Mescalero Apache - History and Cultural Relations
Coronado's 1540 expedition through central Mexico and into the contemporary American Southwest noted that there were Querechos, generally acknowledged to be ancestral to Eastern Apache, on the Llano Estacado, a vast plains area of eastern New Mexico, western Texas, and southwestern Oklahoma. The Querechos were described as being tall and intelligent; they lived in tents, said to be like those of Arabs, and followed the bison herds, from which they secured food, fuel, implements, clothing, and tipi covers—all of which was transported using dogs and the travois. These Querechos traded with agricultural Puebloan peoples. Initial contact was peaceful, but by the mid-seventeenth century there was all-out war between the Spanish and the Apache. During the seventeenth century, Spanish suzerainty in the Southwest was being enforced with often impossible demands on the Pueblos who, in turn, found themselves subject to Apachean raids when Spanish exploitation left nothing to trade. At the same time, all native people were being decimated by diseases for which they had no immunity. There was also pressure from the Ute and Comanche who were moving southward into the area previously held by Apache. Documentary evidence suggests that the Spanish were arming Comanche to assist in their unsuccessful efforts to subdue and control the Apache.
The Mescalero quickly picked up horses from the Spanish, making their hunting, trading, and raiding infinitely easier. They also borrowed the Spanish practice of slave trading and thus gave the Spanish a weapon to use against them in that Spanish colonists, while taking slaves from Apache captives, raised fear in the Pueblos that they would be the next slaves the Apache sought. In fact, the Apache began to rely less upon trade with Pueblos and more on raids against Spanish colonists.
Despite the Spanish policy of pitting tribes against each other, the latter joined together in 1680 in the Pueblo Revolt and successfully removed the Spanish from New Mexico. Many Puebloan people, who had fled the Spanish by going to live with Apache and Navajo, returned home and it seems the older pattern of Plains hunting and Puebloan trading was reinstituted. In 1692 the colonists returned and the pace of war with Apache quickened.
The history of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was written in blood and broken promises. Treachery was rampant and peace treaties were not worth the ink necessary to write them. Mescalero were routinely referred to as "the enemy, heathen, Apache" and were blamed for practically every disaster that befell Spanish colonists. The real effect of Spain was minimal and Mexico was not yet an independent country. The northern frontier of New Spain was entrusted to a few soldiers of fortune, an inadequately supplied and trained military, mercenary traders, jealous sets of Catholic missionaries, and intrepid civilians trying to wrest a living from unforgiving land. In the midst of this, Spanish Regents insisted on treating the Apache as a unified group of people when they were very much several bands, each under the nominal control of a headman; a treaty signed with such a headman bound no one to peace, despite Spanish wishes to the contrary.
In 1821 Mexico became independent from Spain and Inherited the Apache problem—at least for a couple of decades. Slavery, on the part of all parties, and debt peonage reached its zenith during this period. By 1846, Gen. Stephen Watts Kearney had taken control of the northernmost portions of the Mexican frontier and established headquarters at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo in 1848 formally ceded large portions of what is now the American Southwest to the United States and more was added in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase, transferring "the Apache problem" to the United States. The 1848 treaty guaranteed colonists protection from Indians, the Mescalero; there was no mention of Indian rights. Congress, in 1867, abolished peonage in New Mexico, and an 1868 Joint Resolution (65) finally ended bondage and slavery. The Apache problem remained, however.
Mescalero had been rounded up (frequently) and held (infrequently) at the Bosque Redondo of Fort Sumner, New Mexico, since 1865, although army agents in charge of them continually complained that they came and went with alarming frequency. Four centuries of almost constant conflict and decimation by disease along with the loss of the land base that had sustained them all combined to reduce the Mescalero to a pitiful few by the time their reservation was established.
The late 1870s through the teens of the twentieth Century was a particularly difficult time, because of inadequate food, shelter, and clothing. Despite their own suffering, they accepted their "relatives," first the Lipan and later the Chiricahua, onto their reservation. By the 1920s there was a small but significant improvement in the standard of living, although attempts at making Mescalero farmers have never succeeded. The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act found the Mescalero eager and fully able to assume control over their own lives, a fight they still wage through the courts today on issues of land use, water rights, legal jurisdiction, and wardship. Although the arena of the fight for survival has moved from horseback to a Tribal plane that makes frequent trips to Washington, the Apache are still formidable foes.