Among Geronimo’s band of thirty-six loyal warriors was an unassuming medicine woman named Lozen. The petite, plain woman dressed like the braves she fought with and the courageous renegade who led the group would not make a move without her wise council. It was her divine power that kept Geronimo and his followers out of harm’s way for so long. Without her ability to detect the enemy’s nearing presence, the Apache would have perished.
From 1882 to 1886, Geronimo’s desperate band of braves eluded U. S. Army scouts. The few Natives were the last of the free Apache, stubborn holdouts that refused to surrender, be forced from their land, and placed on a reservation. Many Apache believed it was better to die like a warrior than to 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.
Lozen believed the god Ussen, who created all parts of the earth, gave her the power to foresee danger. She would stand quiet with her arms outstretched and her hands slightly cupped; she would listen to the wind and sniff the air. Somehow she knew if danger was near.
Lozen was born a member of the Mimbres tribe of Apache in 1827. 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 the 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 skill 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 out of some of the Cheyenne and Apache 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 Colorados, chief of the Membreno Chiricahua, as well as Cochise, Geronimo, and, in time, Lozen’s brother, Victorio. Each pledged to resist the colonization of his 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 Apache were slaughtered during so-called peace negotiations between Indian council members and the gold seekers. Apache sought revenge for every life that was taken at the hand 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 Apache, 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 be like. Shortly after her coming-of-age ceremony was celebrated by the tribe, Lozen journeyed to the sacred mountain to ask her 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 Apache 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 Apache and forced Lozen and the other Chiricahua onto the Warm Springs Apache Reservation in San Carlos, Arizona.
San Carlos was a hellishly hot, desert land, and the Chiricahua 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 Indians to purchase food.
Victorio appealed to General John Howard, an Indian agent overseeing the Apache’s 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 Apache’s 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 Chiricahua. Victorio called together the Apache leaders for a council meeting. Lozen was the only woman allowed to attend.
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 Apache 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. Victorio vowed to stay and fight to return to his homeland. A warrant was quickly issued for his arrest. The Apache 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.
In mid-October 1880, Lozen and Victorio were separated while trying to flee from U. S. Army troops. When she met up with her tribe at the reservation in Mescalero she learned that her brother had been killed by Mexican soldiers near Tres Castillos Mountains. Victorio and his band of loyal followers were riding hard into Mexican territory, hoping to lead U. S. troops away from the mountains and onto the plains. The Indians were ambushed by the Mexican soldiers. Lozen was heartsick, convinced that had she been with Victorio the group never would have been surprised.
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, the handful of warriors, their wives, and their children returned 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 hand 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 happily camped in the Chiricahua Mountains, but more settlers were pouring into the wilderness, and for their safety the government would not allow the determined Apache to continue their actions. Over time the Mexican and U.S. troops managed to track and capture a number of renegade Apache 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 freedoms 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.
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.
Chris Enss is the COWGIRL Book Editor, and a New York Times Bestselling author who writes about women of the Old West. For more stories about these wild women, visit chrisenss.com for more information on her books.