricahua (as well as the Army's Apache scouts), and exiled to Fort Marion, Florida. At least two Apache warriors, Massai and Gray Lizard, escaped from their prison car and made their way back to Arizona in a 1,200-mile (1,900 km) journey to their ancestral lands.

After a number of deaths of Chiricahua at the Fort Marion prison near St. Augustine, Florida, the survivors were moved, first to Alabama, and later to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Geronimo's surrender ended the Indian Wars in the United States.[15] However, another group of Chiricahua (aka the Nameless Ones or Bronco Apache) who were not captured by U.S. forces refused to surrender. They escaped over the border to Mexico, and settled in the remote Sierra Madre mountains. There they built hidden camps, raided homes for cattle and other food supplies, and engaged in periodic firefights with units of the Mexican Army and police. Most were eventually captured or killed by soldiers or by private ranchers armed and deputized by the Mexican government.[16]

Eventually, the surviving Chiricahua prisoners were moved to the Fort Sill military reservation in Oklahoma. In August 1912, by an act of the U.S. Congress, they were released from their prisoner of war status after they were thought to be no further threat. Although promised land at Fort Sill, they met resistance from local non-Apache. They were given the choice to remain at Fort Sill or to relocate to the Mescalero reservation near Ruidoso, New Mexico. Two-thirds of the group, 183 people, elected to go to New Mexico, while 78 remained in Oklahoma.[17] Their descendants still reside in these places. At the time, they were not permitted to return to Arizona because of hostility from the long wars.


Chiricahua Apaches as they arrived at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania
Goyaałé (Geronimo), in native garb
Ka-e-te-nay, Head Chief, Warm Springs Apaches
Loco, Warm Springs Apache chief
Bonito, Chiricahua chief
Viola and Agnes Chihuahua, Chiricahuas, photographed at the Mescalero Apache Reservation in 1916.
Hattie Tom, Chiricahua Apache

Since the "band" as a unit was much more important than "tribe" in Chiricahua culture, the Chiricahua had no name for themselves (autonym) as a people. The name Chiricahua is most likely the Spanish rendering of the Opata word Chiguicagui (‘mountain of the wild turkey’). The Chiricahua tribal territory encompassed today's SE Arizona, SW New Mexico, NE Sonora and NW Chihuahua. The Chiricahua range extended to the east as far as the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and to the west as far as the San Pedro River Valley in Arizona, north of Magdalena just below present day Hwy I-40 corridor in New Mexico and with the town Ciudad Madera (276 km northwest of the state capital, Chihuahua, and 536 km southwest of Ciudad Juárez (formerly known as Paso del Norte) on the Mexico–United States border), as their southernmost range.[18]

According to Morris E. Opler (1941), the Chiricahuas consisted of three bands:

Schroeder (1947) lists five bands:

The Chiricahua-Warm Springs Fort Sill Apache tribe in Oklahoma say they have four bands in Fort Sill:

Today they use the word Chidikáágu (derived from the Spanish word Chiricahua) to refer to the Chiricahua in general, and the word Indé, to refer to the Apache in general.

Other sources list these and additional bands:

The Chokonen, Chihenne, Nednhi and Bedonkohe had probably up to three other local groups, named respectively after their leader or the area they inhabited. By the end of the 19th century, the surviving Apache no longer remembered such groups. They may have been annihilated (like the Pinaleño-Nednhi) or had joined more mighty local groups (the remnant of the Carrizaleños-Nedhni camped together with their northern kin, the Janero-Nednhi).

The Carrizaleňo-Nednhi shared overlapping territory in the surroundings of Casas Grandes and Agua Nuevas with the Tsebekinéndé, a southern Mescalero band (which was often called Aguas Nuevas by the Spanish). The Spanish referred to the Apache band by the same name of Tsebekinéndé. These two different Apache bands were often confused with each other. (Similar confusion arose over distinguishing the Janeros-Nednhi of the Chiricahua (Dzilthdaklizhéndé) and the Dzithinahndé of the Mescalero.

Notable Chiricahua Apache people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thrapp, p.366.
  2. ^ Debo, pp. 9-13.
  3. ^ Thrapp p.6-8
  4. ^ Thrapp p. 7
  5. ^ Thrapp p.19
  6. ^ "Chiricahua Apache Indian Nation". Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  7. ^ Debo p.42.
  8. ^ Roberts: p.36.
  9. ^ Strickland, Rex W. (Autumn 1976) "The Birth and Death of a Legend: The Johnson Massacre of 1837"], Arizona and the West, Vol. 18, No. 3. p.257-86.
  10. ^ Roberts p.37
  11. ^ Roberts p. 35
  12. ^ Roberts p.21-29
  13. ^ Thrapp p.168
  14. ^ Roberts p.223-4.
  15. ^ Thrapp p.366-7.
  16. ^ Salopek, Paul, Mexicans Recall Last Apaches Living In Sierra Madre, Chicago Tribune, 7 September 1997
  17. ^ Debo p.447-8
  18. ^ "Fort Sill Apache Tribe - Tribal Territory". Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  19. ^ "Tribal History". Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  20. ^ Edwin R. Sweeney: Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief, University of Oklahoma Press 1995, ISBN 978-0-8061-2606-7
  21. ^ Kathleen P. Chamberlain: Victorio: Apache Warrior and Chief, University of Oklahoma Press 2007, ISBN 978-0-8061-3843-5
  22. ^ Monticello (originally named Canada Alamosa Spanish for "Canyon of the Cottonwoods") was headquarters for the Southern Apache Agency before a post was established at nearby Ojo Caliente in 1874. About 500 Apaches lived at Canada Alamosa in 1870. Cochise and his Chiricahuas visited the area in 1871. Most of the Apaches were gone by 1877. The Chiricahuas called it Kegotoi - “Dilapidated Houses”.
  23. ^ Edwin R. Sweeney: Mangas Coloradas: Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, University of Oklahoma Press 1998, ISBN 978-0-8061-3063-7
  24. ^ William B. Griffen: Apaches at War and Peace: The Janos Presidio 1750-1858, University of Oklahoma Press 1998, ISBN 978-0-8061-3084-2

Cited works[edit]


External links[edit]