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Cover Story 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 the time. 

 

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 and son.

 

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 Southern side.

 

Cochise naturally 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.

 

In 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.

 

On 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. 

 

It 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.

 

In 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.

 

In 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 neck."

 

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 death."

 

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 that."

 

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 people.

 

COCHISE c.1815-1874, 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. 

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.

  

 

Geronimo 

 

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.

 

Geronimo's final 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.

 

The Battleground

 

It 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.  

 

The 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. 

 

The 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 Apache Warriors. 

 

In 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.

 

Sources: Edwin R. Sweeney,

Wild West magazine.

http://www.downtheroad.org/Journals/2Arizona/Apache.htm

Wikipedia

http://www.desertusa.com/magfeb98/feb_pap/du_apache.html

http://www.linecamp.com/museums/americanwest/western_names/cochise/cochise.html  

 

 

Life on the reservation.
Above, Chiricahua Indians arriving at school, Below, four months later.

 

 

 

 

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