Jicarilla Apaches: Governor and Rulers in the Foreground

Jicarilla Apache Reservation

Report of Special Agent George B. Meston on the Indians of the Jicarilla Apache reservation, Southern Ute agency, San Juan County, New Mexico, September 1890.

Name of Indian tribe occupying said reservation: 1 Jicarilla Apache.

The unallotted area of this reservation is 416,000 acres, or 650 square, miles. Partly surveyed. It was established, altered, or changed by executive order of February 11, 1887.

Indian population, 1890: 808.

Jicarilla Apache Reservation 2

The Jicarilla, Apache reservation is located in northern New Mexico, and joins the southern border line of the southeast corner of the Southern Ute reservation, Colorado, for a distance of 20 miles. It is rectangular in shape, being 34 miles from north to south and 22 miles from east to west. It contains 416,000 acres, and is strictly a timber and grazing country, being composed of low pine-covered hills and mesas, with small valleys lying between the narrow canyons. A few small lakes are scattered here and there. In some of these valleys there is sufficient moisture to permit farming to be carried on to a slight extent by the Indians. About 400 acres were cultivated by them last year, although by far the best agricultural lands on the reservation are occupied by the bona fide Mexican settlers, who possess nearly 4,009 acres. An estimate of the produce raised by the Apaches during the past season is as follows: oats and barley, 1,200 bushels; wheat, 400; potatoes, 500; onions, turnips, beans, and other vegetables, 100 bushels; 1,000 pumpkins, and about 400 tons of hay. All of the above products were raised entirely without irrigation. There are no lands here cultivated by the government.


On the whole reservation there are only 3,000 acres of what may be termed arable land. Of this area, only one-third, or about 1,000 acres, can be irrigated by means of ditches; the water to be obtained from the Navajo River, the only available stream for this purpose. To irrigate the remaining 2,000 acres it would be necessary to construct reservoirs.

Allotment In Severalty

The lands on this reservation are now being allotted in severalty to the Apaches This plan appears to be received very favorably by the Indians.


There are about 60,000 acres of excellent pine timber. A sawmill is run by the Indians. About 46,000 feet of lumber were sawed last year, most of which was issued to the Apaches to be used for various purposes, principally, for building.

When passing through the reservation one will notice that many of the pine trees have been stripped of their bark. It is done by the Indians, who use the inner bark of the pine for various purposes. It is valued by them principally as a food, being pounded between two stones, and by that means ground into meal.

Stock Raising

Stock raising is the principal occupation of the Apaches. This is an excellent stock country the south and southwest portions of the reservation comprising good summer and winter ranges. During January and February there is considerable snow and steady cold weather in the northern section, and the stock is obliged to care for itself and subsist temporarily on sagebrush.

Providing a few sheds and some winter feed would require but little expense, as there is always good open range, except during the months of January and February. The following is a list of the stock owned by the Jicarilla Apaches: 3,000 horses, valued at $50,000; 800 sheep, at $1,600, and 12 mules, at $500. These Indians have adopted a brand of their own, the star and crescent. This brand is not only found on their horses and other stock, but may be seen throughout the reservation eat on the trees and rocks and painted on their tents.


There are vast fields of coal, on the reservation. Jet is also found in large quantities, and is worth about 50 cents a ton.

Agency Buildings

With the exception of the sawmill, the buildings at the subagency (Dulcet New Mexico), are in a miserable condition. They are few in number, very inconvenient, and not even weatherproof. The employees families live off the reservation.

The government stock at this agency consists of 4 horses, valued at $600; 8 oxen, at $400, and 2 mules, at $200. There are but few implements. The value of all the furniture is about $150.


The Jicarilla Apaches are divided into 3 bands, the Llaneros (plains), Olleros (pottery makers), and Jicarillas (basket makers), although properly speaking they are all Jicarillas and one band, all being in friendly relation. Each band has a separate chief and subchief, but their powers are merely nominal. The head chief, or governor, as he is called, of all the Jicarilla Apaches is Augustin Velarde. His office was obtained by election. He is of slight build; wears complete citizens’ dress, and on his left breast the Garfield medal, of which he is justly proud. Velarde is a very intelligent and progressive Indian.


The total population of the Jicarilla Apaches, as enumerated by the Indian agent, is 808, of whom 389 are males and 419 females. The Apaches appear to be slightly on the increase.


Stock raising is the principal occupation, although a large number devote their time to agriculture. In the manufacture of baskets the Jicarillas excel all other Indians. It is the principal source of income to many, and every year a large amount is realized in this industry.


