Apache warriors were among the most formidable warriors of the American Southwest during the United States expansion of the 1800s. Lieutenant-Colonel George Crook, tasked to hunt down the last Apache resistance during the 1880s, called their warriors, "the tigers of the human species." Apache fighting proved effective due to a culture built upon survival skills, raiding tactics and leadership, traits that proved invaluable against rival Apache bands as well as the powerful enemies encroaching from the east and south of their lands.
Acclimated for Resistance
For Apache nations inhabiting "Apacheria" -- ancestral lands, including present-day New Mexico and Arizona -- the survival skills required to survive such harsh terrain also served as effective knowledge for fighting and raiding. As hunters and gatherers who traveled the blistering desert between water sources, Apache used dry food caches to store supplies along their routes. These caches provided useful resources to rely upon during times of scarce forage and also in case the Apache were ever ambushed by enemies and scattered. Apache warriors were known for using the landscape to their advantage, regularly using mountain ranges for long-distance lookouts, as well as setting easily defensible camps on high ground with good vantage points and lines of escape.
Forging Warriors, Training Leaders
Survival, hunting and warfare were key tenets of Apache warrior culture, and all required extensive endurance training. Young boys dipped themselves in frigid mountain streams and sprinted hills with a mouthful of water they couldn't swallow in order to build stamina, breath control and willpower. Youth training ended once adolescent boys had completed four successful raids. Leadership roles among the Apache were established by merit and the ability to fight without incurring unnecessary losses. Apache fighting required tenacity and patience, and many who rose to lead men were trusted to follow directions that did not put their bands in needless danger.
Every aspect of Apache life took warfare into consideration, and employed elements of stealth and subterfuge. When returning from a raid or driving captured livestock, the Apache utilized advance, rear and flank patrols, each position with different responsibilities. If the band needed to shift directions, the outriders changed roles fluidly instead of wheeling the entire guard around the central party. Apache spread out their camps' "wickiups" -- temporary shelters constructed of reeds or grass -- so enemies could not overrun a position quickly and the women and children would have a chance to escape if attacked. They also used decoy camps to mislead enemies and set up ambushes of their own.
Apache utilized guerrilla tactics in the face of United States and Mexican expansionist policies during the 1800s. Guerrilla -- a Spanish term meaning "little war"-- typically refers to smaller, less organized forces to harry enemies with greater numbers. Tactics include hit-and-run raiding, ambushes and avoiding major confrontations. Apache warriors fought to sustain minimum losses while inflicting maximum damage to their enemies. Their forces generally did not exceed 3,000 men in any given conflict, and the last Apache resistance led by Geronimo before his surrender in 1886 involved fewer than 50 warriors.
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