Chiricahua Apache Tribe

Chiricahua Indians, Chiricahua Apache Indians (Apache: `great mountain’). An important division of the Apache Indians, so called from their former mountain home in southeast Arizona. Their own name is Aiaha. The Chiricahua were the most warlike of the Arizona Indians, their raids extending into New Mexico, south Arizona, and north Sonora, among their most noted leaders being Cochise, Victorio, Loco, Chato, Nahche, Bonito and Geronimo. Physically they do not differ materially from the other Apache. The men are well built, muscular, with well-developed chests, sound and regular teeth, and abundant hair. The women are even more vigorous and strongly built, with broad shoulders and hips and a tendency to corpulency in old age. They habitually wear a pleasant open expression of countenance, exhibiting uniform good nature, save when in anger their face takes on a savage cast.

Chiricahua Apache Culture

White thought their manner of life, general physique, and mental disposition seemed conducive to long life. Their characteristic long-legged moccasins of deerskin have a stout sole turning up at the toes, and the legs of the moccasins, long enough to reach the thigh, are folded back below the knee, forming a pocket in which are carried paints and a knife. The women wore short skirts of buckskin, and the men used to display surplus skins folded about the waist. Their arrows were made of reed tipped with obsidian or iron, the shaft winged with three strips of feathers. They used in battle a long spear and a slung-shot made by inserting a stone into the green hide of a cow’s tail, leaving a portion of the hair attached. They possessed no knowledge of weaving blankets. White 1 supposed that they had immigrated into Arizona from New Mexico three or four generations back. Their camps were located on the highlands in winter that they might catch the warm rays of the sun, and in summer near the water among stunted trees that sheltered them from its scorching glare. Their bands or clans were named from the nature of the ground about their chosen territory. Both men and women were fond of wearing necklaces and ear pendants of beads. The hair was worn long and flowing, with a turban, to which was attached a flap hanging down behind; they plucked out the hairs of the beard with tweezers of tin, and wore suspended from their necks a small round mirror which they used in painting their faces with stripes of brilliant colors. Strings of pieces of shell were highly prized. Their customary dwelling was a rude brush hut, circular or oval, with the earth scooped out to enlarge its capacity.

In winter they huddled together for warmth and, if the hut was large, built a fire in the center. When they changed camp they burned their huts, which were always built close together. They subsisted on berries, nuts, and the fruit of various trees, mesquite beans, and acorns, of which they were particularly fond, and they ground the seeds of different grasses on a large flat stone and made a paste with water, drying it afterward in the sun. They relished the fruit of cacti and of the yucca, and made mescal from the root of the agave. Fish they would not eat, nor pork, but an unborn calf and the entrails of animals they regarded as delicacies, and horse and mule flesh was considered the best meat. Though selfish in most things, they were hospitable with food, which was free to anyone who was hungry. They were scrupulous in keeping accounts and paying debts like many other Indians they would never speak their own names nor on any account speak of a dead member of the tribe.

They tilled the ground a little with wooden implements, obtaining corn and melon seeds from the Mexicans. In their clans all were equal. Bands, according to White, were formed of clans, and chiefs were chosen for their ability and courage, although there is evidence that chiefship was sometimes hereditary, as in the case of Cochise, son and successor of Nahche. Chiefs and old men were usually deferred to in council.

They used the brain of the deer in dressing buckskin. It is said that they charged their arrows with a quick deadly poison, obtained by irritating a rattlesnake with a forked stick, causing it to bite into a deer’s liver, which, when saturated with the venom, was allowed to putrefy. They stalked the deer and the antelope by covering their heads with the skull of the animal and imitating with their crouching body the movements of one grazing; and it was their custom to approach an enemy’s camp at night in a similar manner, covering their heads with brush.

They signaled war or peace by a great blaze or smoke made by burning cedar boughs or the inflammable spines on the giant cactus. Of their social organization very little is definitely known, and the statements of the two chief authorities are widely at variance. According to White, the children belong to the gens of the father, while Bourke asserts that the true clan system prevails. They married usually outside of the gens, according to White, and never relatives nearer than a second cousin. A young warrior seeking a wife world first bargain with her parents and then take a horse to her dwelling. If she viewed his suit with favor she would feed and water the animal, and, seeing that, he would come and fetch his bride, and after going on a hunt for the honeymoon they would return to his people. When he took two horses to the camp of the bride and killed one of them it signified that her parents had given her over to him without regard to her consent. Youth was the quality most desired in a bride. After she became a mother the husband might take a second wife, and some had as many as five, two or more of them often being sisters. Married women were usually faithful and terribly jealous, so that single girls did not care to incur their rage. A woman in confinement went off to a but by herself, attended by her women relatives. Children received their earliest names from something particularly noticeable at the time of their birth.

