White Mountain Apache

The White Mountain Apache are one of several Western Apache tribes, each of which has a different language, history, and culture despite being related. They are related to members of the Yavapai Apache Nation, which also has ties to the Grand Canyon. Historically the White Mountain Apaches were nomadic farmers, growing corn, beans, squash, and other foods for part of the year while supplementing their crops with hunting and gathering of native animals and plants. They had the largest range of any Western Apache tribe and traveled widely throughout what is today east-central Arizona, trading and raiding.  As anthropologist Keith Basso pointed out in Wisdom Sits in Places, the land is essential to Western Apache language and culture. It connects the people to their history and ancestors, while serving as a moral compass.

The first significant meeting between the tribe and Euro Americans occurred in 1848 following the Mexican-American war, when Mexico ceded land to the United States that included White Mountain Apache homelands.

Some examples of the intricate arts and crafts of the White Mountain Apache, including pottery, beadwork, textiles and basketry, are displayed in front of a traditional dwelling, or wickiup.

Photo: NAU Cline Library, Tad Nichols Collection, NAU.PH.

Nalte and Gud-i-zz-ah were just two of the many White Mountain Apache who served as scouts for General Crook’s army.

Photo: Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.

The White Mountain Apache were more geographically isolated than other Western Apache tribes, though they were aware of the violence and devastation happening as Euro Americans came into contact with other Native Americans.In the late 1860s the U.S. Army came into their land with orders to capture or kill any Apaches that refused to be confined to a reservation. The White Mountain Apache acted so peaceably and hospitably that the soldiers followed suit. The White Mountain Apache allowed construction of Camp Ord, later known as Fort Apache, on their lands in 1868 and agreed to live on a reservation there.

In 1871 General George Crook enlisted the help of 50 White Mountain Apache to serve as scouts for his army during the course of the fifteen-year Apache Wars, which ended with the surrender of Geronimo in 1886. The Fort Apache Indian Reservation, now known as the White Mountain Apache Reservation, was established in late 1891. Many White Mountain Apaches believe that it was because of their service to Crook that their tribe was able to maintain such a large part of their homeland within their reservation.

In 1936, the White Mountain Apaches wrote their own constitution and established a tribal council to oversee governance and all tribally owned property and businesses. In the 1950s, White Mountain Apaches turned to tourism to support their tribal economy, constructing artificial lakes and dams and developing hunting, camping, fishing, and skiing facilities.

Today most of the approximately 15,000 members of the White Mountain Apache tribe live on their reservation of 1.67 million acres in east-central Arizona, about 200 miles southeast of the Grand Canyon. Their reservation contains rich wildlife habitat with more than 400 miles of streams. The White Mountain Apache have developed several tribal enterprises based on outdoor recreation to economically support tribal members, including a popular ski resort. They also operate the Hon-Dah resort-casino.

For more information on the White Mountain Apache, visit their tribal website at http://www.wmat.nsn.us/

The seal of the White Mountain Apache nation contains a number of images meaningful to the tribe, symbolizing peace, natural resources, ancient crafts, sacred colors and prayers, endurance, and the beauty of life.

Photo: White Mountain Apache tribal council.


Written By Sarah Bohl Gerke


Suggested Reading:

  • Basso, Keith H. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
  • Goodwin, Grenville. Myths and Tales of the White Mountain Apache. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994.
  • Griffin-Pierce, Trudy. Native Peoples of the Southwest. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 200
  • Haley, James. Apaches: A History and Culture Portrait. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.
  • Worcester, Donald E. The Apaches: Eagles of the Southwest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979