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A friend we want

Veronika Ederer Photo Guadalupe Mountain National Park 2015. Ederer was witness to the annual mescal roast. The hearts of the mescal plants are dug out of the ground, cleared of roots and leafs before being put in the clay ovens the next morning, meanwhile gathered wood burns in the ovens transforming it to charcoal overnight.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Searching for stories of friendship, part 3

By Veronika Ederer

Special to the Daily


Joseph Blazer was a tall, strong man who never carried a gun. He did that, so his descendants told, because of his temper, and because he never had to hit a man twice. So he was not afraid as two Apaches appeared in front of his mill one day in 1869. He also raised his hands with open palms to show that he was peaceful and walked to the taller of the two Apaches. It was Santana, and the second man was Gorgonio, a medicine man of the tribe.

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With the help of a translator, Blazer asked the Apaches what he could do for them, and Santana answered:

“A friend we want; one that will help the Mescalero to be friendly.”

Blazer and the Apaches settled down to talk, only interrupted by lunch they all shared. After this day, Blazer and Santana became lifelong friends.

First of all, Blazer informed the Army that Santana wanted to have peace and would accept being moved in a reservation within the traditional homeland of the Mescalero Apaches. During the following winter, Santana brought in his people, and — since there was not enough food for all the Apaches, — Blazer gave them cattle to butcher and corn to grind. The only problem that arose was the consumption of tulhiba or tiswin by some of the tribal members. Tulhiba/tiswin is an alcoholic beverage made from sprouted corn and it caused some trouble and conflicts. Throughout the years while establishing the reservation boundaries, tulhiba parties led to fighting and killing — as long as Santana lived, he tried to get rid of the problem.

The army sent a company of soldiers to Blazers Mill in the following spring, and seeing only Apaches around that building, they feared Blazer had been captured or killed. But it turned out that Blazer had dismissed his employees during the wintertime to avoid drunken brawls, and so Santana made his camp right next to the mill to make sure his friend was safe.

During the next days, the peace treaty was discussed among the Mescalero Apaches and the “White-Eyes” — a term used for the Americans. The government promised the Apaches food, clothing and tools; protection against enemies and teachers for their children. Santana wanted some special rights too: To be able to hold their ceremonies and the permission to leave the reservation for hunting or gathering plants such as mescal. He told the soldiers about these special requests that would occur during specific months of the Apache year. He promised to inform the soldiers every time, so they knew that those groups were not on a warpath.

It took about two more weeks until all details of the treaty had been fixed, all the tribal members had been counted and their names written down. After the weather cleared up, the Army started delivering cattle and the promised goods.

* * *

After the Mescalero Apaches started settling on the reservation, Santana proved himself being a very reliable chief when incidents happened and Blazer treated the Apaches with friendship and respect. Some Apaches even worked for him at the mill.

One story says that the Apaches — being bored and restless — spent a lot of time playing games and gambling all their belongings away. Many games ended in fighting and in some cases even in killings. The “Indian agent” — the exact date of the incident is unknown, so it is not clear if the agent was L. Labadi, A.C. Henisee or A.J. Curtis — tried to stop all the gambling but without success, even when he asked the nearby missionaries and soldiers for help.

One game especially was the Apaches’ favorite pastime. It was called gunesnane-tu, a pole and hoop game, which means literary ten-hundred. There were a lot of traditions and restrictions concerning the game. For example, it was only played by men; even though women could bet on the players, they were not allowed on the playground. It was not permitted to stop the game until it was finished. The two players were the only persons allowed on the playground. Every player had to throw a special spear when a special hoop was thrown out on the playground. The goal was to have one’s spear underneath the hoop when the hoop touched the ground. Stripes on the spear helped to count the points, and whoever had 1,000 points won. The game and the bets could go on for days.

One day, one of those games started and involved half of the tribe after the “Indian agent” visited the reservation. On his next visit the following day, it was inevitable that he would see it. Santana mounted his horse to meet the agent halfway and explained to him that — because of religious reasons — it was impossible to stop the game. The Mescalero chief was accompanied by his interpreter and some armed soldiers and tried to explain that the agent would lose the respect of the people and maybe even his life if he tried to stop the game. However, the agent thought that these concerns were mere insults. So he continued to the reservation and, finding houses and fields empty, he approached the playground.

To be continued.

Ederer received her PhD from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in cultural anthropology. Originally from Germany, she has worked several years in Switzerland in museums such as the North American Native Museum in Zürich and with the gifted program “Universikum” in Zürich. Ederer first visited the Mescalero Apache Reservation, 70 miles southwest of Roswell, in 2013 and has since witnessed Apache coming-of-age ceremonies and even was allowed to participate in a traditional mescal agave plant roast at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, south of Carlsbad. Ederer recently visited Roswell’s Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives for research purposes.


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