When last we saw the Apaches, they were dominating the Southwest. The Spanish tried in vain to control them, and the Mexicans who followed had no better luck. When the Americans took control of the region, they too foundered. In fact, the Apaches remained a significant threat well into the twentieth century. But then the tide turned. The Americans prevailed. [..] Here’s what broke Apache society: the Americans gave the Nant’ans cattle. It was that simple. Once the Nant‘ans had possession of a scarce resource-cows-their power shifted from symbolic to material. Where previously, the Nant’ans had led by example, now they could reward and punish tribe members by giving and withholding this resource.
The cows changed everything. Once the Nant’ans gained authoritative power, they began fighting each other for seats on newly created tribal councils [...] Tribe members began lobbying the Nant’ans for more resources and became upset if the allocations didn’t work out in their favor. The power structure, once fiat, became hierarchical, with power concentrated at the top. This broke down Apache society. Nevins refleets, “The Apache have a central government now, but I think personally that it’s a disaster for them because it creates a zerosum battle over resources between lineages.” With a more rigid power structure, the Apaches became similar to the Aztecs, and the Americans were able to control them.
The Starfish and the Spider - Ori Bradman, Ron A. Beckstorm