Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The traditional subsistence base was one of hunting and gathering/foraging with primary reliance on the bison and mescal. Seeds, nuts, tubers, fruits, and wild plants formed important parts of the diet along with meat from deer, antelope, rabbit, and elk. Neither fish nor bear meat were consumed. Some sources maintain that Plains Apache would occasionally plant maize, but the Mescalero themselves deny this, maintaining they traded with the Pueblos for maize as well as beans, squashes, turkeys, and cotton. From the Spaniards they took not only horses but also cattle whenever possible as they were much easier to hunt than wild animals.
In this century there has been a steady increase in wage work on and off reservation. Tribal enterprises practice Indian preference in hiring. On the reservation, people work in a variety of jobs: accounting, carpentry, child care, clerical, community health, computer programming and operation, conservation, cow punching, services for the elderly, fishery, forestry, housing, hunting guides, lumbering and sawmill operation, maintenance, nursing, recreation, rehabilitation services, skiing operations, social work, stable hands, teaching, and so on. There are also those who choose a military career and those with law and other advanced degrees who have been unable to find work on the reservation. Arts and crafts, especially bead, skin, and woodwork, are practiced but do not form significant economic activities. Although they were once known for their exquisite basketry, it is now almost a forgotten art. Bead and leatherwork as well as wood carving and other artistic endeavors provide a few with sufficient income. Tribal goals include providing on-reservation jobs for all those who wish them as well as adequate housing for all Families; the latter goal appears more in reach. For some, the most stable income source is through tribally generated income. Each enrolled member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe has one share of stock in the Tribal Enterprises that are run as a corporation; profits are periodically divided into equal share dividends. This income, however, is aperiodic and varies with each payment. A few people subsist on tribal or state welfare, but most work.
Division of Labor. In general, men hunted and women gathered and foraged. But women also hunted, particularly small game, and men participated heavily in mescal making as well as occasionally gathering. Both men and women achieve status through being successful parents; it is not unusual to see men as primary caretakers of infants and children.