- Apache Adaptation to Hispanic Rule by Matthew Babcock
Until the last decade, most monographs on Apache Indian history focused on the mid- to late nineteenth century. Numerous books on Geronimo and the Apache Wars echoed broader popular interest in films and literature about a mythologized "Wild West." With a few key exceptions, the pre-1850 period was significantly understudied.1 This historiographical dynamic is now changing, reflecting a broader movement in early American history and Native American and Indigenous studies toward longer chronological frames. In the last decade, scholars have focused on connecting analysis of Apache language and oral traditions with archival research and archaeology, developing nuanced portraits of Apache peoples and their histories that transcend periodization based on "colonial," "national," or "reservation" eras.2 Matthew Babcock's illuminating new book, Apache Adaptation to Hispanic Rule, participates in this scholarly movement, drawing upon multinational archival research as well as consultation with the Chihene Apache Nation of New Mexico. Any readers harboring stereotypes of Apaches as incessant raiders menacing colonial settlements will find their expectations dashed. As Babcock reveals, Apaches approached interactions with their neighbors with far more nuance and interest in negotiation, and far less violence, than was once assumed.
Babcock describes his book as a study of eight reservations run by Spaniards and Mexicans for Apache groups in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These emerged in the 1780s as both Spaniards and Apaches tired of a devastating war. The reservations typically consisted of a presidio (military fort) providing rations, livestock, and gifts, such as clothing or cigarettes, to Apaches camped nearby. In exchange, Apaches agreed to stop raiding Hispanic communities and to aid in pacifying other Native groups. Several thousand "Apaches de paz" or "peaceful Apaches" (2) engaged with this system from 1786 to 1832, at times representing as much as 50 percent of the population of Southern Apache bands such as the [End Page 777] Chihene and Chokonen. Babcock emphasizes that Spanish military leaders saw reservations as part of a program of controlling Apache mobility; for example, the commandant general instructed his presidio commanders to have Apaches camp at specific distances from Spanish forts and use passports when they traveled. There was a clear divergence between policy and practice, however, as Babcock reveals that Apaches continued previous patterns of movement for raiding, hunting, trading, planting, and gathering.
Though Babcock's stated historiographical interventions focus mostly on the significance of reservations, his broader analysis of Apache diplomacy from early Spanish colonization through the U.S.-Mexico War is the greatest strength of the work. In fact, the professed focus of the book does not fully align with its content and undersells the scope of its achievements; readers expecting to read more narrowly about the reservations may thus be surprised to find that Babcock also charts Apache origins, early Apache engagement with Catholicism, Apache participation in the Great Southwestern Revolt, and more. Particularly noteworthy is his success in tracing specific Apache bands—especially the Chihene, Chokonen or Chiricahua, and Mescalero—and their strategies of mobility, subsistence, and diplomacy over time. Babcock describes Apache kinship ties, customs, and places of residence, as well as their negotiations and interactions with neighboring groups, with admirable clarity. The fact that he does so across more than two centuries is even more impressive. In the end, Babcock might have done more to synthesize his analysis of this material with the core chapters on the Hispanic-run reservation system in order to advance one larger argument: through skillful diplomacy, Southern Apache groups shaped key turning points in Southwest history to their advantage, helping to explain their persistence and relative independence as U.S. expansion loomed in the years before 1850.
Babcock's understatement comes at a cost. His interventions in larger scholarly debates—above all how indigenous peoples negotiated "cultural conquest on frontiers and borderlands across North America and around the world" (5)—is not nearly as present in the book as more narrow scholarly objections. He possesses an admirable emphasis on detail, and readers...