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The Apache Wars
Internal Colonialism and Manifest Destiny
Perhaps one of the least well-known and least understood of the United States government agencies is the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). On the other hand, one of the most well-known yet most misunderstood of the American Indian tribes are the various bands and peoples that comprise the Apache Indians. The reason for the Apaches’ prominence in the American psyche is due to the violent and tragic period in American history known as the Apache Wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This paper examines the relationship between the Apache Indians and the BIA during the Apache Wars, looking to see what were the circumstances surrounding this tenuous relationship, the causes and effects of the government’s Indian policy, and the influence, actions, and attitude of the BIA during this period. In this pursuit, I examined both primary sources, mostly comprising of governmental records and newspaper articles, and historians writings on the issue from a range of years. The primary sources serve to show the change and continuity in the government’s Indian policy and public opinion concerning the Apaches before, during, and after the Apache Wars. The secondary historical accounts of the issue serve to also show change and continuity, but rather they show it in terms of how the perception of the Apache Wars and the BIA’s role in it have changed over time and which aspects of the history have been discarded and which remain. This paper concludes that the government’s Indian policy was couched in the language and ideology of Manifest Destiny and internal colonialism and the actions of the BIA were a reflection of this. Although it can by no means be said that the BIA’s methods were entirely uniform throughout the Apache Wars, whatever the justification they all contained language of internal colonialism and betrayed various degrees of prejudice and the belief that the Apaches, and all Indians for that matter, were lesser than Whites and needed to be ruled for the sake of all parties involved.
Secretary of War John C. Calhoun created what he called the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824 without the authorization of Congress (i.e. illegally) and named Thomas L. McKenney, the former superintendent of Indian trade, to be its first head. However, it soon became apparent to McKenney, who referred to it as the Office of Indian Affairs, that this new office had merely assumed the routine work that related to Indian affairs, while the power and responsibility was still in the possession of the Secretary of War. McKenney realized that, in order for him to truly affect any change in Indian affairs, some sort of Congressional action founding an Office of Indian Affairs with real authority and responsibility of all issues pertaining to US-Indian relations in the hands of that Office’s head would be needed. Subsequently, McKenney started working on a bill that would do just this in 1826 and in 1832 both houses of Congress passed the bill thus giving “the President authority to appoint a Commissioner of Indian Affairs to serve under the Secretary of War, and to have ‘the direction and management of all Indian affairs, and of all matters arising out of Indian relations.’” In 1849 the Office of Indian Affairs was moved from the auspices of the War Department to the newly formed Department of the Interior.
At its creation, the BIA had few real responsibilities, their initial duties were as follows: being in charge of appropriations for annuities, approving all vouchers for expenditures, administering the funds appropriated to “civilize” the Indians, deciding on claims arising between Indians and whites under the trade and intercourse acts, and handling correspondence dealing with Indian affairs. However, as the so-called “Indian Question” became a more prominent issue, compounded by the rapid expansion of the country westward and the accompanying emigration of white settlers to lands adjacent to and directly on land inhabited by Indians, so grew the scope of the BIA’s duties and authority. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the BIA had started to engage in a myriad of specialized functions, such as irrigation, forestry, law enforcement, health policy, and construction projects. This expansion of responsibility was also the result of the perceived inability of the Indians to provide such services for themselves. In addition to these new tasks, the BIA also started to take an ever-increasing role in the education of Indian populations. The thought was that in order to facilitate the processes of “civilizing,” assimilating, and pacifying the Indians, they must be endowed with “education in the white man’s way.” But many of these attempts at “civilization” found naught but limited success and, as more and more white Americans moved west seeking opportunity, the BIA was faced with a major issue: there simply was not enough land and resources for both these white settlers and the Indians. Furthermore, the notion that the Indians could continue to live in their traditional way in the stretch of land designated “Indian Territory” proved to be fallacious due to repeated breaches into said territory by white settlers. The solution to this problem is perhaps the most famous/infamous of all US Indian policy, the reservation system.
