Geronimo (Goyaałé), a Chiricahua Apache warrior, kneeling with rifle in1887.

I should never have surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.” — Geronimo

The Apache are a group of Native American tribes that have a long and rich history in the Southwest of the United States and Northern Mexico. The origin of the name “Apache” is uncertain, but the name most likely comes from a Spanish transliteration of the word ápachu which means “enemy” in Zuñi, a language spoken by another tribe. The Apache were known for their fierce resistance to Spanish and Mexican colonization, as well as their skillful warfare and strategy. They fought under famous leaders such as Cochise, Mangas Coloradas, Geronimo, and Victorio. The Apache lived in diverse environments, from high mountains and valleys to deserts and plains. They spoke several different languages and had distinct cultures.

Apachean tribes, c. 18th century: WA: Western Apache N: Navajo Ch: Chiricahua M: Mescalero J: Jicarilla L: Lipan Pl: Plains Apache. Present-day state and country borders are provided for reference. Credit: Ish Ishwar. /CC BY-SA 3.0.

Today, there are several federally recognized Apache tribes that have their own reservations and communities. Apache Reservations are located in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, and are governed by tribal councils that have authority over their own affairs. They are home to many cultural and historical sites, such as the Fort Apache Historic Park, the Geronimo Monument and the White Mountain Apache Museum. The Apache Reservations also offer various economic and social opportunities for their residents, such as education, health care, tourism and gaming.

The Apache Wars

The Apache Wars were a series of conflicts that lasted from 1849 to 1924, involving the United States Army, the Confederate Army, Mexico and various Apache tribal confederations in the Southwest. The wars were triggered by the expansion of American and Mexican settlers into the traditional lands of the Apache, who resisted the encroachment and fought for their autonomy and survival.

The Apache warriors, surrounded by enemies, developed one of the most effective fighting styles in history, which is still studied at West Point as one of the most effective uses of asymmetrical warfare. This style of warfare was particularly effective because it involved unconventional strategies and tactics adopted by a force when the military capabilities of belligerent powers were not simply unequal but were so significantly different that they could not make the same sorts of attacks on each other.

Warm Springs Apache Scouts in the 1870s. Some Apache offered their skills to the U.S. Army during the Apache Wars and joined the Army’s Indian Scouts.

One of the most feared aspects of the Apache Wars was the raids that the Apache warriors conducted against their enemies. These raids were swift, brutal, and often unpredictable, targeting settlements, forts, ranches, mines, and travelers. The raiders would strike at dawn or dusk, taking advantage of the element of surprise and the terrain. They would loot, burn, kill, and capture as much as they could, then retreat to their mountain hideouts or across the border.

The raiding parties were usually small, ranging from a few to a few dozen men, but sometimes they could number in the hundreds. They were led by charismatic and skilled leaders. The raiding parties caused immense damage and terror to the settlers and soldiers in the region, and they were one of the main reasons why the Apache wars lasted for decades.

Apache Pass, Arizona, as viewed from Fort Bowie facing north. The Battle of Apache Pass was one of the largest battles during the Apache Wars. It was fought in 1862 between Apache warriors and the Union volunteers of the California Column as it marched from California to capture Confederate Arizona and to reinforce New Mexico’s Union Army.

The Apache raided mercilessly on the Mexican settlements that dotted the area. This was said to be in retaliation for the enslavement of Apache to work silver and gold mines. Once America annexed Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, the Apache turned their attention to the new American settlers, which did not end well for the settlers.

This brought about several campaigns by the U.S. Army under several Generals, most famous and most effective being General Crook. The Apache’s unyielding pursuit of armed resistance in the face of overwhelming odds confounded not only their Mexican and American adversaries, but also many of their fellow Apache.

From 1850 to 1886, Geronimo, whose birth name was Goyahkla, meaning ‘the one who yawns, joined with members of three other Central Apache bands to carry out numerous raids, as well as fight against Mexican and U.S. military campaigns in the northern Mexico states of Chihuahua and Sonora and in the southwestern American territories of New Mexico and Arizona.

Geronimo led breakouts from the reservations in attempts to return his people to their previous nomadic lifestyle. During Geronimo’s final period of conflict from 1876 to 1886, he surrendered three times and eventually accepted life on the Apache reservations.

While well-known, Geronimo was not a chief of the Bedonkohe band of the Central Apache but a shaman. However, since he was a superb leader in raiding and warfare, he frequently led large numbers of 30 to 50 Apache men.

Apache warrior Geronimo (right) and his warriors from left to right: Yanozha (Geronimo’s brother-in-law), Chappo (Geronimo´s son of 2nd wife) and Fun (Yanozha´s half-brother) in 1886. Arizona Historical Society.

In 1886, after an intense pursuit in northern Mexico by American forces that followed Geronimo’s third 1885 reservation breakout, Geronimo surrendered for the last time to Lt. Charles Bare Gatewood, although some Apache warriors continued to raid and resist until 1924.Geronimo and 27 other Apache were later sent to join the rest of the Chiricahua tribe, which had been previously exiled to Florida. While holding him as a prisoner, the United States capitalized on Geronimo’s fame among non -Indians by displaying him at various fairs and exhibitions.

After being sent to Florida, Geronimo was then sent Alabama and eventually the Kiowa Comanche Apache Reservation near Fort Sill in Oklahoma. It was there that the Apache leader would eventually pass away in 1909. His grave, along with those of his wife and daughter is in the Apache Indian Cemetery inside Fort Sill. The Apache Wars are considered one of the most significant episodes in the history of the American West.

