Could these devastating wars have been avoided? The short answer is “NO!”
Given the inevitability of the White Man’s massive western migration; and the Apache’s understandably powerful desire to hold on to their ancestral lands, brutal conflict was unavoidable.
Nevertheless, if four conditions had been met, the wars could have been much shorter with far less misery and loss of life. As in modern wars, it’s the civilians, particularly the women and children of both sides, who suffered the most.
First, the American Anglos would have had to respect the Apaches as fellow human beings and live up to the terms of their many peace treaties.
Second, if the Apaches were to agree to be restricted to reservations, those reservations would have had to have been located on each Apache tribe’s ancestral homeland.
Third, given that the reservation system restricted traditional and bountiful hunting grounds, the U.S. Government would have had to supplement the Apache’s food supply with plentiful rations and the tools, education, and land to become successful farmers. In 1879, the new Indian Agent at San Carlos, Captain Caffee, hit the nail on the head with his first report. “Whether we have peace or not depends upon whether we provide proper subsistence.”
It was totally unrealistic to expect the Apaches to stay peaceably on their reservations while they faced starvation and deadly diseases, particularly malaria at San Carlos. And once off the reservations, their only hope of survival involved raiding. Raiding almost always involved killing other human beings. And the killings always brought retaliation and more killing.
Perhaps it is hard for some of us today to understand a world that had never imagined Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and peaceful civil disobedience or Bishop Tutu & Truth & Reconciliation Commissions. Vengeance was simply a way of life among almost all people worldwide.
Fourth, if the above conditions were met, the Apaches would have had to forsake their warrior culture and stop raiding. Forsaking the life of a warrior was unthinkable to all but Chief Loco and a handful of others, until they faced total annihilation, either by the Mexicans or Anglos.
For more information on the Apaches and the history surrounding the Apache Wars, see our page on the Local History of the Apaches.