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Thomas Jonathan Jeffords (January 1, 1832 – February 21, 1914) was a U.S. Army scout, Indian agent, and later a stagecoach driver in the Arizona Territory. His friendship with Apache leader Cochise was instrumental in ending the Indian wars in that region.
Born in Chautauqua County, NY, Tom Jeffords came west to Arizona in 1862 as a scout for the U.S. Army. Warfare with the Chiricahua Apaches had begun the year before, when Cochise, one of their chiefs, was accused by the Army of kidnapping an 11-year-old white boy from a nearby ranch. (The abduction was likely the work of Pinal Indians.) Hearing this, Cochise came forward under a flag of truce when summoned by the Army to declare his innocence. The Army chose not to believe him and tried to place him under arrest. Cochise pulled his knife, slashed the wall of the tent in which the meeting was being held, and escaped into the brush. The six men who had accompanied him, including three relatives, were held and then hanged (Lt Bascom Affair).
Cochise, formerly inclined toward peace with the white settlers, now joined other Apache chiefs in hostility to them. It was not long before the Army retaliated, and the war was on.
Jeffords was the superintendent of a mail line that later became part of the famous Pony Express system. After some of his mail riders were killed by Apache raiding parties, he rode alone into the camp of Cochise to parley. This bravery so impressed the chief that he became friend and blood brother to Jeffords, granting his mail riders safe passage.
President Grant sent General Oliver Howard to the Arizona Territory in 1871 with orders to end the Apache wars by negotiating treaties with the tribes. Howard was an apt choice, as he had been head of the Freedmen's Bureau, the agency responsible for assisting freed black slaves after the Civil War. General Howard enlisted the help of Jeffords in concluding these treaties. Learning of his work with the Freedmen's Bureau, Jeffords knew that Howard was honorable and would be respected by Cochise, and eventually conducted the general into Cochise’s camp. A treaty was signed in 1872, ending the decade-long war with the Chiricahua Apaches. Cochise requested that his people be allowed to remain in the Chiricahua Mountains and that Jeffords be made Indian agent for the region. These requests were granted, and the Indian raids subsided.
However, certain white residents of the area disapproved of this arrangement because it denied them access to the copper and silver that had been discovered on Apache lands. They branded Jeffords “Indian lover” and wrote scathing reports to politicians back in Washington. In 1875 he was removed as the federal agent and the Chiricahua Apaches were relocated to the San Carlos Reservation. Cochise was spared this; he had died of natural causes about a year after signing the now broken treaty. The Indian wars began again, but were ended in 1918 Arizona with the Battle of Bear Valley, between U.S. Cavalry and Yaqui Indians.
Jeffords became a stagecoach driver, a deputy sheriff of Tombstone, AZ and finally a gold prospector. He lived out the last 22 years of his life in the Tortolita Mountains north of Tucson, AZ, at a homestead near the Owlhead Buttes. He died on February 21, 1914 and was buried in Tucson's Evergreen Cemetery.
The story of Tom Jeffords, General Howard, Cochise, and the Apache wars was told in historically-based but dramatized form in a novel by Elliott Arnold that was adapted into a 1950 film and a 1956 television show that ran for 72 episodes. The novel was called Blood Brother, movie, and television show were titled Broken Arrow.
- Tom Jeffords and Cochise
- The grave of Tom Jeffords
- Tom Jeffords, Evergreen Cemetery, Tucson, Arizona
- Broken Arrow (1950) at the Internet Movie Database
- "Broken Arrow" (1956) at the Internet Movie Database