||March 30, 2006
by lyle e davis
Purportedly a photo of Cochise, date unknown. Some histories claim Cochise
was never photographed. We have two, one of which purports to be Cochise in his
later years. To the right, Geronimo. Many documented photos of Geronimo exist.
To the far right, A painting . . . Apache - Mountain Trail by Ted DeGrazia.
Below: Depiction of a typical Apache Warrior
by lyle e davis
The name "Apache" means
"people of the mountains" It also has another meaning, a derivative of the Zuni
word "apachu," meaning "enemy."
The Apache wars were the
last "Indian Wars" to be waged by the US Army. Tragic and interesting at the
same time they lasted until the late 1800's and took place in New Mexico,
Arizona, and the Northern Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua.
The Apache Nation
consisted of several tribes: Aravaipa, Chiricahua, Cibecue, Jicarilla, Kiowa,
Mescalero, Tonto, Western Apache, Lipan, and White Mountain Apache. It was a
nation of great leaders like Goyathlay (also known as Goyahkla) . . . known to
us as Geronimo, Cochise, Naiche and Victorio among others. And, under the
leadership of these great Apache chiefs many milestones were laid.
In 1856 Cochise became
the principal war leader of the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua tribe after the
death of its chief, Miguel Narbona. His real name was Shi-ka-she. He was a
tall man, six feet, with broad shoulders and a commanding appearance.
Two years later he
experienced his first contact with Americans at Apache Pass (in present-day
Arizona), where he met Apache Agent Michael Steck. He had no reason to act
militarily against these newcomers, who had done nothing to earn his contempt
and were then not a significant force in southern Arizona.
In February 1861, war
between the Chiricahua Apaches and Americans erupted in a senseless and violent
encounter at Apache Pass. First Lieutenant George N. Bascom, with a detachment
of soldiers, arrived at Apache Pass and requested a parley with Cochise. Bascom,
seeking a boy recently captured by Western Apaches, believed that Cochise's
people were responsible.
He sent word to Cochise
that his company was requested for dinner in the officer's tent. It was a lie
that the purpose was merely hospitality but Cochise was unaware of this and
brought several members of his family to Bascom's tent. This trust by Cochise
is understandable because the Apaches had peacefully coexisted with the whites
for years and it is even thought that they befriended and even contracted with
the employees of the Butterfield Stage Line to provide fire wood.
Cochise, by all accounts,
was a tall handsome man and had led his people through his physical presence and
wisdom. He arrived in Bascom's tent with his family to "share his tent." After
fine dining (for the field) the conversation turned confrontational with Bascom
accusing Cochise of kidnapping the boy. It was not known at the time but the
boy was kidnapped by a completely different band of Indians than the ones that
Cochise led. Cochise told Bascom that he did not take the boy but if he had a
few days he would try to find out who took him. Bascom assumed that he was
lying and told Cochise that he and his family were to be held hostage until the
boy was returned. Cochise, discovering that he was a prisoner, drew a hidden
knife and cut his way out of the tent to freedom (the Chiricahuas would forever
refer to this incident as "Cut the Tent"). Despite the large number of US
soldiers under Bascom's command, Cochise was able to disappear into the darkness
while being shot at and being wounded three times. But five members of
Cochise's family were unable to escape.
Cochise's warriors were
later able to raid and steal a large herd of army mules and seize a civilian
wagon train and take a few hostages of their own. Cochise's hostages were a
handful of white settlers and several Mexicans. Cochise's warriors held the
whites but as for the Mexicans the choice was clear. Because of the Apaches
long hatred of Mexicans, due to the countless cruel acts and wholesale killing
of their people, the Mexicans were immediately tied to the wagon wheels while
the wagons where set on fire. While the Mexican men cried out during their slow
death a soon to be famous warrior was said to take pleasure from poking his
lance into the burning Mexicans. This warrior would be unknown to whites for
many years but his (Spanish) name was Geronimo and he was about 38 years old at
Even though in the
following days Cochise pleaded for Bascom to treat his family members well and
trade for the whites that he now held, Bascom would have nothing of it. Bascom
held out for the boy but Cochise had no idea of his whereabouts. He offered to
exchange the hostages for his relatives, but Bascom refused to budge unless
Cochise returned the boy. Frustrated, Cochise tortured his prisoners to death.
