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Wild Women Of The West: Lozen

Apache warrior woman.

October 25, 2019

The Apache leader known as Geronimo stood near an overhanging cliff in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona studying the terrain before him. His keen eye traveled across the rocks and valley below. It was unlikely the U. S. cavalry would track the fugitive into the rocky stronghold, but Geronimo didn’t like to underestimate the army’s tenacity. A band of thirty-six, loyal warriors surrounded the courageous renegade, ready to defend their lives and land should the military be in the immediate area and dare attack the party. Geronimo fixed his gaze on a distant plateau and lifted his voice to the sky. “We have suffered much from the unjust orders of U. S. generals,” he said. “Such acts have caused much distress to my people. We will defend what is ours to the last man.”

A cold stillness hung in the air–a sense of impending calamity marking the beginning of the end of a race of people. Suddenly all eyes turned to an unassuming medicine woman stepping out a cave in a massive pile of lava rocks. She walked over to an outcropping of stone and bowed her head.

Geronimo watched with great interest as Lozen stretched her arms out and turned her palms to the heavens. She was petite and plain, her skin as supple as leather and her manner of dress in keeping with the other warriors. She scanned the horizon as the braves waited. They dared not make a move without Lozen’s wise council. It was her divine power that had kept Geronimo and his followers out of harm’s way for so long. Without her ability to detect the enemy’s nearing presence, the Apaches would have perished.

For close to a year, Geronimo’s desperate band of braves eluded U. S. Army scouts. These few Natives were the last of the free Apaches–stubborn holdouts who refused to surrender, be forced from their land, and placed on a reservation. Many believed it was better to die like warriors than live off the scraps like dogs from the emigrants they referred to as “white eyes.” Lozen honored the beliefs of her people and used her gift to keep the “white eyes” at bay.

Geronimo watched Lozen tightly close her eyes. A gust of wind swept over her small frame, tossing her straight, dark hair about. “Can you tell me if the soldiers are near?” he asked quietly.

“I can,” she replied. She stood in silence for a moment, her arms further extended, her hands slightly cupped. “The god Ussen has given me this power . . . it is good, as he is good,” she exclaimed.

Geronimo and his men looked on, anxiously awaiting Lozen’s answer. When she opened her eyes, they glittered. The power with which she had been blessed often moved her to tears; she felt unworthy of such a great gift. She turned to the proud faces of the expectant warriors, and her eyes peered into Geronimo’s. “Rest easy,” she told him. “No enemy is near this night.”

Lozen was born a member of the Mimbres tribe of Apache in 1840. Her family lived near Ojo Caliente in New Mexico. Her father was a leading member of his band, and her mother was a well-respected woman. Not unlike most Indian children at that time, Lozen learned to ride a horse when she was very young. By the age of eight, she was considered an expert rider. From early on it was clear to her parents that she would not assume the traditional female role. She loved hunting and playing rough games with her brother, Victorio, and the other boys in the tribe. Her skills with a bow and arrow and a sling were exceptional. Like her father and his father before him, she was a born warrior.

Lozen’s homeland, a stretch of ground that encompassed parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico, was rich with gold. The Mexicans were the first to invade the territory and try to possess the precious metal. They came by the hundreds, feverishly digging into the earth like coyotes. When they tired of searching for the nuggets themselves, they made slaves of some Cheyenne and Apache people in the area. Indian leaders quickly formed raiding parties in an effort to take back the land the Mexicans occupied and to free the Native slaves. Among them was Mangas Coloradas, chief of the Mimbreno Chiricahuas, as well as Cochise, Geronimo, and, in time, Lozen’s brother, Victorio. Each pledged to resist the colonization of their native soil by the Spaniards and the incursion of white fortune seekers on their way to California.

Lozen’s young eyes witnessed numerous battles and countless brutal deaths. Often Apaches were slaughtered during so-called peace negotiations between Indian council members and the gold seekers. They sought revenge for every life that was taken at the hands of their enemies. Mexican prisoners were occasionally taken and would be led out bound and gagged before the tribe. Then the wives, daughters, and mothers of the murdered Apache would kill the men. Lozen watched them cut the miners into pieces with knives or crush their skulls under the weight of their horses. Eventually the harsh retaliation forced the Mexicans to abandon the area and retreat south. Troubles for the Apaches, however, were far from over. They were warned by other tribes that the white eyes were coming and were like the leaves on the trees–too numerous to number.