Reservations differed from the concept of Indian Territory, as they tended to be smaller, had specific and defined boundaries, and were frequently created for the use of one specific tribe or group of Indians rather than being the sort of “catch-all” that Indian Territory was. The BIA assigned Indian agents one or more reservations in order to maintain the implementation of US Indian policy and to monitor for any possible threat that the Indians under their charge might pose to local white settlers. After the Civil War, the number of whites moving west greatly increased and Indians were frequently required to stay on their reservations, and, in order to avoid conflict, non-Indians were supposed to remain outside of the reservation’s borders. The establishment of the reservation system had much in common with the concept of removal. Initially, there existed the idea that, on a reservation, Indians would be able to become self-sufficient and run their own affairs, yet the reservations proved inadequate at providing the necessary resources for self-sufficiency for those Indians dependent on hunting for their subsistence. As a result, many of the Indians living on reservations were issued food rations and the reservation’s Indian agent often assumed many governmental functions formerly belonging to Indian governments.
As stated in the introduction, the focus of this essay is the relations between the BIA and the Apache Indians during the Apache Wars. But who exactly are the Apaches? A common misconception is that the Apache Indians are one united tribe or group. This belief is actually false and, in truth, a rather dangerous assumption. By the mid nineteenth century, the Apache Indians of what is now the Southwestern United States might have only differed slightly in their dialects and minor customs and even these slight differences paled in comparison to the similarities they all derived from their common heritage, but this by no means made them united. They were in fact divided into several different groups. The Western Apache consisted of the Coyotero, Pinal, and Arivaipa tribes. To the east of the Western Apache were the Warm Springs or Ojo Caliente Apache, who considered themselves to be a “different people” from the Western Apache. The Chiricahua Apache resided to the south of the Western Apache in the mountains of southeast Arizona and had good relations with the Western Apache. The Eastern Apache consisted of the Jicarilla Apache in northern New Mexico and the Plains and the Mescalero Apache in southern New Mexico. Although some of these bands had amicable relations, such as the Western Apache and the Chiricahua Apache, most of them did not really trust one another, often leaving the territory between two Apache tribes unoccupied for defensive reasons. To the Apache, kinship formed the fabric of the social organization, but, in their separation, kinship ties had atrophied. This resulted in “a lack of the social mechanisms that regulate behavior and render it predictable. Interactions among people without such bonds become uncertain and somewhat dangerous. José Cortés in 1799 went so far as to assert that ‘although they may encounter their relatives they take the greatest precautions, which vary more or less according to how long it has been since they last saw one another, and they will not approach a brother without their weapons in hand.’” One can clearly see that the Apaches were not one unified group and perhaps part of the reason they suffered so greatly was that the powers that be in Washington were oblivious to this fact.
A shared aspect of the Apaches tribes that makes them rather unique compared to many of the other Indian groups in the West was the importance of raiding. For the Apaches, raiding was a natural way of life, and its main purpose was to obtain food for their own use. Raiding became ever more important as the threat of white settlers and their consumption of the limited resources of the land grew. As BIA Agent Michael Steck observed in 1857, “‘brave men with arms in their hands will not starve, nor see their children starve around them, while the means of subsistence is within their reach.’” Apache raiders would distribute their spoils to others within their tribe, such as women, children, and other kin, who had not participated in the raid. This reflected the “egalitarian social organization and system of values that emphasized sharing” that the Apaches held dear and that the United States government saw as “a tax upon industry, and a premium upon indolence and unthrift.” This distinct lack of understanding behind the motives of Apache actions foreshadows many of the problems that would arise between the Apaches and the United States government.
In order to understand US-Apache relations, one must first look to the first relations the Apaches had with foreigners, namely the Spanish and the Mexicans. The Spanish had tried to conquer and subdue the Apache but ultimately failed. Once the Mexicans expelled the Spanish and won their independence, they tried to follow the enlightenment philosophy of all people being created equal. Although it may seem as though this would have been beneficial to the Apaches, it actually presented problems for them and other Indians because it somewhat robbed them of their cultural distinctiveness and made them subject to Mexican law. Out of frustration or perhaps even desperation, the government in the northern provinces of Mexico underwent an extreme reversal in how they would address the Apache problem. The ideals of equality that had defined their earlier stance “gave way to a policy intended to eliminate the Apache, and governors of Sonora and Chihuahua offered cash bounties for Apache scalps.” Initially Apache raids had been primarily motivated by the acquisition of livestock, with the small Apache raiding parties taking caution to avoid contact with the inhabitants of the region. But as the violence surrounding the bounty hunting escalated and increasingly more Apaches lost relatives to these scalp-hunters, revenge on the people of northern Mexico became a main focus of Apache raiders and the killing people as well as their livestock and the taking of captives from Mexico back to Apache lands became more and more common. The Mexican government pursued their campaign of death and destruction for years and the dismal state of Mexican-Apache relations would come to have a profound effect on US-Apache relations.
