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I Fought a Good Fight: A History of the Lipan Apaches

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This history of the Lipan Apaches, from archeological evidence to the present, tells the story of some of the least known, least understood people in the Southwest. These plains buffalo hunters and traders were one of the first groups to acquire horses, and with this advantage they expanded from the Panhandle across Texas and into Coahuila. Around 1700, the Comanches began forcing Eastern Apaches from their haunts, but they didnÍt yield easily and from then on were the ComanchesÍ stubborn enemies.

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1. Creation Story



Creation Story

Now this story shows how some people were in the old days.

—Percy Big Mouth

Lipans were Apache at heart, but as a result of their long history of befriending or absorbing other groups, their cultural table was a smorgasbord of adopted habits and traditions. Unlike other Apaches, they farmed, ate fish and bear, counted coup, and used sign language. They spoke good Spanish. They lived in artfully painted tipis on the plains, wickiups in the mountains, and jacales in Mexico.

Lipans were typically described as handsome people dressed in skillfully made buckskin clothing. Many an observer found the Lipans more fastidious and their skins better cured. A Spanish officer in 1896 observed “a certain neatness and martial bearing that differentiates them markedly from the other nations, in which dirt and filth are so common.”1

Unlike other Apaches, they were tall; Lipan men, at nearly six feet, would have towered over other Apaches. Friends and adversaries alike marveled at their intelligence; they were quick studies, especially in the use of a new tool or weapon. They could count up to a thousand, and their counting system had a root of ten. They could not only determine the time but reduce it to fractions, and they could predict eclipses and other astronomical events.2


2. Early Encounters



Early Encounters

They are men who move here and there, to wherever it seems best to them . . .

—Captain Juan Jaramillo 1

In the endless, undulating spring grasses of the plains, the People could see the approach of friends and enemies. These strangers were even more obvious, sitting astride great beasts, the sun reflecting off armor and weapons. The People had heard about these men who made themselves ugly with facial hair. Any self-respecting warrior would use flints to tweeze all the hair from his face, including eyebrows and eyelashes. They knew of the beasts as well—snorting, heavy-footed animals that could bear much heavier loads than the medium-sized, shaggy dogs the People harnessed to carry their possessions when they moved camp. These creatures had terrified the Pueblo people on first sight.

The People were neither frightened nor alarmed at the strangers’ approach. Their camp and its two hundred tipis housed at least a thousand people, and even though some of the men were away hunting buffalo, they were well defended. Their group and allied bands numbered in the thousands. Their enemies feared them, and the newcomers were few. These plains dwellers were called Kiraush by the Pueblos. The Spanish would call them Querechos, Vaqueros and finally Apaches. They called themselves Ndé, the People.2


3. Friends and Enemies



Friends and Enemies

It is a nation so bellicose, all of it, that it has been the crucible for the courage of the Spaniards . . .

—Father Alonso de Benavides, 1630 1

Acho Apache warriors spent weeks making arrows, choosing the hardest wood, straightening the shaft with their teeth, attaching sharp points of stone or bone. When it was time, they left their camp on the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and, carrying bows nearly as tall as themselves, along with clubs and lances, passed silently along slopes and canyons to join their Taos Pueblo brothers. In the early morning of August 10, 1680, the combined groups attacked settlers and missionaries in the Taos area and killed all but two. Acho Apaches, members of a band later called Lipan,2 were also involved in fighting at Picurís Pueblo and La Cañada.3

Devastation exploded across northern New Mexico, as the Pueblos and their allies made good on years of threats. In coordinated attacks, they killed twenty-one priests, settlers and soldiers and destroyed about sixty missions and many haciendas. Utes and Navajos also joined, but the Apaches were a pronounced presence. During the siege of Santa Fe, a Pueblo leader demanded the return of Indian captives “and likewise that all the Apache men and women whom the Spaniards had captured in war be turned over to them, inasmuch as some Apaches who were among them were asking for them.” Pueblo captives said they and the Apaches had devastated the country from Taos to Isleta. Governor Antonio de Otermín didn’t believe the rebels had Apaches among them, certain the two tribes were enemies, and refused the demand.4


4. The Confederacy



The Confederacy

They were coming to give me many manifestations of gratitude . . . [from] all the tribes that were living along the banks of all the streams I had seen and others that I had failed to cross, and others that I will meet further on.

