What Does Apache Mean?

History is important. It leads to us to understand our past, what happened and why – and this is vital for our future. We should learn from the past so that we don’t repeat mistakes. 

The thing with history is, we often learn about the same historical events, and we don’t learn of other areas of history. In America, this can lead to us being somewhat confused over areas like Native American history and culture.

What Does Apache Mean

Perhaps one of the most well known groups are the Apaches, famous for figures like Geronimo. But what do we really know about the Apaches?

This guide will talk about some of the most essential aspects of the Apaches. What their name means, who they are and what they stand for – along with some great other noteworthy points!

What Does Apache Mean?

Apache has a variety of different meanings. Generally speaking, it’s a collective name for many Native American tribes whose native language is a connection or variation of Athapascan. 

The likely origin of the word is from the Spanish, who first encountered the Apaches in the early 16th century. Some theories suggest it was a plural of the word Navajo, whereas other theories imply that it was a Spanish variation of mapache which means racoon.

This could have referred to their choice of clothing, or a racist term – but there is little evidence for either theory. However, the word has many links and meanings to different groups. Much later for example, the term meant “outlaw” in French – likely coming from 20th century French literature.

The term Apache to the Zuni means something quite different though. The word Apache to them means “enemy” whereas the Apaches refer to themselves by different names like “Dini”, which translates as “people” or “the people”. 

Who Are The Apaches?

The earlier group of Apaches lived like nomads and spread across large areas of North America including parts of Mexico.

They were adept hunters which allowed them to live off the land, largely hunting buffalo for food and clothing. Some even undertook an early form of farming. While the male Apaches hunted for food, the female Apaches were responsible for the collection of other foods, water and wood. 

They lived in a shelter that was built by female Apaches, known as a wickiup. Due to their nomadic lifestyle, these shelters were designed in a way to be easily erected and easily deconstructed – along with being appropriate for the environment of where they stayed at the time.

This differed slightly when it came to the Kiowa and Jicarilla Apache tribes, as they often used the hides of buffalo to create teepees. 

The Apaches from Western areas could trace their lineage of their tribe through their mothers, differing from other Apache tribes whose connection could be linked to both their father and mother. 

In terms of society, the Apaches practiced polygamy and any marriage was easily ceased by either the female or male. They were best known for their strength and toughness, not only being powerful and intelligent hunters – but also great warriors. 

In fact, the various bands of Apache tribes were a societal creation of large families and at the helm was a person known as a headman – chosen to be this for their skills in war and skills as a leader. 

Other than this, the Apaches were also famous for their baskets and overall survival skills in the outdoors. They had strong religious beliefs and often took part in ceremonial activities – giving thanks and representing spirits of the land, such as the mountains and the rivers. 

Today, there are around 30,000 Apaches left in the US.

Apache Relationships With Others

The Apaches often traded with other tribes and other groups of people, and although they were known for their strength in war, they were generally peaceful and lived simple lives.

It wasn’t until the early 16th century when Spanish invaders became involved in their way of life, typically aggressively, that the Apaches changed. 

Europeans typically felt apprehensive about groups of Native Americans like the Apaches due to how they looked and lived. Apaches wore clothing made from their buffalo kill, painted their faces with blood of their hunt and often ate raw meat. 

The Europeans were very reliant on farming and land cultivation for survival, so it was a culture shock when they saw groups like the Apaches. 

Apache Relationships With Others

There were further divides between the two, as the Spanish were strongly involved in the slave trade and would frequently kidnap or force some Apaches to work in mines for silver.

As a result, other Apaches would raid the Spanish colonies and seize things like food, clothing, silver and even guns. 

This type of Apache behavior originally was uncommon, but as they grew in numbers through connections with enslaved Natives from various tribes, and they began to spread further across the land – the Apaches became well known for their disposition to war. 

When another Native tribe known as the Comanches moved into the Apache lands (largely due to Spanish influence in their territories), the source of food and other supplies for the Apaches became scarce – forcing them to move further South. 

To survive, the Apaches sought after the buffalo or simply raided settlements for supplies. 

What Does Apache Mean In History?

Due to historical events, many tribes and various groups from several nations loosely using the word Apache, it has been difficult for historians to hone in exactly on the Apaches.

It was also difficult for experts like anthropologists and historians to classify the Apaches as they joined different “groups” like a clan or a band.

Many Apache tribes had some linguistic differences, particularly when discussing the divide between the Western Apache and more Northern tribes. 


The word Apache has different meanings and their history is vast, spanning much of North America with different tribes and groups. Learning about their history is very important and very indicative of early life in the lands. 

We hope this guide has been helpful for you and answered some of the questions you had about the Apaches.