Despite damage and atrocities done to the Apaches at the hands of the Mexican government, they had not developed an inherent sense of mistrust and hatred for foreigners when they first came into contact with Americans. Initially, the Apache were accommodating to the Anglo-Americans in their territory, however, these amicable relations soon deteriorated. In fact, the Mexican government’s bounty on Apache scalps proved to be an attraction for those few Anglo-Americans willing to participate in the process of genocide for monetary gain. Just before mid-century, parties of scalp hunters hoping to collect Sonora’s bounties haunted Apache lands. The bounty for an Apache ‘warrior’ was one hundred pesos, fifty pesos for an Apache woman, and twenty-five pesos for children. Although the actions of these scalp-hunters made the Apaches wary of the Americans, when news came to them of the American victory in the Mexican-American War, they were pleased and interpreted this mutual disdain for the Mexicans as perhaps a basis for an amicable relationship. However, “the assertion that the Mexicans had given their territory to the United States made little sense to the Apache, since they themselves had maintained control of it for centuries. The idea that they should cease their raids into Mexico at the request of these strangers was equally unintelligible.” This lack of comprehension of territorial integrity by Western standards was part of the reason for the US government wanting to control and pacify the Apache Indians.
The Apache Wars
The dialectical struggle between the US government’s and the BIA’s shared mission to “civilize” and pacify the Apache and the Apaches’ struggle to maintain their endangered way of life ultimately sparked a decades long conflict known as the Apache Wars.
Tensions between the Apaches and the American government and the white settlers had been steadily growing since the first whites emigrated to Apache lands. Although, as stated before, there was some hope for an amicable relationship between the parties, this hope shriveled and died as competition for resources became more and more heated. Indeed, it was this very competition over available resources that caused many of the Apache bands to start to see the Americans as their enemy rather than as a possible ally. As Perry says, “The process by which the Western Apache came to lose control over their territorial base amounted to a loss of access to an adequate supply of food.” Still wishing to hold on to their independence, many Apache bands increasing relied on the practice of raiding in order to sustain themselves, some estimates putting the number of Apache dependent on raiding for subsistence at around fifty percent.
The tension between Americans and Apaches broke out into war after what is known as the Bascom Affair. With the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1860, much of the US Army garrisons in the Southwest were called away to fight the Confederacy. With the lessening of American troop presence in the region, Apache raids became increasingly bold. In 1861, Lieutenant George Bascom committed an incredible blunder that arguably caused the Apache Wars and cost thousands of men, women, and children on both sides of the conflict their lives. Having learned that the Chiricahua had a Mexican captive in their possession, Bascom invited the Apache leader Cochise along with other Apache leaders to discuss the matter. When the Apaches arrived at the negotiations, Bascom had them arrested. Cochise and some of the other Apaches escaped their confines and Bascom subsequently had the remaining Apache captives hanged. As a result of this enormous gaffe, the Chiricahua lost their patience with the Americans and were joined by the Pinal, Arivaipa, Coyotero, Mimbres, and other Apache groups in their war against the Americans. The many Anglo-American settlements that had cropped up in Apache lands were consequently either abandoned or destroyed due to Apache hostilities. Thus the fateful first shots of the Apache Wars were fired and could not be undone.
Although many of the Apache bands were united in the struggle against American internal colonialism, the term “Apache Wars” is pluralized for a reason. Rather than being one continuous armed conflict between two opposing sides, they were, in actuality, a series of conflicts marked by intervals of relative peace and outright war. In fact, there were many instances of attempts at peace negotiations between Apache bands and American officials, many of which were soured by Anglo-American treachery. Apaches were ambushed and massacred during negotiations with both governmental and non-governmental entities, given poisoned food or whiskey, and generally betrayed time and time again. During the conflict, the BIA tried to keep to their mission of providing for and protecting the Apaches in their care while never forgetting where their true loyalties lay. The BIA was not the army and thus had a different role in pacifying the Apache. While the US Army and the War Department saw the Apache as a hostile insurgent force to be dealt with militarily, the BIA was more concerned with “civilizing” the Apaches. In the 1871 Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Acting Commissioner H.R. Clum remarked that the Apache were “[t]he Indians most difficult of management, and who have caused the greatest trouble during the past year,” and furthermore are “warlike in their disposition from time immemorial, have changed but little, and most of them are still under the surveillance of the military, at whose hands they have at times suffered severely, in consequence of their numerous murders of citizens and frequent depredations.” Here one sees a measure of sympathy for the Apaches completely absorbed by a language of just desserts for a rebellious and stubborn group of Indians who refuse to be “civilized” and are subsequently hurting the rest of their kin by not subjugating themselves to American authority. Clum goes on to describe how a large group of Apaches had been willing to “peaceably yield themselves to the control of the Government,” but this willingness was thwarted by their own undue paranoia.
