Apache (əpăchˈē) [key], Native North Americans of the Southwest composed of six culturally related groups. They speak a language that has various dialects and belongs to the Athabascan branch of the Nadene linguistic stock (see Native American languages), and their ancestors entered the area about 1100. The Navajo, who also speak an Athabascan language, were once part of the Western Apache; other groups E of the Rio Grande along the mountains were the Jicarilla, the Lipan, and the Mescalero groups. In W New Mexico and Arizona were the Western Apache, including the Chiricahua, the Coyotero, and the White Mountain Apache. The Kiowa Apache in the early southward migration attached themselves to the Kiowa, whose history they have since shared. Subsistence in historic times consisted of wild game, cactus fruits, seeds of wild shrubs and grass, livestock, grains plundered from settlements, and a small amount of horticulture. The social organization involved matrilocal residence, a rigorous mother-in-law avoidance pattern, and the husband's working for the wife's relatives.
Historically the Apache are known principally for their fierce fighting qualities. They successfully resisted the advance of Spanish colonization, but the acquisition of horses and new weapons, taken from the Spanish, led to increased intertribal warfare. The Eastern Apache were driven from their traditional plains area when (after 1720) they suffered defeat at the hands of the advancing Comanche. Relations between the Apache and the white settlers gradually worsened with the passing of Spanish rule in Mexico. By the mid-19th cent., when the United States acquired the region from Mexico, Apache lands were in the path of the American westward movement. The futile but strong resistance that lasted until the beginning of the 20th cent. brought national fame to several of the Apache leaders—Cochise, Geronimo, Mangas Coloradas, and Victorio.
Today the Apache, numbering some 50,000 in 1990, live mainly on reservations totaling over 3 million acres in Arizona and New Mexico and retain many tribal customs. Cattle, timber, tourism, and the development of mineral resources provide income. In 1982 the Apaches won a major Supreme Court test of their right to tax resources extracted from their lands. In 1995, after much debate, the Mescalero Apache agreed to build a nuclear-waste storage site on their New Mexico reservation. The project is expected to produce about $250 million in income over the 40-year life of the site.
See G. C. Baldwin, The Warrior Apaches (1965); D. L. Thrapp, The Conquest of Apacheria (1967); K. Basso and M. Opler, ed., Apachean Culture and Ethnology (1971); J. U. Terrell, Apache Chronicle (1972).
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