Who Was Old Mrs. Coonie?
Old Mrs. Coonie may not sound much like the name of a warrior, but that’s exactly what she was. She survived some of the greatest trials that can be imagined, lost her loved ones, and refused to give up her unique personality in favor of English ways. But long before she was Old Mrs. Coonie, she was known as Dahteste (Ta-DOT-say), a powerful, skilled, and beautiful Chokonen Chiricahua Apache warrior woman.
Meet the Warrior Woman, Dahteste
A wife, a mother, and a remarkably attractive and intelligent young woman, Dahteste fought valiantly alongside Geronimo during the American Indian Wars. She was a scout, a mediator, and a very close friend of another striking warrior woman named Lozen. Together, they were the last of the Apaches to surrender in 1886.
Before then, the young warrior woman used her skills and fluency with the English language to translate and carry messages between the US and the Apache warriors. In this way, she aided in the negotiated surrender of Geronimo. Yet, in later years, Dahteste would only dress traditionally and refused to speak the language that made her so valuable during the wars.
Why did Old Mrs. Coonie Refuse to Speak English?
After her release from prison, Dahteste refused to speak English, despite her remarkable skill with the language. When you understand her story, it’s no wonder. When she surrendered with Geronimo, she didn’t know what would happen next. Like her close friend, Lozen, Dahteste was imprisoned in what amounted to a concentration camp. She was separated from her closest companions and taken to Fort Marion in Florida. There, she spent eight years, followed by another 11 in an Oklahoma military prison. She was only released after 19 years of imprisonment.
The Survival Story of Dahteste
While her closest friends and family did not survive their captivity, Dahteste somehow did. She suffered from the same ailments, like pneumonia and tuberculosis that killed Lozen and thousands of other Native Americans, but Dahteste survived. On being released after 19 years, she returned to her homeland and lived the rest of her life as Old Mrs. Coonie (married to Kuni, former Apache scout) on the Mescalero Apache Reservation at Whitetail.
Old Mrs. Coonie ultimately died of old age in 1955; yet her life, her beauty, her work as a young Apache warrior, and her unbreakable spirit have not been forgotten.