For other uses, see Chiricahua (disambiguation).

Location of Apache tribes in the late 18th century (Ch – Chiricahua, WA – Western Apache, M – Mescalero, J – Jicarilla, L – Lipan, Pl – Plains Apache
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 United States,
( Oklahoma,  New Mexico)
Fort Sill 712
New Mexico 149
English, Chiricahua Apache language
Christianity, Native American Church, traditional tribal religion
Related ethnic groups
Kiowa-Apache, Jicarilla Apache, Lipan Apache, Mescalero Apache, Western Apache, Navajo

Chiricahua (/ˌɪrˈkɑːwə/ US dict: chĭr′·ĭ·kâ′·wə) are a band of Apache Native Americans, based in the Southern Plains and Southwest United States. Culturally related to other Apache peoples, Chiricahua historically shared a common area, language, customs, and intertwined family relations. At the time of European contact, they had a territory of 15 million acres (61,000 km2) in Southwestern New Mexico and Southeastern Arizona in the United States and in Northern Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico.

Today Chiricahua are enrolled in two federally recognized tribes in the United States: the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, located near Apache, Oklahoma with a reservation in Los Lunas, New Mexico,[2] and the Mescalero Apache Tribe of the Mescalero Reservation near Ruidoso, New Mexico. The San Carlos Apache Tribe, Arizona does have Chiricahua Apache people there also.


The Chiricahua Apache were initially given their name by the Spanish. They are also known as the Chiricagui, Apaches de Chiricahui, Chiricahues, Chilicague, Chilecagez, and Chiricagua. The White Mountain Apache, including the Cibecue and Bylas groups of the Western Apache, called them Ha'i’ą́há and the San Carlos Apache called them Hák'ą́yé means ″'Eastern Sunrise, i.e. People in the East". Navajo call the Chiricahua Chíshí.

Their autonym for themselves is depending on the dialect simply Nde, Ne, Néndé, Héndé or Hen-de - ″The People, Men″, they never called themselves ″Apaches″; outsiders - Americans, Mexicans or other Indians - they called simply ⁿdáa or Indah / N'daa with two meaning: ″strange people, non-Apache people″ or ″Enemy″, but this can although be the word for ″eye″. Sometimes it is noted that all Apaches called the Americans and European settlers (with exception of the Mexicans) as Pindah-Lickoyee / Pinda-lick-o-yi ("White Eyes"), but this seems an appellation from Mescalero and Lipan Apache bands, the Chiricahua bands called the whites daadatlijende (″Blue/green eye people″) or 'Indaaɫigáí / Indaaɫigánde (″white skinned or pale colored people″ or literally ″strange, not Apache people, which are white skinned″). £igá' means "it is white" or it can be translated as "it is pale colored", the í on the end usually translates as "the one that is", but in the context of human beings, can mean "the group who are".

Please see the Bands section below for more names of bands and sub-bands of the Chihuahua (Central Apache).

Culture and organization

Several loosely affiliated bands of Apache came improperly to be usually known as the Chiricahuas. These included the Chokonen (recte: Tsokanende), the Chihenne (recte: Tchihende), the Nednai (Nednhi) and Bedonkohe (recte, both of them together: Ndendahe). Today, all are commonly referred to as Chiricahua, but they were not historically a single band nor the same Apache division, being more correctly identified, all together, as "Central Apaches".

Many other bands and groups of Apachean language-speakers ranged over eastern Arizona and the American Southwest. The bands that are grouped under the Chiricahua term today had much history together: they intermarried and lived alongside each other, and they also occasionally fought with each other. They formed short-term as well as longer alliances that have caused scholars to classify them as one people.[3]

The Apachean groups and the Navajo peoples were part of the Athabaskan migration into the North American continent from Asia, across the Bering Strait from Siberia. As the people moved south and east into North America, groups splintered off and became differentiated by language and culture over time. Some anthropologists believe that the Apache and the Navajo were pushed south and west into what is now New Mexico and Arizona by pressure from other Great Plains Indians, such as the Comanche and Kiowa. Among the last of such splits were those that resulted in the formation of the different Apachean bands whom the later Europeans encountered: the southwestern Apache groups and the Navajo. Although both speaking forms of Southern Athabaskan, the Navajo and Apache have become culturally distinct.


