In which an Apache female warrior escorts a mother and new-born baby to safety across the desert.
“It is Kushala’s time,” said Lozen. “I must take her away into the hills where the baby can be born safely.”
“But I need you here by my side,” protested Victorio. “You are my right hand, my strong arm, the bravest of my warriors, and the shield of your people. You have the power to find the camps of our enemies that we may avoid them.”
“I know at this moment they are close on our heels,” answered Lozen. “After the babe is born, Kushala will need to rest. She would slow you up. We cannot put the others in danger. Let me take her aside that you may lead the others on to safety in the land of the Mexicanos.”
Victorio considered the suggestion for a moment. At last he said:
“Very well, my sister. You are wise. We must protect our womenfolk and bring sacred new life safely into the world. Go swiftly with Kushala into the hills and hide yourselves till the American soldiers pass by. When the baby is born, take them across the desert to the home of our brothers, the Mescaleros. Then hasten back to us. Our need for you and your counsel is great!”
Lozen smiled and placed her hand on her brother’s arm.
“It is good,” she declared. “We will go on foot. Horses would leave tracks. Later I will find animals to ride.”
She paused and a wicked glint came into her eye.
“After all, am I not Lozen, the great horse-stealer?” she added.
Her brother threw back his head and laughed.
“Indeed you are!” he exclaimed. “Now go swiftly and may Ussen guide your path!”
The Apache woman lay in the shade of a tree amongst the rocks, cradling the new-born baby in her arms. She felt weak from the labors of childbirth, but filled with joy nevertheless at the safe arrival of her son. Lozen had delivered the child with the skill and patience learned by Apache women used to births in challenging circumstances.
Kushala had bitten down hard on the strip of rawhide as the labor pains swept over her. She knew that their lives depended on her ability to endure her pain in silence as the American soldiers passed in the valley below. She had felt a surge of pride as Lozen congratulated her on her endurance.
But where was Lozen now? Kushala glanced around, a sudden fear gripping her heart. She had been dimly aware of her companion slipping away through the rocks after the baby had been placed in her arms.
Then she breathed a sigh of relief a she glimpsed the tall, broad-shouldered figure approaching through the rocks, carrying a bundle over her shoulders.
She is so strong, thought Kushala. She walks and acts like a true warrior of the Chiricuahas.
Lozen arrived by her side, and squatted down, easing the heavy burden from her shoulders.
“Fresh meat!” she declared in answer to Kushala’s questioning glance. “I came upon a steer, separated from the white men’s herd.”
“But you left your rifle here!” exclaimed Kushala in surprise.
“I did not wish to alert our enemies to our presence,” answered Lozen. “I killed the animal with my knife, and cut off some pieces that we can carry with us in our pouches. It is noon and the sun is high, so I will make a small fire with dry wood, and I will roast the meat. Then as the sun goes down we will go on our way.”
“Were you not afraid, Lozen?” asked Kushala as her companion gathered dry brush for a fire. “To face such a large animal armed only with a knife takes much courage.”
“I approached from downwind,” replied Lozen laconically. “I took the animal by surprise, and cut its throat.”
She is so brave, thought Kushala, her mind drifting back to an incident only a few days previously when the American soldiers had trapped the fleeing Apaches at the banks of a river. The women and children had been petrified, frozen with fear, faced with the rushing icy torrent of the river. Then Lozen had come, astride her beautiful pony, and proudly waving her rifle in the air, had declared: “Come, sisters and brothers! Have courage! Follow me!” Then she had dug her heels into her horse’s sides and urged him into the icy river. Such was the respect of the people for this magnificent female warrior that they had turned and followed her, plunging into the water and struggling across to the other side. Kushala remembered how the freezing water had taken her breath away as one of the other women helped her across. How fierce the current had been! But somehow they had made it, led and inspired by this extraordinary woman, brave and fearless as any man!
Then when they had reached the opposite bank, Lozen had turned to her sister, Gouyen, and shouted: “You take charge now!” Then she had turned her horse and plunged back across the river to fight alongside the men against the American troops.
Kushala watched as Lozen cut the meat into small chunks and spearing them with small sharp sticks held them over the crackling flames to sear. Although the dry wood on the fire produced no smoke, Lozen glanced around constantly, occasionally cocking her ear to listen for any sounds of approaching enemies.
“How is the young one?” asked Lozen.
“Well,” replied Kushala. “Thanks to you. Now he is sleeping.”
Lozen nodded and smiled and continued with her work. At last the meat was ready, and she packed it away carefully in their food pouches.
“Now with the beef and a few handfuls of mescal we will be strong enough to make our journey,” she said. “But we need water, and the springs and holes are far apart. We need a horse! We have many miles to travel, and you are not yet strong.”
