The Apache in Spanish Times

THE first mention made of the Apaches is by Castañeda in his report, The Journey of Coronado. The Spaniards encountered them near Chichilticalli, the famous “red house,” believed by Bandelier to have been in the neighborhood of modern Fort Thomas, Arizona. Castañeda says this house must “have been destroyed by the people of the district, who are the most barbarous people that have yet been seen. They live by hunting.”

The next reference to the Apaches occurs in 1541 and is found in Castañeda Report. Coronado’s army, after spending some time at Pecos in northeastern New Mexico, set out to find Quivira. The Spaniards had marched ten days beyond the Pecos River in a northeasterly direction when they “came to some settlements of people who lived like Arabs and who are called Querechos in that region. . . . These people follow the cows, hunting them and tanning the skins to take to the settlements in the winter to sell, since they go there to pass the winter, each company going to those which are nearest. . . . That they were intelligent is evident from the fact that although they conversed by means of signs they made themselves understood so well there is no need of an interpreter. . . . These people are called Querechos. . . . They have better figures than the Pueblo Indians, are better warriors, and are more feared.” 1

Castañeda states further that these Indians dried the flesh of the buffalo, powdered it, and made a kind of soup of it. They ate raw flesh, also. They skinned the buffalo with remarkable quickness and skill with a piece of flint as large as a man’s finger, which they tied to a stick and used as a knife. They gave this flint instrument an edge with their own teeth. The Spaniards saw a village consisting of two hundred tents, made of buffalo skins, tanned white, so that they looked like army tents. The whole living of these people came from the buffaloes. From the skins they clothed themselves and made shoes; and they wove rope from the long shaggy hair. Their dogs were of good size and were trained to serve as beasts of burden. Whenever a band moved, pack saddles were placed on the dogs and fastened with leather thongs. From thirty to fifty pounds was placed on each dog; and the tent poles, covered with the tent which served as a net into which various camp articles could be thrown, were tied onto the pack saddle at the sides, so that they would drag behind. If the loads got disarranged, the dogs would howl, in this way calling someone to come and fix them right. In 1583, mention is made by Espejo’s party of the Querecho Indians, a mountain tribe hostile toward the tillers of the soil who lived at Acoma.

One more reference to the Apaches as first known to the white man must suffice. Oñate came in contact with them in 1569, during his travels in New Mexico; and it is in accounts of his expedition, published in 1599, that we have for the first time the word Apache (enemy) applied to this people. In one document, Obediencia San Juan Baptista, the spelling of the name is “Apaches”; while in another, Carta Escripta, the word appears as “Apiches”: “es infinita gente los Apiches de que tambien hemos visto algunos.”

In The Memorial of Fray Alonso Benavides, a missionary Franciscan priest in New Mexico, printed at Madrid in 1630, we get a rather comprehensive account of the Apaches as they existed at the time. This report was compiled for the King of Spain. Benavides refers to all the outlying native tribes in New Mexico as Apaches, and he classifies them as Gila Apaches, Navajo Apaches, and Apaches Vaqueros. Even then they were a terror to other native tribes, but as yet they had given the Spaniards little trouble. At one time Benavides speaks of them as “the huge Apache nation,” and in another place alludes to them as the largest tribe of the world. The fact is, Benavides greatly exaggerates the Indian population of New Mexico in his day. He does this through ignorance rather than with the desire to deceive; but of course it was impossible for him either to count or to make a just estimate of roving tribes, forever on the move.

The important fact is that the Pueblo villages on the Rio Grande were surrounded by the Apache nation. Says Benavides: “It is a people very fiery and bellicose, and very crafty in war. Even in the method of speaking, they show a difference from the rest of the nations. For these speak rather softly and deliberately, and the Apaches seem to break their heads with the words. They do not dwell in settlements, nor in houses, but in tents and huts, for as much as they move from mountain range to mountain range, seeking game, which is their sustenance. However, each hut of a principal or individual has its recognized land on which they plant corn and other seeds. They go dad in skins of deer, very well tanned and adorned in their fashion, and the women gallantly and honestly dad. They have no more idolatry than that of the Sun, and even that is not general to all of them, and they scoff much at other nations that have idols.