Further information: Apache Wars
Ba-keitz-ogie (Yellow Coyote), U.S. Army Scout

The Tsokanende (Chiricahua) Apache division was once led, from the beginning of the 18th century, by chiefs such as Pisago Cabezon, Relles, Posito Moraga, Yrigollen, Tapilà, Teboca, Vivora, Miguel Narbona, Esquinaline, and finally Cochise (whose name was derived from the Apache word Cheis, meaning "having the quality of oak") and, after his death, his sons Tahzay and, later, Naiche, under the guardianship of Cochise's war chief and brother-in-law Nahilzay, and the independent chiefs Chihuahua, Ulzana, Skinya and Pionsenay; Tchihende (Mimbreño) people was led, during the same period, by chiefs as Juan Josè Compa, Fuerte a.k.a. Soldado Fiero, Mangas Coloradas, Cuchillo Negro, Delgadito, Ponce, Nana, Victorio, Loco, Mangus; Ndendahe Apache people, in the meanwhile, was led by Mahko and, after him, Mano Mocha, Coleto Amarillo, Luis, Laceres, Felipe, Natiza, and finally Juh and Goyaałé (known to the Americans as Geronimo). After Victorio's death, Nana, Geronimo, Mangus (youngest Mangas Coloradas' son) and youngest Cochise's son Naiche were the last leaders of the Central Apaches, and their mixed Apache group was the last to continue to resist U.S. government control of the American Southwest.[4]

European-Apache relations

From the beginning of EuropeanAmerican/Apache relations, there was conflict between them, as they competed for land and other resources, and had very different cultures. Their encounters were preceded by more than 100 years of Spanish colonial and Mexican incursions and settlement on the Apache lands.[5] The United States settlers were newcomers to the competition for land and resources in the Southwest, but they inherited its complex history, and brought their own attitudes with them about American Indians and how to use the land. By the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, the US took on the responsibility to prevent and punish cross-border incursions by Apache who were raiding in Mexico.[6]

The Apache viewed the United States colonists with ambivalence, and in some cases enlisted them as allies in the early years against the Mexicans. In 1852, the US and some of the Chiricahua signed a treaty, but it had little lasting effect.[7] During the 1850s, American miners and settlers began moving into Chiricahua territory, beginning encroachment that had been renewed in the migration to the Southwest of the previous two decades.

This forced the Apachean people to change their lives as nomads, free on the land. The US Army defeated them and forced them into the confinement of reservation life, on lands ill-suited for subsistence farming, which the US proffered as the model of civilization. Today, the Chiricahua are preserving their culture as much as possible, while forging new relationships with the peoples around them. The Chiricahua are a living and vibrant culture,[8] a part of the greater American whole and yet distinct based on their history and culture.


Although they had lived peaceably with most Americans in the New Mexico Territory up to about 1860,[9] the Chiricahua became increasingly hostile to American encroachment in the Southwest after a number of provocations had occurred between them.

In 1835, Mexico had placed a bounty on Apache scalps which further inflamed the situation. In 1837 Warm Springs Mimbreños' head chief and famed raider, Soldado Fiero a.k.a. Fuerte was killed by Mexican soldiers of the garrison at Janos (only two days' travel from Santa Rita del Cobre), and his son Cuchillo Negro succeeded him as head chief. In the same 1837, the American John (a.k.a. James) Johnson invited the Coppermine Mimbreños in the Pinos Altos area to trade with his party (near the mines at Santa Rita del Cobre, New Mexico and, when they gathered around a blanket on which pinole (a ground corn flour) had been placed for them, Johnson and his men opened fire on the Chihenne with rifles and a concealed cannon loaded with scrap iron, glass, and a length of chain. They killed about 20 Apache, including the chief Juan José Compá.[10] Mangas Coloradas is said to have witnessed this attack, which inflamed his and other Apache warriors' desires for vengeance for many years; he led the survivors to safety and subsequently, together with Cuchillo Negro, took Mimbreño revenge. The historian Rex W. Strickland argued that the Apache had come to the meeting with their own intentions of attacking Johnson's party, but were taken by surprise.[11] In 1839 scalp-hunter James Kirker was employed by Robert McKnight to re-open the road to Santa Rita del Cobre.

