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History of the Apache Tribe

Amanda Ferguson, Crystal Daining
  • Author
    Amanda Ferguson

    Amanda has taught middle and high school social studies subjects for several years. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching degree, with specialization in Secondary Social Studies Education, as well as a Bachelor's in Psychology.

  • Instructor
    Crystal Daining

    Crystal has a master's degree in history and loves teaching anyone ages 5-99.

Learn about Apache history, Apache culture, and other Apache facts. Read about the origins and migration of the Apache people. Updated: 11/14/2021

Table of Contents


Who are the Apache?

The Apache tribe are North American Natives of the Southwest region of the United States and parts of Northern Mexico. The tribe encountered various accounts of migration over the course of their history for different reasons. They dealt with incursions from the Spanish, Mexicans, and then Americans. Like many other native tribes between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, most Apaches migrated during the nineteenth century to reservation allotments in modern-day New Mexico and Oklahoma. The number of Apache descendants was estimated around 100,000 at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Apache Tribe: Name and Etymology

The name "Apache" comes from the Pueblo-Zuni word, "Apachu," meaning "enemy". The name was then widely used by other groups to describe the Apache people while the Apache people called themselves many different names including: "Inde," "Tinde," and "Tinneh," all meaning "the people." Europeans and Americans most often referred to the Apache Natives as 'Apache Indians," which was the dominant terminology well into the twentieth century. Efforts have since been made to push names like "Native American" or "Indigenous American" as opposed to "American Indian," but some native groups still accept or prefer the "Indian" descriptor to identify themselves.

Apache Tribe: Location

Originally, the Apache people were believed to have originated from southwestern Canada as they shared many linguistic and cultural similarities with other tribes from the region. They then traveled to areas in the modern-day U.S. states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, as well as the Northern Mexico states of Chihuahua and Sonora between 1,000-1,500 C.E. The Apache mostly remained in the aforementioned lands until contact with Europeans in the early sixteenth century and are considered as belonging to the Southwest Native American cultural group of North American tribes. Apache lands were mostly located in very dry, hot, desert regions that received little rainfall. Eventually, due to encroachment by white settlers and government relations, the majority of Apache bands were relocated to reservations within Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

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Jicarilla Apache Nation Reservation in New Mexico

Jicarilla Apache Nation Reservation in New Mexico

Apache Tribe: Facts and History

The Apache tribe are a diverse group of people with a complicated history. They are, and were, composed of many smaller bands or groups that all share a similar history and culture. The bands were usually comprised of familial units, extended family, and nearby family units.

Some of the most well-known Apache bands include:

  • Jicarilla
  • Kiowa-Apache (also known as the Plains Apache)
  • Chiricahua
  • Lipan
  • Mescalero
  • Western Apache


The Apache are believed to have originated from northern U.S.and southern Canada areas. They migrated south between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries to lands within the southwest and plains regions of North America.


Apache bands migrated several times over their long history in North America. They first arrived to the American Southwest region circa 1,100 C.E. from more northern areas. Large groups of Apache moved to the plains, the modern-day state of Kansas, in 1600. However, by 1750, due to increased reliance on horse-back, raiding grew as a more significant threat from enemy tribes like the Comanche. The Comanche eventually pushed many of the Plains Apache bands to the south and west. Various Apache bands would face even more migration to come, as they were forced from their territories by outside groups.

The Spanish Colonial Era

Key events involving the Apache during the Spanish Colonial era include:

  • 1451: Francisco Vazquez de Coronado first encountered members of the Apache people. At first, Apache bands tried to be friendly with the Spanish but changed due to more frequent Apache raids into Spanish missionaries, presidios, and Spanish-protected Pueblo settlements.
  • 1600s-1800s: A series of fightings and disagreements between Apache, Spanish, and Mexican groups were known as the Apache-Mexican Wars. As the Apache faced increased pressure from land encroachment and the need for resources, they increased raids. The increase of raids angered the Spanish and Pueblo, leading to various wars. Not all Apache bands carried out raids. Some remained peaceful to outside groups.
  • Circa 1730: The Spanish designated lands in Texas for the Apache as they grew weary of fighting with them. Many Apache bands resisted relocation efforts, but some made peace and lived on presidios and within missionary settlements. Most Apache bands grew to be at peace with the Spanish by 1790 and held on to fairly peaceful relationships with both the Spanish and Mexicans until around 1831.
  • 1810: Mexico won their independence from Spain, which led to the expulsion of the Spanish from the region.

Interactions with Mexico and the United States

Key events between the Apache and Mexico:

  • Post-1810: After Mexico gained its independence from Spain, the Mexican government proved unable to provide assistance to the Apache. The Apache had previously enjoyed assistance from the Spanish through housing developments, food, protective forces, and more. As a result, most Apache left presidio developments and returned to their more traditional life of hunting, gathering, and raiding. The increased raids yet again caused issues, leading to war.
  • Circa 1831: Many misunderstandings arose as some Apache bands engaged in war, while others did not. Yet, peaceful Apache would sometimes get attacked, which led to a cycle of violence.
  • 1839: Mexican governments of Sonora and Chihuahua offered rewards for Apache scalps, which included those of women and children. The bounty led to mass killings of Apache, even peaceful bands. The Mexican government paid out large amounts of money for the scalps over a period of about ten years. Eventually, the government ended the bounty, as it was deemed too expensive and resulted in the deaths of innocents. In addition, the scalps presented for the bounty could not be told apart from other groups of people and were hard to verify if they were actual Apache.
  • 1831-1915: Mexico engaged in battles and skirmishes with various Apache bands up through 1915. The Apache were well known for their strength and resistant efforts; they were also split between Mexico and the U.S. during the Mexican-American War.

Key events between the Apache and the United States:

  • 1846: Apache bands signed a peace treaty with the U.S. for safe passage throughout territories.
  • 1848: The U.S. won the Mexican-American War, giving them a large portion of lands in the southwest amounting to over 500,000 sq. miles.
  • Circa 1848: White settlers continued their encroachment onto Apache lands with a main goal of getting access to precious metal mines on their lands. The U.S. hired some friendly Apache to help with negotiations and to be scouts to find enemy Apache and fight against them.
  • 1849-1886: The Apache Wars were a series of skirmishes and battles between various Apache bands and the U.S., largely between 1849-1886. Some bands continued their resistance of the U.S. in certain areas through 1924. The Apache, along with many other Native Americans, were forcibly removed from their lands and relocated to designated reservation lands.

Some influential Apache leaders included:

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Frequently Asked Questions

What happened to the Apache tribe?

The Apache tribe was forcibly relocated to reservations after the urging of outside groups and skirmishes/warfare. Their descendants mostly reside in or around reservations in modern day New Mexico and Oklahoma.

What is the Apache tribe known for?

The Apache tribe is known for their proud and warrior-like people. Bands of the Apache put up a formidable fighting force against the Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. governments.

Where did the Apache tribe live?

The Apache tribe could mostly be found in the southwest native cultural region of the U.S. in modern-day states of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. They could also be found in a few Northern Mexican states.

How many Apache tribes are in Arizona?

According to present-day data, there appear to be four federally recognized Apache tribes in Arizona. They have designated reservation land in the state.

What are the Apache traditions?

The Apache had many celebrated traditions. They had coming of age ceremonies, ritualistic dances, and festivals during certain times in the year.

What did the Apache tribe eat?

Most Apache bands were nomadic in order to follow their food, like the buffalo. They also ate small game, beans, corn, squash, roots, and herbs.

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