—Juan de Ulibarri, 1706 1

After the Pueblo people could see only the backs of the fleeing Spanish, after they mourned their dead, after they celebrated their victories, they had the Spanish flocks and herds at their disposal: thousands of animals. They exchanged horses with Plains tribes for buffalo robes and dried meat.2 Passed through trade networks, mostly to the east, horses would transform plains society. Apaches now had ready access to horses, and used them to expand their territory. They could move quickly, carry heavier loads, and range farther in search of game and seasonal plants. Lipan ancestors moved southeast to the Colorado River in Texas and followed it into the rugged Lomería Grande (Hill Country). Some migrated all the way to the Texas coast. Their early trade in fresh-water shell ornaments hints that they were already familiar with the area, and now they stayed. Resident groups presented little challenge.


5. Carlana




[The French and Pawnees] can without impediment penetrate into that realm if our allies, the Carlana Apaches, do not block their passage . . . Inform [the Texas governor] how affectionate are the Apaches of La Jicarilla, in El Cuartelejo and in the Sierra Blanca towards our people . . .

—Juan de Olivan Revolledo, 1720.1

Chief Carlana heard from other Apaches that the Spanish governor was in their land, but he didn’t believe it. No governor had ever come to their country. He rode to the top of a tall hill and looked out. In the distance he made out a halo of dust. Carlana hurried to find the Spaniards so he might ride with them against the invaders. Already the Comanches had displaced Carlana’s people and attacked the Jicarillas so many times they feared for their survival. The small, isolated camps were easy pickings for the Comanches, who had many warriors.

In late September 1719, Carlana found Governor Antonio de Valverde on a river the Apaches called La Flecha (the Cimarron, just north of the confluence with Ponil Creek). Apaches, probably Flechas de Palo, lived there in nine houses; one adobe house was topped by a cross.2 Valverde was eating as Carlana approached and greeted the governor.


6. Early Texas



Early Texas

(L)ittle by little the Apaches are showing their claws.

—Father Francisco Hidalgo, 1723

The People must have been incensed as they spied Spaniards clearing land to build a fort and mission in the middle of country they’d held for forty years. In 1718 the presidio at San Antonio de Béxar rose on the San Antonio River, and the Franciscans founded the Mission San Antonio de Valero for the Coahuiltecan tribes. They would add four more missions by 1731.1 The presidio’s last stone was barely in place when the Apaches began raiding.

The Marqués of San Miguel de Aguayo, governor of Texas and Coahuila, tried to make peace with the Apaches in 1720. Their eloquent response: red cloth dangling from arrows stuck in the ground. In April 1721, the Apaches attacked a pack train, killed the driver and wounded a soldier. Aguayo sent detachments to patrol the area and take any Apaches alive, but they avoided contact and continued raiding.2


7. The Trials of Cabellos Colorados



The Trials of Cabellos Colorados

[T]he Indians have spread terror over this entire region; but it will be nothing as compared with what we may fear from now on, for never have they been so aggressive as in the present year.

—Fernando Pérez de Almazán, 1731 1

One name began to surface. From the Mission of San Francisco de la Espada, raiders took forty horses and left behind a tired horse—the one Alferez Juan Galvan had given the Ypande (Lipan) Chief Cabellos Colorados. The latter was said to have an agreement with the great chief of all the Apaches to steal the horses of presidios at Béxar, Rio Grande, Coahuila, and Sacramento so that his confederates could slaughter the inhabitants. Cabellos Colorados was known in San Antonio, where he and his people traded. His wife—Urrutia referred to her as “Capitana”—led a party of three women and a man to sell or trade buffalo meat. He treated them well and was confident of their friendship, but the chief later seized two San Antonio citizens, who became slaves employed in dressing skins and died trying to escape.


