Of all Native tribes in the Southwest, Apaches were the most portrayed by Hollywood and the dime novels. Truthfully, they were not much different from other tribes that migrated across the landscape of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma.
They were fierce warriors, and when driven to it, amazing horsemen. The Apache are connected to the Navajo as Athabaskan speaking people who migrated from the Northwest, arriving in the American Southwest somewhere around the 1400s. It's difficult to come up with exact dates because they were hunter-gatherer people who left few historical sites or archeological evidence of their lives during their early travels.
It is also complicated by the fact that there were several bands of Apache that separated, inhabiting areas from the Great Plains to Northern Mexico.
The term Apache refers to six major Apache-speaking groups: the Chiricahua from Southern Arizona, the Jicarilla from Northern New Mexico, the Lipan from West Texas, the Mescalero of Eastern New Mexico, the Plains Apache of Southwestern Oklahoma, and the Western Apache from within the State of Arizona including San Carlos, Cibecue, Tonto-Yavapai and White Mountain bands.
The Western Apache excelled at making baskets of very fine weave and design. Their baskets are the finest of the Southwestern tribes.The Jicarilla were originally driven from the Plains by the Comanche into Colorado and then south into Eastern New Mexico where they lived with the Mescalero before being granted a reservation In North Central New Mexico. Dulce, New Mexico is the headquarters of the tribe today.
The Jicarilla have made baskets for centuries. These were close in construction to Navajo baskets, primarily using sumac as a construction material and sometimes willow. They were best known for their “water baskets” which were covered with pine pitch to create a watertight vessel.
As modern cooking utensils came available, this type of basket began to disappear. The number of weavers was declining by the 1940s and it appeared that the art form might disappear.
In the 1950s, Barton Cox and Fred Carson, who had taken over the Apache Mercantile in Dulce, began to encourage the Jicarilla in their basketry efforts by buying baskets and entering them in the Gallup Ceremonials, where they won awards. This in turn helped to create a new source of income and a new product for the tourist market.
Several weavers began to excel at the art form and created large baskets that were sold as clothing hampers, serving platters and larger storage vessels. Many were fitted with lids.
The weavers used vegetal dyes in some instances, but primarily colored their baskets with commercial aniline dye; many of the same dyes that the Navajo were using to color their weavings.
Most of these dyes faded, so most Jicarilla baskets have only the soft outline of the once colorful designs on the outside, while the insides, which were not exposed to light, are still bright.
These baskets were made to be sold and used and during the mid to late 1900s, there was a strong revival in Jicarilla weaving. One of the nicest selections of these baskets was owned by Goodman’s Department Store in Pagosa Springs, Colorado which is a nearby trading center for the Jicarilla. About ten years ago, the Goodman family donated all the baskets they had purchased from weavers over the years to the tribe and plans are to incorporate them into the Tribal museum in Dulce.
The baskets we are featuring throughout this email were purchased during the mid-1900s by a Denver family and are wonderful examples of the type of work done by the Jicarilla at that time.
Baskets are one of the only art forms that cannot be made by a machine. Each one is hand crafted and has hours of work involved in the gathering and preparing of materials.