Lipan Apaches: Some Untold Stories

By Sherry Robinson


Lipan Apaches are some of the most misrepresented and Indian people in western American history. Prominent historians have repeatedly underestimated them, exterminated them, and pushed them off the map. In fact, they survived against great odds, as the historic record shows abundantly.

Lipans were the easternmost of the Apache bands. The ancestors of the Lipans and Jicarillas, moving south from Canada, had probably arrived on the southern plains by at least the fourteenth century and probably earlier. By the 1600s they were living in small groups in southern Colorado, northern and northeastern New Mexico, Kansas, Nebraska and the Texas Panhandle.

While they are better known in Texas, where they lived for a couple of centuries, Lipans also played a big, and often overlooked, role in New Mexico history.

Lipan ancestors were the first native people Coronado encountered outside New Mexico. He called them Querechos and marveled at their canine-powered transportation, their buffalo-hunting skills and their handsome dwellings (tipis). Coronado also encountered people he called Teyas. While some have argued that the two groups were both Apachean, they were most definitely not, as the historic and archeological record shows. The Teyas were probably Caddoans. Coronado found these “Querechos” near the Canadian River, on the New Mexico-Texas border, a place where subsequent expeditions would continue to find them years later, then calling them Vaqueros.

Digging deeper into the historical and archeological record, we find the early Lipans aligned in small bands along the Canadian River and its tributaries from northern New Mexico to Texas. They were tightly allied with other Apache bands to the north and northeast, including the people who would be called Jicarillas.

Contrary to familiar published accounts, the Eastern Apaches weren’t enemies of the pueblos. The relationships were much more complex. These Apache groups maintained close ties and trade with Taos, Picuris and Pecos pueblos, to the great consternation of the Spanish authorities, who considered the spirited, independent Apaches a bad influence.

As early as 1609 the Spanish viceroy said the pueblos should be relocated away from “the Apaches, who are usually a refuge and shelter for our enemies, and there they hold meetings and consultations, hatch their plots against the whole land, and set out to plunder and make war…”

Picuris and Taos people fled the Spaniards repeatedly and joined their Apache friends on the plains, remaining there for years. Individual Pueblo people fleeing east to Apache refuges also delivered the first horses to plains groups, changing the nature of hunting and warfare forever.

The Apaches attacking pueblos were Faraons, an unrelated group living in the mountains of central New Mexico.. The eastern bands were largely at peace with the pueblos, the exception being times of drought and famine, or their ire at a particular pueblo they found overly cooperative with the Spanish.

One of the early Lipan groups, known to the Spaniards as Acho Apaches, were Pueblo allies in the 1680 revolt. While anthropologist Alfred Schroeder has dismissed the Apache participation in the Pueblo revolt as negligible, that’s not the case. The Achos and probably others were heavily involved in rebellion and died by the hundreds to help their Pueblo friends. Governor Otermin himself blamed the Apaches, not only for much of the destruction but for inciting the Pueblos in the first place. These alliances continued even after the reconquest.

The Apaches are also portrayed as the Spaniards’ constant and implacable enemy, but that wasn’t the case either. Spanish records hold repeated references to trade with plains Apaches. Entire bands would travel from the plains with their families, goods loaded on the dog travois. The settlers were so dependent on the Apaches for buffalo meat and hides, among other products, that the initial casual trading evolved into regular trade fairs attended by many settlers and tribes. Some intrepid Spaniards routinely ventured out onto the plains to trade with Apaches and established close relationships. The trade was equally important to Apaches, who wanted the Spaniards’ manufactured goods and horses.

The eastern Apaches, including the Lipan ancestors, became enemies of the Spaniards because of slaving expeditions. Around 1627 or 1628 Governor Phelipe Sotelo Ossorio sent to the plains a slaving expedition, which attacked a peaceful group of Apaches and killed the chief, a Christian convert, who held out the rosary he was wearing and pleaded for his life. The act outraged the clergy, the Apaches and the settlers, who depended on their trade. From then on most of New Mexico’s governors were involved in the capture of Apaches to be sold as slaves. The priests complained repeatedly about these slaving expeditions. Even then the Eastern bands continued to trade.

