In the late 1870s, to engineer the official Indian policy of “concentration”, the United States government forced Victorio and his band of Warm Springs Chiricahua Apaches to move from the land they held sacred in New Mexico to the dreaded San Carlos Reservation about 35 miles east of Globe, AZ and 140 miles north of Tucson.
At San Carlos, Chiricahua Apache survival was nearly impossible. So, in 1877, Victorio and 310 of his followers, men, women and children, escaped the reservation. To survive they had only one choice … to raid. They stole cattle, horses, guns, ammunition and whatever else they needed.
The stories of the Chiricahua Apache’s fight to keep their homeland and way of life have been told many times, mostly by White-eyes and Mexicans, and usually in the most self-serving manner. However, fairly recently the outside world learned that among the hostile Chiricahuas participating fully in battle after battle beside their male counterparts were a couple of extraordinary women fighters.
For two generations after the end of the Apache Wars, the Chiricahuas were very reluctant to tell their American overseers about their warrior women for fear that the ignorant, bigoted, judgmental White-eyes would think these Apache women indecent or impure for living un-chaperoned among unrelated men while on the warpath. White-eyes had no idea that Apache sexual standards put Victorian morals to shame.
It would be well into the 20th century before the non-Apache world would hear about these two amazing women.Read More
Charlie Smith, named so by White soldiers because his Apache name they could not pronounce, was interviewed by Eve Ball who asked why Chiricahuas are so reluctant to speak about Lozen, known to Apaches as The Warrior Woman. Mr. Smith told the author, “When actually on the warpath the Apaches were under very strict rules. Even words for common things were different. Women could go with their husbands, but they could not live together. No unmarried women were permitted. Lozen? No, she was not married; she never married. But to us she was as a Holy Woman and she was regarded and treated as one. White Painted Woman (an Apache deity) herself was not more respected. And she was brave. Geronimo sent her on missions to the military officers to arrange for meetings with him, or to carry messages.”
Lozen (ca. 1840 – 1890)
Among her people Lozen is legend. She was the younger sister of the great chief of the Warm Springs Chiricahua Apaches, Victorio, who told his followers “Lozen is my right hand … strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy. Lozen is a shield to her people.”
She was a ferocious warrior and perceptive seer. She fought alongside her brother and his followers as they attacked, and were attacked, by Americans who, with the advantage of vastly superior numbers and technology, had stolen these Apaches’ ancestral homeland in southwestern New Mexico.
James Kaywaykla was a young Apache lad at this time. Many decades later, he told this story to Eve Ball who published it in her authoritative 1970 book entitled, In the Days of Victorio; Recollections of a Warm Springs Apache”
Crossing The Rio Grande To Safety
Fleeing the U.S. Army, Lozen led a group of mounted Apache women and children to the raging Rio Grande into Mexico. Seated behind his grandmother on a horse as the group approached the fast-moving river, Kaywaykla knew that his grandmother and the other women were terrified of drowning. They were too frightened to cross the river. But if they didn’t, they would be either captured or killed by the pursuing Americans.
Then, says Kaywaykla, “I saw a magnificent woman on a beautiful horse—Lozen, sister of Victorio.”
“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, then plunged into the torrent. She turned his head upstream, and he began swimming.”
Immediately, the other women and children followed her into the current. Amazingly, they all reach the far bank of the river, cold and wet but alive. Once across, Lozen rode up to Kaywaykla’s grandmother and said, “You take charge, now. I must return to the warriors.”
At this point, Victorio’s warriors were fighting to stay between their women, children, and elderly, and the advancing U.S. cavalry. Lozen drove her horseback across the wild river and returned to fight the Americans.
Note: to understand these circumstances, you need to know at least two things. First, the Apaches warriors were almost always at a disadvantage when fighting the Americans and Mexicans because they had their families with them. Imagine any military outfit doing battle while shielding their aged parents, their young children, and their pregnant women. And still, the Chiricahua Apache, out-fought the armies of two “modern” nations with the proverbial one hand tied behind their backs.
Second, these Apache women warriors could slit your throat at close range or blow your brains out with a rifle bullet at a hundred yards as well as any man. Not to mention that their endurance was way too much for the pursuing armies, a fact often acknowledged by famed Indian fighter, General George Crook. “No White soldier can catch an Apache who doesn’t want to be caught.”
According to 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”, Victorio’s uncle and patriarch of the band.
Kaywaykla and other Chiricahuas also commented on her remarkable horsemanship. “No man in the tribe was more skillful in stealing horses or stampeding a herd than she.” But Lozen was also well-known for her extraordinary ability to tame wild horses and to care for them. She was particularly adroit at treating the hooves and legs of lame horses. That was just one of her “Powers”.
Note: now you need to know a third thing. Almost all Apaches have “Power”. An Apache’s Power is granted by Ussen, the Apache God of Creation. Some had the Power to divine the future; others the Power to heal; still others the Power to locate food. Chief Nana had the extraordinary Power to locate ammunition. Geronimo had the Power to heal. Moreover, his capacity for clairvoyance was legendary among his people. For this, the Chiricahuas both revered and feared him.