The Apaches are comparatively small in stature, quite sinewy, but not stout. In general appearance they are in marked contrast with their neighbors, the Southern Utes, who are, as a rule, stouter and. better dressed. Both tribes have been so intimidated that they will almost run away from their shadows.


The Apaches possess few ornaments, fancy blankets, or beaded articles, though with but few exceptions, small bracelets made of leather or beads are worn as charms or amulets. Some of these Indians are actually ragged, having traded or sold the government blankets furnished them. The customary Indian practice of always carrying a blanket, both in winter and summer, is still in vogue. Many wear some portions of citizens’ dress, such as a vest, shirt, or hat, and about 25 wear citizens’ dress entirely, although very few of the latter possess either a coat or overcoat. They prefer to carry a blanket. With but few exceptions, the Apaches wear their coarse black hair braided into two parts, each long braid being allowed to hang over the shoulder. The squaws thick massive, tresses hang down over both sides of their faces, often covering their eyes. On reaching the shoulders the hair is cut. Many of the men wear a cartridge belt and revolver, though the latter is seldom used, and very often it is not loaded or is broken in some way. They seem to be carried for ornament, except in the case of the Indian police.


The general health of the Jicarilla Apaches is good. They gorge themselves immediately after rations are issued to them, and then nearly starve themselves until next ration day. They use paint excessively, and suffer the consequences, sore eyes being a common complaint. In the springtime many faces are covered with blotches and sores. This disease yields very readily to the treatment of the agency physician. Its cause is attributed by him principally to Malnutrition and partly to paint. Of syphilis only two marked cases have been discovered during the past 4 years. Heart disease and consumption are prevalent to a slight extent among them. There are a number of cases of chronic rheumatism and bronchitis.

The Apache is an Indian of much better principles than the average.

Medicine Men

The Jicarilla Apaches employ the medicine men for all cases of sickness and generally give, a horse or two as compensation for the medical services.


They drink whisky, often in large quantities, and get drunk. The reservation is surrounded by as purely tough a class of citizens as one can imagine. The majority are Mexicans, and the Apaches obtain much of their whisky from them; but most of it they manufacture themselves. It is called “koolpich” (Apache), or “tiswin” (Spanish). It is made from corn or wheat, and is drunk in large quantities. Its intoxicating effect is about the same as whisky. It is seldom that a tiswin camp can not be found on some portion of the reservation. The Indians will leave their horses outside of the kohgwa (Apache for camp) and remain congregated sometimes for several days, making and drinking tiswin. The process of manufacture is quite simple. The wheat, or whatever grain maybe used, is first thoroughly soaked. When sprouted it is spread on large blankets outside of the camp in the sun and dried; then it is ground between two stones; after this they boil it in water, and after cooling and settling it is drunk.


There is considerable gambling among the Apaches, but not to so great an extent as among the Southern Utes. The stakes are also smaller, principally because they are not so wealthy as their neighbors. They all understand the value of cards. The principal card games played are monte and can can; but their most popular gambling game is quoits; only instead of using rings they threw pointed sticks at a mark on the ground.


They all use tobacco in some forth, though it is an exception to find an Apache who will chew. Small cigarettes of their own manufacture are principally smoked, and the squaws appear to realize as much enjoyment from a good smoke as a man.

Slaughter Pen

The slaughter of the cattle is conducted in an open corral. The entrails are given to the Indian butchers for their services. Ration day here is on Saturday, and the cattle are slaughtered in the morning and the meat is issued directly from the slaughter pen instead of from the ration house, The Apaches consider pork unfit to be used as food. They also refuse to eat fowl, chickens not being excepted. The myriads of ducks on the various lakes on the reservation are seldom disturbed by the Indians.


The majority of the Indian families live in tents the year round, though a large number have built houses of logs, principally by their own efforts. There are 8 of these on the reservation owned by the Indians. Many of these houses are deserted in the summer time and tents used in preference. In appearance these tents are similar to those used by the Southern Utes. The Apache generally locates his farm near his home. Instead of cultivating a large tract of land he will carefully select not more than 1 or 2 acres in the center of a large field and fence it in. These very small graveyard looking patches are scattered all over the reservation.


No marriage ceremonies were observed among the Jicarillas. If the Apache’s mother-in-law should happen to enter his room, he immediately slips away by the back door. They never speak to each other. Many of the Jicarilla Apaches live in polygamy, especially the chiefs and wealthier men of the tribe. Many have 2 or 3 wives, and a few possess 5. It is often the practice to discard a squaw after living with her for several years and immediately obtain another, probably one who was discarded by some other man. This habit of swapping is quite common.


