Monday, July 15, 2013

Q&A: Sherry Robinson

Careful Research Produces Well Told History of Lipan Apaches

Title: I Fought a Good Fight,
a History of the Lipan Apaches
Author: Sherry Robinson
Publisher: University of North Texas Press
Price: $32.95

Sherry Robinson is a journalist who loves history. She has been a newspaper reporter, columnist and editor in New Mexico for more than 30 years. She credits her passion for history to three good high school teachers. Other history books she has written include “El Malpais, Mt. Taylor and the Zuni Mountains” and “Apache Voices.”

H: Writing history requires a lot of research. Where did you start in terms of collecting information for “I Fought a Good Fight, a History of the Lipan Apaches?”
SR: I began with local libraries and quickly moved on to UNM’s Special Collections and the State Archives in Santa Fe. Researchers learn quickly that librarians can be your best friends. By the time I finished, I’d visited more than a dozen libraries and archives in six states.

H: Your book has been described by one reviewer as the most thorough historiography of the Lipan Apache. Tell about what sets the book apart from other historical perspectives.
SR: When I started this project, I attended a history conference in Texas. Every time I mentioned what I was working on, some learned soul would recite in two minutes what he knew about Lipans and then tell me the Lipans were extinct. I was already interviewing Lipan descendents and knew the learned souls were misinformed. Because I figured it would be difficult to find information about the Lipans, I pursued every tiny thread of information, so my research was extensive.

H: In compiling this history, what was your greatest challenge?
SR: Information about Lipans appeared in little bits and pieces. Often the history I found was riddled with errors or warped by historical biases – old racist attitudes as well as new revisionist silliness. I kept on collecting my bits and pieces and every now and then was rewarded with a good, objective account. When I began stitching them together, I was surprised at what I had.

H: Where are the Lipan now?
SR: Several hundred Lipan survivors came in to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southeastern New Mexico between 1875 and 1914. Others, who were in Mexico, began drifting back to their former homes in Texas during the 1880s, and because they feared the army and the Texas Rangers, they passed as Mexican Americans. Some ended up on reservations in Oklahoma. And some are still in Mexico.

H: How much of what you wrote came from the descendents of a people who managed against all odds to remain free when many other Native Americans were being sucked up into a system designed to alter who they were and how they lived?
SR: I was fortunate to interview two Lipan elders at Mescalero. One was the great-granddaughter of the last Lipan chief. They were wonderful ladies. And I spoke often to the leader of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas. He is also the descendent of a prominent Lipan chief and began years ago at his family’s urging to try to find the scattered Lipan descendents. I also had access to oral histories done from the 1930s through the 1960s, in three different archival collections.

H: Movies and books have portrayed Native Americans in less than heroic light and pretty much bunch all Apaches together. What sets the different tribes or bands apart and how are the Lipan different?
SR: People often think the Apaches were one big tribe, and they were all in Arizona and New Mexico in the desert. Not so. There were a number of bands, and within the bands there were groups. They were all autonomous, didn’t necessarily like each other, and each group spoke Apache a little differently. Lipans are Eastern Apaches, along with Mescaleros, Jicarillas and Kiowa Apaches (now called Naishan). Eastern Apaches lived in the mountains and plains east of the Rio Grande. Lipans are culturally Apache, but they absorbed habits of their friends and enemies. For example, Apaches don’t eat fish, but Lipans do. Apaches didn’t count coup, but Lipans did. 

H: This is one of several books you’ve written. Talk a little about the craft of writing. What is your discipline?
SR: Newspaper work has been a great blessing. You learn to report and write no matter what. Illness, fatigue, elusive sources, broken hearts, too little time, computer glitches, whatever – the newspaper must be published. It’s the reason I don’t believe in writers block. You sit, you write, and the writing may be crappy, but that’s what revisions are for. I’m a freelance writer, so I work on books alongside my assignments. In one day I may go from business writing to politics to high tech to history. The gear changes keep me sharp. I set aside time every day for book projects, and I’m pretty obsessive about it. 

H: You’ve worked as a journalist, columnist and editor. How do these roles differ from being an historical or travel writer?
SR: Each role serves the other. In journalism, you’re programmed to be objective, and I often thought historians should have been more objective. At the same time, the historian has to interpret the material for the reading public, and then the columnist is handy. You can’t just recite facts, you must create a place and time, which draws on a travel writer’s skills. My internal editor was most useful. After leaving the writing for a period of time, I could wade into it as if it were somebody else’s work, and slap it into shape.

H: What author events or speaking events do you have scheduled?
SR: I will be at Bookworks in Albuquerque on July 16, Collected Works in Santa Fe on Aug. 6, and in Alamogordo in September. I’m still in the process of setting up events.

H: Where can readers buy your book?
SR: Your local bookstore can order the book if they don’t have it. I like to support local book sellers. You can also order directly from the publisher, University of North Texas Press, at,7451.aspx


This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine. For more information go to

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