Repressed National Memories

by A. Jay Adler on December 14, 2008
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Naches, younger son of Cochise, with wife

Naches, younger son of Cochise, with wife

The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation was established, as a concentration camp, on November 9, 1871. The intent was to remove from land coveted by the U.S. government and local settlers various Apache bands – originally, among the “Western Apaches,” the Pinal, Aravaipa, Apache Peaks, Tonto, and San Carlos bands – and concentrate them on a single reservation in order to control their presence. Later relocations of other Apaches (Nde in their own language) from their native and ancestral lands to the San Carlos reservation added to the original number. These relocations achieved varying degrees of success and resistance. The band that resisted most consistently and aggressively was the Chiricahua Apache, the most famous from Western lore. The large scale Apache wars with the U.S. were fought in order to resist these relocations. The great Chiricahua chief Cochise (son-in-law of another great Apache leader, Mangas Colorados, who was lured to a supposed peace parley and then executed, after which his head was removed, boiled, and the skull shipped to New York for phrenological analysis) fought a decade-long war that ended with the 1872 Broken Arrow Peace Treaty. Not for the first time, the treaty promised the Chiricahua a reservation on their ancestral land, in mostly south western New Mexico. Not for the first time, the treaty was broken by the U.S. government, which soon closed the Chiricahua reservation and sought to remove the Chiricahua to the San Carlos Reservation, in central eastern Arizona. Multiple times the Chiricahua acquiesced. Multiple times they found the conditions, in general and far from home, intolerable. These conditions, and mistrust of U.S. agents, led to the several escapes and rebellions by Geronimo.

Taza, oldest son of Cochise

Taza, oldest son of Cochise

When Geronimo surrendered for the last time, in 1886, he and other Chiricahua, including the Chiricahua scouts who had helped the U.S. army find and trap him, were sent to join others of their band awaiting them in confinement in Florida. Later, these hundreds of Chiricahuas were transferred to Alabama. Finally, in 1894 these prisoners were removed to the Fort Sill Military Reservation in Oklahoma. Geronimo died there in 1909. At no time were the Chiricahua guaranteed a reservation of their own, even at Fort Sill. In 1914, the government at last relented and permitted those who so chose to return west and settle on the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico. Others remained on individual allotments in Oklahoma. According to Jeff Houser, Tribal Chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, “[T]heir tribal identity obliterated, [the Chiricahua] were the victims of cultural disintegration….not even the most belligerent of tribes received such treatment as had the Chiricahua. None received such an unconscionable period of confinement. All either retained their lands or were given new reservations. In all the history of federal government-American Indian relations, the situation which confronted the Chiricahua represents a most unprecedented case of injustice.”


The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, Arizona; December 2008

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