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The Story of Lozen

Apache woman warrior, seer, healer, midwife, and sister to Chihenne Apache chief Victorio.

By Valerie Rangel

Sponsored by the Paul C. S. Carpenter History Project and funded by the King/Carpenter Charitable Trust

Lozen, sister of Chihenne Apache chief Victorio (Bidu-ya), was a warrior admired for her acts of bravery and revered for her clairvoyant ability to guide her people away from danger. She inspired courage and survival in the face of danger as a humanitarian and warrior. During her life, she became a respected Apache woman warrior, seer, healer, and midwife.

Born into the Chihenne Apache band around 1840, near Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, Lozen’s father and grandfather were leading men of the Chihenne Apache band. The name, “Lozen”, means “dexterous horse thief.” She was named for her power and way with horses, which enabled her to infiltrate enemy lines undetected and to steal away with their horses.

Chihenne means Red People for the band of red clay that is drawn across their face during ceremonies. Apache territory also known as Apacheria, was located in Northern Mexico, Eastern Arizona, and Southwestern New Mexico. The Chihenne Apaches (sometimes called Eastern Chiricahua) were often associated with the Mimbres band located along the Mimbres and Gila Rivers, the Coppermine band of Apaches located near copper mines in the Black Mountains of New Mexico as well as bands at Warm Springs, and Ojo Caliente, New Mexico.

Lozen grew up during a time of intense warfare and bloodshed. By 1835, the Mexican government had placed a bounty on Apache scalps, paying for the black hair and scalp of any man, woman, or child; a policy that resulted in the demise of many peaceful Indians. In 1846, the United States went to war with Mexico. Mangas Coloradas met with Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny, on October 20, 1846, agreeing to friendship and allowing the U.S. safe passage through Apache lands.

In October of 1948, Major John Macrae Washington became the military governor of the territory in New Mexico.  Under the terms of the Treaty of Hidalgo, Mexico ceded New Mexico to the United States and one of the conditions of the treaty was that the United States would prevent hostile Indians from entering Mexico. The gold strikes of 1848 in California drew  a steady stream of prospectors who passed through Apache territory on their way to the gold fields. Many of these miners were raided and sometimes killed for their supplies. Unsuccessful miners in California often migrated back staking mining claims on lands in Arizona and New Mexico which led to more disputes with the Apache and other tribes.

Several weeks after Lozen’s 4-day puberty rites ceremony, when she was about 12 years of age, she went up to one of the sacred mountains in Southwestern New Mexico to pray. According to oral histories tradition, she was blessed with a supernatural power that allowed her to pinpoint the exact location of the ‘enemy,’ of her people.

According to Harlyn Geronimo, great-grandson of Geronimo, Lozen located her people’s enemies by lifting her hands and walking in a complete circle until the veins in her arms turned dark blue indicating the direction from which the enemy would come. Other historical sources say that Lozen, with outstretched arms, palms facing toward the sky, walked slowly around in a circle singing a song, a prayer to ‘Ussen.’ She was able to detect or discern the distance and direction of the ‘enemy’ by the intensity of a tingling sensation and the color change of her palms.

Choosing to forego the traditional Chihenne Apache woman paradigm, Lozen never married nor did she bear any children, instead she devoted her life to the survival of her people. As an adolescent Lozen showed the strength, endurance, and agility to become an Apache warrior and thus was accepted into the Apache Warrior Society and invited to council. She dressed and lived as her fellow warriors and fought alongside her brother Victorio against the American occupation of the Apache homeland and depletion of resources. Many battles were fought between the Chihenne Apache band and the forces of occupation, be they miners, settlers or military, from 1852-1862.

The Battle of Apache Pass took place on July 14, 1862 when forces led by Cochise and Mangas Coloradas fought a 122 man U.S. military detachment led by Capitan Thomas Roberts. The detachment was part of General James Henry Carlton’s greater mission to drive Confederate troops out of Arizona and New Mexico. Apache historical accounts place Victorio and Geronimo at this battle, which suggests Lozen might have also been present.

Mangas Coloradas was killed on January 18, 1863. After his death and mutilation, the Chihenne joined forces with the Mibres and Chiricahua Apache bands. Victorio and Nana moved their band constantly, going back and forth between Mexico and the San Mateo mountains, near Ojo Caliente.

U.S. military records from this time indicate that a group of fifty Apaches armed with bows stole thirty-one horses from Fort Craig. It is likely that the raiders were Chihenne since Fort Craig was located near the San Mateo Mountains and Lozen, who was recognized for her skill at stealing horses, most likely took part.