Before the white eyes overtook their land and many Native traditions were abandoned, Lozen would learn about the remarkable Apache women who had gone before her. They were shamans and warriors, mothers and hunters–women she admired and longed to emulate. Shortly after her coming-of-age ceremony was celebrated by the tribe, Lozen journeyed to the sacred mountain to ask god for a gift to help her people. It was a ritual all Indian women went through. While at the sacred mountain, she was given the power to understand horses and the ability to hear and see the enemy. If an enemy was near, she would feel his presence in the heat of her palms when she faced the direction from which he would come. She could determine the distance of the enemy by the intensity of the heat. The Apaches sorely needed a woman with Lozen’s unique talent; they didn’t have enough warriors or enough power to battle the overwhelming white invaders.

Among the important influences in Lozen’s life was her older brother, Victorio. From boyhood he had been groomed to be chief of the Chiricahua Apache tribe. He was blessed with the power of war and the handling of men. Tall and imposing, he was respected by all members of the band and referred to by other leaders as the perfect warrior. Lozen rode with Victorio and served as his apprentice. The two combined their powers and led warriors on many successful raids against white prospectors who attacked peaceful, Apache camps. Nothing they did could stem the tide of settlers entering their country.

The ground covering the western territories was soaked with the blood of Natives and ambitious pioneers alike. The U. S. government sent soldiers to the Southwest and built army posts where needed to give settlers protection along the Santa Fe Trail. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes sent envoys to the various Indian nations to negotiate peace and prevent further war. Lozen and Victorio attended those meetings, but were wary of the promises made by the white leaders. In time the U. S. government broke all agreements made with the Apaches and forced Lozen and the other Chiricahuas onto the Warm Springs Apache Reservation in San Carlos, Arizona.

San Carlos was a hellishly hot, desert land, and the Chiricahuas were unable to grow crops there as they had when they resided in the Mimbres Mountains. They could not provide for themselves and had to depend on the government for food and supplies. Between the hungry tribe and provisions, however, stood the corrupt government agents working at the reservation who were stealing funds meant for the Indians to purchase food.

Victorio appealed to General John Howard, an Indian agent overseeing the Apaches’ transition from plains living to the reservation, and requested that his people be returned to their homeland. Howard agreed to take the matter to President Grant. Lozen waited by her brother’s side for word from the government. Two years passed before the appeal was officially granted.

The Apaches’ time in Ojo Caliente was short lived. Government rations set aside for the tribe were diverted again, and, when the Natives began stealing from the settlers, the army quickly rounded them up and marched them back to San Carlos. Conditions at the Warm Springs Reservation had not improved since they’d last been there. Not only was the lack of supplies still a problem, but outbreaks of malaria and smallpox were now claiming the lives of hundreds of Chiricahuas. Victorio called together the Apache leaders for a council meeting. Lozen was the only woman allowed.

After much discussion, Victorio and Geronimo decided to leave the reservation, taking with them all who wanted to return to New Mexico. On September 2, 1877, a band of 320 Apaches fled Warm Springs. Lozen was among them.

Lozen and Victorio raided camps as they traveled. They killed herders, mules, and steers, stopping only long enough to cut the animal meat. Lozen’s powers protected the band from the enemy’s fast approach. Soldiers eventually overtook the group and tried to persuade them to return to the reservation. The brother-and-sister team was warned that any Indian found off the reservation would be killed.

“We’ll not be killed; we’ll be free,” Lozen replied. “What is life if we are imprisoned like cattle in a corral?”

Lozen’s words inspired her brother. He vowed to stay and fight to return to his homeland. A warrant was quickly issued for his arrest. The Apaches waged war against troops who tried to bring their chief to justice. The desperate band kept themselves alive and thwarted army capture by stealing food and horses. They ran from and fought off both American and Mexican soldiers and survived on the run for three years at various spots in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico.

Throughout the Chiricahuas’ trials and conflicts, Lozen proved herself a valuable warrior and scout. At times she even acted as an interpreter between Victorio and the frustrated cavalry. She tended to Victorio’s occasional injuries and helped his wives with their children. In mid-October 1880, a Mescalero Indian woman traveling with Victorio’s band went into labor. Victorio and his followers risked being caught by the soldiers if they stopped. The chief instructed Lozen to stay back with the woman and see her through the birth. She reluctantly agreed.

Lozen led the mother-to-be along an overgrown trail to an isolated spot away from the river. In the near distance she caught a glimpse of a contingency of army troops headed their way. Lozen sought to hide their position in a clump of thick brush as the Mescalero’s baby would arrive the same time as the scouts and soldiers.

Lozen helped the woman into the foliage and, when she was sure they could not be seen, allowed the expectant mother to deliver. Lozen laid a rifle across her lap and watched with careful eyes as the cavalry approached. She placed a hand over the Mescalero woman’s mouth to muffle her sounds of pain. Once the baby came, Lozen cut the cord with a piece of black flint, then tied off the stub of the cord with a piece of yucca string.

