By Olan Field
As descendants of the Kiowa, members of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma trace their roots back to the 16th century when they inhabited the Great Plains.
Until the 1700s, the Apache lived as a nomadic group, traveling the northwestern Great Plains as far east as the Black Hills on the border of Wyoming and South Dakota, according to the tribe’s history.
The tribe migrated into the Southern Plains in 1785 after huge losses in war with the U.S. Army and from disease. In the move south they would become allies with the Comanche and share hunting territory.
The Apache Tribe entered into its first treaty with the United States in 1837, allowing for U.S. citizens to pass through its land in return for secured hunting rights in the South Plains and a territory that would become part of the state of Texas.
In 1839, the tribe fell victim to a smallpox epidemic. In 1849, half the tribal members died from cholera, and some chose to take their own lives rather than suffer, according to accounts.
In 1865, the Apache Tribe was assigned to a reservation in southwest Oklahoma, near Ft. Sill, under the Treaty of the Little Arkansas. This treated would fail to be ratified by the U.S. Congress and as a result, settlers moved in and further diminished the tribe’s land rights.
Reluctantly, the Apache signed the Treaties of Medicine Lodge in 1867, along with the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapaho.
These treaties forced the tribes to begin farming. This was a governmental effort to dismantle the white perspective that the tribes were warlike and uncivilized. The treaties aimed to equate the tribes with European-Americans such as farmers, according to Tribe accounts. This process was called assimilation.
The nearby white settlers and farmers pressured Congress in 1887 to pass the General Allotment Act, resulting in the dividing up of tribal reservations into individual allotments.
According to a 1968 interview with Alfred Chalepah, Kiowa-Apache, the government asked, “Where do you want to locate yourselves and your homes? Which lot do you want to pick out?’”
“So the Apaches, they told them places and a surveyor helped if you wanted land. You went over there and you could tell them where you wanted your place. Then they recorded it at the office and all the papers went to Washington. That's where he got the title … in the title it described the land—and that is yours. My grandpa picked out this place here (in Caddo County),” Chalepah said.
The unclaimed lands would be sold to white settlers. By 1906, this move had resulted in years of economic oppression leaving the Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapaho with individual 160-acre parcels and no reservations. The Apaches were left with just 32,643 acres from the original reservation of 2.9 million acres.
Olan Field is a reporter with Gaylord News, a reporting project at the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.