8. Trail of the Dead



Trail of the Dead

(W)e must be on our guard against them because of their number, audacity, inconstancy, and secrecy.

—Captain Joseph de Berroterán, 1748 1

Chief Pascual heard from Indian people at La Junta that a Spanish captain wanted to speak to him, that the Spanish would give him his own pueblo and mission, but he didn’t know this captain, and he had other things on his mind. He was still angry about what happened at the water hole, Acatita la Grande. Tobosos killed four of his warriors, and he couldn’t find a way to avenge their deaths, probably because there were so few Tobosos left.

Apaches and Tobosos2 had long shared the Bolsón de Mapimí, an arid expanse of dry basins and isolated mountain ranges that stretched endlessly, it seemed to Spanish soldiers, toward a brown horizon. From the eastern flanks of the Sierra Madre, several streams drained into the Mapimí basin, providing just enough water to sustain those who knew how to find it.3 From here, raiders could descend on settlements in Coahuila to the east and Nueva Vizcaya to the west.


9. The Saga of San Sabá



The Saga of San Sabá

The Apaches were evidently unimpressed by the strength of the new Presidio, for they quite refused to settle at the Mission. Indeed the whole establishment stood like bait at the very edge of the Comanche territory.

—Colonel Diego Ortiz Parrilla, 1758 1

When the viceroy finally agreed to a mission for the Apaches, in August 1756, it was fifteen years after their first request, thirteen years after Father Santa Ana’s first request, eleven years after the Ypande chief’s request, and seven years after the peace agreement at San Antonio. The Apaches had kept their peace in San Antonio and traded with the citizens,2 adjusted their territories, made new allies, fought their enemies, and, in general, managed nicely without Spanish help. So their lack of enthusiasm as the long-promised mission rose on the banks of the San Sabá might be forgiven.

The Spanish bureaucratic machinery had jammed with internal conflict, politics and indecision. Jacinto de Barrios Jáuregui, governor of Texas, was the final obstacle, rudely rebuffing priests and Ypandes who sought his support.3 After the viceroy overruled Barrios, it took another two years and two exploratory expeditions to find a site.


10. Missions Impossible



Missions Impossible

Those we call the Lipanes have come in large numbers.

—Father Jiménez, 1763

Apaches admired a forceful speaker, and this captain spoke boldly to them: The Comanches have taken your lands and your buffalo. Five times I have provided escorts for your hunting parties. You would be better off to live in a village at the mission. The friendly captain entertained them well and, from his own pocket, bought gifts of tobacco, corn, piloncillos (bricks of brown sugar), bridles, spurs, iron parts for saddles, and clothing.

In October 1760 Captain Felipe de Rábago y Terán (who will be referred to here as Terán to distinguish him from his uncle, Pedro) replaced Parrilla. Some Apaches probably remembered him from San Xavier, where he was yanked from command and chastised for incompetence, debauchery and suspected crimes. Young Terán seemed to embrace his post at San Sabá as a chance at redemption. Energetically, he recruited new soldiers, replenished the horse herd and replaced the wooden stockade with stone. That summer and fall, several Lipan chiefs camped nearby, encouraged by the formidable wall rising around the fort. Just the sight of it had already discouraged two raiding parties.1


11. Coahuila




[A]mong all the nations [the Apaches] are the most fearsome not only because of the firearms that they now have acquired . . . but also for their valor and intrepidity and because they are not accustomed to flee, preferring to win the engagement or die . . .

