Word of the Week: Lipan

(The Comanches doggedly pursued their enemy, eventually resulting in the 1750s attack on the Spanish mission at San Saba, which had become a sanctuary to the Lipan Apache.)


1. The recorded history of the Lipan Apache begins about 1600 when they entered Texas from Great Plains. They laid claim to the area around San Antonio. The tribe split into two divisions because of a severe drought: Plains Lipans (who move into upper Colorado River region) & Forest Lipans (who return to San Antonio area).

When the Comanches entered Texas in 1700, they and the Plains Lipans fought for control of the high plains of Texas. Between 1715-1720, the Comanches and Lipans fought an epic 9-day battle in Red River Basin. In the aftermath, Lipan corpses were “left in piles like leaves.”

Between 1725 and 1749, the conflict between the Lipan Apaches and the Spanish escalated as the Spaniards moved deeper into Texas. In 1749, there is peace between them for about a year. When smallpox breaks out in Lipan camps along Guadalupe River, the tribe is convinced that epidemic was caused by mission clothing worn by newly-released hostages. They move their camps to upper Nueces River. The first Lipan mission is found in 1754 but a year later the Lipans revolt, burn the mission and ride away. Two years later the second Lipan mission is established on the San Saba River of Texas near Menard. It is burned down in 1758 during an attack by Comanches and Wichitas. In 1761, The third Lipan mission is founded on upper Nueces near Camp Wood, Texas with another smaller mission founded several miles south near Montell, Texas. Both are abandoned by the Lipan within four years.

Another terrible smallpox epidemic ravages the Lipan camps in Texas in 1780 and then spreads to their camps in Coahuila. So many Lipans die that priests fear the numerous corpses will cause other diseases. Lipan shamans, seeking an herbal cure for the smallpox, adapt the use of peyote from Carrizo Indians.

In 1814, the Lipan Apaches fought with the rebels at the Battle of Medina. In 1836, the Lipans watch Battle of Alamo unfold and wanted to assist Alamo defenders based on their friendship with Hispanic Tejano defenders, not on ties with Bowie and Travis. This friendship dates back to the Battle of Medina between the Spanish Royalist-Republican forces in 1814 south of San Antonio.

Between 1875 and 1903, US Army troops in a joint military campaign with the Mexican Army eliminated the Lipans from Coahuila, eventually driving them into Chihuahua. A small number were relocated to Oklahoma and New Mexico. The Lipan Apache were scattered and all but annihilated on the eve of the Southwestern reservation period. The survivors found refuge with other groups, and because of their small numbers were mostly overlooked or neglected in tribal histories.

[origin: The first recorded name is Ypandes. The name Lipan is a Spanish form of their self-designation as Lepai-Nde. They were also known as Querechos, Vaqueros, Pelones, Nde buffalo hunters, and Eastern Apaches, among others.]


Under the grim San Saba hills
It sleeps the years away:
The gold that Don Miranda found
When unnamed woods and nameless ground
First heard the Spanish trumpets sound
Like doom on Judgment Day.

But waving plumes and flying flame
On shrieking winds were brought;
Over the hills war-bonnets streamed,
The lances flashed and the horses screamed;
On Lipan arms the bracelets gleamed
That Spanish hands had wrought.

Cordovan boot and tinkling spur
The hill-paths knew no more;
Till Bowie reeled before the flame
That put the bursting sun to shame,
When to the hidden cave he came,
And stood before the door.

A grimmer sun, a redder flame
In billowing death clouds rolled
On Bowie and the Alamo.
And from the north as sandstorms blow
Burst a feathered and painted foe
On the guardians of the gold.

Scalps with their braids in crimson dyed
Trailed from Comanche spears.
The hills forgot the Lipan tongue,
But not the songs the ancients sung,
And out of the hills the conquerors wrung
Spoils of the vanished years.

[from “The Lost San Saba Mine”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 468; The Rhymes of Salem Town, p. 105 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 345]