After the conclusion of the US/Mexican War (1848) and the Gadsden Purchase (1853), Americans began to enter the territory in greater numbers. This increased the opportunities for incidents and misunderstandings. Anyway, the Apaches, including Mangas Coloradas and Cuchillo Negro, were not at first hostile to the Americans, considering them enemies of their own Mexican enemies.

Cuchillo Negro, with Ponce, Delgadito, Victorio and other Mimbreño chiefs, signed a treaty at Fort Webster in April 1853, but, during the spring of 1857 the U.S. Army set out on a campaign, led by Col. Benjamin L.E. deBonneville, Col. Dixon S. Miles (3° Cavalry from Fort Thorn) and Col. William W. Loring (commanding a Mounted Rifles Regiment from Albuquerque), against Mogollon and Coyotero Apaches: Loring's Pueblo Indian scouts found out and attacked an Apache rancheria in the Canyon de Los Muertos Carneros (May 25, 1857), where Cuchillo Negro and some Mimbreño Apache were resting after a raid against the Navahos. Some Apaches, including Cuchillo Negro himself, were killed.

In December 1860, after several bad incidents provoked by the miners led by James H. Tevis in the Pinos Altos area, Mangas Coloradas went to Pinos Altos, New Mexico to try to convince the miners to move away from the area he loved and to go to the Sierra Madre and seek gold there, but they tied him to a tree and whipped him badly.[12] His Mimbreño and Ndendahe followers and related Chiricahua bands were incensed by the treatment of their respected chief. Mangas had been just as great a chief in his prime (during the 1830s and 1840s), along with Cuchillo Negro, as Cochise was then becoming.[13]

In 1861, the US Army seized and killed some of Cochise's relatives near Apache Pass, in what became known as the Bascom Affair. Remembering how Cochise had escaped, the Chiricahua called the incident "cut the tent."[14] In 1863, Gen. James H. Carleton set out leading a new campaign against the Mescalero Apache, and Capt. Edmund Shirland (10° California Cavalry) invited Mangas Coloradas for a "parley" but, after he entered the U.S. camp to negotiate a peace, the great Mimbreño chief was arrested and convicted in Fort McLane, where, probably after Gen. Joseph R. West's orders, Mangas Coloradas was killed by American soldiers (Jan. 18, 1863). His body was mutilated by the soldiers, and his people were enraged by his murder. The Chiricahuas began to consider the Americans as "enemies we go against them." From that time, they waged almost constant war against US settlers and the Army for the next 23 years. Cochise, his brother-in-law Nahilzay (war chief of Cochise's people), Chihuahua, Skinya, Pionsenay, Ulzana and other warring chiefs became a nightmare to settlers and military garrisons and patrols. In the meantime, the great Victorio, Delgadito (soon killed in 1864), Nana, Loco, young Mangus (last son of Mangas Coloradas) and other minor chiefs led on the warpath the Mimbreños, Chiricahuas' cousins and allies, and Juh led the Ndendahe (Nednhi and Bedonkohe together).

In 1872, General Oliver O. Howard, with the help of Thomas Jeffords, succeeded in negotiating a peace with Cochise. The US established a Chiricahua Apache Reservation with Jeffords as US Agent, near Fort Bowie, Arizona Territory. It remained open for about 4 years, during which the chief Cochise died (from natural causes).[15] In 1877, about three years after Cochise's death, the US moved the Chiricahua and some other Apache bands to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, still in Arizona. The mountain people hated the desert environment of San Carlos, and some frequently began to leave the reservation and sometimes raid neighboring settlers. They surrendered to General Nelson Miles in 1886. The best-known warrior leader of the renegades, although he was not considered a 'chief', was the forceful and influential Geronimo. He and Naiche (the son of Cochise and hereditary leader after Tahzay's death) together led many of the resisters during those last few years of freedom.

