Bronze bust of Cochise, Fort Bowie National Historic Site, AZ
Chiricahua country, under Spanish occupation
|Died||June 8, 1874
Chiricahua country, under American occupation
|Allegiance||Chiricahua Apache Indians|
|Years of service||1861–1872|
Cochise (//; Cheis or A-da-tli-chi, in Apache K'uu-ch'ish "oak"; c. 1805 – June 8, 1874) was leader of the Chihuicahui local group of the Chokonen ("central" or "real" Chiricahua) and principal chief (or nantan) of the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua Apache. He led an uprising against the American government that began in 1861. Cochise County, Arizona is named after him.
Cochise (or "Cheis") was one of the most noted Apache leaders (along with Geronimo and Mangas Coloradas) to resist intrusions by European Americans during the 19th century. He was described as a large man (for the time), with a muscular frame, classical features, and long black hair, which he wore in traditional Apache style. He was about 6' tall and weighed about 175 lbs. In his own language, his name Cheis meant "having the quality or strength of oak."
Cochise and the Chokonen-Chiricahua lived in the area that is now the northern region of Sonora, Mexico; New Mexico, and Arizona, which they had settled in sometime before the arrival of the European explorers and colonists. As Spain and later Mexico attempted to gain dominion over the Chiricahua lands, the indigenous groups became increasingly resistant. Cycles of warfare developed, which the Apache mostly won. Eventually, the Spanish tried a different approach; they tried to make the Apache dependent (thereby placating them) upon poor-quality firearms and liquor rations issued by the colonial government (this was called the "Galvez Peace Policy"). After Mexico gained independence from Spain and took control of this territory, it ended the practice, perhaps lacking the resources (and/or possibly the will) to continue it. The various Chiricahua bands resumed traditional raiding in the 1830s to acquire what they needed after the Mexicans no longer supplied them with these goods, and/or, made provisions for them.
As a result, the Mexican government began a series of military operations in order to either capture or neutralize the Chiricahua, but they were fought to a standstill by the Apache. As part of their attempts at control, Mexican forces began to kill Apache civilians. They were assisted by United States and Native American mercenaries, and often paid bounties for scalps. Cochise's father was killed by mercenaries. Cochise deepened his resolve and the Chiricahua Apache pursued vengeance against the Mexicans. Mexican forces did capture Cochise at one point in 1848 during an Apache raid on Fronteras, Sonora, but they exchanged him for nearly a dozen Mexican prisoners.
Border tensions and fighting
Beginning with early Spanish colonization around 1600, the Apache in their territory suffered tension and strife with European settlers until the greater part of the area was acquired by the United States in 1850, following the Mexican War. For a time, the two peoples managed peaceful relations. In the late 1850s, Cochise may have supplied firewood for the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach station at Apache Pass.
The tenuous peace did not last, as European-American encroachment into Apache territory continued. In 1861 the Bascom Affair was a catalyst for armed confrontation. An Apache raiding party had driven away a local rancher's cattle and kidnapped his twelve-year-old son (Felix Ward, who later became known as Mickey Free). Cochise and his band were falsely accused of the incident (which had been carried out by another band, Coyotero Apache). Army officer Lt. George Bascom, who was inexperienced, invited Cochise to the Army's encampment in the belief that the warrior was responsible for the incident. Cochise maintained his innocence and offered to look into the matter with other Apache groups, but the young officer tried to arrest him. Cochise escaped by drawing a knife and slashing his way out of the tent. Cochise may have been shot as he fled.
Bascom captured some of Cochise's relatives, who apparently were taken by surprise as Cochise escaped. Cochise eventually also took hostages to use in negotiations to free the Apache Indians. However, the negotiations fell apart, mostly because of Bascom's intransigence, but also because the arrival of U.S. troop reinforcements led Cochise to believe that the situation was spiraling out of his control. Both sides eventually killed all their remaining hostages. The Apache leader went to Mexico while things cooled off. Among the hostages executed by the Army were Cochise's brother and two of his nephews. These losses enraged the Apache leader, and he carried out about 11 years of relentless warfare, reducing much of the Mexican/American settlements in southern Arizona to a burned-out wasteland. Dan Thrapp estimated the total death toll of settlers and Mexican/American travelers may have reached 5,000, but most historians believe it was more likely a few hundred). The treachery of Lt. Bascom is still remembered by the Chiricahua's descendants today, who describe the arrest attempt as "Cut the Tent."
Cochise joined with his father-in-law Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves, Kan-da-zis Tlishishen), the powerful Chihenne-Chiricahua chief, in a long series of retaliatory skirmishes and raids on the white settlements and ranches. The Battle of Dragoon Springs was one of these engagements. During the raids, many people were killed on both sides, but the Apache quite often had the upper hand. The United States was distracted by its own internal conflict of the looming Civil War, and had begun to pull military forces out of the area. It did not have the resources to deal with the Apache. Additionally, the Apaches were highly adapted to living and fighting in the harsh terrain of the southwest. It was many years before the US Army, using tactics conceived by General Crook and later adopted by General Miles, were able to effectively challenge the Apache warrior on his own lands.
