The Apache Wars.

The Apache started out as nomadic buffalo hunters on the Southern Plains.  The “Apacheria” ran from north of the Arkansas River  in Colorado and Kansas into what are now the northern states of Mexico and from Central Texas through New Mexico to Central Arizona.   Central Texas is where the Spanish first ran into them in the 1540s.  The two groups got along, until they didn’t.[1]  Spanish did some slave raiding; then the Apache did some “I don’t want to be a slave” raiding.  Then the Comanche showed up.  The “Comanch” were scary, so the Apache moved off the Plains.  They concentrated in the mountains and deserts of what would become New Mexico, Arizona, Sonora, and Chihuahua.  Hard lands made hard people.  Constant small-scale warfare made them harder still.  Raiding and warfare between first Spain and then Mexico continued until the middle of the 19th Century.  By the 1830s, the state governments in Mexico were offering large bounties[2] for Apache scalps.  Scalp hunters took up the offer.

Then the United States showed up.  Mexico lost the resulting war.  They also lost Arizona and New Mexico.  They also lost most of the Apache.  The American won everything the Mexicans lost.  A series of wars followed: the Jicarilla War (1849-1854); the Chiricahua Wars (1860-1862); the Texas-Indian War (1861-1865, involving Apache but mostly Comanche); the Yavapai War (1871-1875); Victorio’s War (1879-1881); and Geronimo’s War (1881-1886).  In theory, that ended the Apache Wars, but small groups of “renegade” Apache continued to “jump the reservation” from time to time.  The last of these incidents in the United States occurred in 1924; the last in Mexico in 1933.[3]

How does this relate to the movies “The Missing” and “Ulzana’s Raid”?

Part of the reason that the United States defeated the Apache is a numerical advantage.  The Army sent 5,000 soldiers to hunt Geronimo’s band of thirty men.  Another part of the reason lay in the Army’s recruitment of Apache scouts to hunt Apache “hostiles.”  Apaches shared a common culture, but they didn’t have a strong sense of identity beyond their own bands.  Often they quarreled among themselves.  So, some Apache warriors enlisted as scouts with the Army.[4]   Sometimes—as was the case with the “Apache Kid–they then fell out with their employers.

Mexico and the United States had a testy relationship after the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).  Mexico viewed the Americans as predators to be kept at arm’s length.  “Pity poor Mexico: so far from God, so near the United States.”  Mexican reluctance to allow American troops chasing Apaches to cross the border turned Mexico into a “safe haven” for the raiders.

“Brujo” is Spanish for “witch.”  This isn’t the same as a “medicine man” or “shaman.”  The latter use their skills—“white magic” in Medieval European terms—to heal or protect.  In contrast “brujo/bruja” use their skills—“brujeria” or “black magic” in Medieval European terms—to harm others.  As part of their art, it was believed that they could take the form of animals like owls or snakes or coyotes.  This transformation allowed them to travel secretly and to strike at their victims.  Furthermore, it was believed that they could make “corpse powder” from powdered corpses.  The powder could induce the symptoms of painful or lethal diseases.

[1] Just like Canadians are really nice, until they’re not.  Ask the Waffen SS troops in France who shot a bunch of wounded Canadians in June 1944.  Wait, you can’t.  Never mind.

[2] The equivalent of a year’s pay for a working man for one scalp.  Scalps were supposed to come from males aged for years or older, but how could you tell from just the scalp?  Lots of women and kids got killed in attacks on Apache “Rancheria.”

[3] The best book on this is Dan Thrapp, The Conquest of Apacheria (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967).

[4] See: “Mickey Free.”

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