“They have as many wives as they can support; and upon her whom they take in adultery they irremissibly execute their law, which is to cut off her ears and nose; and they repudiate her. They are very obedient to their elders and superiors and hold them in great respect. They teach and chastise their children differently from other nations, who have no chastisement whatever. They pride themselves much on speaking the truth, and hold for dishonored him whom they catch in a lie. The tongue varies somewhat, as they are a great nation, though each can understand the other. They occupy a vast expanse of country, . . . It is a nation so bellicose, all of it, that it has been the crucible for the courage of the Spaniards.”

The Apaches, as well as the other tribes of New Mexico, grew more warlike during the next two decades, and killed several of the Spaniards. For this they were hung or sold into slavery. The Apaches of northern New Mexico became more and more dangerous as time went on. In a raid on a Zuñi town, about 1672, and other pueblos farther east, they killed several friars. There was open war between the Pueblo Indians and the Apaches at this time. Affairs continued to grow worse, and about 1676, the Apaches destroyed churches and towns and killed a good many Spaniards. The Spanish settlements were without suitable defense, each frontier station having only five men poorly armed and almost no horses.

In August, 1684, vigorous retaliatory action was taken–a combined force of Spanish and Indians making an attack on an Apache ranchería with the avowed purpose of killing all the men and taking captive the women and children. Near Zuñi, in the autumn of 1692, a herd of Spanish cattle was stampeded and driven off by the Apaches. They kept up a continual attack upon the forces of Vargas during his return march after the conquest of the Pueblos, and succeeded in wounding a soldier and capturing a number of horses. A friar, P. Casanes, was led into an ambush by the Apaches, in March, 1696, and was beaten to death with clubs and stones.

Toward the close of the 17th century, Sonora and Nueva Viscaya suffered greatly from Apache incursions. The commanding officer responsible for the protection of this region lived at San Juan. There was a garrison at Frontéras and one at Janos to the eastward, also; and they cooperated with each other in efforts to hold the enemy in check. In cases of great need reenforcements were drawn from distant points. The savages were continually raiding the exposed towns and missions. They would make a whirlwind dash upon a community, drive off the livestock, and swiftly retreat into their northern strongholds. The soldiers would pursue, often tardily, and rarely with signal success. Sometimes the stolen stock would be recovered, two or three warriors killed, and a few women and children captured; but never were they able to achieve a decisive victory.

In 1693 Don Domingo Jironza, a brave and capable officer, was placed in command of a “flying company” organized for the defense of Sonora against the savages. He immediately made two spirited attacks upon the enemy, and in 1694 conducted four energetic campaigns against the Apaches and other hostile tribes. A band of Apaches had stolen thousands of horses in northern Sonora. These marauders Jironza pursued, killing thirteen of them and capturing seven. Later in the same year, with the aid of Pima warriors, he gained a smashing victory over six hundred of the invaders, killing large numbers of them. In cooperation with Captain Fuente of the presidio at Janos, and with the aid of the Pimas, he invaded the territory of the Apaches, but with only meager results. Young ensign Juan Mateo Manje was associated with his uncle, Commander Jironza, in these Apache wars and was later assigned as military escort to the Jesuit padres on their dangerous journeys into new territory. In his Lux de Tierra Incognita, Manje makes frequent allusion to Apache raids into Sonora for the purpose of stealing horses and ravaging the Spanish settlements. He comments, too, on the great difficulty of winning any of the Apaches to the church; and consoles himself with the thought that, hard as it may be to instill the Faith into the hearts of these people, when once the impression is made it will be as if stamped on bronze.

A joint campaign of considerable importance was waged against the Apaches and their allies in September, 1689, by the three commanders, Jironza, Teran, and Fuente. Many Indians were slain. General Teran died during this campaign. The following March the persistent foe again swept down on a village and drove off two hundred horses. Pursuit was prompt; one of the horses was recovered and eighteen of the Indians were killed; but scarcely had the soldiers returned to their presidio before the enemy attacked and murdered a party from Arispe, consisting of Captain Cristóbal León, his son, two other Spaniards, and six Indian servants. Jironza followed the Indians with his “flying company” and killed three of them; while from Janos came Fuente to join in the punitive expedition. The punishment was severe; the Apaches were forced back to the Gila River, and thirty-two of their warriors were slain.

