The Lipan Apache were a once powerful and numerous American Indian tribe of the southern Great Plains. During the nineteenth century they constantly engaged in warfare, and their numbers dwindled. Their descendants presently live among the Mescalero Apache in New Mexico and the Tonkawa and the Plains Apache in Oklahoma. The Lipan are not a federally recognized tribe, and little of their culture remains.
The Lipan spoke an Athapaskan language and were closely related to the Jicarilla Apache. A nomadic tribe, the Lipan moved from out of the Southwest and settled on the Texas plains before 1650. Bernard de La Harpe, however, reported their presence in present Latimer County, Oklahoma, in 1719. There was a northern and a southern Lipan division, both loosely organized into bands of extended family groups. They hunted bison and excelled at horsemanship and archery.
During the early 1800s the Lipan ranged south and westward across Texas from the Colorado River to the Gulf of Mexico and the Rio Grande. Their hostility toward Mexicans and the Comanche occasioned an alliance between the Lipan and the Republic of Texas in the late 1830s. Lipan warriors readily assisted the Texas militia as scouts and guides, but their relations declined after Texas statehood in 1846.
Although some Lipan settled on the Texas Brazos Indian Reservation in 1855, most refused to comply. Their defiance resulted in prolonged military operations against them. While some Lipan found refuge in Mexico, others joined the Mescalero Apache in present New Mexico and the Plains Apache in Indian Territory. Seventeen Lipan who resided near Fort Griffin, Texas, from 1879, were removed to Indian Territory in 1884. There they were incorporated into the Tonkawa, with whom they shared a reservation in present Kay County, Oklahoma. Approximately thirty-five Lipan were alive in 1905, ten of which resided in Oklahoma. Some thirty Lipan dwelled there in 1951. More recent population figures are unavailable.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Jeffrey D. Carlisle, "Apache Indians," in The New Handbook of Texas, (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1996). William W. Newcomb, Jr., The Indians of Texas, From Prehistoric to Modern Times (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961). Morris E. Opler, "Lipan Apache," Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 13, Book 2, Plains, ed. Raymond J. DeMallie (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2001). Thomas F. Schilz, Lipan Apaches in Texas (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1987). Muriel H. Wright, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951).
Jon D. May
© Oklahoma Historical Society