By John M. Motter
When Spanish explorers entered the area that was to become New Mexico while searching for gold at the Lost Cities of Cibola, they soon encountered the Jicarilla Apaches.
The Jicarilla are one of seven Indian tribes living in the southwestern United States classified as Southern Athabascan. Also included in this classification are the Chiricahuas, Navajos, Western Apaches, Mescalero Apaches, Kiowa Apaches and Lipan.
These tribes are thought to have migrated from the McKenzie River Basin in Canada into the American Southwest sometime between A.D. 1300 and A.D. 1500. Compared to the Pueblo Indians, they are newcomers to this part of North America. They settled in eastern Arizona; New Mexico; northern Mexico; southeastern Colorado; the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles; and west, central and south Texas.
By 1700, the Jicarilla homeland was distinguishable from the other Athabascans. Their homeland was bordered by the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado, the northeastern Plains area drained by the tributaries of the Canadian River, the flatlands of the Pecos River Valley, and the area northwest of the Rio Grande, the Chama River Valley.
As a tribe, they had a dual personality which divided them into two bands. Their material culture, especially their war and raiding complexes, was influenced by the Plains Indians. The Pueblo Indians of the Upper Rio Grande influenced their agricultural and ceremonial rituals.
This duality helped them adapt to their environment, which consisted of the plains, mountains and river valleys. The basic social organization of the Jicarilla reflects this duality. One band is made up of the Llanero, or Plains, clan. The other clan is made up of the Ollero, or Mountain/Valley people.
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, in 1541, journeyed through Eastern New Mexico. He met the Jicarillas, but referred to them as the Querechos and Vaqueros. Not until 1600 was the name Apache applied to eastern members of this tribe by the Spanish.
In 1700, New Mexico Gov. Pedro Rodriguez Cubero ordered a condemned criminal’s head stuck on a pole in Taos to warn the “Apaches of la Jicarilla” not to harbor Spanish fugitives. The name Jicarilla is said to mean “Maker of Little Baskets.”