Battle of Apache Pass
At Apache Pass in 1862, Cochise and Mangas Coloradas, with around 500 fighters, held their ground against a New Mexico-bound force of California volunteers under General James Henry Carleton until caisson-mounted howitzer artillery fire was brought to bear on their positions in the rocks above.
According to scout John C. Cremony and historian Dan L. Thrapp, the howitzer fire sent the Apaches into an immediate retreat. But Carleton's biographer, Aurora Hunt, wrote, "This was the first time that the Indians had faced artillery fire. Nevertheless, they fought stubbornly for several hours before they fled." Geronimo later recalled in his autobiography that his people were winning the fight until "you fired your wagons at us." The Battle of Apache Pass was one of the rare pitched battles the Apaches fought against the United States Army. Normally, the Apaches' tactics involved guerrilla-style warfare. Capt. Thomas Roberts was persuaded by this conflict that it would be best to find a route around Apache Pass, which he did. Gen. Carleton continued unhindered to New Mexico and subsequently took over as commander of the territory.
In January 1863 Gen. Joseph R. West, under orders from Gen. Carleton, captured Mangas Coloradas by duping him into a conference under a flag of truce. During what was to be a peaceful parley session, the Americans took the unsuspecting Mangas Coloradas prisoner and later murdered him. This was another in the series of incidents that fanned the flames of enmity between the encroaching Americans and the Apache. Cochise believed that the Americans held nothing sacred, and they had violated the rules of war by capturing and killing Mangas Coloradas during a parley session. Cochise and the Apache continued their raids against American and Mexican settlements and military positions throughout the 1860s.
Capture, escape, and retirement
Following various skirmishes, Cochise and his men were gradually driven into the Dragoon Mountains but used the mountains for cover and as a base from which to continue attacks against the white settlements. Cochise evaded capture and continued his raids against white settlements and travelers until 1872. General Oliver O. Howard finally negotiated a treaty with Cochise with the help of Tom Jeffords, who was the Apache leader's only white friend.
After making peace, Cochise retired to his new reservation, with his friend Jeffords as agent, where he died of natural causes (probably abdominal cancer) in 1874. He was buried in the rocks above one of his favorite camps in Arizona's Dragoon Mountains, now called Cochise Stronghold. Only his people and Tom Jeffords knew the exact location of his resting place, and they took the secret to their graves.
He married Dos-teh-seh (Dos-tes-ey, Doh-teh-seh – "Something-at-the-campfire-already-cooked", b. 1838), the daughter of Mangas Coloradas, the leader of the Warm Springs and Mimbreño local groups of the Chihenne band. Their children were Taza (1842–1876) and Naiche (1856–1919).
Cochise in popular culture
In 1950, director Delmar Daves turned Arnold's novel into a movie re-titled Broken Arrow, featuring James Stewart as Jeffords and Jeff Chandler as Cochise. This was one of the first Hollywood movies to give a sympathetic picture of Native Americans in conflict with European Americans encroaching upon Indian land, and helped change the popular image of Native American people from negative to positive. The tall, handsome, deeply tanned Chandler, a Jewish actor born in Brooklyn, N.Y., portrayed Cochise as a noble, nearly tragic character forced to fight against the treacherous U.S. Army officers who led incursions into Apache territory. John Ford's representation of Cochise in the 1948 film Fort Apache was also positive to Native Americans. The film Conquest of Cochise released by Columbia Pictures in 1953 starring John Hodiak as Cochise also showed Cochise as a caring Indian who wanted peace with the white man. Broken Arrow (TV series) was a Western series which told a fictionalized account of the historical relationship between Indian agent Tom Jeffords (played by John Lupton) and Cochise (played by Michael Ansara). The show ran on ABC in prime time from 1956 through 1958 on Tuesdays at 9 PM Eastern time. Cochise was portrayed by Jeff Morrow in a 1961 episode of Bonanza.
Audioslave's debut single "Cochise" is named after the chief. In an interview, guitarist Tom Morello said that Cochise was "the last great American Indian chief to die free and absolutely unconquered. When several members of his family were captured, tortured, and hanged by the U.S. Cavalry, Cochise declared war on the entire Southwest and went on an unholy rampage, a warpath to end all warpaths. He and his warriors drove out thousands of settlers. Cochise the avenger, fearless and resolute, attacked everything in his path with an unbridled fury."
The novel by Melody Groves in 2008 titled Arizona War: A Colton Brothers Saga gives a fictionalized account of Cochise's dealings with the main characters, James and Trace Colton during the early 1860s including the Bascom Affair of 1861 and the New Mexico-bound force of California volunteers under General James Henry Carleton during 1862.
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