The word Apache is a generic term that describes several tribes related by culture such as Mescalero, Lipan, Jicarilla, Chiricahua, Kiowa, and Western Apache. The Spaniards and the early Indian groups named most of the Apache sub-tribes.
They based the tribe names on location, a cultural aspect, or physical appearance. The Spaniards described the Apache as gatherers and hunters. So, what did the Apache eat?
The Apache are semi-nomadic people. Consequently, their meals consisted mainly of foods they gathered and hunted, and not of cultivated crops or raised animals. Their homelands were deep canyons, high mountains, Southern Great Plains, watered and sheltered valleys, and deserts.
The Apache were the first Native American tribe to learn how to ride a horse, which they used for hunting purposes.
Traditional Apache Foods
The Apache eat a variety of common foods. However, some of their other foods also depended on their respective environment.
Apache obtained their food primarily from
- gathering (wild plants and berries)
- hunting (bison and other meats)
They also obtained food in minimal ways like:
- cultivating (domesticated plants)
- raiding or trading with neighboring tribes
What foods did the Apache gather?
Apache subsisted primarily on a meat diet, particularly buffalo meat. In addition, they supplemented this with wild vegetables, fruits, seeds, and berries. Mescal (agave) is a main staple as well as other usual food like:
- prickly pears
- Mesquite pods
- Saguaro fruit
- Banana yucca fruit
- wild onions
- Amaranth and amaranth greens
- wild grapes
- pinon nuts
- wild grasses
Apache also gathered wild berries, namely
- Blue elderberries
- manzanita berries
- red raspberries
- juniper berries
- lemonade berries
What foods did the Apache grow?
- corn (maize)
Women usually gathered wild plants while the men hunted. However, the men helped the women gather heavy plants like agave crowns.
They ate the food raw or further prepared it into another type of food. The heads of the agave plant spines were trimmed. Afterward, they were cooked in fire pits and subsequently rolled into flat sheets and sun-dried.
The Apache made flour from mixed wild potatoes and wild grasses to make bread. They made Acorn dumplings from powdered-crushed acorns, meat, and fat and then rolled them into balls.
Although agave was a usual staple in the different sub-tribes of Apache, they also used other food types endemic to their environment.
The Lipan Apache mostly used sotol and agave (mescal). Besides this, they also gathered other foods, such as:
- wild cherries
- wild plums
- salt found in caves
- honey found in caves
The Mescalero considered mescal (agave) crowns important. In fact, their heavy use of mescal earned them their tribe name of Mescalero. Additionally, they also gathered:
- roasted and peeled amole stalks
- the inner bark of aspen
- cactus fruits
- dropseed grass
- sotol crowns
- purslane leaves
- tumbleweed seeds
- wild celery
The Chiricahua similarly considered the agave important; that the Mescalero did. They call mescal or agave plant century plant. Besides this, they gathered
- chili peppers
- unicorn plant seeds
- Gambel oak bark
- lip ferns
- sumac berries
- pigweed seeds
- yellow pine nuts
- honey from ground hives
The Western Apache gathered based on seasons. May was the month they harvested agave. Immediately, they baked and dried the agave crowns. Afterward, they were pounded into pulp to make rectangular cakes. Cholla fruits, prickly pear, and saguaro were gathered in late June and early July. Spanish bayonet fruits, Emory oak acorns, and mesquite beans were subsequently gathered in July and August. In late fall, they gathered pinyon nuts and juniper berries. The gathering of plants stopped in late September to give way to the harvesting of cultivated crops.
The Kiowa gathered mostly berries, vegetables, tuberous roots, and fruits, specifically
- prairie turnips
The Jicarilla subsisted by gathering common fruits, greens, acorns, yucca fruit, seed grasses, and other common foods.
What Did the Apache Hunt?
What did the Apache eat other than wild plants?
Hunting was a daily occurrence. Hence, it was the primary source of food. Apache primarily hunted buffalo for meat in addition to their skins and sharp bones. The Apache also hunted other animals such as:
- bighorn sheep
Apache also hunted Eagles for their feathers. They released the bird as soon as they plucked two or three feathers. Further, they hunted bears and mountain lions for their skins.
Apache male children learned to move quietly and quickly at an early age to prepare them for hunting. Although adult men did all the hunting, some tribes allowed women and children to hunt small games. In Chiricahua, the boys and Lipan women hunted rabbits.
Hunting also included elaborate preparations. They did religious rites and fasting before and after hunting.
The Chiricahua hunted deer and pronghorns. The tribe also hunted lesser games such as opossums, cottontail rabbits, surplus mules, squirrels, wood rats, wild cattle, and elks.
Western Apache hunted deer and pronghorns, which they smoked into jerky.
The Mescalero mostly hunted deer. In addition, they hunted buffalo (for those who lived in the plains), elk, horses, cottontail rabbits, wild steers, wood rats, pronghorns, opossums, mules, and bighorn sheep. They also hunted minks, beavers, weasels, and muskrats. Nevertheless, they did not eat the animals and hunted them only for their hides.
The Jicarilla tribe mostly hunted buffalo, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn. Additionally, they hunted chief hares, quails, skunks, doves, chipmunks, bighorn sheep, porcupines, peccaries, rabbits, wood rats, snowbirds, and turkeys. However, unlike the Mescalero, they hunted beaver for food. They also ate horses and Burros during dire situations. They hunted weasels, wildcats, minks, and wolves, not for food but for their body parts.
The Kiowa hunted buffalo and deer. They also hunted fowls, geese, opossums, otters, turtles, rabbits, and badgers. Similarly, they hunted beaves like the Jacarilla.
The Lipan hunted buffalo as their primary food. The second most hunted and utilized game was deer. In addition, they also hunted elks, Burros, black bears, prairie dogs, horses, mountain lions, pronghorns, turkeys, turtles, ducks, mules, and rabbits. Likewise, Lipan hunted beavers similarly to Kiowa and Jacarilla.
What foods didn’t the Apache eat?
In spite of their meat diet, there were foods that they considered unclean. Although fish were plentiful, they considered them unclean. There were other animals included in their list of taboos. For example, snakes, bears, insects, owls, peccaries, turkeys, dogs, pigs, and coyotes. Additionally, they did not eat animals that ate animals they considered unclean.
However, different tribes had different taboos as well. The Lipan diet included black bears, prairie dogs, turkey, peccaries, and fish. Likewise, bears were part of the Kiowa diet.