—Hugo Oconór, 1777 1

Coahuila, the Lipans’ new refuge, sprawled from the Medina River to the Big Bend of the Rio Grande to the Bolsón de Mapimí. Settlements were isolated, and the presidios undermanned. In spring 1770, three thousand Apaches camped across the Rio Grande from the presidio of San Juan Bautista, and Governor Jacobo Ugarte y Loyola had just 115 soldiers at the presidios of Monclova, San Juan Bautista del Río Grande and Santa Rosa del Sacramento. Settlers began to slip away. In July 1771 Apaches brazenly attacked the presidio of Santa Rosa at noon with the governor present and stole six hundred horses. Soldiers pursued, but their horses wore out after 180 miles.2


12. Labors and Designs



Labors and Designs

[T]he astute Lipanes now engage in the manufacture of powder, having learned the ingredients of which it is composed, perhaps, from some of our own people . . .

—Croix, 1778 1

In their villages along the Rio Grande, the People grew corn and gathered seeds and grains. It was difficult to hunt buffalo, but they had all the wild cattle and horses they could take. The Spanish captains prodded them to move across the river, but it wasn’t safe. The Comanches, as numerous as thistles, still threatened, and the treacherous governor, Ripperdá, favored their enemies. More relatives joined their camps, and the larger camps kept their enemies away. Their allies, the Lipiyans, lived nearby and would ride with them. So would the Natagés. They still had many friends among the Spanish people. They would stay here, with plenty of rough country at their backs, where they had everything they needed.2


13. New Allies



New Allies

The Lipan Indians . . . can easily make an alliance with other Indians in the interior, which they regularly do . . .

—Revilla Gigedo, 1783 1

After losing all their chiefs in the epidemic, Tonkawas embraced El Mocho, a Lipan captive they raised from childhood. On November 24, 1780, Mocho slipped into Cabello’s house at 6 a.m. and explained that he would have attacked the Lipans and stolen their horses, but Comanches and others hindered his movements, and he heard that smallpox was everywhere. Cabello snapped that the Lipans were so reduced by disease that the Tonkawas could easily have taken their horses. The next day several Lipans showed up. Come to our camp, and we will give you horses, they told Mocho. Cabello snarled that the Lipans would just kill him and dance with his scalp, and Mocho declined. After more Lipans arrived with the same offer, Cabello gave Mocho and his companion horses so they could leave in the night.2 In 1782 their paths merged. Mocho proposed a trade fair in November and December. Cabello ordered the Tonkawas to stay away from Lipans and threatened to kill Mocho if he persisted. The Tonkawas ignored him. Cabello asked for soldiers to punish anyone trading with the Lipans, but Croix couldn’t spare a man.


14. Picax-andé




Picax-andé’s strength is manifested more each day by the great numbers of important Apache chiefs who submit to him, a natural prince, through whose mouth they believe the gods speak.

—Ugalde, 1788

The Lipiyans, a fierce Apache group, were still holding out on the plains near the Colorado River, despite the Comanche menace. Their leader was Picax-andé Ins-tinsle, which meant “Strong Arm.” The Spanish called him Brazo de Fierro. The Lipiyans were well equipped with guns, arrows, bows, lances, shields and leather armor, Ugalde wrote. “They are brave warriors, as they have shown in the many battles fought against the warlike Comanche nation,” and had given no thought of abandoning their lands despite their proximity to Comanches, “nor do they ask peace at our presidios.”

Ugalde learned of the holdouts from captives during his Mescalero campaign and headed north with his troops, accompanied by five Lipans and four Mescaleros. Picax-andé, likewise, heard about Ugalde from Apaches fleeing Spanish attacks. On July 10, 1787, near the lower Pecos, the Lipiyan chief and the Spanish chief met. “Without pausing, he crossed the river to present himself,” wrote Ugalde. His men respectfully held the chief’s stirrup and bridle, and he dismounted. Picax-andé was “about fifty years of age, with the face and bearing of a soldier.”


15. Spy vs. Spy



Spy vs. Spy

I had treated him with the greatest sincerity and generosity of which I was capable . . . To this he responds by becoming the worst enemy of the Provinces and seducing the Lipanes to declare themselves a scourge as well.

