The Apache made a distinction between raids and wars; the U.S. government did not. Raids were considered a right of passage for the young Apache warriors allowing them to gain status within their respective bands by counting coup or killing their enemies and capturing both horses and slaves. Their methodology was one of ambush on lone individuals or small groups, or quick strikes against isolated homesteads that allowed them to attack without warning, satisfy their blood lust, and then scatter before the cavalry, the Texas Rangers, or Mexican forces could retaliate. Vanishing into the deserts and mountains of the southwestern United States the Apache were elusive. Pitched battles against superior numbers and munitions were rare and avoided. There was no way the Apache could muster the numbers required to confront organized resistance or sustain the loss of warriors resulting from prolonged confrontations with an enemy that was better armed. Their survival depended on the ability to attack and disappear.
The Army garrisoned troops all along the frontier to respond to reports of rape, kidnapping, depredations, and indescribable mutilation and torture. However, neither infantry nor mounted patrols were adequate to the task at hand. Post duties and the distance between garrisons tied their hands.
Texas Rangers, free of the constraints of military life, offered greater flexibility in pursuing the Apache, but escape into Mexico and Arizona afforded sanctuary. International borders tied the hands of both the Rangers and U.S. government troops. Mexican forces fought the Apache on their side of the Rio Bravo and into the mountains of New Mexico and Arizona, but the lack of coordination across borders frequently hampered their effectiveness as well.
As a result, the “Apache Wars” lasted from 1861 to 1890, a span of almost thirty years.
As early as 1864, the Plains Apache had participated in the “1st Battle of Adobe Walls” in Texas; and, though they considered it a victory, had actually been repulsed by Kit Carson and his New Mexico soldiers. Ranald Mackenzie had scattered the Lipan and Mescalero by 1873. A few of the Plains Apache had joined their Indian brothers in the ill-fated “2nd Battle of Adobe Walls” in 1874, but by the early months of 1875 both the Kiowa and Comanche had surrendered. That year also saw the Chiricahua, notably the Mimbreno division of the Central Apache led by Victorio (Bidu-ya) in New Mexico forcibly subdued and moved onto the San Carlos Indian Reservation.
By the summer of 1866, only a small band of Chiricahua Apache still held out against the United States government. The Army found the few remaining renegades elusive. Though it employed upwards of five thousand soldiers to capture or kill the Apache, they continued to escape into Arizona and Mexico.
The hunt for the Apache transformed its leader, Geronimo (Goyaate) into a legend. – excerpts from Palo Duro.