Lipan Apaches generally lived in hide teepees. Occasionally, and especially when they were moved off the Plains, they used dome-shaped brush wikiups, which they covered with grass thatch or with hides in bad weather.
Lipan Apaches were primarily hunters and gatherers. They hunted buffalo into the eighteenth century, and afterward they continued to hunt deer, elk, antelope, rabbits, and other game. They ate few birds and did not eat fish, coyote, snake, or owl.
Wild foods included agave; cactus shoots, flowers, and fruit; berries; seeds; nuts; honey; and wild onions, potatoes, and grasses. Nuts and seeds were often ground into flour. The agave or century plant was particularly important. Baking its base in rock-lined pits for several days yielded mescal, a sweet, nutritious food that was dried and stored. The Lipans moved often to follow animal migrations as well as the ripening of their wild foods. Traditional farm crops were obtained by trade or raid and by practicing some agriculture.
By about 1700 the Lipans had become separated from the Jicarillas and had migrated into the central and south Texas plains. They had also acquired horses and had become expert buffalo hunters and raiders of the western Plains from Kansas to Mexico. Caddoan villages felt the wrath of Lipan raiders and slavers until they acquired guns from French traders and were able to drive the Lipan back into Texas.
A Lipan request for Spanish protection against the Comanches, who were pressing them from the north and east, resulted in the establishment of a mission in 1757, which the Comanches promptly destroyed the following year. By the late eighteenth century, the Comanches had forced most Lipans from Texas into New Mexico to join other Apache bands there.
By the early nineteenth century, the remaining Lipans had established good terms with the Texans, serving as their scouts, guides, and trading partners. Following the war between Mexico and the United States (1848), the Apaches, who did their part to bring misery to Mexico, assumed that the Americans would continue as allies. Instead, the Texans adopted an extermination policy, and the Lipans who escaped went to live in Mexico. In the late 1870s, some Lipans fought with the Chiricahua leader Victorio in his last stand against the United States and captivity. He and they were killed in Mexico.
In 1873, the U.S. government had granted the Mescalero Apaches a small reservation surrounding the Sierra Blanca Mountains. The Mescaleros absorbed Apache refugees and immigrants in hopes that the increased numbers would help them gain the elusive title to their land. In 1903, thirty-seven Mexican Lipan Apaches arrived, followed in 1913 by 187 Chiricahuas from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Eventually, largely through intermarriage, these peoples evolved into the modern Mescalero community.
The United States engaged in extreme repression and all-out assault on traditional culture at the end of the nineteenth century. Cattle raising and timber sales proved lucrative in the early twentieth century. Eventually, day schools replaced the hated, culture-killing boarding schools. By the late 1940s, every family had a house, and the Mescalero economy was relatively stable. The reservation is managed cooperatively with the Mescalero and the Chiricahua Apaches.