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Ft. Sill Apache

Ft. Sill Apache Tribe

By Olan Field

From the U.S.-Mexico Border to military prisons in Alabama and Florida, the Chiricahua Apache tribe would find itself as the last Native American group to be relocated to Indian Territory.

The descendants of Chiricahua Apaches are now known as the Ft. Sill Apaches. The Chiricahua Apaches were the last to resist U.S. government control of the American Southwest and were held as prisoners of war in exile for nearly a decade prior to their relocation to Ft. Sill, according to the tribe’s history and military records.

The Chiricahua Apaches, including Geronimo, fought to ward off the forced life on reservations where death from diseases such as malaria were common. A forced life on a reservation was restrictive and went against the nomadic life of the Chiricahua Apaches as they would move between New Mexico, Arizona, and the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua.

After the U.S. government began forcing the tribe to remain on designated reservations, warriors would lead “breakouts” where they would go beyond boundaries imposed by the government and evade capture by the American and Mexican armies. The Chiricahua found success in this as they knew the rugged terrain better than the foreign militaries, according to the tribe’s history.

It wasn’t until September of 1886 that a team led by Geronimo surrendered to the U.S. Army. The terms of the surrender are unclear, but Geronimo is believed to credit Captain Lawton with wearing down the Apaches with constant pursuit, according to the U.S. Army’s history.

The captured Apaches were imprisoned in Alabama and Florida, with many of the children sent to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania where some would die from disease.

In 1894, the Chiricahua Apaches were relocated from the prisons in Alabama and Florida via train to Ft. Sill, where they would become known as the Ft. Sill Apache. The tribe would be settled on the military reservation.

By 1910, military officials were wanting to remove the Ft. Sill Apaches from the military reservation, offering them freedom in exchange for leaving the reservation. Many in the tribe insisted they be returned to their homelands in southern New Mexico and Arizona.

In 1914, the tribe that had been reduced to 81 individuals and 20 families was relocated on small unclaimed allotments of farmland near Apache and Fletcher in Oklahoma, according to the tribe’s history.

Olan Field is a reporter with Gaylord News, a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.