Our Sacred History: Who We Are

Between the years of 1000 and 1400, a large group of Apache people moved south from Canada. Some of this group settled in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Mexico. These groups which separated became the Navajo Nation, Lipan Apache, Chiricahua Apache, Mescalero Apache, Jicarilla Apache, the Plains Apache, and other Apache tribes. The Lipan Apache Tribe claimed the land farthest east of all the Apache tribes. By the 1600s, the Lipan Apache lived on the grassy plains of North Texas. At that time, the tribe split into two large groups (bands)—the Forest Lipan and the Plains Lipan. The Forest Lipan settled in northeastern Texas from the Red River to the upper Brazos River. The Plains Lipan chose land along the upper Colorado and Concho Rivers.

By 1700, the Comanche Indians had entered Texas. They were a fierce enemy in the century and a half to follow with constant war with the Lipan. The Lipan Apache split into smaller bands. They moved south to avoid the Comanche. Several bands settled around present-day San Antonio. The Comanche drove other bands deep into central and southern Texas.

In the early 1800s, Anglo settlers came to Texas. The Lipan traded bison, venison, hides, pecans, and other staples with them and, in general, they helped the newcomers adapt to Texas. In 1836, Texans fought to cut their ties to Mexico; the Lipan supported the Texans. Their friendship continued after Texas won its independence from Mexico. Sam Houston, president of the new Republic of Texas, even promised that Texas would always be kind to the Lipan Apache. But Houston was wrong.

In 1845, Texas became a U.S. state. The United States thought the Lipan stood in the way of progress and they wanted the tribe to move from their land so setters could live there instead. The Lipan were healthy people. But smallpox, attacks by other American Indians and non-Indians, and war caused many deaths. Food shortages brought hardships to the tribe. By 1880, the tribe had scattered with small groups living along the south Rio Grande River on both sides of the border. A very few went to live with tribes in New Mexico and Oklahoma and the U.S government forced some of those onto reservations; however, the majority of the surviving Lipan Apache Tribe remained free. Lipans found outside their assigned areas were called outlaws and Lipan people of all ages were marked for extermination. The once-fierce hunters became the hunted.

The Lipan Apache fought to survive as a tribe for more than two hundred years. Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. soldiers all tried to wipe them out. When then Comanche on the north and soldiers on the south the Lipan became “the men in the middle.” To escape from their enemies, many Lipans moved from Texas to Mexico and back again. Sometimes they dressed in non-Native clothes to blend in with the Tejanos and Mexicans. Some bands established successful niches for themselves. For example, the Sun Otters formed an enclave in San Antonio that in the early 1900s was known as Indian Town. This enclave evolved from an old Lipan camp at the junction of Apache and Alazan Creeks in what today is known as the West Side. The Little Breech Cloth (or Poca Ropas) also survived by first moving west to Laredo then to the east coastal region where they took in refugees from other less fortunate Lipan bands. A large portion of the integrated Little Breech Cloth band then moved south to the Southern Rio Grande Valley where they established themselves as a district historical community. The Tall Grass Band, too, survived as a district historical community in the Big Bend Region. Through the struggle to survive, elders reminded their children: "Never forget you are a Lipan Apache."

Although our tribe members may have ancestors who historically identified as having been with a particular Band community, now, the Lipan Apache Tribe is one united Indigenous community of the Lipan Apache people with no independent Band groups.

Over the course of our history, after contact with European governments, the Lipan Apache Tribe entered into formal treaties with Spain, Mexico, Republic of Texas, and the United States, treaties which were all broken. Lipan Apache have served as scouts for the U.S. Army. And Lipan men and women have severed the country that strove to exterminate them by fighting in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. They also fought in modern wars such as Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and many continue to serve in the military.

Today, the Lipan Apache Tribe continues to be a sovereign Native American tribe in the State of Texas with a governing body, the Tribal Council, tasked with promoting the general welfare and justice for the Lipan Apache people; acquiring resources for the benefit of its people; protecting the Tribe’s Native American heritage including their traditions, ceremonies, language, and sacred history; preserving, securing, and exercising all the inherent sovereign rights and powers of a Native American tribe; and continuing relations with the United States of America and the State of Texas. Recent significant events bolstering our sacred history are:

◈In 2009, the Texas legislature—House and Senate--recognized the tribe through joint resolutions HR812 and SR438.

◈In 2014 (McAllen Grace Brethren Church et al v Salazar), Robert Soto, the Vice-chairman of the tribe, and other plaintiffs won a repeal in federal court against the U.S. Department of Interior. This led to the Department of Interior returning to Soto in 2015 50 eagle feathers that had been confiscated from him in 2006 by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent. In the subsequent settlement (McAllen Grace Bretheren Church et al v Jewell) in 2016, he and over four hundred American Indians (plaintiffs), majority members of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, gained the rights to have and get eagle feathers and feathers of other protected migratory birds. Up to then, this was a right that since 2012 had only been given to members of federally recognized tribes.

◈In 2019, the Texas legilature--House and Senate--reinforce recognition of the tribe through concurrent resolutions HCR171 and SCR61.

◈In 2021, the City of Presidio, TX, and County of Presidio donate El Cementerio de los Lipanes en el Barrio de los Lipanes to the Lipan Apache Tribe (of Texas). Presidio Mayor John Ferguson and Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara sign the deed over to the Tribe, confirming the donation of the sacred site to the Tribe.

Despite our struggles, we, the Lipan Apache Tribe (of Texas), have endured. Current registered population of the tribe is about 4,500. The Lipan Apache Tribe continues to weave our legacy into the fabric of America.