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Daily Press Staff
When the sun rises above the Mogollons Mountains, so goes an ancient legend of the Warm Springs Apache, it first appears in a crack in the horizon where the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds played the moccasin game.
On one side of a blanket partition, the bears, lions, beavers, foxes and other four-leggeds of the forest lined up their moccasins, hiding a token inside one of them. On the other side, the birds did the same. Each side took turns guessing which moccasin held the token. If the guess was correct, one side claimed a moccasin from the other, with the game continuing until ei-ther the four-leggeds or two-leggeds had all the moccasins.
Archaeologists and historians claim the Apaches first began showing up in country in and around the headwaters of the Gila River in the early 16th century. But tribal historian Michael Darrow, who spoke this week in Bayard on the history and culture of the Warms Springs nation, said the stories handed down by generations of elders tell another tale.
"Stories in our tribal history don't say we have lived anywhere else," Darrow said. "Our stories start with the beginning of time. Our time begins here (in the Gila)."
Darrow was speaking to U.S. Forest Service employees about Southwest history from the Apache perspective and the connection between the Warms Springs Apaches and the Gila National Forest.
"Many people think the Apaches are all one tribe, but we are not," Darrow said, explaining that there are seven related, but separate, nations, the Warm Springs Apaches, or Chíhéne, among them.
"All are separated by their own history, culture, traditions and home territory," Darrow told about 40 people attending the session.
"While they traveled through their homeland gathering food and hunting, they were not, technically speaking, a nomadic people," he said, debunking a number of myths concerning the tribe.
"They went places where they knew there were agave, mesquite beans, banana yucca and prickly pear, or where the hunting was good. But they weren't what you would call nomadic," Darrow said. "They had a homeland, a territory, that was their own."
Nor were the Apache, before that homeland was invaded, Dar-row said, a warlike people.
"How did we get our reputation? It had to do with our relationship to our home territory. In our language (Athabaskan), there is no word for warrior."
There is in their language, however, a word for enemy. The people the Apaches referred to as the "black-white people," in time, became recognized as such.
The Apache world of ancient legend was one in which the children of human beings were killed by monsters in a saga with parallels to Judeo-Christian lore, Greek myth, and creation stories of other ancient civilizations.
After Painted Woman prays for "divine interven-tion," a boy with remarkable pow-ers is born to the tribe.
Painted Woman hides the special child until he is grown, and, with his uncle (or in some versions, a brother), in a war of good vs. evil, the pair kill the monsters.
In a canyon in the Gila where the great battle was fought lie piles of white boulders, "the bones of the monsters the brothers killed," Darrow said.
Ruey Darrow, 74, is the tribal chairwoman and a member of Geronimo's family. She remembers another version, one in which Painted Woman hid her child in a cave under her campfire when a monster came looking for the child.
"The monster said: 'I see the footprints of a child here around the fire.'
"'But I have no child,' Painted Woman told the monster.
"The boy made a bow and arrow. He was told that the only way to kill the monster was to shoot an arrow into his heel. The boy hid in the ground so the monster couldn't see him, then shot him in the heel."
Ruey Darrow's given name was Jéeké Xtsuu´n, which means "slim girl." With her brother, the late Santa Fe sculptor, Allan Houser, her father brought her to the Gila country "to see our homeland."
"We would drive through when we went places, like (the) San Carlos (Reservation in Arizona) even when it was out of the way. It was part of our upbringing. He wanted us to know this was where we came from. But he had a vision that we would have to learn to live another way, in the ways of the white man's world, going to school with the white children."
Ruey Darrow graduated from college with a degree in medical technology. Later, she returned to college and graduated with a master's degree in microbiology.
It was in a side canyon off Teepee Canyon near Lookout Mountain that Geronimo's band spent the winter of 1885-86, its last as free people. Trapped between the U.S. Cavalry and Mexican troops in the spring of 1986, the Apaches surrendered to the Americans.
They were detained in Florida for two years, then in Alabama for six years before being sent to Fort Sill, Okla., which was supposed to become their reservation.
In the years following, the tribe's repeated requests to be returned to its homeland were denied. About 350 Warms Springs Apaches remain at Fort Sill, remnants of a Southwestern Indian nation that resisted white suppression longer than any other tribe.
Today, Michael Darrow says, the Warm Springs Apaches are being assimilated into the world of the whites.
The soap yucca plant doesn't grow in Oklahoma. Ruey Darrow's 14-year-old granddaughter has long, blond hair. Her grandmother has told her about the roots of the plant her uncle would bring back to Oklahoma from his trips to San Carlos and New Mexico. Washing her hair with soap from the root made her hair shine, just like that of her an-cestors.
"I would like her to come here, to see this country, to know it is her homeland," Ruey Darrow said.
Gila Forest Supervisor Marcia Andre, who hosted the session, said it was de-signed to acquaint GNF personnel with the history and culture of the Warm Springs Apaches. Moreover, Andre said, its purpose was to honor the tribe's role as early man-agers of the forest and to "fur-ther our relationship with the tribe and decide where to go in the fu-ture."
"We're here to share knowledge and information between groups and develop an understanding," she said.
Acknowledging the connection the Warm Springs Apaches still feel with their homeland, Andre said the Forest Service will support initiatives that would bring tribal members here to see the Gila country for themselves.
Should that happen, it would mean that after more than a century, those who have only heard the old stories could see the place where the morning sun breaks through the crack in the mountain to warm the winter camp of their ancestors.
And where, as the legend goes, the birds outsmarted the four-leggeds in the moccasin game.