Fort Sill Apache History
The Fort Sill Apache Tribe was moved to Oklahoma in 1894 after nearly a decade of imprisonment and exile at U.S. Army installations in Florida and Alabama. Today’s tribal members are survivors and descendants of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, whose original territory covered much of what is now the American Southwest including eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, along the United States border with Mexico. The Tribe’s current location is the result of direct action by the United States Congress, which passed a special provision enabling the federal government to relocate the Chiricahua prisoners of war to southwestern Oklahoma. The Chiricahua were the last American Indian group to be relocated to Indian Territory.
Upon their arrival at Fort Sill the Apache prisoners of war were told that the fort would become their permanent home and the military reservation was enlarged to accommodate that purpose. Following the allotment of surrounding Indian lands, local non-Indian politicians, business leaders, and U.S. Army officials agitated to continue the presence of the military near Lawton. By 1910 these individuals began the final orchestration to remove the Apache prisoners of war from the military reservation. The Chiricahua were pressured to leave Fort Sill as a condition for their freedom, but many held out for return to their homeland or allotment at Fort Sill. Eventually, leaders of the Mescalero Apache Reservation (in New Mexico), urged by government agents, invited the Chiricahua to relocate to their reservation (a move that strengthened their own efforts to preserve their reservation lands from non-Indian encroachment).
Despite the efforts of government and military officials, about one-third of the Tribe continued to demand the lands they had been promised. A compromise between the Indian Bureau and the War Department led to the settling of those Fort Sill Apache who had declined joining the Mescaleros in 1913 on unused (dead) allotments from the old Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation lands near Fort Sill. These prisoners of war, numbering approximately eighty-one individuals in about twenty families, were eventually released in 1914 and resettled on small allotments of farmland scattered around Apache and Fletcher, Oklahoma.
A land claim was settled in the mid-1970s and the Fort Sill Apache Tribe approved a constitution. The Fort Sill Apache Tribe acquired small bits of land in Oklahoma and also in its home territory within New Mexico and Arizona. A lawsuit claiming that the Fort Sill Apache Tribe was improperly granted rights in Oklahoma was settled with acknowledgement of the rights of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe within the Tribe’s home territory in New Mexico. Part of that settlement was a reservation proclamation for the Fort Sill Apache land in New Mexico. After several years delay, this was issued in November of 2011.
In December 2013, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe filed a lawsuit against the Governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, and her administration in the New Mexico Supreme Court asserting that the Governor was violating a state statute in failing to recognize FSA as a New Mexico tribe. The lawsuit stated that the Governor was discriminating against the Tribe by excluding it from consultations with other tribes, barring it from the State’s annual State-Tribal summit, and by refusing to include it on a list of recognized New Mexico tribes. In April of 2014, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe requiring Governor Martinez to recognize the Tribe under state law and include the Tribe in the annual State-Tribal Summit.