The Apache Wars

War against indigenous peoples has been happening since before the birth of the U.S. Though the history of wars within the US is generally well known, certain earlier wars are oftentimes overlooked, for example, the Apache Wars.

Though the exact dates of the Apache Wars is debated, the conflict is often said to have started in 1861 and ended in the 1880’s or even 1890’s – the longest war in U.S. history. Some skirmishes are even thought to date back to 1850 or to have occurred as late as the turn of the century.

To start, it’s apparent that encroaching settlers onto Native lands, and relocation of tribes due to the re-settlement of those lands, had a role in fueling indigenous conflict. When numerous southern tribes were relocated into Apache areas around 1830-1850, the typical raids and bonds that occurred among the tribes became more frequent and more pronounced. These relocation-fueled conflicts, along with gold rushes into the Apache homelands and the already uneasy tension between the Apache and Spanish, were key factors in the start of the Apache Wars.

In the beginning, the goal of the Apache Wars was to quell tribal resistance against the occupation of Apache lands. Tragedies happened during the war, including massacres of all Apache able to fight – at once crippling their power and leaving many families broken.

During this conflict, the Apache suffered a loss that went beyond population. The number lost is hard to estimate but some records claim around 900 men died and more than 7000 families were affected by loss of land, homes, family and sustenance. Yet, by the end of the Apache Wars, the Apache were just as well off as any other relocated tribe.

The Apache Wars decidedly ended when Geronimo surrendered in 1886. Known to anyone familiar with U.S. history, Geronimo’s surrender left many discouraged, though it did not stop pockets of resistance fighters still motivated by his words a year earlier to leave the reservations.

The loss of culture that followed was a direct result of the Apache Wars, westward expansion, and the loss of indigenous lands. Ceremonies and traditions became mixed across tribes due to the lack of memory about each tribes’ traditional ways, and Native languages died. These effects are still felt today, though tribes are persevering to recover, share their stories with future generations, and like Geronimo, hold their hopes for the future.

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