Local History of the Apache – 1841-1886
Cochise County in Southeast Arizona is where many major 19th century battles took place between the Apaches and the United States Army. Today, you can visit the historical sites made famous by the great chiefs, such as Cochise, Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves), and Victorio; and the fearless, ruthless shaman Goyathlay, better known today by his Spanish name … Geronimo.
Taking side trips and back roads through the beautiful countryside of Southeastern Arizona, you can stand in their shadow and begin to understand what it was like to live here on the frontier during The Apache Wars.
A series of forts were built to house the United States Army whose presence was needed by Anglo Americans to protect them from the dreaded Apaches. No such forts were built to protect the Apaches from the dreaded Anglos.
On the east side of Tucson is the restored Fort Lowell’s officers quarters and military museum. (See our Arizona Historical Society Ft. Lowell video)
Within a two-hour drive east from Tucson, you can visit the ruins of Fort Bowie; once a frontier outpost that guarded Apache Springs for the stagecoaches of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. Near Fort Bowie ruins are Chiricahua National Monument with its magnificent “Standing Up Rocks” and well-preserved Faraway Ranch; and Cochise Stronghold which served as a high, rocky fortification and lookout station for the Chiricahua Apaches.
North of Tucson, there are other forts built to subdue the Apaches, including Fort Apache on the Fort Apache Reservation; and the nearby the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation that the Apaches feared most because of deplorable conditions there, including killer diseases, such as malaria. On the way is the site of Camp Grant where a mob of Tucson Anglo and Mexican men and Papago (now Tohono O’odham) Indians massacred over a hundred Apaches, almost all women and young children, and took the few surviving children as slaves.
From 1840’s until the final surrender of Geronimo in late 1886, farmers, ranchers, miners, & merchants attempting to settle the American Southwest and Northern Mexico lived in terror of the Apaches.
For centuries prior to the coming of the Europeans, the Apache had it pretty good. Theirs were small hunter-gatherer, kin-related bands that moved frequently according to the seasons and other factors, such as the availability of game and fresh water. Sometimes they traded peaceably with neighboring Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Papago, Pima, Yavapai, and other tribes. But often these encounters were hostile. Perhaps it was the Yavapai, or was it the Zuni, who were the first to call them ‘apache’, which means ‘enemy’?
They were frequent and feared raiders, which is a polite way of saying the Apaches were marauding thieves and murderers when they wanted food, horses, guns, ammunition, and captives for slaves and ransom.
Usually they killed for what they considered necessity or self-defense. As the wars of the 1870’s and ‘80’s wore on, as often as not they killed for revenge, as did the Americans and Mexicans who tried to exterminate them. Read More