- The Apache Indians originated as a southern branch of the Athabascan group of Indians, pushed farther and farther south by enemy tribes. Between 1000 A.D. and 1500 A.D., the Apache were present in the American Southwest.
The Mescalero Indians were predominant in southeastern New Mexico and western Texas. When the Spanish arrived in Texas the Mescalero Indians attacked missions and outposts in an attempt to drive off the foreign settlers. Despite numerous efforts by the Spanish, the Mescalero Indians refused to be missionized and fiercely protected their territories from settlement by the Spanish, Mexicans, and eventually Anglo-Americans. Throughout the mid-1800s the Mescalero Indians fought with United States military forces that were attempting to drive them out of their tribal lands. In the 1880s a reservation was created for the Mescalero Indians in south-central New Mexico, and within in a short time most of the New Mexico and Texas Mescaleros were living on or near the reservation.
- The Mescalero Indians earned their name from one of their main food staples, the mescal. The Mescalero Indians took the hearts of the mescal plant, steamed them in pits and ate them. The mescal was vital to the tribe because it was a readily available food source in a dry, rugged landscape.
The Mescalero Indians were nomadic hunters and gatherers, and roamed across their territories searching for big game such as buffalo, deer, elk, and bighorn sheep. They were skilled horsemen, which gave them an advantage when hunting and raiding other Indian villages or Spanish and American settlements. They lived in wickiups that they could easily transport when the tribe moved on in search of food and water.
The Mescalero Indians did not have a structured ceremonial aspect to their tribal religion, except for the traditional female puberty rite that is still practiced on the Mescalero reservation today.
- Like other Apache groups, the Mescalero Indians were band-oriented and identified themselves as Mescaleros before all else. They had no organized political system> The band was the primary association for the Apache and all governing occurred at that level. The Mescalero Indians chose their leaders, usually picking an accomplished speaker or warrior. However, his position was not secure. If the Mescaleros found fault with a leader's policies, they would elect a new leader.
- The Mescalero Indians are a significant part of the New Mexico and Texas history and vividly demonstrate the intensity of American Indians' struggle to protect their land from aggressive Spanish, Mexican and American settlers.
The Mescalero Apache reservation is located in their ancestral tribal lands, a fact that has helped the Mescalero Indians to thrive in modern times. The U.S. Census Bureau reported a population of more than 3,000 on the reservation in 2000, which includes some Lipan and Chiricahua Apache that the Mescaleros welcomed into their band.
- Settlement of their homelands brought many hardships to the Mescalero Indians as they were pushed out of their hunting grounds and forced to search for food and water elsewhere. Despite these difficulties and attempts to change their traditions and discredit their heritage, the Mescalero Indians have survived and today run a 463,000 acre reservation in their native homelands. Many Mescalero Indian traditions and customs are alive and well on the Mescalero reservation, including the continued use of the Mescalero language.