While the military engaged the Apache bands by use of force, the BIA engaged the Apaches by use of various services and attempts at instilling “civilization” in them. Under President U.S. Grant, the BIA’s mission when it came to the Apache, and really to all the Indian tribes under their care, reflected Grant’s famous “Peace Policy.” Turning towards an attitude of beneficence rather than one of aggression, the BIA tried to continue to urge the Apaches to practice agriculture and take on educational endeavors in order to raise them from their “savage” status. However, one year after Clum’s report, the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Francis A. Walker, explained his view of Indian Policy in his Report to the Secretary of the Interior. Walker regarded Indians in one of two ways: hostile or not hostile due either to being indisposed towards or incapable of hostility. He refers to the “treacherous and vindictive” Apaches as the government’s “traditional enemies” and regarded the “peace policy” of President Grant as one of “idleness by the Government.” Walker despised what he saw as a policy that was impossible to accomplish and rewarded hostile Indians while hurting ones that were friendly towards the US government and the BIA’s mission. In his Report, Walker advocated an increase in the use of the “military arm” to pacify the Apache and the other rebellious Indian tribes, going so far as to title a section of his report “Submission [sic] the Only Hope of the Indians.”
Language used to describe BIA-Apache relations seems to be the only true change in BIA policy over the course of the Apache Wars. The advocating of outright extermination and removal policies may have stopped by the time of the Apache Wars, but the solutions presented by the powers that be at the time were not really so different, at least in spirit, than those presented by the armed bands of white militias that roamed the Southwest collecting Apache scalps. Its twin brother, the reservation system, replaced the idea of removal. Though no Commissioner might have publically favored outright genocide during the Apache Wars, the idea of cultural genocide was a common theme throughout the series of conflicts that encompassed the Wars. The Apache bands proved impossible to kill, but, the thought was, that perhaps their way of life would not be so invulnerable. Thus the American government, through the BIA and the US Army starved the Apaches into submission and forced them to choose between either life as “civilized” subjects or death as “savage” free men.
Internal Colonialism and Manifest Destiny
Wrapped in the policies and actions of the BIA before, during, and for years after the Apache Wars was this idea of Manifest Destiny and a sort of internal colonialism and imperialism. Regardless of the mindset of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs and how they saw their responsibility in that office, whether the saw Indians as enemy insurgents or their wards, they viewed the Indian Question as this sort of “White Man’s Burden.”
Perhaps no quote more perfectly sums up the contemporary view of the Apaches better than James P. Boyd’s 1891 Recent Indian Wars, in which he says in the opening line to his section on the Apaches, “The Apaches have resisted the whites more stubbornly than any other Indian tribe.” This sentence reflects the popular view that Apache Wars was really a fight between two races rather than two sovereign entities. Note the use of the word “resisted” rather than “fought,” thus implying the notion that the Apache warriors who did battle with the US government were more akin to insurgents than they were to soldiers fighting for their homeland.
Even more telling than this above example of the imperialistic and colonial mindset that infected the BIA and the Apache Question in its infancy and stayed with it for decades to come is the continual notion expanded upon time and time again that the BIA and the US government represented perfect, white, Christian civilization and that whatever notion the Apaches had of civilization was inherently wrong. In other words, there existed this unshakable idea that not only were the Apaches uncivilized, but that they would never be capable of becoming civilized unless they allowed Americans to teach them how to be so.
