In 1894, following almost a decade of imprisonment and exile at U.S. Army installations in Florida and Alabama, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe was relocated to Oklahoma. Today, the tribal members proudly stand as survivors and descendants of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, whose ancestral territory once spanned a significant portion of the American Southwest, encompassing eastern Arizona, western New Mexico, and areas along the United States-Mexico border. This relocation to southwestern Oklahoma was made possible through a special provision enacted by the United States Congress, specifically designed for the Chiricahua prisoners of war, making them the last American Indian group to be relocated to Indian Territory.

Upon their arrival at Fort Sill, the Apache prisoners of war were informed that the fort would become their permanent home, leading to the expansion of the military reservation to accommodate their presence. However, with the allotment of surrounding Indian lands, local non-Indian politicians, business leaders, and U.S. Army officials advocated for the continuation of the military presence near Lawton. By 1910, these individuals began orchestrating the removal of 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 steadfastly held onto the hope of returning to their homeland or securing allotments at Fort Sill. Eventually, encouraged by government agents, the leaders of the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico extended an invitation to the Chiricahua to relocate there, which also served to strengthen their own efforts in preserving their reservation lands from non-Indian encroachment.

Despite the efforts of government and military officials, approximately one-third of the Tribe persisted in demanding the lands they were promised. A compromise between the Indian Bureau and the War Department led to the settlement of those Fort Sill Apache who had declined to join the Mescaleros in 1913, utilizing unused (dead) allotments from the former Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation lands near Fort Sill. These prisoners of war, consisting of around eighty-one individuals from approximately twenty families, were finally released in 1914 and resettled on small scattered farmland allotments around Apache and Fletcher, Oklahoma.

In the mid-1970s, a land claim was settled, and the Fort Sill Apache Tribe established its constitution. The Tribe acquired small parcels of land in Oklahoma as well as in its ancestral territory within New Mexico and Arizona. A lawsuit challenging the granting of rights to the Fort Sill Apache Tribe in Oklahoma was resolved with acknowledgment of the Tribe’s rights within its ancestral territory in New Mexico. As part of this settlement, a reservation proclamation for the Fort Sill Apache land in New Mexico was issued in November 2011, albeit after several years of delay.

In December 2013, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe filed a lawsuit against Governor Susana Martinez and her administration in the New Mexico Supreme Court, asserting that the Governor was violating a state statute by failing to recognize the Fort Sill Apache Tribe as a New Mexico tribe. The lawsuit highlighted various discriminatory actions, such as excluding the Tribe from consultations with other tribes, barring its participation in the State’s annual State-Tribal summit, and refusing to include it on the list of recognized New Mexico tribes. In April 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 it in the annual State-Tribal Summit.