The Apache were known to do these terrible things. Bascom retaliated by hanging
Cochise's brother and two of his nephews. Later, Bascom released Cochise's wife
Cochise, like all
Apaches, was very attached to his family and would seek revenge for several
decades. This was the start of the Apache wars.
It is obvious that
history would had been very different if Cochise and his family were allowed to
leave the young officers tent. Many people, Apache, Mexican, and White, would
die because of the stupid decision made by the young officer from the East.
The execution of his
relatives aroused in Cochise a passionate hatred of Americans and touched off
the fierce conflict that was to last throughout the 1860s.
It mattered little that
only a few Americans had betrayed him; he hated them all. Initially he raided
and killed for revenge. The Apaches, with bitter vengeance, swept down from
their mountain hiding places in even more attacks, killing, it is estimated, 150
whites and Mexicans during the next two months.
Later, even as his rage
abated, he continued to wage war, for the conflict had evolved into a bloody
cycle of revenge--American counterstrikes and Apache retaliation. Cochise
assumed an aggressive posture for the first five years of the war as he enlisted
the aid of other Chiricahua bands, notably the Bedonkohes and Chihennes under
his father-in-law, the 6-foot 5-inch statesman Mangas Coloradas (whom Americans
had also driven to war).
During the summer of
1861, the Chiricahuas ambushed several parties at Cooke's Canyon in New Mexico
Territory and, on September 27, 1861, openly assaulted the mining town of Pinos
Altos, N.M., but the miners repulsed their attack. By the end of 1861, the
troops had abandoned the forts in Chiricahua country because of the Civil War in
the East. Lt. Bascom was later killed during battle by a cannonball from the
concluded that his people had driven the Americans from his country. "At last
your soldiers did me a great wrong, and I and my whole tribe went to war with
them," he said. "At first we were successful, and your soldiers were driven away
and your people killed, and we again possessed our land."
In June 1862 the
California Column under Brig. Gen. James Carleton halted at Tucson before
resuming its journey east to drive the Confederate forces back to Texas. The
column's route lay through Apache Pass. Cochise and Mangas Coloradas, believing
that the troops had come to punish them, prepared an ambush, hoping to prevent
the whites from obtaining water at Apache Springs. Captain Thomas Roberts led an
advance detachment that clashed with the Chiricahuas on July 15-16, 1862.
Cochise had positioned most of his men on the hills overlooking both sides of
the spring. The Americans finally drove the Indians from their breastworks when
Roberts unleashed two mountain howitzers that lobbed several shells near the
Indian positions. Both sides fought hard, and both lost men.
Cochise's fury was
ignited again in January 1863 when Americans duped Mangas Coloradas into a
parley and executed him--which, to the Chiricahuas, "was the greatest of
wrongs." For Cochise, the loss of his father-in-law and fighting ally was a deep
and unquenchable grief. Mangas' execution reminded Cochise that he could not
trust Americans, especially soldiers.
the summer of 1870 he visited Camp Mogollon in Arizona and admitted to an
American officer there that he had killed "about as many as he had lost" and
that he was now "about even." Two months later he joined his Chihenne relatives
at Cañada Alamosa, near today's Monticello, and held talks with William Arny,
special Indian agent for New Mexico. Cochise reiterated his desire for a truce
with the Americans, declaring, "If the government talks straight I want a good
peace." Yet he also revealed his contempt for reservation life by declaring his
people's desire "to run around like a coyote; they don't want to be put in a
corral." The idea of a reservation, with its inherent restrictions, was
completely alien to an Apache warrior's view of his universe.
the morning of April 30, 1871, 150 Anglos, Mexicans, and Papago Indian
mercenaries attacked a sleeping Indian camp, massacred from 86 to 150 of the
innocents, mostly women and children. Of the survivors, women were raped and
children carried into slavery. The American President Ulysses S. Grant, who had
devised his post-Civil War Peace Policy to avoid such massacres, was outraged
and sent a peace commission to Arizona, led by General Oliver Howard and Vincent
Coyler. Howard also finally arranged a meeting with Cochise of the Chiricahuas
that autumn, through the intercession of the frontiersman Thomas Jeffords. The
meeting was held in the Dragoon Mountains, in Arizona.
was in October 1872 that General Howard met him and began negotiations. At that
time--except perhaps for Red Cloud, the great Lakota chief--Cochise may have
been the most famous Indian in the West.
