|Native American Tribes Overview: Their Culture and History
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Photos Courtesy of Denver Museum Digital Archive & Library of Congress.
The Hopi Indian:
They live in Northeastern Arizona and New Mexico.
According to legend, the ancestors of the Hopi Indian migrated from
various locations and settled near the Grand Canyon. Legend also
portrays a peaceful people, willing to cooperate with others to
improve their life. Classified as Pueblo Indians they most likely
descended from the Anasazi. The Hopi were the only Pueblo Indians
that spoke a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language family called
Shoshone. At right: A Hopi Native American woman in 1900.
More on the Development of Hopi Indian Jewelry
The word "Hopi" means good, peaceful, or wise. They come from a
group of Southwestern people called Pueblo, but their language is
different. They live in northeast Arizona, mostly on the mesa tops in villages called pueblos. Their
homes are usually many stories high, as shown in the photo below.
Hopi men wore a straight sleeved or sleeveless shirt of undyed,
native cotton, worn like a poncho; knitted cotton leggings reaching
half way up the thighs; cotton loin cloth; and moccasins of deerskin.
Women wore an undyed cotton robe, which passed under the left
arm and was fastened above the right shoulder and an embroidered belt.
Hopi Indian Ceremonies
The Hopi Indian's religious ceremonies are held underground in rooms called "kiva's."
They famous for their Kachina dolls, which tourists buy for their children. However, Hopi children
cannot play with Kachinas. They are used to teach Hopi Indian children about spirit powers.
Hopi Kiva Kachina Dolls
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The Navajo Indians:
The name Navajo generally meaning “Takers of the field” were given their Indian name
by the Tewa Indian people. The Navajo are also referred to as Diné, meaning “The
The Navajo belong to the linguistic group known as the
Athapaskan. They are located in the regions of Arizona,
Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.
The Navajo Indians lived in homes called hogans.
Their hogan was made from wooden poles, tree bark,
and mud. The doorway opened to the east so they could welcome
The Navajo woman's traditional style of dress consisted usually
of foot or knee-high moccasins, a pleated velvet or cotton skirt,
a matching long-sleeve blouse, concho and/or sash belt, Indian
jewelry and a shawl. Men also wore Indian jewelry, and moccasins
and preferably a velveteen shirt. Although many Navajo people
wear contemporary clothing, they continue to carry on their
cultural practices by wearing traditional outfits when the
occasion requires it. It is believed that before an individual
can receive help from the Great Spirit, one must first wear
appropriate clothing in order to be recognized.
The Navajo Indians were great farmers. That’s why they moved to the south
because it was warmer and they could grow more food.
After the Navajo came in contact with the Pueblo people, they began to make pottery and weave
rugs, blankets and other items. The men were great silversmiths, mostly making jewelry.
When the Navajos -or "Dine" as they called themselves, needed healing they called upon a medicine
man whom they called a singer. The singer would make a mixture out of pollen, cornmeal, ground
charcoal, and colorful powdered minerals. Then they would use the mixture to make a religious
painting. Then the singer would make the ill villager sit on the painting so the gods could heal him.
When the service was over they’d destroy the painting.
Once on the Navajo Reservation, they needed new skills to survive. This led them to learn weaving,
making cloth, and art from the Pueblo Indians. They used sheep to make clothes, blankets, and rugs.
They use the same natural vegetable dyes today. In their artistic designs the Navajo used symbols
and signs to represent their ideas and beliefs. They had made pottery for domestic use for
many decades. When they could obtain better utensils made from metal and glass, the need to make
pottery for daily use declined. Instead they made pottery for the tourist trade
which had been growing steadily, and they made beautiful silver jewelry.
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The Navajo Indians learned to work silver from the Mexican silver workers, who had supplied them
with silver ornaments, and they soon outstripped the Mexicans in technique. The Navajo known as
the "Old Smith" was probably the first of his tribe to carry on the work, and he learned it from a
Mexican known as Cassilio, who was still living in 1870. Copper and brass were worked by the
beginners who were able to get sheet copper and copper wire from the
Indian traders. Very few tools were employed and these were simple.
The bellows consisted of a skin bag about a foot long, held open with
wooden hoops. It was provided with a valve and a nozzle. A forge,
crucibles, an anvil, and tongs was used. Molds, the matrix and die, cold
chisels, scissors, pliers, files, awls, and emery paper also came into play.
A soldering outfit, consisting of a blowpipe, and a torch made of
oil-soaked rags, used with borax, was manipulated successfully by the
skillful silversmith. He used grinding stone, sandstone dust, and ashes
for whitening them, and salt and water with a mineral called almogen.
