Apache is the collective name given to several culturally related tribes of Native Americans, aboriginal inhabitants of North America, who speak an Southern Athabaskan language. The modern term excludes the related Navajo people. The Apache peoples migrated from the Northern Plains into the Southwest relatively recently. Noted leaders have included Cochise, Mangas Coloradas, and Geronimo. The U.S. Army found them to be fierce warriors and skillful strategists.
The Apache and Navajo (Diné) tribal groups of the American Southwest speak related languages of the language family referred to as Athabaskan. Southern Athabaskan peoples in North America fan out from west-central Canada where some Southern Athabaskan-speaking groups still reside. Linguistic similarities indicate the Navajo and Apache were once a single ethnic group. Archaeological and historical evidence suggests a recent entry of these people into the American Southwest, with substantial numbers not present until the early 1500s.
Southern Athabaskan speakers probably moved into the Southwest from the Great Plains where 16th-century Spanish accounts identified them as "dog nomads." These mobile groups lived in tents, hunted bison and other game, and used dogs to pull travois loaded with their possessions. In April 1541, while traveling on the plains east of the Pueblo region, Francisco Coronado wrote:
After seventeen days of travel, I came upon a rancheria of the Indians who follow these cattle (bison). These natives are called Querechos. They do not cultivate the land, but eat raw meat and drink the blood of the cattle they kill. They dress in the skins of the cattle, with which all the people in this land clothe themselves, and they have very well-constructed tents, made with tanned and greased cowhides, in which they live and which they take along as they follow the cattle. They have dogs which they load to carry their tents, poles, and belongings. (See Hammond and Rey.)
The Spaniards described Plains dogs as very white, with black spots, and "not much larger than water spaniels." Plains dogs were slightly smaller than those used for hauling loads by modern northern Canadian peoples. Recent experiments show these dogs may have pulled loads up to 50 lb (20 kg) on long trips, at rates as high as two or three miles an hour (3 to 5 km/h). (See Henderson)
Although there is some evidence Southern Athabaskan peoples may have visited the Southwest as early as the 13th century AD, most scientists believe they arrived permanently only a few decades before the Spanish. The Southern Athabaskan nomadic way of life complicates accurate dating, primarily because they constructed less-substantial dwellings than other Southwestern groups. They also left behind a more austere set of tools and material goods. Sites where early Southern Athabaskans may have lived are difficult to locate, and even more difficult to firmly identify as culturally Southern Athabaskan.
Trade between the long established Pueblo peoples and the Southern Athabaskans become important to both groups by the mid 16th century. The Pueblos exchanged maize and woven cotton goods for bison meat, hides and material for stone tools. Coronado observed Plains people wintering near the Pueblos in established camps. In 1540, Coronado reported the modern Western Apache area as uninhabited and other Spaniards first mention Apache living west of the Rio Grande in the 1580s. So, it is likely that the Apaches moved into their current southwestern homelands in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Southern Athabaskans expanded their range through the 17th century, occupying areas the Pueblos peoples had abandoned during prior centuries. The Spanish first mention the "Apachu de Nabajo" (Navajo) in the 1620s, referring to people in the Chama region east of the San Juan River. By the 1640s, the term was applied to Southern Athabaskan peoples from the Chama on the east to the San Juan on the west.
The major Apache groups include the Jicarilla and Mescalero of New Mexico, the Chiricahua of the Arizona-New Mexico border area, and the Western Apache of Arizona. Other groups were the Lipan Apache of south-western Texas and the Plains Apache of Oklahoma. The White Mountain Apache Tribe is located in the east central region of Arizona, 194 miles northeast of Phoenix.
The Chiricahua Apaches were removed from their reservation in 1876 and sent to prison in 1886. Subsequently, some Chiricahua relocated to Oklahoma and some joined the Mescalero Apaches.
Some Apaches live on or near the Yavapai-Apache Nation Reservation southwest of Flagstaff, Arizona which they share with the Yavapai. There is a visitor center in Camp Verde, Arizona and at the end of February an Exodus Days celebration with an historic re-enactment and a pow wow.
The Tonto Apache Reservation was created in 1972 near Payson in eastern Arizona. Within the Tonto National Forest northeast of Phoenix it consists of 85 acres (344,000 mē) and serves about 100 tribal members. The tribe operates a casino.
Apache children were taken for adoption by white Americans in programs similar in nature to those involving the Stolen Generation of Australia.