Stealth And Cunning
In late 1880, Lozen leaves her band to escort a young mother and her newborn across the brutally harsh Chihuahua Desert in northern Mexico to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in western New Mexico to spare them the horrific hardships faced by their band as they fled before the well-equipped armies of Mexico and the United States.
Beginning the perilous journey on foot with only a rifle, a cartridge belt, a knife, and a meager three-day supply of food, she had to evade the American and Mexican cavalry as well as Anglo and Mexican settlers and their (usually drunken) militias.
In a few days, they needed more food, but she was afraid to use her rifle to hunt because a gunshot would betray their presence. Ever resourceful, she uses her knife to kill and butcher a stray longhorn. (Do you have any idea how difficult that would be? It’s not like you can just walk up to a longhorn and slit its throat.
Soon thereafter she steals a Mexican cavalry horse for the new mother, barely escaping through a volley of gunfire. Employing all her strength and cunning, she then steals a Mexican cowboy’s horse for herself and disappears before he can give chase. A few days later she steals a soldier’s saddle, rifle, ammunition, blanket, and canteen. After weeks of trudging, riding, and stealing their way through the most dangerous region for any Apache, she delivers the mother and baby safely to the Mescalero reservation in present-day New Mexico.
It was there that she learns that Mexican soldiers and their Tarahumara scouts had ambushed Victorio and his band at Tres Castillos in northeastern Chihuahua.
The Mexican Destruction of Victorio
On October 14th, the Mexican Commander Terrazas and his battle-hardened troops surprised Victorio’s Apaches, and in the boulders of Tres Castillos, killed 78 and took 68 prisoners. Only Chief Nana and 17 others escaped. Another 15 Apaches were not in the battle because they were off on a raiding party.
To this day, Apaches believe that Victorio fell on his own knife rather than die at the hands of the Mexicans, who almost certainly would have tortured him to death over many days.
Many Apache women and children died fighting; very typical of encounters with American and Mexican soldiers. The old people were shot; young Apache women captives raped. The surviving Apache women and children were sold into slavery.
Knowing the survivors would need her help, Lozen immediately leaves the Mescalero Reservation to help her people who had sought safety in the high, rugged Sierra Madre that divides Chihuahua and Sonora Mexico. She rode alone south across the desert, somehow making her way undetected through U.S. and Mexican cavalries camped at every known water hole. She rejoins the decimated band, now led by the ancient and crippled, Nana.
1881: Nana’s Revenge
Lozen fought alongside Nana and his 40 remaining warriors as they engaged in a two-month, thousand-mile-long bloody campaign across southwestern New Mexico to avenge Victorio’s death and the slaughter and enslavement of their people. They kill about 50 White-eyes, steal over 200 horses and mules, all the while being chased by more than a thousand U.S. soldiers and militiamen.
Nana says of Lozen, “Though she is a woman, there is no warrior more worthy than the sister of Victorio.”
Many say that the Mexican army never would have achieved their surprise ambush at Tres Castillos if Victorio’s younger sister had been there. Her people believed she had the power to know, not only when the enemy was near, but their strength, and from which direction they would attack.
On September 3, 1886, Chief Naiche and Geronimo surrendered 24 men and 14 women and children to General Miles. Lozen was among the newly minted prisoners-of-war. They had fought until they had no more to fight with. Moreover, their families had already been shipped to Florida and this last little group of hostiles missed their families terribly. So they agreed to exile in Florida (a place they could not imagine) for two years, at which time they would all be returned to their ancestral homelands in New Mexico and Arizona.
Dahteste (1860 – 1955)
As extraordinary as Lozen’s story is, she was not the lone Chiricahua woman warrior. She had a companion, Dahteste (pronounced Tah-des-te). Unlike Lozen who never married, Dahteste was married and had children. But her people remember Dahteste more as a great hunter and warrior. Moreover, she was fluent in English, a skill often helpful to her people when negotiating with the White-eyes.
Dahteste spent 3 years on the warpath with Geronimo and she was with Lozen when they surrendered to General Miles. Her people say she was more delicate and feminine than Lozen, but no less deadly.
Nearly all Chiricahua Apaches, more than 300, including Lozen and Dahteste, and the Chiricahua scouts who helped the U.S. Army subdue them, were shipped by railroad from their homeland in Arizona to military prisons in Florida. There Dahteste survived pneumonia and tuberculosis, two virulent diseases that decimated her people while confined in crowded, unsanitary old forts.
A few years later, after they had been transferred to that miserable swamp called Mt. Vernon Barracks in Alabama, her best friend Lozen died from TB while they were still prisoners-of-war. Lozen was buried there in an unmarked grave.
Many years later, all captive Chiricahuas were transferred to Fort Sill Oklahoma, where conditions for the Apaches were far better than at Mount Vernon Barracks.
In 1913, after 27 years of internment, first in Florida, then Alabama, and finally Oklahoma, the Government freed the surviving 300 or so Chiricahuas and gave them the choice to remain at Fort Sill Oklahoma or move to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. Dahteste chose Mescalero.
That is where author Eve Ball interviewed Dahteste at her New Mexico home when this warrior woman was very old. According to Ball, “Dahteste to the end of her life mourned Lozen.” Dahteste outlived Lozen by 65 years.
The colorized photographs of Lozen and Dahteste are by Wakiya.