Native American warriors like Sitting Bull (Lakota), Tecumseh (Shawnee), and Geronimo (Apache) have long been celebrated as defenders of Native lands. Their courageous resistance to foreign invaders helped ensure cultural survival.
A lesser-known warrior was Lozen, an Apache, or Nde, woman who also resisted European domination. Known for her bravery, military prowess, and dedication to the safety of her people during a tumultuous time in Apache history, Lozen was a shamanic and humanitarian warrior who fought against Mexican and American forces for 30 years, earning the nickname of “Apache Joan of Arc”.
Lozen could ride and shoot; she would also have used supernatural powers to locate the enemy. She was a trusted ally of celebrity chef Apache Geronimo and sister of chef Apache Victorio. Although these men are best known to historians, Lozen remains a legend to his people today.
“Lozen is my right hand man,” Victorio said of his sister. “Strong as a man, braver than most and astute in strategy. She is a shield to her people.
READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Geronimo
The youth of Lozen
Lozen was born circa 1840 to the Chihenne Apache group near Ojo Caliente, New Mexico. At the time, there were at least seven Apache bands and numerous clans spread over a large area known as Apacheria in what is now northern Mexico, eastern Arizona, and southern western New Mexico.
The Chihenne group, also known as the Eastern Chiricahua or “People of the Red Paint”, was recognized by the strip of red clay worn on their face during ceremonies. Known for their raids, the Apache gangs often waged war with each other and were always on the move. “Traditionally, the Apaches were nomads,” says Joey Padilla, medicine man and museum curator at the Apache Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico. “We have never stayed in one place. “
Lozen’s name, which means “skillful horse thief,” reflects the admirable skill she acquired which enabled her to sneak behind enemy lines undetected, round up horses and steal them. His discretion and courage would become valuable qualities during a time of almost constant conflict. “Lozen started fighting Mexican soldiers and scalp hunters, eternal enemies of her gang, when she came of age… After the Americans arrived in 1849 to claim her homeland, she fought then too,” said writes Peter Aleshire in Warrior Woman: The Story of Lozen, Apache Warrior and Shaman.
READ MORE: Timeline of Native American History
Become a female warrior
Born into a matriarchal culture with a deity called “White Painted Woman” at the center of her creative story, Lozen understood from an early age that women played an important role.
“She was a woman warrior in her day. The Apaches always had a woman with them, she was standing right behind the man with a knife or a gun, ”Padilla says. “If the man fell, you also had to face the woman. The women also hid the children from enemies.
In 1848, New Mexico became a territory of the United States under the Treaty of Hidalgo. A gold rush in California that year brought floods of miners through Apacheria. When Lozen was 12, she underwent puberty rites in which she went alone to the mountains and, according to oral history, gained supernatural power to locate enemies. Harlyn Geronimo, Geronimo’s great-grandson, said Lozen raised his hands and walked in a circle until the veins in his arms turned dark blue, indicating the direction from which the enemy would approach .
READ MORE: US-Indian Wars
Lozen’s role in the Apache wars
In 1861, Chief Chokonen Chiricahua Cochise was falsely accused of murdering a white settler, triggering a series of conflicts that would result in conflict between the United States and various Apache nations for 24 years. In 1862, Cochise and another leader went into battle at Apache Pass with 200 warriors, but were forced to retreat and dispersed by howitzer cannons.
Lozen fought at Apache Pass, was welcomed to the council as a warrior, and fought for years with her brother Victorio in the fight for their homeland. Lozen was likely involved in a horse raid at Fort Craig where Apaches armed with bows and arrows took horses from the soldiers. In 1869, she joined Victorio and other Apache leaders for a meeting to establish a reserve at Ojo Caliente, but they were instead moved to more difficult conditions at the San Carlos reservation in Arizona.
In 1877, Victorio, Lozen, and other Chihenne fled San Carlos, ultimately choosing war over return. They dissolved to escape capture, and Lozen then escorted a group of women and children to Mexico across the Rio Grande River. James Kaywaykla, a child at the time, recalled rolling behind his grandmother as the Chihenne group fled US forces. Kaywaykla said he saw a “beautiful woman” on a beautiful horse, holding a gun over her head. After the group reached Mexico, cold and wet but alive, Lozen then crossed the Rio Gande and returned to combat.
At one point, Lozen left the group to help a young pregnant woman cross the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico to join her family in the Apache Mescalero reserve, equipped with a single rifle, cartridge belt, knife. and a three-day supply of food. . En route, she hid the mother and helped her deliver the child, killed and slaughtered a long-horned cow, and captured two horses for their journey.
Victorio was ambushed and committed suicide in Tres Castillos, where many other Apaches also died. Some thought that if Lozen had been present, Victorio would not have been ambushed.
READ MORE: How Geronimo escaped death and capture for 25 years
Lozen time with Geronimo
After Victorio’s death, Lozen rode with Geronimo. In 1882, she joined him in a raid that freed 600 people from San Carlos and again supported him in 1885 during his last escape from the reservation. Lozen, along with Dahteste, another female warrior, was then called in to organize Geronimo’s surrender in 1886. According to his descendants, Geronimo decided to surrender to ensure the safety of his remaining followers.
Lozen, Geronimo and many others were then taken to Florida jails. She later died in Alabama at the age of 50 from tuberculosis, but some of her relatives returned to the west.
“After the wars, we brought in a lot of Chiricahuas from Florida,” says Joey Padilla. He says his community on the Mescalero reserve carries on the coming-of-age traditions that Lozen participated in over 180 years ago. The community also continues to celebrate Lozen’s legacy.
“The descendants of the Lozen family are here with us today in our community,” says Padilla.