In the early 1700s, the eastern Apaches were at peace with the Spaniards, and three expeditions rode out to see these settlements for the first time. They found the Jicarillas east of Taos Pueblo and the Carlanas to the north of them. East of the Carlanas, in southeastern Kansas, were the Cuartelejos and northeast of them in Nebraska were the Palomas. The Chipaines (also Cipaynes), who would later be known as Lipans, were still along the Canadian. All these groups wanted the friendship of the Spaniards to help them counter a new threat – the Comanches.

Arriving around the beginning of the 1700s, these newcomers, not the Spanish, would force the eastern Apaches from their lands. Historians frequently make it sound as if the Comanches made short work of the vulnerable, isolated Apache bands, but this isn’t true either. The Comanches forced some bands in the path of their migration to flee. Others simply regrouped, learned to live and hunt in larger groups, and relocated to more defensible positions. It would take the Comanches nearly a half century to dislodge the tenacious eastern Apaches (the Lipans didn’t seek asylum in Texas missions until the 1740s). And they didn’t go quietly but continued to fight the Comanches at every opportunity. Even then, a sizable alliance of Apaches, which included Lipans, was still living in their own country (the Llano Estacado), surrounded by Comanches, as late as 1787.

The Lipans would take up residence in Texas, initially around San Antonio and then farther south. The Carlanas and Cuartelejos and related groups simply moved farther down the Pecos, joining other groups in southeastern New Mexico along the Pecos River. Here they bedeviled New Mexico and Texas for over a century, raiding widely and then returning to these isolated haunts. The Americans never knew quite who they were fighting, and they didn’t penetrate the Pecos country for a long time. The Lipans would take refuge in Mexico but move back and forth to these Pecos haunts.

When the Mescalero Reservation was established in 1873, the Americans still didn’t understand who they were counting as Mescaleros. The Lipans would at times take refuge at Mescalero, raid in Texas and Mexico and then return. Or they would move around among their old haunts along the Pecos, in Mexico and in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico and Texas, often in company with the remaining Eastern Apache bands. Finally, many entered the Mescalero Reservation and remained. The last of the Lipan chiefs in New Mexico was Magoosh, who continued to lead his people at Mescalero and died there in 1915. His descendents are still at Mescalero.

Not all the Lipans surrendered. Some, including the people led by Chief Juan Castro, remained in Mexico and took Mexican names and identities. The Castros and others would later re-enter Texas and return to the places they’d once lived, often finding jobs on ranches. Others remained in Mexico. One group was expelled from Mexico in 1905 and taken to Mescalero, where they were reunited with their relatives.

Today Lipan descendents live at the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southern New Mexico and continue to speak the Lipan dialect. More descendents are in Texas, where they are represented by the Lipan Apache Band of Texas (Daniel Castro Romero, Jr., chairman) and by the Lipan Apache Tribe (Bernard Barcena, chairman).

And they’re still trying to convince historians that they’re not extinct.


For further reading, see:

Benavides, Fray Alonso. Memorial, 1630

Gunnerson, Dolores A. The Jicarilla Apaches: A Study in Survival, 1974

Hackett, Charles W. Revolt of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Otermin’s Attempted Reconquest, 1680-1682, 1942

Hammond, George P. and Rey, Agapito.  Don Juan de Oñate, Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628, 1940

—.Narratives of the Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542, 1940.

Kessell, John L. Spain in the Southwest, A Narrative History of Colonial New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California, 2002.

National Archives

Schlesier, Karl H. “Rethinking the Dismal River Aspect and the Plains Athapaskans, A.D. 1692-1768,” Plains Anthropologist, 1972, Vol. 17, 101-133.

Seymour, Deni. Protohistoric and Early Historic Temporal Resolution in the Southern Southwest, 2003.

Spanish Archives of New Mexico II, New Mexico Records Center and Archives

Winship, George P. The Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542, 1964.


Updated 6/10/2019