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History: Myths and Legends of the Lipan Apache

Opler, Morris E. (1940). Myths and legends of the Lipan Apache Indians. Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society (Vol. 36). New York: The American Folk-Lore Society, J. J. Augustin.

The myths and tales of this volume are of particular significance, perhaps, because they have reference to a tribe about which there is almost no published ethnographic material. The Lipan Apache were scattered and all but annihilated on the eve of the Southwestern reservation period. The survivors found refuge with other groups, and except for a brief notice by Gatshet, they have been overlooked or neglected while investigations of numerically larger populations have proceeded. It is gratifying, therefore, to be able at this late date to present a fairly full collection of Lipan folk-lore, and to be in a position to report that this collection does much to illuminate the relations of Southern Athabaskan-speaking tribes and the movements of aboriginal populations in the American Southwest.

Before the beginning of the 18th century the Lipan were already in the northern part of the present state of Texas, and were being forced southward by hostile Comanche. By the middle of the 18th century we find them in south central Texas, where the Spanairds sought to protect them from their persistent enemies by the erection of the Mission of San Sab?. Following the destruction of this mission, two others were established to the south and west to administer to these Apache. They met a like fate in 1767. In 1796 the Lipan are reported to have reached the Gulf Coast in the vicinity of the lower Rio Grande. For the next half century they lived on or in the vicinity of the coast and made a partial adjustment to that environment. The hostilities between the Texans and Mexicans during the last part of this period involved the Lipan as allies of the latter. Then part of the Kickapoo, who had ceded their lands in Illinois, invaded Texas and were added to the list of Lipan enemies. A serious epidemic of smallpox decimated the tribe further. The Lipan, wasted by warfare and disease, were forced northward and westward. Part of them found a retreat in the southern spurs of the Guadalupe Mountains, where they made contact with the southernmost settlements of the Mescalero Apache. These people, whom I have called the Northern Lipan in the tales, have become known as the "No Water People." Another section of the tribe crossed the Rio Grande and settled in the neighborhood of Zaragoza, Coahuila. I place the date of the permanent removal of these Lipan to Old Mexico (raiding expeditions had penetrated into Old Mexico on previous occasions, of course) at about 1860 or shortly thereafter. This section of the tribe, the Southern Lipan of the tales, has become known as the "Big Water People." The "Big Water People," because their fate has been less involved with that of the Mescalero Apache until quite recently, are prone to consider themselves the true representatives of Lipan culture.

From 1860 on the Northern Lipan became increasingly amalgamated with the Mescalero. When attempts were made to concentrate the Mescalero at Ft. Stanton in 1870, many Lipan were gathered into the net. At this same time the Southern Lipan were having difficulty with the Mexican military and a group of them were happy to find protection to the north. Thus it was that in 1903, when a handful of Lipan who had survived a war of extermination which had been waged against them in Coahuila, were brought to Chihuahua, it became known that they had relatives on the Mescalero Reservation. Efforts were made to unite them with their kin living in the United States. In that year a small band of nineteen individuals was brought to Mescalero. This event has given rise to the impression that the Lipan were never anything more than an offshoot of the Mescalero tribe whose members somehow became separated from the main group and who were finally restored to their relatives.

Evidence is accumulating which suggests a different historical origin and other ethnic relationships for the Lipan, however. In an analysis of Southern Athabaskan kinship systems I have tried to show that the Lipan system resembles the Jicarilla and not the Chiricahua-Mescalero type, and the Lipan kinship stands closer to Jicarilla in respect to form, terms, and behavior patterns than to kinship usages of any other Southern Athabaskan-speaking tribe. Dr. Harry Hoijer?s scholarly analysis of the relationships of Southern Athabaskan languages demonstrates that Jicarilla and Lipan together constitute a sub-group of the eastern linguistic group, quite apart from Mescalero, which is classified in the other or western group. The conclusion seems inescapable that the affiliation of the Lipan and Mescalero is a recent and secondary one and that more ancient and fundamental connections must be sought to the north.

It is of interest and importance to consider whether the myths and tales yield materials which offer further insight concerning the place of the Lipan in Southwestern cultures. The results of such an inquiry have proved so gratifying that it is doubtful whether the value of mythology for purposes of ethnological analysis has ever been better vindicated.

