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Natives of the inhospitable southwestern United States and northern Mexico, the Apache were nomadic people who built their society on a balance of commerce and raids. Thanks in part to their nomadic lifestyle and harsh homeland, the Apache were considered among the most formidable mounted warriors of the southwest. The name Apache itself came from a Zuni native word meaning "enemy."
The Spanish were the first to encounter the Apache when Francisco de Coronado, the Spanish conquistador who combed the American Southwest in the 16th century, met and traded with them. Relations between the Apache and the colonists remained relatively benign until the 19th century, when Mexico declared its independence from Spain. In the 1830s, seeking to gain control of the Southwest, the Mexican government began offering a reward for the scalps of the Apache.
The violence that followed led many Apache, normally a series of independent tribes, to unite under the leadership of Mangas Coloradas. Coloradas' war against the Mexicans would continue for almost a decade before the United States, declaring war in 1846, defeated Mexico and laid claim to their territories. Coloradas agreed to sign a treaty with the Americans in return for self-sovereignty, but it did not last. The discovery of a wealth of minerals in Apache territory brought white settlers flocking to their lands. Seeing them as trespassers, the Apache led raids against the American settlers. In response, the US military sent forth troops to make war on the Apache. The ensuing conflict, which became known as the Apache Wars, continued for roughly ten years.
During this time, Mangas Coloradas, as well as the Apache leader Cochise and the medicine man Geronimo, led guerilla forces against the Americans. The decade of war took its toll on the Apache - Coloradas was captured and executed during a treaty negotiation in 1863 and Cochise too was captured. To help stem the tide of violence, the American government authorized the creation of a reservation in San Carlos, Arizona, where the Apache could live separated from the white settlers. At first the Apache agreed to live on the territory, but found the restricting life on the reservation little to their liking. Geronimo along with numerous others escaped from the reservation on multiple occasions to wreak havoc on American encampments. During his final escape in 1886, nearly 6000 soldiers and volunteers were mobilized to try and recapture the Apache leader.
After the surrender of Geronimo later that year, there was a great demand among the white settlers that the Apache be relocated, as it was clear the reservation could not hold them. Bowing to their constituents' demands, the American government scattered the Apache to the four winds. Some were moved east to Oklahoma. Geromino and his followers were imprisoned in Florida and not allowed to return to their home territory until 1914. Today, most modern Apache still live in the same region as their ancestors - Arizona and New Mexico, with many still living on their original reservation at San Carlos.