Repeated vicious attacks were made by the Apaches on the Pima villages of northern Sonora. They were after the corn and livestock that the Christian Indians had accumulated. In a raid on Cocospera in February, 1698, Father Contreras was wounded and barely escaped with his life, and two Pima women were killed. The savages descended three hundred strong, robbed the town, burned the Church and the house of the Father, and killed the women mentioned above. The native men were nearly all away at the time on a trading trip to the northward. The few Pima men that were left in the town followed the enemy, but were ambushed and slain.

A month later, flushed with their victory at Cocospera, the Apaches fell upon the Ranchería Santa Cruz (where Fairbank, Arizona, is now located). The chief of the village and two or three of his followers suffered immediate death. Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino, the brave and devout pioneer Jesuit missionary to the Upper Pimas, had erected an adobe house here, and had brought cattle and horses for the beginnings of a mission. The house was built with embrasures and was surrounded by a corral. After the death of the chief the surviving inhabitants were driven into this house, three more of the people having been killed as the fight progressed. The Apaches now climbed onto the roof and began burning the building. With an arquebus they had taken in battle they killed another man, slaughtered a number of horses and cattle, set fire to the corral and buildings, and took whatever they could lay hands on. Thinking they had won a complete victory, they began feasting on the animals they had killed and the maize and beans they had stolen.

But a terrible vengeance now descended upon them. Three miles down the San Pedro River at Quiburi, where also Kino had started a mission, dwelt Captain Coro, a warm friend of Father Kino’s and the most redoubtable fighter in the Pima nation. When word was brought to him of the destruction and slaughter of Santa Cruz, he at once went to the relief of his kinsmen. At the time there happened to be at his village a large number of Pimas from San Xavier, who had come over to trade. These visiting Pimas joined him in his expedition. Capotcari was the name of the Apache leader. He was a bold, capable wight and, withal, an insolent one. In the parley that took place after Coro arrived on the scene Capotcari made fun of Coro and his band, calling them women, and declaring that the Spaniards, with whom they were allied, were poltroons. He said he had killed many Pimas and Spaniards, and dared Coro, instead of fighting a general battle, to match ten Pimas against ten of his party and fight it out in this way. Nothing daunted, Coro accepted his proposal and picked ten brave Pimas to meet Capotcari’s ten. Capotcari, as daring as he was abusive and boastful, led his band in person. The Apaches were very effective in offensive warfare, with spears and bows and arrows, but they were not so good at warding off the missiles of their foes. The Pimas were good both in defensive and in offensive battle. Very soon nine of the Apaches were either killed or out of the fighting; so Capotcari was left to bear the brunt of the fight. He was so skillful that he could catch with his hand the arrows that were launched at him. But when the antagonist who had engaged him saw this, he rushed upon him, threw him to the ground, and pounded him to death with a stone.

It was a great victory, indeed, for the Pimas. Perhaps never before had the Apaches suffered a defeat so impressive. The routed enemy sought to escape by fleeing to the woods and mountains, but were mercilessly pursued and scores of them killed. Captain Coro sent word of the victory to Kino, and the Padre, with Manje and Escalante, Spanish military representatives, came to view the scene of battle and to count the dead. They actually counted fifty-four dead bodies; and it was known that many who had been wounded by poisoned arrows died on the retreat after the engagement ended. Kino states that three hundred of the enemy were killed in this fight and that an equal number presented themselves at the nearest presidios seeking peace.

We have little information concerning Apache depredations between 1700 and 1724. No doubt the settlements continued to suffer as in the past. But in the autumn of 1724 matters grew worse. The Apaches had become so aggressive that it looked as if white civilization in northern Mexico would be wiped out. To add to the woes of the exposed settlements, the Government at this time issued orders to the commanding military officer that he was to make no more aggressive campaigns against the Apaches, but was to conduct a purely defensive warfare, waiting until an attack was made and then pursuing and punishing the foe. To the settlers and missionaries this policy seemed very weak and dangerous, for it was well known that attacks by the Apaches were always aimed at undefended points. The Father Visitor, Miguel Almanza, strongly remonstrated against the new policy, but we do not know what the outcome was.Citations:

  1. Castañeda. The Journey of Coronado. Chicago, Laidlaw.[]

Apache, History,


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