As among the Navaho, a man never spoke to his mother-in-law, and treated his wife’s father with distant respect; and his brothers were never familiar with his wife nor lie with her sisters and brothers. Faithless wives were punished by whipping and cutting off a portion of the nose, after which they were cast off. Little girls were often purchased or adopted by men who kept them until they were old enough for them to marry. Often girls were married when only 10 or 11 years of age. Children of both sexes had perfect freedom, were not required to obey, and never were punished. The men engaged in pastimes every day, and boys in mock combats, hurling stones at each other with slings. Young wives and maidens did only light work, the heavy tasks being performed by the older women. People met and parted without any form of salute. Kissing was unknown.

Except mineral vermilion, the colors with which they painted their faces and dyed grasses for baskets were of vegetal origin-yellow from beech and willow hark, red from the cactus. They would not kill the golden eagle, but would pluck its feathers, which they prized, and for the hawk and the bear they had a superstitious regard in a lesser degree. They made tizwm, an intoxicating drink, from corn, burying it until it sprouted, grinding it, and then allowing the mash diluted with water to ferment.

The women carried heavy burdens on their backs, held by a strap passed over the forehead. Their basket work was impervious to water and ornamented with designs similar to those of the Pima, except that human figures frequently entered into the decorative motive. Baskets 2l ft. in length and 18 in. wide at the month were used in collecting food, which was frequently brought from a great distance.

When one of the tribe died, men carried the corpse, wrapped in the blankets of the deceased, with other trifling personal effects, to an obscure place in low ground and there buried it at once, piling stones over the grave to protect it from coyotes or other prowling beasts. No women were allowed to follow, and no Apache ever revisited the spot. Female relatives kept up their lamentations for a month, uttering low wails at sunset. The hut in which a person died was always burned and often the camp was removed. Widows used to cut off their hair and paint their faces black for a year, during which time the mourner lived in the family of the husband’s brother, whose wife she became at the expiry of the mourning.

They had a number of dances, notably the “devil dance,” with clowns, masks, headdresses, etc., in which the participants jumped over fire, and a spirited war dance, with weapons and shooting in time to a song.

When anybody fell sick several fires were built in the camp, and while the rest lay around on the ground with solemn visages, the young men, their faces covered with paint, seized firebrands and ran around and through the fires and about the lodge of the sick person, whooping continually and flourishing the brands to drive away the evil spirit. They had a custom, when a girl arrived at puberty, of having the other young girls lightly tread on her back as she lay face downward, the ceremony being followed by a dance.

Chiricahua Apache History

In 1872 the Chiricahua were visited by a special commissioner, who concluded an agreement with Cochise, their chief, to cease hostilities and to use his influence with the other Apache to this end. By the autumn of this year more than 1,000 of the tribe were settled on the newly established Chiricahua Reservation, southeast Arizona. Cochise died in 1874, and was succeeded as chief by his son Taza, who remained friendly to the Government; but the killing of some settlers who had sold whiskey to the Indians caused an inter-tribal broil, which, in connection with the proximity of the Chiricahua to the international boundary, resulted in the abolishment of the reservation against their will. Camp Apache agency was established in 1872, and in the year following 1,675 Indians were placed there under; but in 1875 this agency was discontinued and the Indians, much to their discontent, were transferred to San Carlos, where their enemies, the Yavapai, had also been removed.

Consult: For further information regarding the dealings of the Chiricahua with the Government, see Apache Tribe.

The members of Geronimo’s hand, which was captured in 1886 and sent by the War Department in turn to Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma, are now (1905) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where they number 298. The remaining Chiricahua are included among the Apache under Ft Apache and San Carlos agencies, Arizona. The Pinaleño are that part of the Chiricahua formerly residing in the Pinal Mountains.Citations:

  1. White, MS., B. A. E.[]

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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