—Ugalde, 1789 1

The Mescaleros, who had lived at peace near Santa Rosa and the Presidio del Norte, abruptly broke their peace on April 8, 1788. Picax-andé distanced himself, literally. He and the Lipans were hungry and had gone buffalo hunting, he said in a message to Ugalde, “but not without praying to God for your health.” He knew of the destruction caused by the Mescaleros and, as Ugalde’s friend, was prepared to punish them, he said. Ugalde declared unforgiving war on the Mescaleros but rejected help from the Comanches and Taovayas out of respect for the Lipiyans and looked to Picax-andé for help. He demurred; his people were sick, his horses were in poor condition, and they lacked necessities, or so he said.2


16. Betrayal




The reason for the Lipans’ hostility, which caused them to leave their lands, was because their rancherías were attacked by Ugalde. Since that time they have scattered because they mistrust us.

—Manuel Muñoz, 1791 1

Nava made peace with the Upper Lipans on February 8, 1791, in San Fernando and recognized Chief José Antonio as their principal leader. Nava’s conditions were that José Antonio would punish wrongdoers and force them to make restitution or turn them over to the Spanish; the Lipans would restore captives; and when they rounded up mustangs, they would return animals with known brands. They could enter frontier towns to trade as long as they did no damage. And they must break with El Calvo (Picax-andé) and ally with the Spanish. José Antonio agreed to Nava’s terms but said they had no captives. He promised to whip robbers, kill murderers, and return animals taken from corrals, but they expected to be paid for catching stock running free. Breaking with Picax-andé would take time, he said.2


17. War and Peace



War and Peace

The Apache is proud of nothing, except of being brave, and this attitude reaching such a degree, that he despises the man of whom no bold deed is known . . .

—Antonio Cordero, 1796 1

José Antonio asked for peace for his entire nation in January 1793, but the mantle of principal chief had passed to Canoso, Chiquito and Moreno, who were hunting buffalo. They would come in and negotiate when they returned. Nava was beginning to understand the diversity of Lipanería and found it to be a far more varied group than the other Apaches in his territories. For that reason, he suggested flexible terms. Nava’s proposed articles of peace included the usual demands to cease hostilities, return captives and turn over branded animals, along with the usual promises of rations and trade. The Spanish also offered to designate territory where Lipans could hunt and gather unhindered. If Picax-andé asked for peace, “let him enter and treat him in all good faith,” Nava said. If he was willing to go to Santa Fe, he could be considered friendly. “If he goes to his rancheria, tell him we have learned of the bad advice given to the Mescaleros and Lipans to separate them from our friendship and alliance: in the future he needs to be more loyal.”2


18. Castro




The Lipans have a chief who is quite civilized. Castro, as he is called, speaks good Spanish and has a feeling for justice and equity.

—Jean Louis Berlandier, 1828 1

Comanches claimed to be friends, but still they attacked the People’s relatives—the Sejende, the Cuelcajende, the Natagés and the Túédinendé—to the west. The Comanches declared war impulsively, without first summoning a council to deliberate. They didn’t observe the laws of hospitality. As allies, the Comanches were unworthy. When the two Spaniards came to tell the People that Mexico was free of the Spanish king and encourage them to break with the Comanches, the People obliged. They didn’t need the Comanches. They would go to Mexico City and negotiate their own peace.2

When Spain finally released her grip on Mexico, Commandant-General Gaspar López on November 3, 1821, sent a proclamation to all the chiefs or captains of Indian tribes announcing the change of government. He directed Francisco Ruiz and Vicente Tarín, known to have influence with the Comanches and Lipans, to visit both tribes. The Lipans were living near Laredo and in Coahuila at Santa Rosa and Aguaverde; in Texas on the San Sabá, Guadalupe, San Marcos, and Colorado rivers; and on the Gulf Coast between present Houston and Galveston and at the mouth of the Rio Grande. “In my opinion, the Lipans are the best horsemen,” Ruiz reported. They were “very adept” with their weapons and known to steal Spanish livestock and alter the brand with gunpowder or a branding iron but “do seem to have a disposition toward cultivating the soil.” Citizens, however, were still bitter about depredations.3


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