Apache misconceptions of the American concepts of private ownership and economic motivation and the Apache tendency to “view the foreigners on an individual basis rather than as a collective category,” caused them to see the Americans initially as their new neighbors rather than a threat to their very way of life. Anyone who is at all familiar with European imperialism in Africa can see the similarities present in the situation between the Apaches and the US government. The United States, lacking the justification of imperialism that the Europeans enjoyed due to America’s origin as being inherently anti-colonial, instead called their version of imperialism Manifest Destiny, believing that it was the divinely ordained destiny of the American Republic to stretch from coast to coast. In this way, the BIA operated as something of America’s version of a Colonial Office. The interest groups that lobbied to, influenced, and subsequently infiltrated the BIA were convinced that Indians had to be “Americanized.” One Francis Prucha characterized these “friends of the Indians” thusly: “‘The [Indian policy] reformers put their faith principally in three proposals: first, to break up the tribal relations and their reservation base and to individualize the Indian on a 160 acre homestead…; second, to make the Indians citizens and equal with the whites in regard to both the protection and restraints of law; and third, to provide a universal government school system that would make good Americans out of the rising generation of Indians.’” This way of thinking meant that the egalitarianism of the Apaches was something the United States government saw as a malady in need of a cure. This is again another similarity between the BIA and the European colonial offices, which sought to “correct” the “savage” ways of the local native populations under their “care.”
Colonial offices in European imperial territories aimed at replacing the culture and traditions of the native populations with those of the imperial power. In this way, the BIA was truly no different from those colonial offices and a culmination of this internal imperialist mindset came in 1887 with the General Allotment Act. This act of Congress was designed to deal Indian culture and values a mortal wound by targeting the new generations of Indians through education. The General Allotment Act “marked the beginning of a comprehensive school system set up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, attempts to stamp out tribalism and ‘Indianness,’ and the breaking up of tribal government through the assumption of many governmental functions on Indian reservations by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and its reservation superintendents or agents.” The primary purpose of these changes was to implement a method of “enforced acculturation.” The thought was that the Apache, and really all Indians, could be “civilized” via education and agriculture. Eventually, the hope was that these programs would “‘finally enable the Government to leave the Indian to stand alone.’” The act also gave individual Indians allotments of land in order to further destroy their tribalistic tendencies. In order to prevent the sale of their allotted land by the Indian owner to another individual, Indian or not, and thus allowing them to return to their old ways, the land “was to be held in trust by the United States for a period of twenty-five years, during which time permission of the Indian agent was required for alienation of the land.”
The prevalence of this internal imperialism within the BIA and the US government alike shaped Indian policy and dictated solutions to the so-called Apache Question. To the US government, the Apaches were their rebellious wards that needed to be brought to heel for the good of all parties involved. The BIA was the government’s main instrument in attempting to achieve this goal of “civilization” for that most resistant of the Indian tribes, the Apache.
There remains much to be said about the tumultuous relationship between the United States government and the various bands that comprised the Apache Indians, especially concerning the role of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in said relationship. The ugly truth behind the process of assimilation and Manifest Destiny and the resulting genocide of Indians that the United States was built upon is well-known, yet perhaps the mindset behind it is still largely shrouded in mystery. Racial bigotry and white Christian supremacy both played a part in the atrocities committed against America’s Indians, but the imperialistic ideals of the young republic are still rather ignored by popular historiography. While academia is well aware, the average American citizen is probably still ignorant of the complex justification used by their ancestors to subjugate, oppress, and murder other human beings in the mission of spreading “civilization.” The Apache are but one of a plethora of Indian groups that suffered the fate of Manifest Destiny. Currently, the opening line of the BIA’s website’s page entitled “Who We Are” starts by lauding the “peaceful arrest of [the Apache leader] Geronimo and his heavily armed followers in the 1870's.” Although it is true that the capture of Geronimo was peaceful, the BIA continues to ignore the circumstances surrounding Geronimo’s rebellion and the role they played in facilitating it. All peoples have skeletons in their closets, but it is time that we as Americans fully admit that the Indian policies of the nineteenth century and our ideal of Manifest Destiny was nothing more than an American euphemism for imperialism and colonialism and it is time that the BIA recognizes that they served as our Colonial Office. Bloodstains are hard to remove and the more we try to scrub them, the deeper they will sink in.
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- Quote paper
- Matthew Milzman (Author), 2014, Apache-US Relations During the Apache Wars. A Study of the Imperialistic Role of the BIA, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/293848