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  • Salvation through Slavery: Chiricahua Apaches and Priests on the Spanish Colonial Frontier
  • Matthew M. Babcock
Salvation through Slavery: Chiricahua Apaches and Priests on the Spanish Colonial Frontier. By H. Henrietta Stockel. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 2008. Pp. xii, 179. $27.95. ISBN 978-0-826-34325-3.)

In this provocative study, independent scholar H. Henrietta Stockel explores the cultural collision of Spanish missionaries and Chiricahua Apaches in the Pimería Alta from the seventeenth through the early-nineteenth centuries. In her previous work, On the Bloody Road to Jesus: Christianity and the Chiricahua Apaches (Albuquerque, 2004), Stockel argued that the Chiricahuas selectively incorporated Christian principles into their own religion without completely surrendering their own long-held beliefs but lacked sufficient evidence to prove her claim. In Salvation through Slavery, Stockel maintains that, from a native perspective, Christian baptism was a form of identity theft that enabled Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries “to capitalize on their efforts to colonize” and engage in the “even more destructive activity” of selling “baptized Chiricahua Apaches . . . into slavery” (pp. 1, 4).This is a passionately argued book that grapples with the important and poorly understood topic of Apache slavery in northern New Spain; however, Stockel again fails to support her thesis adequately, adopts an exceedingly critical view of Spaniards, and often misconstrues Spanish Indian policy and practice.

Stockel divides her book into five topical chapters. Relying on oral history and tradition, as well as primary and secondary anthropological and historical sources, she provides an excellent overview of Chiricahua culture, a fairly solid discussion of Jesuit and Franciscan Indian policies, and an unconvincing assessment of baptism and slavery. Stockel’s generally engaging writing style is hampered by frequent block quotations and poorly conceived section headings such as “Comments of the late Charles Polzer, SJ” (p. 56).

Salvation through Slavery contains numerous unsubstantiated generalizations about Chiricahua and Spanish behavior that include Stockel’s thesis. Although Chiricahuas today may regard Christian baptism as a form of identity theft in hindsight, Spanish documents from Janos presidio indicate that Apaches baptized their children voluntarily in an effort to alleviate their illness [End Page 426] and epidemic disease. Having a Spanish name did not necessarily compromise an Apache’s ethnic identity. Late-eighteenth-century archival sources reveal that baptized Apaches retained their Apache names, and Spanish officers often recorded both names in their weekly censuses. Furthermore, numerous prototypical independent Apache leaders—from Mangas Coloradas to Geronimo—had Spanish names. Stockel also offers no solid evidence that Catholic priests sold baptized Apaches into slavery. They may have done so, but it was far more common for Spanish officers and Indian allies who captured independent Apaches on military campaigns to do the selling. Placing so much blame on the padres is inaccurate and unfair. Another questionable statement is that Chiricahuas “had absolutely no regard for [Spaniards] or for their religion” (p. 28). In Spain and the Southwest (Norman, OK, 2002), John Kessell argues precisely the opposite—that Apaches and Spaniards “understood each other very well”—and his argument rests on a solid base of documentary evidence (p. xi).

Stockel also paints an exceedingly dark picture of the Chiricahua experience on Spanish-run reservations that scholars have incorrectly dubbed peace establishments, positing that they “entered a life of unending hard work” and “confinement” without further elaboration (p. 111). Reservationdwelling Apaches settled in fixed camps, but they received passports from Spaniards to visit relatives at other posts, trade with Spaniards in neighboring communities, and hunt game when food was scarce. Men also served Spanish interests as scouts and auxiliaries. Although disease was a frequent problem, the vast majority of Apaches at peace led less arduous lives than Apaches who opted to keep fighting Spaniards.

In spite of these weaknesses, Stockel deserves praise for wrestling with the complex and poorly understood processes of Apache baptism, deportation, and slavery. As Stockel notes, “the processes of human trafficking are confusing” (p. 116). Her hard work will undoubtedly spur further research.

Matthew M. Babcock
Stephen F. Austin State University


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pp. 426-427
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