Cochise was bitter, but he also realized that he fought a battle he could not
win. He expressed his resignation in the following way: "My people have killed
Americans and Mexicans and taken their property. Their losses have been greater
than mine. I have killed ten white men for every Indian slain, but I know that
the whites are many and the Indians are few. Apaches are growing less every
day." Still the great Chief did not want to get locked up in a Reservation:
"Nobody wants peace more than I do. Why shut me up on a reservation? We will
make peace; we will keep it faithfully. But let us go around free as Americans
do. Let us go wherever we please."
Cochise, in his latter years
After 11 days of negotiations, the general granted Cochise's request for a
reservation in the Chiricahua homeland, the Apache Pass, with Jeffords as the
agent. Cochise, who promised Howard to keep order along the pass, proved good as
his word, his people lived peacefully until his death on June 8, 1874.
the end, Cochise's skill as a diplomat helped his people retain the lands they
so cherished. Many have said that he was the most powerful Apache leader in
history. At his death, it was reported that his people wailed loudly for more
than a day. After his death, the Government broke the historic treaty made with
Cochise and in 1876 moved the Chiricahua from the ancient mountain homeland to
the hot, flat, dry, Arizona desert. Cochise's youngest son
Naiche and Geronimo led a group of Chiricahua Apaches that fled into the
mountains, and over the border to Mexico eluding the troops for over a decade,
refusing to surrender until 1886.
There can be no question but what Cochise was capable of unspeakable cruelties
and violent acts of revenge upon innocent whites. The fact that Cochise was
terribly wronged and misunderstood and forced to witness the disappearance of
his homeland and his people perhaps cannot, in the view of history, justify
everything that he did. Still he represents, probably as well as any single
figure, a people's natural resistance to the invasion of their land.
addition to his diplomacy skills, there is no question but what he was a mighty
warrior. We have many eyewitness accounts to testify to Cochise's prowess as a
horseman. During one furious encounter on horseback, an American scout tried
over and over again to dispatch Cochise, but his efforts were all in vain, for
the Indian "would slip over to the side of his horse, hanging on the horse's
Yet it was more than his
strength and physical skills that inspired the warriors of Cochise. The
Chiricahua chief had often expressed his great regard for those who displayed
two attributes: courage and devotion to the truth. Nobody exhibited both more
persistently and dramatically than did Cochise himself. His courage in
skirmishes and battles is now legendary. He always led his men into combat and
was frequently the central figure throughout the fight. One American officer
reported that "many efforts were made to kill Cochise who [led] his mounted
warriors" in several charges. Always during an engagement, no matter how chaotic
and confused, Cochise managed complete control of his men. "A private soldier
would as soon think of disobeying a direct order of the President as would a
Chiricahua Apache a command of Cochise," one observer declared.
The warrior-chief also
respected and much admired bravery when it appeared in his enemies. One reason
that his friendship with General Howard developed so quickly and so firmly was
that he had the "courage to visit him when to do so [might] have caused his
All Americans, with but a
few notable exceptions, he distrusted out of both instinct and experience. This
distrust of Americans prevented him from revealing much of his career to
inquisitive whites. He remained honest to his creed as he steadfastly refused to
discuss the past. If pressured, he would simply say, "I don't want to talk about
In the end, Cochise came
to the best terms ever really possible for him. His last years were a time of
peace in America, the kind of peace that came only because the struggle was
over. He obtained a reservation in his ancestral homeland, an agent in whom he
could repose absolute and complete trust, and the promise of freedom from
military interference. Today, he enjoys a hallowed place in the history of the
great American Southwest: Cochise, the Chiricahua Apache, the leader of his
Chief of the Chiricahua APACHE in Arizona
The Other Apaches
We have referred to
several other notable Apaches . . . some of whom are well known to Western
aficianados, some known only to students of Indian history.
Probably the second most
well known Apache is Geronimo.
(1829 - 1909)
Geronimo was the most
legendary and feared of all the Apache warriors, even more so than Cochise.
He was known as a chief,
which he wasn't. To his people he was a very powerful medicine man and shaman
that could foretell the future. He became a war leader for a small group of the
Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache Indians in Southeastern Arizona during
the 1850's through 1880's.
He was born in
present-day Clifton, Arizona with the name Goyahkla, which means "one who
yawns." However some Ft. Sill Apaches gave the meaning as "intelligent, shrewd
and clever." He was given his name Geronimo from the fear he produced in his
Mexican enemies. As he would attack they would yell out the name of their patron
saint Jerome. This translated into Geronimo, so he took this as his nickname.
