- The Apache Indians: In Search of the Missing Tribe
The long-lived Norwegian explorer, Helge Ingstad (1899-2001), who abandoned the practice of law after just four years because he was "afraid of getting rich and getting stuck" (p. x), is best known for his discovery in 1960 of the Norse settlement of Vinland on Newfoundland. Two decades earlier, however, he wrote a colorful book about his extraordinary sojourn among Apaches in Arizona and his search for Apaches in northern Mexico. Published in Norwegian in 1939, that book has now appeared in English translation for the first time.
Ingstad's interest in Apaches began in the 1920s when he lived with Athapascan-speaking Chipewyans on the tundra west of Hudson's Bay. There, he listened to an elder describe how his people, the Diné, had grown weaker because so many had moved south. In 1937 Ingstad traveled to the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache reservations in Arizona to see what similarities remained between the northern and southern Athapascan peoples who called themselves Diné. Visiting Apache camps on a horse named Flying Arrow, Ingstad talked to elders who had fought on both sides of the Apache wars of the 1880s and who still went by the labels that their order-loving American conquerors had bestowed on them, such as A2, R23, and D42. Ingstad approached his subject sympathetically. He deplored whites' often-condescending attitudes toward Indians and wanted his readers to respect Apache intelligence and to judge them "within their cultural framework" (p. 35). Yet, he himself could be condescending, and he portrayed Apaches as obstacles to their own integration into the Anglo-American world because "there is still too much bitterness and the past has too great of a hold on them" (p. 43).
In the White Mountains, Ingstad learned that some of Geronimo's Chiricahuas had escaped from the U.S. army in 1886 and fled into Mexico's Sierra Madre, where they remained in hiding. He decided to search for them and their descendants, hoping to learn more about the connections between the far-flung Diné. With the permission of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, John Collier, Ingstad recruited two Apache guides from the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico. One, seventy-six-year-old Yahnozah, had fought with Gerónimo, lived in the Sierra Madre, and proved remarkably durable over many weeks of hard riding. Near Bacerac on the Bavispe River, some 100 miles south of Douglas, Arizona, Ingstad added a Yaqui guide (and self-professed Apache killer) to his little party and the group spent the fall and early winter of 1937 scouring the Sierra Madre for signs of Apaches.
With its picturesque scenery, pre-historic ruins and artifacts, caves, and stories of Geronimo's stronghold, buried treasure, and an old white man living with Apaches, the Sierra provided Ingstad with ample material for an adventure story. He made the most of it. The poor Mexican villages he encountered formed part of the picturesque scenery, as did their residents who lacked, he said, "the Apaches' stamina, wise ingenuity, and irrepressible drive" (p. 95). Although he inveighed against condescension toward [End Page 664] Apaches, he described Mexican villagers as "almost like children the way they loaf around in the sun" (p. 95). Poor but happy, Mexicans lived in "blissful ignorance" (p. 121). Like other anti-modernists of his generation, Ingstad celebrated the authenticity of the "primitive." He deplored Mexicans' ongoing killing of Apaches, particularly of women and children, but explained that after decades of being victimized by Apaches, it was now Mexicans' turn to victimize the remnants of their once-powerful enemies.
Janine Stenehjem has translated Ingstad's work into felicitous English; Ingstad's son, Benedicte, offers a prefatory biography and appreciation; anthropologist Thomas Nevins provides historical context in a lengthy Introduction. The book lacks an index and modern annotations, however, which would have made the translation of this well-told story more useful to scholars.