Apache leaders, Lozen, Victorio, Nana, and others met with United States First Lieutenant Charles E. Drew on October 10, 1869, near present day Monticello, New Mexico. The meeting was intended to secure peace and grant the Chihenne band a reservation near Ojo Caliente. From 1870 to 1877, Victorio and his band were moved from the Ojo Caliente reservation to Tularosa, New Mexico and then were forced to relocate to the San Carlos Apache reservation in Arizona. Many Chihenne died from this move because of inadequate resources and disease and constant battles with the White Mountain and Coyotero bands. Victorio and the Chihenne left the reservation in 1877, and began a period flight, evading the U.S. military.

Later, Victorio attempted to obtain permission to take his band back to the Mescalero Reservation, but his requests were denied. In 1879, the Chihenne Apache band decided to go to War refusing the U.S. governments’ orders to proceed to the San Carlos reservation. Victorio’s said that he would rather die fighting than die from starvation or disease at San Carlos. In a strategy to confuse the U.S. forces in pursuit, the tribe disbanded, fanning out in all directions. Lozen escorted a group of women and children headed to Mexico by way of the Rio Grande.

 Upon reaching the flooded river, James Kaywaykla, a child at the time, remembers riding behind his grandmother as the Chihenne band fled American forces. The group had come to the edge of the Rio Grande which was surging with great torrents of water. Women and children were afraid to cross. Kaywaykla recounts his experience: “I saw a magnificent woman on a beautiful horse—Lozen, sister of Victorio. Lozen the woman warrior! High above her head she held her rifle. There was a glitter as her right foot lifted and struck the shoulder of her horse. He reared, and then plunged into the torrent. She turned his head upstream, and he began swimming. Immediately, the other women and the children followed her into the torrent. When they reached the far bank of the river, cold and wet but alive, Lozen came to Kaywaykla’s grandmother and said: ‘You take charge, now.’ ‘I must return to the warriors’, who stood between their women and children and the onrushing cavalry. Lozen drove her horse back across the wild river and returned to her comrades.”[1]

Victorio and the Chihenne band consisting of four hundred fifty people, seventy-five of them warriors, traveled into Chihuahua, Mexico. Hoping to bring back more ammunition, and convince Mescalero warriors to join their group, Lozen left the band to escort a young pregnant woman across the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico back to her family on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Equipped with a single rifle, a cartridge belt, a knife and a three-day supply of food, she and the mother narrowly eluded Mexican and U. S. cavalry forces. 1

While in route she moved the mother to a secluded location aiding in the delivery of the child. In the following days she protected the newborn and mother until enough supplies were commandeered to ensure a safe trip. Afraid that a gunshot would betray their location, Lozen used a knife to kill a longhorn, butchering it, and drying thin slices of meat. Along the way, she seized a Mexican cavalry horse for the new mother and a vaquero’s horse for herself.  She also the soldier’s saddle, rifle, ammunition, blanket, canteen, and even his shirt.1

When Lozen reached the Mescalero Reservation, she learned that Mexican and Tarahumara Indian forces, led by Mexican commander Joaquin Terrazas, had ambushed her brother Victorio and his band at Tres Castillos, named for three stony hills in northeastern Chihuahua, on October 15, 1880. It is generally accepted among the Apache that Victorio committed suicide, falling on his own knife, rather than dying at the hands of his Mexican captures. Almost all of the Apache warriors at Tres Castillos were killed, including many women and older people. Approximately one hundred young women and children were taken for slaves.

Upon learning of her brother’s demise, Lozen immediately left the Mescalero Reservation, riding across the desert alone in search of survivors. Lozen and those who managed to escape the massacre and remain undetected by U. S. and Mexican military patrols scanning the area, rejoined the band, now led by the 74-year-old leader, Nana (Kas-tziden).

After Victorio’s death, Lozen, Nana and the remaining band returned to the San Carlos reservation. In 1881, Lozen witnessed the murder of a Prophet who had been conducting Ghost Dances at a camp near Cibecue in the White Mountains of Arizona. Juh, Geronimo, Naiche, and many Chiricauhua and remaining Chihenne left their reservation after the battle at Cibecue and headed to Mexico.  This group was shortly followed by Nana, Lozen and their band.

While temporarily hiding in the Sierra Madre mountain range of Mexico, Juh, Geronimo, Naiche, Juh, Fun, and other warriors gathered in council with Nana and Lozen to plan their future. In the summer of 1882, under Geronimo’s leadership, the warriors planned and executed a raid on the San Carlos reservation, freeing 600 people. The group sought refuge in the Sierra Madre Mountains while battling and raiding Mexicans through out Sonora.  While they enjoyed temporary freedom, they were always on the run. Lozen rode alongside the leaders and used her power to detect approaching enemies.

