Marriage And Family



Chapter 11: The Story of the Tonto Apache

The wardrobe of the Tonto Apache was basic and simple. Standard dress for the male began with a breechcloth (properly called "breechclout"), made with two yards of material between his legs and pulled up over a belt. It hung almost to the ground in the front and rear. The women's garments included buckskin skirts, which were often two skins hung over a belt, before and behind. A fringe was usually cut into the edges. The other basic item of clothing for both men and women was the moccasin. This was like a boot, turned over just below the knees. The folded-over portion could be drawn up to protect the thighs. The soles of the moccasin were made of rawhide, the hairy side out, and had a toe turned up about two inches in front to form a tab of various shapes. The print of the moccasin and its toe was unique to each of the various bands of Western Apache, and Indian scouts could identify them on the trail.


The Sunrise, or Puberty Ceremony, on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. This "coming-out party" for Apache maidens signaled her readiness for marriage. These ceremonies are still held today among the traditional Apaches.

The men in a family had three major occupations: hunting, raiding and warfare. These activities gave meaning to the male Apache's life, and provided necessary sustenance for the family.

The men gathered about campfires, squatted under the trees or entered their sweat lodges to make plans for their hunts or raids. There were rituals to perform, dances to conduct and songs to sing. These were forms of prayer, designed to garner the power needed for the adventure.

What booty they brought home from these events was turned over to the women of the camp to prepare, to process, to own and distribute, while the men rested and then prepared for their next manly activity.

Protecting the chastity and purity of women in the band was among the most serious of concerns for the men. The rape or seduction of one of the girls or women was ruthlessly avenged. Similarly, it was the fear of revenge that kept an Apache man from violating any woman not his own.

This reciprocal vengeance and fear of vengeance established a high standard of sexual purity among the Apaches.

However, widows were permitted more freedom, and often would reward returning warriors who were single with sexual favors.

Marriage came early for the Apache girl and later for the male, who had to first prove his worthiness in raiding and hunting as a sign of his ability to support the extended family.

The Apache girl was ready for marriage after she began her menses, and the time was marked by an elaborate puberty ceremony called "The Sunrise Dance." It is so named because it begins before sunrise.

Though the girl must agree to perform her part, it is the family who decides the exact time for it to take place.

They will need the help of their kinsmen for it is an elaborate and expensive celebration.

The relationships of boys and girls among the Apache were supervised closely.

Even brothers and sisters were not left alone in camp, nor were courting couples allowed to be alone together.

Courtship was conducted in public at the dances and food gathering parties, or working together in the fields.

The partners chose each other, though sometimes the parents arranged the marriage.

In that case, the boy's family carried his proposal to the girl's family in the form of gifts.

The girl's family would gather and discuss it, and divide the gifts among themselves if the proposal was accepted.

If the proposal was rejected, the gifts were returned.

When a proposal was accepted the girl was sent to the boy's family camp, probably accompanied by a female relative.

She slept with the boy's mother and sisters for several nights, and on about the fourth day she could show her continued acceptance of the marriage by preparing breakfast for her intended groom.

She then returned to her parent's camp, where she and her mother built a gowa for them to live in.

The boy then moved to her camp and the couple began living together. This act of living together was the extent of the marriage ceremony itself.

Sometimes the gowa had been built before she went to the boy's camp, and after her visit to his camp he simply returned with her to her camp to begin their new life together.

If the family did not arrange the marriage, the boy made the initial advance or the girl could choose her own husband.

Selecting him frequently as a partner for the public dance became a sign to the community of their intentions and a way for the couple to communicate their intention to each other.

When the boy made his bid for her, he took what he deemed the proper offering of gifts to her mother's gowa and left them there. A preferred gift was one or more horses, but the Tontos had few horses, so it would more likely be buckskins, weapons, or spoils of the hunt.

After four days, if the gifts were still there or the horses unattended, the marriage would not proceed.

If the gifts were accepted, or the horses cared for, the marriage was completed.

In Elliott Arnold's book "Blood Brother," he describes a beautiful Apache wedding ceremony, which he had made up because, he said, "the truth was so boring."

After all, it was a fictional book and he claimed the right to follow his imagination.

The ceremony he created was so beautiful and touching that Apache couples often came to the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson for a copy, thinking it was genuine. In fact, there was no ritual for marriage other than the customs faithfully followed.

Next: Trappers Invade Apacheland

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