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“Last of the Lipans”

by Philemon Venego

In the early 1870s, a band of fewer than forty surviving Lipans were held captive in Chihuahua, Mexico. Father Mignon, a priest at the mission at Tularosa, wrote to the governor of Chihuahua to request the band’s release. He asked that the band be allowed to join their relatives on the Mescalero reservation. The governor agreed. When Father Mignon traveled to Chihuahua to escort the Lipans north, he found them imprisoned in a corral. Father Mignon accompanied the tribe by train back to Tularosa, where their relatives joyfully greeted them. Philemon Venego was 75 or 76 years old when he told the story of his tribe's return to the US to oral historian Eve Ball.

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Unidentified Mescalero Apache, ca. 1886“Unidentified Mescalero Apache, ca. 1886,” J. R. Riddle (Photographer)

I remember the trip well. I was about nine or ten years old, I think, and understood that we were to see our relatives and friends and have a home on the reservation. When we got off the train, there were Apaches with wagons at the station to meet us. We did not recognize our relatives but they made themselves known to us. How glad our people were to see each other! Men embraced with tears streaming down their faces.

When we got to Mescalero, the Nantan, Mr. Carroll, through his interpreter José Carillo, made a talk to us. He told us that if we would keep the peace and be good Indians we were to have the privileges of the other Apaches already there and to share equally with our brothers, the Mescaleros, who were giving us the rights they enjoyed. We were to be safe and happy. If we had grievances we were to report them first to Chief Magoosh and then to him.

And now, how many of us are left? You know that it is the mother who determines the membership in the tribe. Husband and children belong to her band. Among our people there are very few girl children. Rose Tee had none, and there were no girls among the Mendez family. There were boys, yes; but their children are not Lipans. Now there are my mother and me; I do not think of a dozen others.

We are the last of the Lipans.