By May of 1883, Chato, Apache chief and warrior witnessed the attack of his camp by the U.S. military led by General George Crook. Crook warned that the U.S. and Mexico had joined forces, and any Apache that didn’t surrender would be hunted down. An estimated 325 Chihenne and Chiricauhua surrendered including Chato while Geronimo, Lozen, and a small group of warriors chose to continue raiding for another eight months.  Finally, meetings with Lieutenant Britton Davis of the U.S. Army produced an agreement for the group to reside at Turkey Creek.

Lozen also fought beside Geronimo after his final breakout from the San Carlos Reservation in 1885. This last campaign of the Apache wars included the last son of Victorio (Istee), Mangas’s son (Mangas), Lozen, Juh’s son (Daklugie), and about 100 people. Geronimo called this group of fighters ‘Indeh’-the Dead. The group dwindled; many were captured or surrendered and returned to San Carlos.

On May 17, 1885, Geronimo met with General Crook, negotiating an Apache surrender. Rumors that Geronimo would be hanged after surrendering prompted the leaders of the group, including Lozen to flee.  They spent several more months running from U.S. forces and avoiding Mexican traps.  Eventually they ran out of ammunition, supplies, and safe places to hide.

March 25-27, 1886, at Canyon de los Embudos, near the Sonora/Chihuahua border, a conference was held. Geronimo met with General Nelson Miles who insisted that the group who had fled would be imprisoned for two years then allowed to return to the San Carlos Reservation. However, General Crook insisted on an unconditional surrender.  This led to the group’s decision to again flee into Mexico on March 29. General Nelson Miles later would take Crook’s position of an unconditional surrender and negotiated a final surrender.

Geronimo’s final surrender to the U. S. military, took place at Skeleton Canyon, on September 3, 1886. On September 8, 1886, Geronimo, Naiche, and Lozen became prisoners of war, along with all 381 people living on the reservation, including Apache scouts who had helped the U.S. Army. They were all marched to the railroad, packed into box cars like cattle, and sent to Florida prisons.

Men were separated from women and children at two different concentration camps. Lozen was later transferred to Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama in 1888, where she died of tuberculosis, “the coughing sickness”, sometime in late 1889 or early 1990, at an estimated age of 50.

The Apache were highly skilled fighters, renowned for their tracking ability, out running opponents with speed, attacking with stealth and surprise, camouflaging themselves into the landscape, even using the land as a weapon.  Many Apache military tactics have been studied and implemented in training exercises at West Point for the past six decades.

Harlyn Geronimo stated in an interview that his great grandfather Geronimo taught Lozen fighting tactics such as tracking the enemy, and how to set up an ambush. According to James Kaywaykla, "She could ride, shoot, and fight like a man, and I think she had more ability in planning military strategy than did Victorio." He also remembers Victorio saying, "I depend upon Lozen as I do Nana, Lozen is the shield of her people”.

Riding first into danger, as an example and leader, Lozen inspired pride in her fellow warriors. She was a model of fearless bravery and heroism, a person of humility, great knowledge, and power. Lozen holds a respected place among the Apache and continues to inspire women today.

Sources used:

1.       In the Days of Victorio: Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache. Edited by Eve Ball. University of Arizona Press, Tuscan, 1970.

2.       Aleshire, Peter. Woman Warrior: The Story of Lozen, Apache Warrior and Shaman. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.

3.       New Mexican Lives: Profiles and Historical Stories. Edited by Richard W. Etulain. University of New Mexico Press, 2002.

4.       Thrapp, Dan L. Victorio and the Mimbres Apaches. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1974.

5.       Lekson, Stephen H. Nana’s Raid: Apache Warfare in Southern New Mexico, 1881.

6.       Wikipedia. Lozen.

7.       Wikipedia. Nana.

8.       Wikipedia. Mangas Coloradas.

9.       Interview with Harlyn Geronimo. HeyOkA Magazine.

10.     Shebala, Marley. A Long tradition as warriors. Navajo Times. TUBA CITY, Jan. 8, 2009.

11.     The Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., www.womensmemorial.org/Education/NAHM.html.

12.     Discovery Channel Feature. Lozen, the Apache Warrior.

 


[1] In the Days of Victorio: Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache. Edited by Eve Ball. University of Arizona Press, Tuscan, 1970.