Jicarilla Apache refers to the members of the Jicarilla Apache Nation currently living in New Mexico and speaking a Southern Athabaskan language. The term jicarilla, pronounced "heek-ah-REE-jah",comes from Mexican Spanish meaning "little basket". Their autonym is Tinde or Dinde, meaning "the People". To neighboring Apache bands like the Mescalero and Lipan they were known as Kinya-Inde ("People who live in fixed houses"). The Jicarilla called themselves also Haisndayin translated as "people who came from below", because they believed to be the sole descendants of the first people to emerge from the underworld, the abode of Ancestral Man and Ancestral Woman who produced the first people.
The Jicarilla Apache lived in a semi-nomadic existence in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and plains of southern Colorado, northern New Mexico and ranged into the Great Plains starting before 1525 CE. They lived a relatively peaceful life for years, traveling seasonally to traditional hunting, gathering and cultivation along river beds. The Jicarilla learned about farming and pottery from the Puebloan peoples and learned about survival on the plains from the Plains Indians and had a rich and varied diet and lifestyle. Starting in the 1700s Colonial New Spain, pressure from other Native American tribes, like the Comanches, and later westward expansion of the United States resulted in significant loss of property, removal from their sacred lands, and relocation to lands not suited for survival.
The mid-1800s until the mid-1900s were particularly difficult as tribal bands were displaced, treaties made and broken, subject to significant loss of life due to tuberculosis and other diseases, and lack of opportunities for survival. By 1887 they received their reservation, which was expanded in 1907 to include land more conducive to ranching and agriculture, and within several decades realized the rich natural resources of the San Juan Basin under the reservation land.
From the Jicarilla creation story, the land bounded by the four sacred rivers was provided to them by the Creator, with select places for communicating with the Creator and spirits, sacred rivers and mountains to be respected and conserved, and very specific places for obtaining items for ceremonial rituals, such as white clay found 18 miles southeast of Taos, red ochre 20 miles north of Taos and yellow ochre on a mountain near Picuris Pueblo. They believe the "heart of the world" is located near Taos.
Traditional Jicarilla stories of White Shell Woman, Killer of the Enemies, Child of the Water and others feature places and nearby people special to them, such as the Rio Grande Gorge, Picuris Pueblo, the spring and marsh near El Prado,Hopewell Lake and particularly of the Taos Pueblo and the four sacred rivers. The Jicarilla created shrines in sites that held spiritual meaning, sharing some of the Taos area sites with the Taos Pueblo.
Of the connection to Taos, in 1865 Father Antonio José Martínez, a New Mexican priest, commented that the Jicarilla had a long history living between the mountains and the villages and making pottery as an important source of income. Clay for the pottery came from the Taos and Picuris Pueblo areas.
When the Comanche, who had obtained guns from the French, with their close allies and kin, the Ute, were pushing out onto the plains, they were pillaging the various eastern Apache peoples (Jicarilla, Mescalero and Lipan) occupying the southern plains for control. As they were pushed off the plain, the Jicarilla moved to the mountains and near the pueblos and Spanish missions where they sought alliance with the Puebloan peoples and the Spanish settlers. For instance, in 1724 several Apache bands were annihilated by the Comanches who forced them to "give up half their women and children, and then they burned several villages, killing all but sixty-nine men, two women, and three boys." The Jicarillas were forced to seek a refuge into the eastern Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. Some chose to move to the Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico or joined the Mescalero and Lipan bands in Texas. In 1779 a combined force of Jicarilla, Ute, Pueblo, and Spanish soldiers defeated the Comanche, who, after another seven years and several more military campaigns, finally sued for peace. Thereafter the Jicarilla were able to reestablish themselves in their old tribal territory in southern Colorado. *