Kushala nodded and pulled the blanket more tightly around the sleeping baby.
“Where will you find a horse?” she asked.
“I will use the power that Ussen gave me on my vision quest,” replied Lozen simply. “I will use the power to locate our enemies. We will take one of their horses!”
She rose to her feet and stood motionless for a moment. The she stretched out her arms, and began intoning a prayer in the Chiricahua tongue:
“Upon this earth on which we live Ussen has power! This power is mine for locating the enemy! I search for the enemy which only Ussen the Great can show to me!”
As Lozen turned slowly, her eyes closed in concentration, her outstretched palms quivered and seemed to glow in the sun.
She was a tall woman, and years of riding and breaking horses and doing the heavy domestic chores of an Apache woman had given her broad shoulders and strong arms. She wore a long full skirt made of calico and a long blouse worn on the outside. An ammunition belt was slung across her chest, and a long knife hung from her belt. On her feet were long moccasins that reached above her calves to protect her legs from the thorns and brush.
At last she paused, and opened her eyes.
“I feel the tingling in my hands,” she said. “The enemy is close by, camped on the banks of the Big River to the west. I will go and take a horse. Kushala, you stay here and guard the baby till I return!”
She unslung her cartridge belt, and set it on a nearby rock.
“I will leave you my rifle,” she said as she tied her long thick hair out of her eyes with a headband. “Keep hidden in the rocks!”
Without another word she strode away. Kushala watched her companion’s lithe figure disappearing through the rocks, her movements swift and athletic. Then she began to croon a soft lullaby to the baby who was beginning to stir restlessly in the blanket.
Maybe he is hungry, she thought.
Lozen found the camp of the Mexican soldiers just as the sun was setting. It lay just across the Rio Grande. She could smell the horses several minutes before she spotted them, hobbled by the water’s edge about thirty yards from the cooking fires.
Our people would never camp at the water’s edge, thought Lozen contemptuously. It is too obvious to our pursuers. We would conceal ourselves nearby. They are so in the open! She had learned that for a good safe camp you need grass, dry wood and a place for concealment amongst trees or brush.
She lay down in the bushes to wait for darkness. Yards away the river rushed by in the gathering gloom.
At last it was dark enough for Lozen to cross the river. Crawling forward, she slipped into the water, gasping involuntarily at the sudden chill. She gritted her teeth, and waded cautiously into midstream where she was obliged to swim a few strokes before her feet could touch bottom again. Fortunately there was only a thin sliver of moonlight to illuminate the faint ripples her careful movements sent out across the water.
At last she reached the opposite bank, and crept cautiously up the sloping sand into the shadow of a bush. From her hiding place she could see that only a single sentry was guarding the horses. The other soldiers were thirty yards away, lying wrapped in their blankets apparently asleep.
She waited patiently until the guard, perhaps in search of a cup of coffee, started to walk towards the fires. She crept softly out from under the bush towards the horse she had selected. She drew from her belt a length of rawhide she had brought to form a makeshift bridle for the captured horse. She moved very slowly and silently so as not to spook the horses.
Finally reaching her target she leaned down carefully to cut the rope that hobbled the horse’s back legs. Just as she did so the animal suddenly snorted and plunged in alarm. With one lithe movement Lozen vaulted astride the horse and swiftly tying the rawhide around its muzzle, pulled its head around and nudged it forward with her knees towards the river.
All at once she heard a shout behind her, and a moment later a bullet hummed past her head. She slammed her heels into the horse’s sides, and it plunged headlong down the bank into the river. More bullets whined past her, and she stretched her body flat against the horse’s neck, all the while murmuring encouragements and cajolements into its ear. The horse slipped and splashed across the slippery bed of the river, at last emerging on the opposite bank.
Clouds had drifted over the pale moon, so that Lozen was able to guide her mount unobserved up the sand and into the safety of the trees, using her makeshift bridle and all the power of her muscular legs to direct the animal.
The horse plunged on, panting, ears back and nostrils flaring as it burst through the trees and out into the desert. The cries and shouts were fading rapidly behind them, and there were no more shots to be heard. At last Lozen pulled back on her bridle, and slowed the horse to a walk.
No sense in winding him, she thought. Those Mexicans will not mount a search in the dark for a single horse. They will return to their soft blankets and warm fires. By the time daylight comes, Kushara and I will be long gone.
“You are my pony now, pretty one,” she whispered in the horse’s ear. “You belong to Lozen of the Chiricahuas. Tread soft and sure for tomorrow we must travel many miles.
It was midday of the next day. The two women were sitting in the shade of a creosote bush, steep rocks behind them, and a clear view of the shimmering desert in front of them. Lozen had filled the water-skins at a spring known only to the Apache which they had passed earlier that morning. The horse was munching at some tufts of dry grass growing around the base of the tree. The women were munching on strips of beef mixed with mouthfuls of mescal.