A glance at the table of contents of this volume is enough to reveal one of the major differences in myth and conception which divides the Lipan from the Mescalero; the Lipan have a myth of emergence. This gives a definite cast to Lipan mythology which Mescalero mythology does not share, for a number of other Lipan stories take their inspiration from events which transpired in the underworld before the emergence (Section I, C). The myths of all Southern Athabaskan tribes (with the possible exception of the Kiowa Apache) include a story of a culture hero who slew the foes of the race. The Navaho, Western Apache, and Jicarilla name the chief protagonist Killer-of-Enemies and have him attended by a subordinate (a younger brother, relative, or friend) who is ordinarily known as Child-of-the-Water. By a curious twist the Mescalero and Chiricahua have reversed the positions of these two; for them Child-of-the-Water becomes the intrepid hero and monster slayer and Killer-of-Enemies his weaker companion. The Lipan lean towards the northern and western usage. Killer-of-Enemies is their culture hero. They use the term Child-of-Water seldom, and then only as a synonym for Killer-of-Enemies. In the Lipan tales a younger brother of the culture hero called Wise One appears, and to him are attributed the characteristics usually associated with the less important of the divine pair.

One of the monsters with whom the culture hero has difficulty is known as Big Owl by the Jicarilla and Western Apache. The Mescalero and Chiricahua think of him as a giant. He appears as Big Owl in Lipan mythology, again indicating the orientation we have remarked.

The Lipan names for important concepts or supernaturals of the myths show marked departures from Mescalero usage. The Mescalero call masked dancers and the supernaturals they impersonate gahe. The Lipan know them as hashchi (hactci) and therefore agree in this respect with the Jicarilla who refer to comparable supernaturals as hashchin (hactcin), and with the Navaho who use the cognate term haashch'èèh (hactce).

There are a number of myths of diagnostic value which the Lipan relate but which could not be found for the Mescalero. One such is the tale of the man who traveled down the river in a hollow log (Section V, A, 1). This story has been recorded for the Jicarilla, Western Apache, and Navaho also. Another tale of significance for our purpose is that of the race around the world (Section VIII, B, 1). This story, unknown to the Mescalero but common to the Lipan and Jicarilla, has been expanded to ceremonial importance by the latter.

As has been implied in the materials surveyed, the sharp differentiation of Lipan from Mescalero mythology contrasts vividly with the many parallels between Lipan and Jicarilla mythology. In addition to the myths and themes which have been identified as belonging to the joint stock in trade of the Lipan and Jicarilla but which are not shared by the Mescalero (such as the emergence myth), there are a number of others which deserve mention, for their weight lends a decided Jicarilla cast to Lipan folk-lore. One such is the hint of Lipan traditions concerning a people who live to the north in a land of darkness (p. 15). Another is that of the boy who aids in the capture of his twin (p. 23). Still another has to do with the attempts of a malign being to chop up and cook the culture hero and his companion (pp. 23-24). The vitalization of a person or animal by the entrance of wind into the body (p. 29) is one of a number of themes of like character. We are fully justified in saying tha between the legends of the Lipan and Jicarilla the correspondences are impressive in respect to themes, names, and terms as well as story outlines. Most of these resemblances will be noted in the text.

But the myths also contain ethnographic items which attest to the cultural gulf between the Mescalero and Lipan and to the unmistakable relation of Lipan to Jicarilla culture. It may be useful to call attention to one or two examples of such materials here. In Section VII (Tales Connected with Death) mention is made of the ghost or vakosh (vakoc) ; vakosh is a term descriptive of the material remains of the dead as distinguished from the breath or spirit. The term and description are applied by the Lipan and Jicarilla and, as far as I have been able to discover, by no other of these Apache tribes. In the same section of the volume the Lipan conception of the underworld or land of the dead is described. The underworld is said to be divided into north and south compartments, inhabited by the spirits of the sorcerers and of the good respectively. Fire and fog harass the wicked, and snakes and lizards are their only food. The Jicarilla have an identical picture of the afterworld, and, as far as I have been able to determine, they are the only other Apache group to entertain such a set of beliefs. In one of the warpath stories of this volume a Lipan who had been made captive by the enemy and escaped, refrains from entering the encampment before a purifying ceremony has been held over him. There is no trace of such a ceremony for the Mescalero and Chiricahua, but this duplicates exactly the Jicarilla procedure. A systematic review of the contents of this volume would reveal scores of elements which might be similarly compared and interpreted. A more comprehensive comparison will not be attempted now, however, for it can be more profitably pursued after the publication of the volumes of Chiricahua and Mescalero mythology which are now being prepared.

Enough evidence of various kinds has been submitted, nevertheless, to establish with high probability that the Lipan are an offshoot of a Lipan-Jicarilla group, that their line of migration took them east to the plains and south to the gulf, and that they were lately forced westward and northward, to be finally located with the Mescalero.

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Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas
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