The Apaches’ epic continental migration began in the fifteenth century. Part of a group of Athabascan people, the Apaches streamed south from their original home in Canada, following the buffalo herds on the Great Plains. Their versatile nomadic lifestyle combined hunting and gathering with both raiding and seasonal farming. Horses proved to be the catalyst for the Apaches’ dominance of much of the southern portion of the Great Plains. On horseback, the Apaches could travel faster, strike quicker, and get away faster than ever before, making them dangerous neighbors to the Pueblo Indians, who along with their Spanish conquerors, raised horses and large herds of cattle and sheep. The Spanish and the Pueblos became targets of young Apache warriors hungry for the riches and status that the spoils from raids brought them. Around 1700, it seemed as if nothing could stop the Apaches.

But then the Comanches made their way into the area. Mounted Comanche warriors, also wanting horses and the status that came with raiding, struck the Pueblos, the Spanish, and the Apaches, forcing the Apaches to move farther south into Central and South Texas. These Apache bands, known as Lipan Apaches, became fierce enemies of the Comanches, and throughout the eighteenth century, their war intensified. From about 1700, there was constant commerce among the Indians and the French traders and the Spanish missionaries (the Spanish founded San Antonio in 1718). Both the Lipans and the Comanches maintained complex trade networks throughout Texas and into Louisiana, and their desire for these trade goods, the attempt to acquire them and control distribution, and the status and power that the acquisition of these goods brought, made warfare in Texas a vicious circle.

The Lipan Apaches were caught between the Comanches moving south onto the Texas plains and the Spanish ranchers moving north from Mexico onto the Texas plains. Spanish missionaries told the Lipans that their religious beliefs were sinful, their way of life savage, and their tendency to use warfare to gain status and wealth wrong. The missionaries proposed the Lipans give up these characteristics, settle at a mission, and provide manual labor for them. If they were good and obedient, they would receive metal goods, be protected from their enemies, and go to heaven when they died. The Lipans preferred their traditional lifestyle over what the missions offered, but occasionally, from 1729 to 1767, some looked to the missions for supplies and protection from the Comanches. But Spanish priests were more concerned with saving their souls for heaven than in making life tolerable here on earth. Many of the Lipans were treated like slaves and made to rise early for mass and toil for Spaniards with little food and sleep. Many did not live long enough to even be confirmed in the catholic church. Some of the Lipans retaliated, burning down missions and killing missionaries. In the end, it was mainly the Comanches, newly allied with the Spaniards, who wiped out the Lipans’ stronghold in Texas, pushing them further south into Mexico.

The Mexican War (1846–1848) affected all of the Apache tribes. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was a peace treaty that ended the war in 1848 and resulted in the Mexican Cession, in which Mexico ceded and sold the vast majority of Apache territory to the United States. Numerous military forts were established by the U.S. government throughout Texas to prevent another war and protect Texans from the Comanches, and nearly all remaining Apaches were confined to Arizona reservations by 1872. Military conflict ended with the 1886 surrender of Geronimo, a famous Apache leader, and the Reorganization Act of 1936 put the Mescalero, Lipan, and Chiricahua Apaches all together on the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico.