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The Apacheans

Big turkeysFrom the Mackenzie Basin, home of Lake Athabasca, came the Apacheans. Leaving their homeland sometime prior to 1400, these people traveled a crescent shaped trail of thousands of miles. They first headed southeast, moved through present-day western Canada, crossed the northern Rockies and then followed the eastern edge of the American Rocky Mountains southward. Some of these peoples broke away and moved into the mid-western American plains while the others continued south. Arriving near present-day Texas and New Mexico, the Kiowa moved eastward while the Western Apache began moving westward and southward. They were followed shortly (in historical time), by the Navajo. This appears to have taken place between 1500 and 1600. Other groups like the Lipan, the Jicaarilla, the Chiricahua, and the Mescalero peeled off into their own territories. These were small bands of migratory people, each finding their own land.

These people shared a common language connection, though they adapted to their own particular environment in different ways. The Navajo and Western Apache moved through and settled in areas near the Puebloans, and their resultant acculturation of some of the Puebloan ways is a clear indication of this. The assumption of matrilineal descent, the use of agriculture, and the semi-sedentary lifestyle they began living are all examples of the influence of Puebloans that the Navajo and Western Apache shared. The eastern Apaches had begun to take on the traits of the Plains Indians, and a split developed.

The Navajo and Western Apache shared other common traits. The use of sand paintings in curing, the menarche rituals, and horror of the dead were all parts of Navajo and Apache culture. The White Mountain Apache had clans like the Navajo. With the arrival of the Spanish, animals were introduced to the Natives. The Navajo and the Apache began to slowly part ways.

The Navajo had begun to rely on agriculture more than the nomadic Apache. The Apache were casual farmers and would leave their crops to grow on their own as they continued their migrations, hunting and gathering. The Navajo adopted a more sedentary lifestyle and with the introduction of domesticated animals their lives became even more diverse than the Apache. They became herders. They changed their settlement patterns as they moved their animals from summer to winter pastures, establishing summer and winter residences. They continued to practice hunting and gathering, intensive farming and raiding to supplement their herding.

Raiding was a traditional Navajo and Apache way of life. It appears to have been taking place before the horse was introduced. The Apache, Navajo, Zuni, and Ute all raided each other at one time or another, but at other times were at peace. They all raided the Spanish and Mexicans. As the Navajo began to rely more and more on herding, they began to raid with more frequency and intensity. The Spanish attempted to drive a wedge between the Apache and the Navajo, and to some extent this was successful, but the two eventually allied again to kick the Spanish out.

Kit Carson arrived to battle the Navajo in 1863. They were a defeated people within months, while the neighboring Western Apache were left alone. A division was made. The Western Apache remained free, while the Navajo were treated as a herd of animals, driven on a 300-mile journey into captivity. They were forced to live with their traditional enemy, the Mescalero, who had been greatly influenced by the Plains Indians. As they began to starve, the Navajo returned to raiding to survive. The stole the crops of the Mescalero. The Mescalero retaliated. The Kiowa attacked. The wedge was driven in.

The Navajo were eventually allowed to return to their homeland; they were a broken people. The Apache were still roaming their lands, still raiding and fighting as they always had, even though it would not be for long. The Navajo began to rely on the U.S. government for rations and animals. Their economy became tied to the white man. The Apache were proud resistors; the Navajo were subjugated and defeated.

Jealousy on the part of one people, and disgust on the part of another people may have been the forces that drove these peoples apart. While the Apache have gone through a period of abject poverty and disease, they have rebounded and to this day do not have the severe economic hardships of the Navajo. Bitterness and resentment die hard. They can last for decades.

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