They made a stronghold in the Chiricahua Mountains, part of which is now inside Chiricahua National Monument, and across the intervening Willcox Playa to the northeast, in the Dragoon Mountains (all in southeastern Arizona). In late frontier times, the Chiricahua ranged from San Carlos and the White Mountains of Arizona, to the adjacent mountains of southwestern New Mexico around what is now Silver City, and down into the mountain sanctuaries of the Sierra Madre (of northern Mexico). There they often joined with their Nednai Apache kin.

General George Crook, then General Miles' troops, aided by Apache scouts from other groups, pursued the exiles until they gave up. Mexico and the United States had negotiated an agreement allowing their troops in pursuit of the Apache to continue into each other's territories.[16] This prevented the Chiricahua groups from using the border as an escape route, and as they could gain little time to rest and consider their next move, the fatigue, attrition and demoralization of the constant hunt led to their surrender.

The final 34 hold-outs, including Geronimo and Naiche, surrendered to units of General Miles' forces in September 1886. From Bowie Station, Arizona, they were entrained, along with most of the other remaining Chiricahua (as well as the Army's Apache scouts), and exiled to Fort Marion, Florida. At least two Apache warriors, Massai and Gray Lizard, escaped from their prison car and made their way back to San Carlos Arizona in a 1,200-mile (1,900 km) journey to their ancestral lands.

After a number of Chiricahua deaths at the Fort Marion prison near St. Augustine, Florida, the survivors were moved, first to Alabama, and later to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Geronimo's surrender ended the Indian Wars in the United States.[17] However, another group of Chiricahua (a.k.a. the Nameless Ones or Bronco Apache) were not captured by U.S. forces and refused to surrender. They escaped over the border to Mexico, and settled in the remote Sierra Madre mountains. There they built hidden camps, raided homes for cattle and other food supplies, and engaged in periodic firefights with units of the Mexican Army and police. Most were eventually captured or killed by soldiers or by private ranchers armed and deputized by the Mexican government.[18]

Eventually, the surviving Chiricahua prisoners were moved to the Fort Sill military reservation in Oklahoma. In August 1912, by an act of the U.S. Congress, they were released from their prisoner of war status as they were thought to be no further threat. Although promised land at Fort Sill, they met resistance from local non-Apache. They were given the choice to remain at Fort Sill or to relocate to the Mescalero reservation near Ruidoso, New Mexico. Two-thirds of the group, 183 people, elected to go to New Mexico, while 78 remained in Oklahoma.[19] Their descendants still reside in these places. At the time, they were not permitted to return to Arizona because of hostility from the long wars. in 1912 many different Apache bands returned to San Carlos Apache lands after their release from Fort Sill Apache Reservation.


Chiricahua Apaches as they arrived at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania
Goyaałé (Geronimo), in native garb
Ka-e-te-nay, Head Chief, Warm Springs Apaches
Loco, Warm Springs Apache chief
Bonito, Chiricahua chief
Viola and Agnes Chihuahua, Chiricahuas, photographed at the Mescalero Apache Reservation in 1916.
Hattie Tom, Chiricahua Apache

Since the "band" as a unit was much more important than "tribe" in Chiricahua culture, the Chiricahua had no name for themselves (autonym) as a people. The name Chiricahua is most likely the Spanish rendering of the Opata word Chihuicahui or Chiguicagui ('mountain of the wild turkey') for the Chiricahua Mountains, later corrupted into Chiricahui/Chiricahua. The Chiricahua tribal territory encompassed today's SE Arizona, SW New Mexico, NE Sonora and NW Chihuahua. The Chiricahua range extended to the east as far as the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and to the west as far as the San Pedro River Valley in Arizona, north of Magdalena just below present day Hwy I-40 corridor in New Mexico and with the town Ciudad Madera (276 km northwest of the state capital, Chihuahua, and 536 km southwest of Ciudad Juárez (formerly known as Paso del Norte) on the Mexico–United States border), as their southernmost range.[20]

According to Morris E. Opler (1941), the Chiricahuas consisted of three bands:

Schroeder (1947) lists five bands:

The Chiricahua-Warm Springs Fort Sill Apache tribe in Oklahoma say they have four bands in Fort Sill: (some of the Arizona Apaches did not return to San Carlos or Fort Apache, White Mountain Apache warrior Eyelash is buried in Fort Sill cememtry, Southern Tonto Apache Chief/Scout Hosay is buried in Fort Apache cememtery, Hosay has family in Fort Sill and San Carlos today)

Today they use the word Chidikáágu (derived from the Spanish word Chiricahua) to refer to the Chiricahua in general, and the word Indé, to refer to the Apache in general.

