The word “Apache” is another of those catch-all words used to denote many tribes of first-nation peoples. Apache is, in fact, many peoples. The Navajo and the Mescalero are also Apaches. I was ignorant of this because I was only taught the history of white Europeans. Of the 562 tribes of first-nation peoples, a great many of them from the American Southwest to the Plains states can be identified as Apaches. Geronimo and Cochise were both Apache. There were Texas Apache, New Mexico Apache, Arizona and California Apache, and many, many clans contained in those tribes.
The first Americans were as different state to state and village to village as Europeans and Celts were. It is an inexcusable blind-spot in American history that the story of our first citizens are barely known to us.
My friend, the art dealer Sara Jo Romero, is a child of New Mexico and one of my favorite things in this world is an Apache “teardrop” arrow head she gave me some years ago as a gift. She’d find them all over the high dessert in new Mexico. they are lovely; made from agate, which was almost like glass and shaped into a lethal tear-drop shape that was so sharp I could still cut paper with it easily. These arrow tips were often dipped in poisonous compounds from plants–jimson weed and hemlock– to insure death in the intended target.
The Apaches were great warriors and hunters, often trading the elk, pronghorn and other hides for other goods with neighboring Apache tribes. They often raided and were considered horse thieves (a hanging offense) by other tribes and white settlers. Still, nobody much wanted to fuck around with the Apache peoples. They were ferocious in war–even the Sioux gave them a wide berth.
The Comanche (also Apache) regularly got their asses handed to them when attempting to usurp their fellow Apache tribes both the White Mountain and Mescalero Apache stomped their ass more than once.
A couple of Apache guys I know have a bristling resentment with the Navajo because their reticence at identifying themselves as Apache. “It’s like they’re Navajo before they’re Apache. They are like the Mick Jagger Apache. They piss the rest of us off.”
My friend, Hector Maldonado, who is Texas Coushatta (which are not Apache), often explains to me that nobody has a nastier opinion of other tribes like other Indians do. Like every other tribe, like the Irish, Italians, Polish and Germans, we want to be around our own kind, and are suspicious shitheels to those who are different from us.
The popular version of American history was that the Americas were virtually uninhabited when mighty-whitey got here. The ruling mythology being that the existing 526 nations were like so many rabbits and turkeys.
‘Sit on your ass, Pilgrim. . .light up a Camel. This IS the promised land.”
Thankfully, the Apache had peyote and used it in ceremonial sweat rituals to seek visions. And if you’ve ever done peyote, you know that, after the ceremonial puking up of your toenails, the visions are NO problem. That’s right, Butchie, gag down a button or two, if you don’t have any plans for the next week. . .and you bought your ticket to the aural and visual tilt-a-whirl.
I have friends that make a yearly pilgrimage to Burning Man with a stash of buttons and don’t remember a goddamn thing other than “There was fire. Big fire.” It looks like fun–a bunch of smelly hippies burning shit and fucking in the mud, all the while dressed like the cast of the Road Warrior. The website sure is fun. Friends have begged me to go and I’m always tempted but I feel like I’m too old by about 25 years for this circus. It is not lost on me that this pagan bacchanal is held right in the nut-sack of what used to be the heart of the Apache nations. I am betting there are no small amount of spirits to summon there.
I keep writing what very little I know about First Nation peoples because in 2012, in the middle of an election year, it seems they are nowhere in this conversation. It seems the stories of the 526 nations of our first Americans have been rendered disposable. That is the way history works against us. Bankers, bean counters, and bloggers now decide what is worth saving and what is worth remembering.
We want badly to forget that we took this country at gunpoint. We burned other humans in piles next to newly built railroad tracks. For all of the proud words and hyperbole being tossed about, about “honor” and “change we can believe in,” the land itself tells our story and underlines our transgressions.
When you step into the voting booth? Know this: We live on stolen property. Every sidewalk, every gated community, every 7-11. And we descend from the most successful murderers in human history.