The history of the Apache Indians has been influenced by movies, television, and fiction writers. The origin of the word, "Apache" was derived from the Zuni word, "Apachu" meaning "the enemy". The first known mention of Apaches was in documents on Spanish exploration by Onate in 1598. Apaches reached as far west as Arizona after the middle of the 16th Century. The Apaches, a nomadic people, were constantly moving in small bands. They subsisted on game, native roots, berries and on the spoils captured in raids on other Indians and later from raids on wagon trains and settlers. From the time of the Spanish colonization, they were noted for their warlike disposition. Famous Apache leaders include Cochise, Victorio, and Geronimo. Geronimo and his band finally surrendered to U.S. troops on September 4, 1886. Today, approximately 12,000 San Carlos Apaches live in two communities–San Carlos and Bylas; a majority of them are full-blooded Apaches. Today the old Apache people still recognize and maintain relationships with their relatives through clans. The Apaches trace their descendents through the female line. The family is the most important unit among them. An individual cannot marry anyone who is related to him. Young Apache people are shy in their relationships with one another. Any public display of affection is considered very improper.



The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation is located in the east south-central portion of Arizona. It is bound on the north by the Salt River and Black River; on the west by the Tonto National Forest; on the east by the Gila and Apache National Forest, and on the south by Public Domain lands. The southern boundary is marked by a mountainous rim, the highest elevation of which is Mount Turnbull at 7,874 feet. The mountainous terrain supporting pine and oak makes an excellent habitat for numerous wild turkeys. Deer may be found on most of the reservation at about 4,000 feet. Elk and javelina (wild pigs) are also found.


The San Carlos Apache Tribe was organized under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. It is governed by a Tribal Council, a popularly elected representative body operating under a written constitution and charter. The Council appoints all judges and law enforcement officers. It is also authorized to exercise all management functions under the corporate chapter.


The San Carlos Apache are known as the "Cowboy Indians of the Southwest". The Tribe is raises pure-bred registered bulls and has developed one of the best cattle herds in the country which is the principle income to the Apaches. Many of the Apache people are employed by mining companies near the reservation and at a lumber company which is located on the reservation while others are employed in agriculture. Due to lack of employment on the reservation, many of the young Apaches either migrate to urban areas for employment or remain on welfare.


Formerly, the diet of the Apache people was a very wide variety. Wild herbs, fruit, berries, wild game, and pinto beans were the basic foods and were eaten with tortillas and fry bread. Beef, bacon, potatoes, melons, squash, and Indian corn were also enjoyed when available. With the trading posts on the reservation, a variety of new food has been introduced. Acorn soup and fry bread are a common dish at family gatherings on the reservation. Maybe you would like to try making fry bread. Here’s a recipe for you.

5 lbs. of flour
1 ½ cups of dry powdered milk
2 T. of baking powder
1 T. salt
  Add enough water until flour mixture is all mixed, is soft, and will form into a firm ball. Knead very well and form into large egg size balls. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes. Take one ball of dough and flatten between your hands. Pull and stretch, keeping as round as possible. Flip from hand to hand until dough is about 1/4 inch thick. Cook both sides in hot oil until puffy and golden brown. Lift from pan allowing excess oil to drip into pan. Lay on paper towel in a dish until ready to serve. Best when served hot. They can be filled with meat and salsa as tacos or with honey or powdered sugar for dessert.

The Apache people have available to them the facilities of the United States Public Health Service including an up-to-date hospital, clinics, doctors, and dentists. When further treatment is needed, arrangements are made for patients to enter such specialized hospitals or clinics. Where formerly ill people were taken to the "medicine man," many of the Apaches now use the services of the hospital.


Beginners and grades one through twelve are taught on the reservation. At San Carlos, there are public schools in operation, as well as two parochial schools in the lower grades. At Bylas, the pupils are transported to non-reservation public schools. Many children attend Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools at several off-reservation locations.


Modern dress has been adopted by many of the Apaches. The men favor blue jeans, modern clothing, boots, and wide-brimmed hats. Most of the older women wear the traditional "camp dress" with their hair long.


Most of the people are bilingual, speaking both English and Apache. Elderly Apache still cling to their old language and customs and are slow to accept the modern way unless they see practicality in it.

Here are some familiar words and their translation in Apache:

  English                                            Apache

Bible                                                Bik’ehgo’ihi’nan biyati’

Christian                                           inashood

"How are you?"                                daa go te’e’

"See you later"                                  ii na go dzi na tee

"Thank you"                                      a’shoog

"You’re welcome"                             hondah



Travel is often by pickup truck. Horses are used only for rodeos and for cattle operations.


The traditional home of the Apache is a round structure built with branches and bear grass called a wickiup. Modern housing with plumbing and electricity is now available on the reservation.


Apache Indian babies are wrapped in soft blankets and placed on cradle boards where they are safe and warm. This cradle board serves as a bed or a cradle either at home or on a long trip by automobile. The babies seem to like this cradle board and often fret when taken out of it.


The Apache people have historically been very athletic. In the earlier years, one of the favorite games were foot races. Both the men and the women competed, and often the women were the winners in the races! They also played a version of tug-of-war. A rawhide rope was fastened around the waist of an especially strong warrior. Three others held the loose end of the rope and tried to pull the warrior down. There were knots in the rope for a good grip. If the warrior managed to stand, he was the winner.


The Apache are known for their beautiful baskets and beadwork. Burden baskets were carried by the women on their back with a strap that came up around the forehead. These baskets were used to haul both water and food over long distances.


Did you know that there are 51 million Native Americans in the western hemisphere. In the United States, the native population is over two and a half million souls. There are 554 Federally-recognized tribes speaking 250 native languages. Each of our nation's 293 Indian reservations are like a country within our country. Unlike any other people group, they have been granted by treaty a sovereign nation status.

Tribal leadership indicates that alcohol is one of the greatest problems facing them. It continues to devastate the native population with many tribes reporting its impact on their people as high as 90%. Indians are six times more likely to die of alcohol and twice as likely to die of murder. In Canada, natives represent 3% of the country's population. In many of the provincial prisons, they are 85% of the prison population. Per capita, they are the most imprisoned people in the world!

For the most part, American Indians continue to remain skeptical of the dominant culture whose government has lied repeatedly to them. Missionaries have historically been viewed as an extension of the Anglo government's attempt to take from them their culture and civilize them in the white man's way. Their response of resentment and resistance has made evangelism among the tribes very difficult. Only about 8% are professing Christians. Many reservations still have never had any fundamental Gospel witness. 98% of the native population do not attend church. There remain at least 200 native people groups in the U.S. and Canada yet unreached with the Gospel.



To read two accounts of Native men who searched for Truth, click your curser on:
A Search For Truth and
An Apache Chief Finds Truth.


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