The baby boy whimpered only a little. Lozen whispered a prayer over him and gave him to his mother. She held her gun at the ready and peered out the brush at the soldiers. One of the scouts seemed to be looking in their direction. She placed a finger on the trigger of the gun. If he got too near, she would have to shoot. Just before the scout reached the three, he stopped, turned around, and rode off. Lozen, the mother, and her son were left alone.

Lozen continued to feel the presence of the enemy long after they had disappeared from sight. Her thoughts centered on her brother and the warriors with him. An uneasiness filled her heart and mind. In that moment she wished she had defied her brother and stayed with him. She sensed he needed her now more than ever.

Victorio and his band of loyal followers, meantime, were riding hard into Mexican territory, hoping to lead U. S. troops away from the mountains and onto the plains. On their way to a place called Tres Castillos, the Indians were ambushed by Mexican soldiers. Victorio and more than a hundred other Apaches were killed. Sixty-eight were captured and sold as slaves. Only seventeen Chiricahuas managed to escape.

When Lozen reached the Mescalero reservation, she learned of her brother’s death at the Battle of Tres Castillos. She was heartsick, convinced that had she been with him the group never would have been surprised. Apache leader Nana comforted Lozen by reminding her that Victorio “died as he lived, free and unconquerable.” Nana’s words helped, but Lozen would never be the same. Inspired by her brother’s drive to spare his people the ignominy of imprisonment and slavery, Lozen, along with the remaining Natives, prepared to do the only thing they knew: to fight and die as warriors. After several months battling with Mexican and U. S. soldiers, Nana led the tired handful of warriors, their wives, and their children back to the San Carlos reservation. At San Carlos the band could rest, accumulate food and supplies, and recruit more warriors.

Lozen and the dedicated tribesmen who wanted to live again on their own land joined forces with Geronimo, then left the reservation, and headed south toward the Sierra Madre. As the party traveled, Geronimo consulted Lozen’s powers just as Victorio had done. The band raided sheep and cattle ranches to sustain themselves while on the run. Geronimo devised a plan of attack on forty men serving as cavalry police and scouts. With those men out of the way, Geronimo determined he could move about Apache land undetected. A plan was also set to destroy telegraph wires so communication between army posts would be minimized. One by one the scouts and police fell at the hands of Geronimo’s warriors.

Geronimo relied greatly on Lozen to keep his braves from danger. Without her help the Apache would not have met their objective. For a while the Natives were happy camped in the Chiricahua Mountains, but more settlers were pouring into the wilderness, and for their safety the government would not allow the determined Apaches to continue their actions. Over time, the Mexican and U. S. troops managed to track and capture a number of renegade Apaches until only thirty-six were left on the run. Lozen and Geronimo were among them.

In August 1886, the Chiricahua tribe was backed against the wall. With so few members left to take up the cause for freedom and the lack of food and supplies taking its toll on the last of the holdouts, Geronimo was faced with the decision to surrender to the white eyes. General Nelson A. Miles was sent to negotiate Geronimo’s surrender. He was hesitant at first, but Lozen convinced him to sit down and talk with the soldiers. “Only hardship and death wait for us on the warpath,” she told him. Lozen had lived nine years on the run. The white eyes and the Mexicans had chased them without pause. She knew the troops would continue to hunt them until they killed them all, even if it took fifty years.

“Everything is against us now,” Lozen said to Geronimo on the eve of his surrender. “If we awake at night and a rock rolls down the mountain or a stick breaks, we will be running. We even eat our meals on the run. On the run you have no friends whatever in the world. But on the reservation we could get plenty to eat, go wherever we want, talk to good people.”

Geronimo listened to the military leaders and agreed to stop fighting if they could all return to the reservation and live at Turkey Creek, New Mexico, on farms. General Miles explained that he could only deliver the message to his superior officers and added that this was their last chance to surrender. Geronimo reluctantly agreed to lay down arms.

In retaliation for the Chiricahua Apache’s success at resisting imprisonment, the entire tribe–more than 500 people, most of whom were living on the San Carlos Reservation–was deported from Arizona. Lozen was among the leaders shipped by train from Fort Bowie, Arizona, to Fort Pickens, Florida. U. S. soldiers placed all the Indians in two cars, packing them in like cattle. Many died en route to the coast. Even more succumbed once they reached Florida. Pneumonia, meningitis, and malaria claimed the lives of hundreds of men, women, and children. Army post doctors also reported deaths due to depression at the conditions.

Lozen never saw her homeland again. She fell victim to tuberculosis and died in late 1890. She was buried in an unmarked grave. Tales of the most famous Chiricahua war woman to ever live continue to be told to young Apache children today.

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