One of the first spirit
communications he received was shortly after the death of his family in Kaskiyeh.
He went to a top of a mountain and heard a voice call his name four times. The
voice told him "No gun can ever kill you. I will take the bullets from the guns
of the Mexicans, so they will have nothing but powder and I will guide your
arrows." After his wife, children, and mother were killed by Mexicans in 1858,
he participated in a number of raids against Mexican and American settlers, but
eventually settled on a reservation.
After the death of the
Great Apache Chief Cochise in 1874, the Americans wanted to move the Chiricahuas
to the Arizona desert. Geronimo and hundreds of the Apaches bolted and started a
war against the Whites. He surrendered in January 1884 and returned to
reservation in San Carlos, but the sudden arrest and imprisonment of the Apache
warrior Kayatennae, together with rumors of impending trials and hangings,
prompted Geronimo to flee on May 17, 1885, with 35 warriors, 8 boys and 101
women. In January 1886, Apache scouts penetrated Chief Juh's seemingly
impregnable hideout. This action induced Geronimo to surrender.
surrender on September 4th, 1886, was the last significant Indian guerrilla
action in the United States. At the end, his group consisted of only 16
warriors, 12 women, and 6 children. Because he fought against such daunting odds
and held out the longest, he became the most famous Apache of all.
Later in life he adopted
Christianity and took part in the inaugural procession of President Theodore
Roosevelt in 1905.
Geronimo was wounded many times but never killed by a bullet. After the
surrender he and many of the Apache warriors were transported to Florida and
never returned to Arizona. Geronimo's last wish was to see his homeland once
more. This he was never allowed to do, but died as a prisoner of war on February
17, 1909. in Ft. Sill, OK.
is easy to envision the hardships endured by both soldier and warrior (and his
family) alike. Because the army knew little about finding water in such a dry
climate or how to travel in such rugged terrain the soldiers often faced long
periods without supplies or water. The soldiers included both white and black
troops and had the terror of facing a race of people that were trained from
birth how to wage war and live on the go in this very climate.
Black soldiers were called "Buffalo Soldiers" because their curly black hair
reminded the plains Indians of a buffalo. The Buffalo Soldier units had a
desertion rate of 1% compared to a desertion rate of 43% for the white soldier
units. This was during a time shortly after the Civil War and black men in the
army were not very acceptable, even by most of the military's top brass.
Apache had the home turf advantage but with the warrior went his wives and
children. There are accounts where children had to be tied to horses as they
slept because there was no time to rest. They would ride the horses until they
were exhausted and could no longer go on. The Apache women would slaughter the
horses, feed them to the band, and keep running for their lives. Of course they
would have to raid White or Mexican settlers, rape, torture, kill, and even
mutilate their bodies before they rode off with fresh horses and other supplies.
Atrocities happened on both sides. It is hard to blame one group more than the
other. The politically correct thing to do is to hate the Whites, forgive the
Mexicans, and think that the Apache did no wrong. However, the facts provide a
bit different interpretation. Long before the migration of peoples from Europe
to North America the Apache Indians were destroying other cultures and taking
their lands. If you visit the Paquime Ruins archeological site in northern
Mexico you will learn that this peaceful group who had lived happily in this one
place, and traded with other Indian groups, were wiped out by migrating Apaches,
in order to steal their wealth and remove them from their homeland.
Apache also terrorized the Tarahumara to the south and the peaceful Navajo to
the north. It is safe to say that most, if not all, of the Indians that came in
contact with the Apache's were victimized by them. Many of these Indian groups
enthusiastically aided what ever Army, American or Mexican, in chasing down the
the end the Apache's lost this war because of numbers. When the Apache lost a
warrior they had to replace him from members of their group while the US and
Mexican Armies just had to send for men from their generals. If the Apache had
not made so many enemies with neighboring tribes and had worked together with
these groups they may have prevented the mass migration into their lands and had
a better outcome than they did.
Today they live on reservations totaling over 3 million acres in Arizona and New
Mexico and retain many tribal customs. Cattle, timber, tourism, and the
development of mineral resources provide income. In 1982 the Apaches won a major
Supreme Court test of their right to tax resources extracted from their lands.
In 1990 there were 50,051 Apaches in the U.S.
Wild West magazine.
Life on the
Above, Chiricahua Indians arriving at school, Below, four months later.
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