Buy Navajo Squash Blossom Necklaces
Apache Native Americans:
The Apache culture originated in Canada but most migrated
to the American Great Plains. Some of the Apache Indian
Bands settled in Texas, and several settled in Arizona and
Apaches were organized into bands that traveled, hunted
and fought together. The Apaches were skilled horsemen
and often teamed up when hunting buffalo. Lipan Apaches
were also farmers which was very unusual for Apaches.
Women also rode horses. See 1840 photo taken at San Carlos Reservation below.
Apaches were a migratory, horse culture which were
divided into multiple decentralized bands. At times,
they had good trade relations with Mexicans and Pueblos.
Mescalero had been rounded up (frequently) and held (infrequently) at the Bosque Redondo of Fort
Sumner, New Mexico, since 1865, although army agents in charge of them continually complained
that they came and went with alarming frequency. Four centuries of almost constant conflict and
decimation by disease along with the loss of the land base that had sustained them all combined to
reduce the Mescalero to a pitiful few by the time their reservation was established.
The late 1870s through the teens of the twentieth Century was a particularly difficult time,
because of inadequate food, shelter, and clothing. Despite their own suffering, they accepted their
"relatives," first the Lipan and later the Chiricahua, onto their reservation. By the 1920s there was
a small but significant improvement in the standard of living, although attempts at making Mescalero
farmers have never succeeded. The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act found the Mescalero eager and
fully able to assume control over their own lives, a fight they still wage through the courts today on
issues of land use, water rights, legal jurisdiction, and wardship. Although the arena of the fight for
survival has moved from horseback to a Tribal plane that makes frequent trips to Washington, the
Apache are still formidable foes.
The Apaches are well-known for their superior skills in
warfare strategy and inexhaustible endurance. Continuous
wars among other tribes and invaders from Mexico
followed the Apaches' growing reputation of warlike
character. When they confronted Coronado in 1540,
they lived in eastern New Mexico, and reached Arizona
in the 1600s. The Apache are described as a gentle
people; faithful in their friendship.
The Apache attained their greatest fame as guerrilla fighters defending their mountainous
homelands under the Chiricahua leaders Cochise, Geronimo, Mangas Coloradus, Victorio, and Juh.
Apache Indian Jewelry
The Apache tribe is perhaps best known for its amazing
variety of jewelry designs. The tribe was
renowned for mastery in silversmithing which they
employed to create unique jewelry designs. Silver
was the medium of choice when it came to jewelry.
They would incorporate the use of some exquisite
precious stones such as lapis lazuli and Jade to
create some brilliant work of jewelry. The designs
were inspired by historical symbols that held great
significance amongst the tribe members.
The Western Apache of Arizona have a beadwork tradition
that extends back at least to the middle of the nineteenth
century. Beadwork is not a craft commonly associated with Above: Apache women wearing jewelry.
Southwestern Indian tribes, who are best known for their pottery, basketry and textiles.
However, the Western Apache clothing (San Carlos, Arizona), styles were sewn with beadwork
resembling that of tribes of the Southern Plains and Great Basin.
The Eastern Apaches-Jicarilla, Lipan, Kiowa and Mescalero-as well as the Chiricahua were all
beadmakers as well. The Jicarilla, Lipan and Kiowa have a style very similar to that of the Southern
Plains tribes near whom they lived.
Beadwork styles of the Mescalero, Chiricahua and Western Apache are all similar to each other, but
lack a strong Plains stylistic connection.
The Western Apache also used the peyote stitch technique to cover handles for objects such as
riding quirts (for horses or dogs), and later cover bottles and make keychains.
See photos and additional background on Apache Indian beadwork.
At right: Photo of Apache Shirt with Peyote Stitching.
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Why Apaches Were Considered Hostile
Apaches usually formed small, undetectable groups to assault the cattle herds of missions and small
ranches, maintaining all the while their pledges of peace. Nevertheless, on one occasion in the mid-
1750s, during a dry spell, hunger drove them to organize a group of three hundred men that
descended on the mission herds near San Juan Bautista, killing hundreds of cattle. Since the attack
occurred in March, the animals were thin and the Apaches took "only the tongue," a common practice.
Similar butchering occurred among the herds belonging to the San Antonio missions; one observer
suggested that Apaches took on average twenty head of cattle a day for food by the 1760s and
The Spanish responded cautiously to this threat, primarily because they lacked the troops to
protect the new ranches and the civilian population. The vecino populations of the small Spanish
towns and even the missions had more to gain from continued trade with the Apaches, and they saw
little wrong with the poaching of wild livestock. But when raids occurred which threatened the
existence of ranches and settlers, small patrols, often consisting of ranchers, vecinos, and a few
soldiers, went after Indian parties, occasionally engaging them in a fight or negotiating a return of
stock. Yet other, mostly futile, efforts by Spanish authorities consisted of issuing orders
prohibiting the trading of guns, powder, and sabers to Apaches by vecinos or mission Indians.
