War And Revenge



Chapter 10: The Story of the Tonto Apache

One reason the white-eyes did not understand the Apache's faith in God is because in American Christianity war and violence are thought of as evil. For the Apache, violence is part of life, and does not conflict with their faith in the Life Giver and the Mountain Spirits.


Apache warriors were short of stature but very fierce. The bow and arrow, as well as the lance, were their primary weapons, until traders began furnishing them with rifles.

The experience of James Kaywaykla, a Warm Springs Apache, is not unlike that of the Western Apache people. He was the narrator behind Eve Ball's book, "In The Days of Victorio," (University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1970) and he said, "Until I was about 10 years old, I did not know that people died except by violence ... I had no doubt whatever but that I would die. I had never seen anything die a natural death, though I knew it happened. Everything died by violence and I wondered if I would suffer ..."

Among the Tontos warfare was a deeply ingrained institution. There were rules to abide, there were ceremonies to perform before and after, there were prayers to be said and songs to be sung. War was not for winning territory but to prove courage and skill, to secure food, and to achieve revenge. To take the life of an enemy was not considered an evil act, but a cause to be celebrated and rewarded. To kill women and children was for them a blessing, because without their men to hunt and protect them they would be helpless and perhaps captured for slavery.

With the coming of the whites, the cruelty of Indian warfare intensified. Unscrupulous traders sold alcoholic beverages to the Indians, to which the Indian seemed especially vulnerable, and provided guns in trade. Mexican and American governments offered bounties for Indian scalps. This became a large business in the mid-19th century, and if the black hair of a Mexican was long enough his scalp was often passed for an Apache. Traditionally, it was not the practice of Apaches to take scalps, but when the invaders scalped Apaches, some were encouraged to return the favor and scalp their victims.

However, when an Apache took a scalp it was after the victim was dead, and then it was handled gingerly for fear of the dead person's ghost.

The scalp was not brought back to camp, but carried for a day on a pole while prayers were offered for increased power.

The victor might talk to the scalp, in effect praying that the group it represented would become weak. Only the Apache's traditional enemies were scalped, like whites or Pimas or Mexicans.

The Apache did not have the elaborate governmental structures of the invaders. There were no legal systems, police forces, or standing armies.

Apaches would organize themselves into war or raiding parties to protect their territory against others who would upset the delicate balance of their subsistence.

At such times a war chief was chosen to lead them on their mission.

If their numbers were not strong enough to assure victory, they would call upon other family groups in their same tribe, and often reached beyond their territory to enlist fellow clan members who were obliged to respond.

A Tonto Apache might have kin among the White River or Cibecue or Pinal people, who would, upon invitation, come to help defend or avenge their fellow clan members.

However, violent actions against other groups were weighed carefully since they would probably bring reciprocity.

By the same token, if your band was known to have a strong fighting spirit and invincible defense, that could deter others from raiding your people.

Keeping up a vicious front, whether you felt like it or not, was critical. Even the appearance of weakness was a stigma to be avoided; it was an invitation to annihilation.

Just as there was no Apache word for religion, so there was no word in the language for forgiveness. Once the need for revenge was established, it might come at any unsuspected moment in the future. Such a commitment lurked unrelenting in the thoughts and plans of the clan.

The hour would be well chosen. When it came, the attack might seem far removed from the initial cause, but those involved would know why it happened.

Tonto Apaches did not use the war club, which was a basic weapon of the Pima, Maricopa and Mohave tribes.

When Tonto Apaches were accused of depredations using war clubs (as in the infamous Oatman Massacre), one is suspicious that the raiders were really from desert tribes.

The weapons of choice among Tonto Apaches were bows and arrows, and lances made from the stalk of the agave or sotol (yucca plants).

They were reinforced with rawhide, and a bayonet blade of steel or sharp wood was attached to the end of the lance.

The whole weapon measured anywhere from 4- to 15-feet in length.

The lance was thrust directly into the victim, never thrown.

The Apaches were also excellent at making arrows. Their arrow was a 3-foot-long shaft, the bow 5 feet high.

Their skill brought deadly accuracy, and the arrow point often carried poison made from rotting deer liver and snake venom.

Next: Marriage and The Family

Commenting has been disabled for this item.