Other sources list these and additional bands (only the Chokonen and Chihuicahui local groups of the Chokonen band were considered by Chiricahua tribal members to be the real Chiricahua people):

The Chokonen, Chihenne, Nednhi, and Bedonkohe had probably up to three other groups, named respectively after their leaders or homelands. By the end of the 19th century, surviving Apache no longer identified these groups. They may have been wiped out (like the Pinaleño-Nednhi) or had joined more powerful groups. For instance, the remnant of the Carrizaleño-Nedhni camped together with their northern kin, the Janero-Nednhi.

The Carrizaleňo-Nednhi shared overlapping territory in the surroundings of Casas Grandes and Agua Nuevas with the Tsebekinéndé, a southern Mescalero band (which was often called Aguas Nuevas by the Spanish). The Spanish referred to the Apache band by the same name of Tsebekinéndé. These two different Apache bands were often confused with each other. (Similar confusion arose over distinguishing the Janeros-Nednhi of the Chiricahua (Dzilthdaklizhéndé) and the Dzithinahndé of the Mescalero.

Notable Chiricahua Apache people

See also

Chiricahua language in popular culture


  1. 2011 Oklahoma Indian Nations Pocket Pictorial Directory. Archived May 12, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. 2011: 15. Retrieved 3 Jan 2012.
  2. "Fort Sill Apache Tribe Receives U.S. Reservation Proclamation Following a 125 Year Wait". Reuters. 23 November 2011. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  3. Debo, pp. 9-13.
  4. Thrapp, p.366.
  5. Thrapp p.6-8
  6. Thrapp p. 7
  7. Thrapp p.19
  8. "Chiricahua Apache Indian Nation". Retrieved 2010-03-11.
  9. Debo p.42.
  10. Roberts: p.36.
  11. Strickland, Rex W. (Autumn 1976) "The Birth and Death of a Legend: The Johnson Massacre of 1837"], Arizona and the West, Vol. 18, No. 3. p.257-86.
  12. Roberts p.37
  13. Roberts p. 35
  14. Roberts p.21-29
  15. Thrapp p.168
  16. Roberts p.223-4.
  17. Thrapp p.366-7.
  18. Salopek, Paul, Mexicans Recall Last Apaches Living in Sierra Madre, Chicago Tribune, 7 September 1997
  19. Debo p.447-8
  20. "Fort Sill Apache Tribe – Tribal Territory". Retrieved 2013-11-06.
  21. "Tribal History". Retrieved 2012-07-16.
  22. three variants of Chiricahua band names are listed: First: i.e. Chokonen is now the common / usual form, Second: Chukunende is used by Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, Third: Tsokanende is another Transcription
  23. Edwin R. Sweeney: Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief, University of Oklahoma Press 1995, ISBN 978-0-8061-2606-7
  24. Kathleen P. Chamberlain, Victorio: Apache Warrior and Chief, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8061-3843-5
  25. Monticello (originally named Cañada Alamosa, Spanish for "Cottonwood Canyon") was headquarters for the Southern Apache Agency before a post was established at nearby Ojo Caliente in 1874. About 500 Apaches lived at Cañada Alamosa in 1870. Cochise and his Chiricahuas visited the area in 1871. Most of the Apaches were gone by 1877. The Chiricahuas called it Kegotoi - "Dilapidated Houses".
  26. Edwin R. Sweeney. Mangas Coloradas: Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-8061-3063-7
  27. William B. Griffen: Apaches at War and Peace: The Janos Presidio 1750-1858, University of Oklahoma Press 1998, ISBN 978-0-8061-3084-2
  28. "Not Dead Yet: Ten Best Modern Westerns - Page 2 of 11 - The Film Box". The Film Box. Retrieved 2015-11-15.
  29. "Apaches praise 'The Missing' for language accuracy | Peninsula Clarion". Retrieved 2015-11-15.

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