The situation turned more violent after 1770, however, when Spanish officials finally concluded
that more than three thousand Lipan Apaches—probably an exaggeration—were roaming along the
lower Rio Grande butchering cattle and horses. Their Mescalero relatives along the Rio Grande
below El Paso seemed to have adopted a similar way of making a living. There is little evidence that
lives had been lost in any numbers on either side at this point. Nevertheless, Bernardo de Gálvez
attempted to stop the depredations that fall, attacking a Mescalero village on the Pecos and killing
twenty-eight Indians. Two months later the Mescaleros retaliated, destroying a mule train in Nueva
Vizcaya, killing seven men, and taking one thousand mules. A similar assault occurred the following
year in Coahuila, where Lipans killed thirteen members of a ranch community and carried off ten
captive children. They even briefly assailed the presidio of Santa Rosa in July 1771, killing one
The Spanish had started a war along the Rio Grande by 1771. With the adoption of the Reglamento
de 1772, Lieutenant Colonel O'Conor assumed command of the entire northeastern frontier and
Spain decided to exterminate the Apaches. While O'Conor experienced some success at driving
Apache bands from the Bolsón de Mapimí, inflicting damage on Mescaleros especially, his efforts had
little impact on the Lipans.
Lipans, already having fought with the superior Norteño groups, had altered their band structures
by forming small groups. The smaller bands were less detectable and more successful at poaching
stock and maintaining exchange ties in Spanish towns. Gancio was openly frustrated in
Coahuila because the Lipans who lived in the region remained peaceful and could not legally be
punished without evidence of their guilt.
The poaching and raiding and the diversity of the groups that did it had reached such a point by the
1770s that the term "Lipan" ceased to have much meaning. Typical of such a group was a band under
the leadership of Josecillo El Manco, or One-handed Joe, who came into San Juan Bautista in
December 1777. Joe had been baptized at San Pedro de Gigedo in northern Coahuila and taken by
the Lipans in a raid when he was about seven years old. He spoke Spanish fluently. Later, as a leader
of a small Lipan band, he cultivated good relations with the Spanish and often exchanged goods in
When necessary his people quietly poached livestock for food. Just as frequently they approached
San Juan as peaceful friends, anticipating a warm welcome. They "spread out through the town,"
according to Morfí, "where they have formed many friendships of little advantage to our people."
Joe, in the meantime, asked Ganzio for corn, tobacco, bridles, and even gunpowder and shot while
waiting for his people to finish their exchanges. Of course, Morfí's assessment of this commerce
reflected the typical Spanish bias toward native economies. He saw little in the exchanges that
benefited the Spanish Crown.
Few of the goods brought in by the Apaches could be carried south to markets in Mexico; most
consisted of consumer goods for which market value could not easily be determined. Nevertheless,
the Apache offering of dried buffalo or horse meat, hides, tallow, and salt for corn, tobacco,
bridles, and a few munitions had become important to the vecinos of San Juan Bautista. These
exchanges also worked to create regional alliances, since the people involved pledged to look out for
each other's safety and shared important information. Vecinos of small Rio Grande communities
received warnings and aid from nearby Apaches, and they responded in kind, even protecting them
from attacks by Spanish troops.
Why Apache Indians Took Women and Children Captive
The emergence of One-handed Joe as a leader among the Lipan Apaches was not surprising to the
Spaniards who reported his existence. Indeed, many people of Spanish descent lived with the
southern Apaches. When a patrol from Coahuila recaptured a Spanish boy in 1776, they learned from
him that the Lipan band in which he had lived harbored many different people—Indian, Hispanic, and
African. One of the band leaders, who called himself Andrés, had escaped from the prison at
Durango. Considerable numbers of other Spaniards, both women and children, also could be found in
The captive mentioned that some came from Saltillo, well to the south, as well as from Nueva
Vizcaya and Coahuila. When brought into the band, this Spanish boy was placed under the charge of a
"mulatto man, with the upper lip cut in the middle," whose job included watching and directing the
captive herd boys. Although it might be an exaggeration to suggest that Rio Grande Apache groups
were becoming havens for mistreated, exploited, underprivileged elements in Spanish society,
certainly many such individuals had joined them.
Just how many children and women were carried off by Apaches is impossible to determine. Some
bands no doubt built their population with captives. They had lost so many people of their tribe,
taking captives, instead of killing them was a logical solution.
Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, among others, noted the kidnapping that occurred in the Spanish
towns along the Rio Grande in 1775, suggesting that Apaches took children almost as frequently as
they robbed "horses and mules." This taking of "captives of infants that they grab by the hands,"
the good padre asserted, had left their parents "in misery." Such captives obviously replaced people
taken in the raids by the Norteños as well as by Gálvez and O'Conor.
Morfí found considerable evidence of kidnapping in Coahuila and southern Texas two years later.
When Spanish troops overran a Mescalero camp in December they took eleven women and thirteen
children prisoner, including three "Spanish boys," who, according to Morfí "had been taken captive by
the Apaches and who had already forgotten our language."
If these numbers were representative of Apache society, fully a quarter of the children in their
camps could easily have been captives. But it should be remembered that the Spanish could only
recognize children with fair complexions, and many other Indian children, especially natives from
missions, probably escaped recognition.
The ethnic diversity in Apache camps prompted changes in the relations of production. Various social
and economic roles changed as the Apaches evolved from a method of production highly dependent on
buffalo hunting to one more closely tied to raiding and poaching. 19 Herding became an ideal
occupation for captive children, who seem to have been taken specifically for this purpose. Other
members of the society found it possible to acquire more status through working in exchange
networks, and they learned the languages necessary to deal with vecino populations, such as the one
at San Juan Bautista, and even other natives who still lived in missions.
Captives who came into this changing environment had to be indoctrinated, leading to a more
extensive projection of Apache identity. The Spanish boy taken in 1776 noted that Andrés and his
followers picked out a soft spot along his ear and continually aggravated it with an
occasional lashing, a seasoning process administered to all the new Apache children and women.
Another captive a ten-year-old boy who wandered into a Spanish military camp along the Rio Grande
in 1808, reported the same treatment. Apaches "had whipped him cruelly at every turn," the
soldiers reported. With the lashing came work, discipline, and cultural indoctrination.
Once accustomed to obeying orders, captives performed work assignments without a guard and
were applauded for a job well done. In addition to herding livestock, boys often hunted small game.
For women, gathering firewood and picking berries and nuts were standard assignments. With
demonstrated loyalty came more rewards, such as a new name and possibly adoption and the right to
enter manhood and womanhood ceremonies.
"New Apaches" reached acceptance when they were allowed to serve as lookouts or even to join
raiding or poaching parties, or in the case of women, receive a husband. The mulatto who commanded
the Spanish captives noted that his position in Apache society was such that he enjoyed more
freedom than he expected would have been accorded him in a Spanish town. Yet he remained a full
notch below his companion, Andrés, who had bragged of his right to lead small poaching and raiding
parties, even though Spanish by birth.
Southern Apaches, then, certainly saw an advantage in adding people of different ethnic origin to
their bands, dealing with the changes that this brought by creating new structures and roles for
individuals. But adoptions created new relations of production, directly influenced by poaching and
raiding. Captive boys were directed by herd bosses, who in turn received orders from senior men.
When the boys could be fully trusted,they helped guide poaching parties through Spanish ranchlands,
giving the society access to more valuable stock. The use of boys, particularly as herders, freed
junior men to hunt, defend the society, and poach and raid.
Despite gender roles and a hierarchical structure, the Apaches embraced a social mobility that
seemed to have an important impact on the assimilation process. This mobility even included flexible
marriage rules. While twentieth-century anthropological field research suggests that Apache bands
in general maintained matrilocal social organization and endorsed cross-cousin marriage,
considerable evidence shows that for the eastern Lipan and their Mescalero relatives, such rules,
had they existed at all, fell into disuse after 1750. A flexible marriage system had to be
implemented to incorporate so many newcomers into the society.
Cementing Relationships Between the Apache Indian Bands
Patrilocal or bilocal marriage became the rule in southern plains Apache societies during the latter
decades of the eighteenth century. When the Lipans negotiated peace at San Antonio in 1749, they
left a considerable number of their young women behind to cement the agreement and to become
wives of mission Indian men, indicating the use of patrilocal relationships in alliance.
A young male mulatto captive retaken from the Mescaleros near El Paso noted that a chief and his
two sons controlled the group that he lived with, strongly implying the handing down of political
control from father to son, along hierarchical, patrilocal, or bilateral lines.
Even more telling, Antonio Cordero y Bustamante, the most astute late-eighteenth-century
observer of Apache life, said simply that ''matrimony takes place by the bridegroom buying the one
who is to be his wife from her father." In divorce, the woman was returned to her father, a clear
indication of patrilocal marriage. Patrilocal marriage arrangements served to cement alliances
between various Apache bands.
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