There is no school on the reservation, though if one were provided here the Apaches say they would fill it. Last year 15 of the children were sent to the Ramona school at Santa Fe. The influence which is spread through the whole tribe by the children who have attended school is very beneficial.

Apache is the original and principal language of the Jicarillas, although most of the men can speak very intelligible Spanish. About 50 can speak ordinary English.


Until 2 years ago there were no missionaries on the reservation. There are now 2, both members of the Women’s Home Missionary Society. The Apaches always treat their endeavors very respectfully. They voluntarily remove their hats when any services are in progress and pay close attention to the remarks or prayers of the missionaries.


If the Apaches have a religious belief or creed of any kind it is kept strictly to themselves, except that they believe in a messiah to come, although the whole idea is a very indefinite one. They possess a debased conception of a Christ. They are all firm believers in evil spirits and in one Great Spirit, but they think that the influence and power of the latter is only enforced on commission of great crimes. Many years ago some Apaches, by continued wrongs, offended the Great Spirit, and punishment was inflicted by depriving them of their hunting grounds and wealth. Accumulation of property in this world is prohibited by the Great Spirit, but at the end, in the next world, they will all be saved. This is the belief of many of these Indians.

They regard their names as sacred. When born the Indian babe is given a name, generally one that is connected with some special event or occurrence. happening at the time of its birth. This name is only known by the parents and the child. When the child is married the name is told to the husband or wife. The true names of the Indians are not known by the agent. They all give him some fictitious names, to which they respond. Their idea is that if the name is not known there can not be any gossip about them, and if cursed of course their true name can not be uttered if it is not known, and consequently the curse does not injure them in any way.


A remarkable custom of the Jicarilla Apaches is in regard to the secret disposition of their dead. This is also the case in some degree with the Southern Utes. Absolutely no trace of a grave of one of these Indians has ever been found by a white man. Occasionally a farmer when plowing will uncover some bones, supposed to be Apache Indian remains; but how and when the bodies were buried (if they were buried) no one knows. It is known, however, that as soon as death ensues the body is carried away, presumably by one of the near relations, who disposes of it in some way, whether by cremation or burial or by what means is unknown. By placing the body incharge of one Indian the secret of its disposition is less liable to be discovered. It is doubtful whether any other Apache knows of the exact burial place. Immediately upon the occurrence of a death the remainder of the household always destroy all the personal belongings of the deceased and remove to some other part of the reservation, A number of log huts deserted from this cause may be seen here and there. The relatives always cut their hair and cease painting their faces for a month. The deceased appears to be absolutely forgotten.

Traditions And Dances

While the Apaches cling with a morbid tenacity to many of their original habits and superstitions, their faith in many of their peculiar customs is decreasing. They continue their dances and accompanying ceremonies; but they are always conducted by themselves in the interior of the reservation and not near the agency headquarters. Their feast dance is performed in the spring, and often continues for 4 consecutive days, during which time there is a continuous feast. It appears to be a general thanksgiving. The Jicarillas are more diligent and industrious than the average Indian, consequently their dances are fewer in number and are not so important or elaborate as those of many tribes.

Witchcraft retains its foothold among them, and although on general principles it is a source of evil, still no special harm can be directly attributed to it, except in one instance which occurred summer before last. A dance was in progress, when 2 squaws became involved in a quarrel. Both practiced sorcery. One of the witches immediately called clown the vengeance of evil spirit upon the other, who, by a strange coincidence, was shortly afterward struck by lightning. This was the cause of considerable hard feeling between the two factions which were immediately formed, and resulted in the killing of the second witch and the shooting of her child. The latter recovered, however, and was adopted by a Mexican family. This ended the quarrel.


The Jicarillas are very industrious, hard working Indians, and are very ambitious.

The location of the reservation is very unfortunate. The town nearest the agency is Amargo, New Mexico. It is a hamlet containing less than 100 people, a sawmill, 2 general stores, and 5 saloons, but not a schoolhouse nor a church. By the first citizens of Amargo the Apache is well liked, as he causes very little trouble, especially when compared with the Mexicans.

There are about 25 bona fide settlers on the reservation.


  1. The statements giving tribes, areas, and laws for agencies are from the Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1890, pages 434-445. The population is the result of the census.[]
  2. In 1891 the Jicarilla Apache reservation was made a part of the Pueblo agency, at Santa Fe, New Mexico.[]

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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