Another of the prominent Apache leaders was Cochise, a leader of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, who led a large war party against the Americans in 1861 after being falsely accused of kidnapping a boy. Cochise allied with another chief, Mangas Coloradas, and together they waged a fierce guerrilla war that lasted for a decade. Cochise was known for his courage, skill, and honor. He died in 1874 and was buried in a secret location in Arizona.

Skilled Guerrilla Warriors

The Apache were known for their skillful guerrilla tactics, their knowledge of nature, and their fierce resistance to colonization. The Apache excelled at ambushes, raids, and hit-and-run attacks. They knew the terrain well and used it to their advantage. They avoided direct confrontation with larger and better-equipped forces, preferring to strike at vulnerable targets such as supply trains, settlements, and livestock. They also used deception and camouflage to conceal their movements and numbers.

British Special Air Service (SAS) patrol in North Africa during WWII (1943). The SAS was conceived as a commando force to operate behind enemy lines in the North African Campaign and engaged in hit and run attacks much in the manner of the Apache warriors in the Old West.British Army photo by Capt. Keating, No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit. Collection of Imperial War Museum.

The Apache acquired Spanish horses from trading with the Pueblo people in the 1600s, making them among the earliest Native Americans to master horse riding. They used them for mobility, hunting, and warfare. They could ride for long distances and attack swiftly and unexpectedly. They were adept at shooting arrows or guns from horseback, as well as using lances, knives, and tomahawks in close combat.

The Apache were masters of stealth and tracking. They could move silently through the wilderness, leaving few traces behind. They could also follow the tracks of their enemies, even in difficult conditions. They used their keen senses of sight, hearing, and smell to locate and stalk their prey.

The Apache were able to survive in harsh environments. They knew how to find water, food, shelter, and medicine from the natural resources around them. They could also endure extreme temperatures, hunger, thirst, and fatigue.

Green Berets assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) move to load onto a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter for extraction during a training event near Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. 27 August 2019. Many of the Apache’s guerrilla tactics are still employed by modern day special forces. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Steven Lewis / Released.

The Apache believed that everything in nature had a spirit and a power. They respected and honored these spirits through rituals, ceremonies, and prayers. They also sought guidance and protection from their ancestors, animal helpers, and supernatural beings. They believed that their fighting skills were gifts from the Creator and that they had a duty to use them wisely.

The Apache were renowned for their skill and bravery. The Apache employed a variety of strategies to ambush, harass, and evade their enemies, such as hiding in the terrain, attacking at night, and retreating quickly. Many of these strategies are employed by modern special forces, who also rely on stealth, surprise, and mobility to achieve their objectives. 

Even horses are still used in some unconventional warfare scenarios, such as guerrilla operations and special forces missions. Horses have been used in various unconventional warfare campaigns in recent history, such as the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet invasion, the Northern Alliance against the Taliban regime, and the Kurdish peshmerga against the Islamic State.

U.S. Special Operations Forces, members of Task Force Dagger, and Afghanistan Commander Abdul Rashid Dostum on horseback in the Dari-a-Souf Valley, Afghanistan, in October 2001. The use of horses in Afghanistan offered similar benefits as they did for the Apache warriors in the past. U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Chris Spence, FOB-53/U.S. Army, United States Special Operations Command / Released.

Horses can provide several advantages in such scenarios, such as mobility, stealth, endurance, and psychological impact. Horses are agile, adaptable, and able to traverse difficult terrain that vehicles cannot. They can also move more quietly and blend in with the local population. Horses can carry heavy loads for long distances, enabling fighters to transport weapons, supplies, or wounded comrades. However, horses also pose challenges such as vulnerability to modern weapons and logistical difficulties,

Apache Warrior Training

The Apache warrior training was a rigorous and demanding process that aimed to prepare young men for the challenges of war and survival. The training began at an early age, when boys were taught to hunt, track, and endure harsh conditions. They learned to use weapons such as bows, arrows, knives, and lances, as well as to ride horses and navigate the terrain. The training also involved physical and mental tests, such as running long distances, climbing mountains, swimming across rivers, and fasting for days. The Apache warrior training was not only a way of developing skills and strength, but also a way of instilling courage, honor, loyalty, and respect for the tribe and its traditions.

Special Forces Assessment and Selection participants work to carry a variety of objects as a team from one point to another at Camp Mackall 29 May 2012. Apache warrior training was not so dissimilar. It was also a rigorous and demanding process. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika / Released.

A Formidable Force in History

The Apache warriors were a formidable force in the history of North America. They fought bravely and fiercely against the Spanish, Mexican, and American invaders who sought to take their lands and destroy their way of life.

The Apache warriors were the elite fighters of the native American tribes. They were skilled in guerrilla warfare, stealth, ambush, and survival in harsh environments. They used their knowledge of the terrain, the weather, and the enemy to their advantage. They were feared and respected by both their allies and their foes. They were also deeply spiritual and loyal to their kin and clan. The Apache warriors left a legacy of courage, resistance, and resilience that still inspires people today. They were the native American Special Forces of their time.

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

By Eugene Nielsen

Eugene Nielsen owns and runs a private intelligence and security consulting firm. He has a BA degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara in Political Science. His byline has appeared on over 1,500 articles published in major national and international journals and magazines. He was on Contributing Staff of SWAT Magazine for over 20 years.

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