“In the heat of the day it is good to rest and eat,” said Kushala.
Lozen nodded, and asked:
“How is the baby?”
“Enjuh!” she replied with a smile. “He is doing well. I am sure he will grow to be a fine warrior. As fine as his protector, Lozen!”
Her companion nodded her head slightly in acknowledgement of the compliment.
“You have chosen a path unusual for a woman,” continued Kushala.
“It has always been my way,” replied Lozen. “When I was a child, with my people, the Chiihenee, I mastered all the skills that an Apache boy or girl must learn. I learned how to mount and ride unbridled horse, how to hunt and stalk game, how to evade the enemy, how to camouflage myself with mud or feathers or leaves and how to guard the camp when the men were away. I found that I could run faster than all the other girls or boys, that I could break and ride any horse, and that I could handle bow or rifle with skill and accuracy. I speak not out of inflated pride, but in gratitude to the Great Ussen for granting me these gifts.”
Lozen paused and stared out for the moment over the desert towards the distant horizon that shimmered and swayed in the intense noonday heat.
“When it was time, I went into the mountains on my vision quest,” she continued thoughtfully. “It was then that I was granted my power to detect the presence of our enemies. When I stand and stretch out my arms, uttering the sacred prayer to Ussen, he grants me the knowledge I seek. My hands tingle and glow and I know where the enemy lurks and from which direction he approaches. I offer humble thanks to the Great God for this gift. It has saved my brother Victorio and our band from danger countless times. It is why I feel afraid for them because I am here, separated from my brothers and sisters when they need me.”
“When the time of Na’ii’ees came, why did you not follow the traditional way, the path of ‘White-Painted Woman’?” persisted Kushala.
“I decided to persist in the path of the warrior,” answered Lozen. “I participated in four raids with the young men. They discovered my talent for hunting and the taking of horses, and I earned the right to the young warrior’s title of ‘Child of the Water’.”
“They have accepted you,” said Kushala. “They do not scorn or disrespect you for choosing this path. You have been granted a place at the council fire. You have earned the right to be a woman-warrior. But have you never yearned for the touch of a man?”
For a moment Lozen seemed lost in thought.
“There was a man long ago,” she said finally. “He was not of our people. He came from afar to our land. I thought for a while I might go with him. But it was not to be. Ussen has chosen me to be what I am, and I cannot be with any man. But this is enough talk! It is time to move on!”
She rose to her feet.
“One horse is not enough to carry us both and the child on our journey,” Lozen declared bluntly. “I must search for another animal. You must wait here till the cool of the evening. If I do not return by then, take the horse, and start out alone.”
Before her companion could reply, she strode off and began to nimbly clamber up the steep rocks that loomed up behind them.
Lozen smelled the smoke before she saw its source. Her keen sense of smell guided her over the crest of the rocks, and down towards a cluster of trees on the opposite side. She paused for a moment to survey the scene. In moments her eyes picked out a wisp of smoke curling out from the top of the trees. Dropping to her stomach, she crawled carefully forward.
At the edge of the trees she stopped again to listen, and a new sound came drifting through the trees towards her. She recognized the strumming of a guitar, and a high voice crooning a ballad in Spanish.
Lozen grimaced, and shook her head in disbelief. N’daa ligande are crazy, she thought scornfully. They make no effort to conceal or protect themselves. And this one signals his presence with campfire smoke, and then he sings and plays his guitarra just in case we miss him!
She slipped into the trees, still crawling, and edged cautiously toward the source of the music. At last she parted the branches of a low bush, and saw a man sitting alone on a rock strumming a guitar. His back was turned towards her, but she could tell from the sombrero pushed back on his head and the chaps he wore over his jeans that he was a cowboy. Then she spotted his horse on the opposite side of the clearing, tethered to a tree branch. The animal was still saddled and bridled. Clearly the cowboy planned to continue his journey in a little while when his mount was fully rested.
It was going to be tricky to secure this horse as it was tied up in full view of its master. Some kind of distraction of the cowboy’s attention would be required. Armed only with her hunting knife, Lozen could not possibly overpower or kill the man. She had already noted the revolver holstered at his waist and the rifle propped against the rock beside him.
Carefully she eased backwards into the thicker brush, and began to circle her way around the grove of trees, gradually working her way around the man and in behind the horse. She plucked a few blades of grass to test the direction of the breeze and discovered to her satisfaction that it was blowing her scent away from the animal, so there was little risk of alarming it prematurely. The closer she drew to the horse, the more cautiously and patiently she moved.
Finally she lay only a few feet away from the animal’s legs. Reaching out, her hands closed around a small rock. She rose to her knees, and hurled the rock high across the clearing. It sailed unnoticed over the cowboy’s head as he sat hunched over his guitar. A moment later it landed in the thicket behind him with a satisfying crash.
