Why are they called Apache Tears? According to legend, a group of Apache Indians conducted raids to steal cattle for food in the 1870's. The U.S. Cavalry sent troops, who cornered the Apache on top of a mountain. Outnumbered and depleted of ammunition, the Apache warriors leapt to their deaths, rather than surrender to the enemy. When the Apache women found their loved ones at the foot of the cliffs, they were so stricken with grief that they cried for a whole moon. As a result of their grief, the Apache gods took pity and turned their tears into black translucent stones as they hit the earth.
The legend continues that you will receive good luck when given an Apache Tear from a friend, because you will never need to cry and suffer as the Apache women did. Some believe that this legend may be based upon a real event that occurred near Superior, Arizona, where numerous Apache Tears are also found.
How do these geologic marvels form? I used to believe that they were simply weathered fragments that had been polished in the stream beds, but I learned that is not the complete story. Initially, the obsidian was deposited in layers during volcanic eruption events in our geologic past. Over time, the obsidian absorbed water, which affected it's structure. Fragments and shards of the glass began to peel off in a manner similar to the layers of an onion, down to the core, which is the Apache Tear we see today. The stones were polished further by water in the stream beds.
So, what do you use the Tears for? Most people I know like to tumble the stones in their rock polishers. Others will use the tumbled stones for mementos, key chains, and jewelry. A number of folk representing our area for various organizations often take the stones to regional or national meetings to swap with others from different parts of the country.
Larger pieces can be carved into items from eggs to animals. Artisans in Mexico have carved layered varieties of obsidian, called rainbow and mahogany obsidian, such that the layers form internal images of hearts, butterflies and dragonflies. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that obsidian was also used to make tools and arrowheads. It is still a favorite stone for knappers, people who make arrowheads.
If you are looking for something to do with the kids or grandkids any weekend, tell them the legend of the Apache Tears. Then, load them in the car and head up to Mule Creek for a fun afternoon of collecting. You won't be disappointed!