Linguistic and cultural evidence indicates that the Western Apache migrated from Canada between A.D. 1400 and 1500 and arrived in Arizona no earlier than the 1600s where they came into contact with the native Pueblo populations. Pueblo influence was particularly strong after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 when numerous Pueblos took up residence among Apacheans. Severe pressure from Utes in the early 1700s and again in the mid-1800s along with the U.S. campaign led by Kit Carson resulted in groups of Navajo moving south and coming into contact with or even taking up residence among Apaches. It is likely that it was during these times that the Navajo introduced horticulture and matrilineal clans. Relations with both Western Pueblos and the Navajo alternated between trade and raid up through the nineteenth century. Relations with Spain also alternated between war and peace, though relations with Mexico were generally hostile. Although some new technical items were added to the Apache inventory along with their Spanish names, Spanish and Mexican cultures had little significant impact.
The Western Apache were much less affected than other Apacheans by the changes brought about by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the subsequent Gadsden Purchase of 1853, probably because their lands in north-central Arizona were not astride major routes of travel, nor, except in the Tonto area, were there major mining activities. They accepted without resistance the presence of forts within their territory, and the White Mountain and Cibecue groups in particular made peace and cooperated with the new conquerors. This quiescent state was marred by two major incidents—the Camp Grant Massacre in 1871, in which at least seventy-five San Carlos women and children were killed by residents of Tucson and their Papago allies, and the Cibecue Fight in 1881, which resulted in the death of a prominent shaman along with a number of soldiers and Apache scouts.