The man started and let his guitar fall to the ground. He snatched up his rifle and turned toward the sound, calling out in a startled voice:
As soon as his back was turned, Lozen leaped forward, tearing the horse’s reins clear of the branch. She vaulted into the saddle as the horse reared and plunged. Digging her heels sharply into its flanks, she urged the animal forward into the clearing.
The cowboy whirled around in surprise, but he was too late. The horse ploughed into him, and Lozen, lashing out with her foot, sent him sprawling headlong. By the time he had staggered to his feet, his mount with the intrepid female warrior astride had disappeared through the trees.
Cursing violently in Spanish, he sprinted out of the copse just in time to see his horse round a large rock, a thick cloud of dust rising from its pounding hooves. He threw up his rifle to his shoulder, and fired a couple of shots, but he knew full well it was in vain. Both animal and rider were out of range. He turned and walked disconsolately back into the trees.
Lozen, her heart pounding with the exhilaration of her adventure, kept the horse at a gallop until she considered herself at a safe distance from the grove of trees. Then she slowed the horse to a walk, and inspected the fruits of her efforts.
The pony was small, but tough and wiry, well suited to surviving in desert conditions. A worn but comfortable saddle was strapped to his back, a full canteen of water hung from the saddle horn, and an inspection of the saddle bags revealed some beans and corn tortillas as well as some extra ammunition that would fit Lozen’s rifle. The latter item was most welcome as the nomadic fugitive Apaches were constantly running short of bullets.
With some difficulty Lozen suppressed an urge to let out a shrill whoop of triumph. Instead, with a smile of satisfaction on her face, she turned the horse in the direction of the hiding place where she had left Kushala.
Many exhausting days of travel followed for the two women. Constantly on the alert for American and Mexican patrols, they experienced some hair-raising and narrow escapes. Sometimes they would arrive at a waterhole to find it guarded by enemy soldiers, and it was only Lozen’s knowledge of the secret springs scattered in isolated corners of the desert that saved them from dying of thirst. They knew full well that an order had been given to soldiers to shoot on sight any Apache men women or children sighted off the reservation.
At last Lozen and Kushala reached their destination, the Mescalero Reservation.
Their sense of triumph and relief sadly proved short-lived. Tragic news awaited them. Victorio, and his band of Chiricahuas had been surprised and massacred by Mexican troops at Tres Castillas. Lozen’s brother and many of his followers had been slaughtered. Women and children had been taken as slaves. Only a small group of Chiricahuas had escaped, led by the elder, Nana.
“I must go to my brothers and sisters,” Lozen told Kushala. “They need me now more than ever!”
“You should rest, my sister,” replied Kushala. “You are weary. Must you rush out into danger and cross the desert alone?”
“It is my duty as a warrior,” said Lozen. “We must fight on. My brother vowed that he would never return to the San Carlos Reservation. Our people died there like flies. There was no grass, no game, and no plants, only cacti. The water of the Gila River was brackish. There were insects and rattlesnakes. The sun burned down, and all the children were sick and hungry. Victorio said we must fight until we could return to our ancestral lands of Ojo Caliente in the shadow of the Black Mountains, where the streams flow and the grass is green and the winds are cool.”
“The white men will never let us return,” said Kushala sadly. “They want this land for themselves. They will kill us all.”
“Then I will fight them to my last breath,” declared Lozen proudly. “I would choose death over bondage and starvation! And I will avenge my brother!”
“Then may Ussen watch over you, my sister,” said Kushala fervently.
The two women embraced briefly in the manner of the Apache. Then Lozen remounted the cowboy’s pony, and rode off southwards into the desert.
Lozen reunited with the survivors of Tres Castillas to continue the fight, and later joined the insurgence led by Mescalero Apache leader, Geronimo in 1885. Although Geronimo’s campaign of resistance initially achieved some impressive victories against superior forces of the American army, the Apaches were heavily outnumbered and outgunned. Faced with dwindling amounts of food and ammunition, they surrendered, and were put aboard a train bound for exile in Florida.
The only known photograph of Lozen shows her standing in a group of Apache warriors, including Geronimo, by the side of the train that would carry them into captivity. Lozen is pictured alongside another female warrior, Dahteste. The two women were imprisoned together in Florida. Dahteste was later sent to Oklahoma where she survived pneumonia and tuberculosis to return to the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico, where she survived until the ripe old age of 95! Lozen was transferred from Florida to Mt. Vernon Barracks in Alabama, where she succumbed to tuberculosis and died in 1889 just short of her fiftieth birthday.
Her fame as one of the greatest Apache warriors of all time endures amongst her people.