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“Who Were the Lipan and the Kiowa-Apaches?”

Southwest Crossroads Spotlight

Tennyson Berry (Kiowa Apache), 1913“Tennyson Berry (Kiowa Apache), 1913,” DeLancy Gill (Photographer)

Two small Apache tribes, the Lipan and the Kiowa-Apache, lived on the western Great Plains during the early 1600s. Today they have become part of the other Apache tribes. Very few of those living today remember the Lipan and the Kiowa-Apache tribal traditions and language, but oral accounts keep their memory alive.


The Kiowa-Apaches lived in the American Southwest by the early 1600s. They are sometimes called Plains Apaches because they lived on the Great Plains along with the Kiowas, their long-time allies. The Kiowa-Apaches were nomads. They roamed parts of present-day Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Like other Plains tribes, they hunted bison, lived in tipis, and used horses to pull their possessions on travois. The Kiowa-Apaches also shared some social and religious customs with the Plains tribes. They participated in the Sun Dance, shield groups, and camp circles. The Kiowa-Apache retained the Apache language, origin stories, and their practice of death rituals.

Lipan Apaches

Apache Camp“Apache Camp,” Unidentified (Photographer)

Sometime after 1500, Lipan Apache bands pushed the people then living in the Texas Panhandle off to the east and settled on their lands. By the time of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, the Lipans had borrowed some Plains Indian ways. They lived in tipis and used animal hides for storing and carrying supplies. They rode horses and hunted bison. They chose war chiefs for their battle skills and spiritual powers. Storytelling and ritual ceremonies kept the people in balance with the natural world.

During the 1700s, the Spanish captured and enslaved hundreds of Apaches. In retaliation, Lipan warriors raided their enemies for horses and captives. Comanche raiders, armed with guns from the French, forced the Lipans west towards the Rio Grande. Some Lipans fled to Spanish missions.

In the mid-1700s, Father Diego Jiménez at Nueces Mission befriended the Lipans and tried to convert them to Christianity. But the smallpox epidemic of 1764 drove them back to their native ceremonies. Eventually, the Spanish closed the missions. Spanish-Lipan relations grew worse, and the Lipans also began to fight with the Eastern Wichita Indians. In 1836, the Lipans switched their allegiance from the Spanish to the Republic of Texas to fight the Comanches. In 1846, the Americans annexed Texas. As Comanche attacks weakened during the 1850s, American settlers pushed the Lipans, their former allies and protectors, off their traditional lands.

In 1846, Indian commissioners for Texas reported that about 125 Lipans were living along the Brazos River. The US government proposed a treaty, but the divided Lipans did not sign it. When the US decided to move the Lipans to a reservation to live with enemy tribes, they fled to Mexico, where they joined the Mescalero Apaches. Texas Rangers and US army troops pursued the people, forcing them deeper into Mexico.

Mescalero Apache Tipis, ca. 1906“Mescalero Apache Tipis, ca. 1906,” H. F. Robinson (Photographer)

In 1873, 400 American troops attacked the Lipans in their village in Mexico. The army forced the survivors onto the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico. Years later, a small band of Lipans detained in Chihuahua, Mexico, were finally released. They joined their people at Mescalero.

In 1874, some Lipans went to the Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. In 1913, many moved to the Mescalero reservation. A small number chose to stay on their land allotments in Oklahoma.

The Lipans changed sides in response to the conflicts they encountered. They survived on the Texas frontier for 155 years, but continual warfare drastically reduced their numbers. In the end, American forces overwhelmed them. The surviving Lipans were assimilated into other Apache tribes.