The Death Of Chiricahua Chief Cochise
Part IV – This is the fourth in our series about the great Chiricahua chief, Cochise, and his role in the fascinating history of Southern Arizona. Here is Part One. Cochise becomes a “Reservation Indian.”
On October 30, 1876, President U.S. Grant signed an executive order unilaterally dissolving the Chiricahua Apache Indian Reservation in present-day Cochise County, in the far southeast corner of Arizona.
It was the beginning of the end for the Chiricahua Apaches in Arizona.
When we consider all the great western Native American leaders; such as Red Cloud (Oglala Lakota), Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa Lakota), Crazy Horse (Oglala Lakota), Chief Joseph (Nez Perce, Quanah Parker (Comanche), Cochise belongs in that pantheon. Like the others, Cochise led his people well in war against overwhelming forces, both Mexican and American. And he saved them from annihilation and bought them an element of security by negotiating a peace accord, which he honored even beyond his death in 1874. Which is more than we can say about the United States government.
Many in his Chokonen (Central) band had never known another principle chief. He became chief in 1848 upon the death of chief Miguel Narbona. During the 1840’s and ’50’s. Cochise’s band of Chiricahua Apaches and many other Apache groups warred mainly with Mexicans. During these decades, Cochise earned his warrior status by successfully raiding in Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico.
The Chiricahuas slaughtered Mexican by the hundreds and the Mexicans often gave as good as they got. In between truces and peace agreements, ambushes, captives, enslavement, ransom, torture, treachery, and massacres occurred with alarming regularity on both sides. For both Mexicans and Chiricahuas, the desire for revenge fueled unending warfare. Even Cochise was captured by Mexicans and put in irons and shackled for 6 weeks before he was ransomed. By this time, Cochise was so important to his people, that they exchanged 11 Mexican captives for his release.
Cochise’s hatred of all Mexicans consumed him for the rest of his days (as it did Geronimo). During these decades, Cochise and the Chiricahuas were mostly at peace with the Americans. That would change.
The Bascom Affair
In 1861, the Chiricahuas’ war with the United States began in earnest when an ill-prepared Lt. Bascom foolishly tried to arrest Cochise at Apache Pass between the Dos Cabezas Mountain to the north and the Chiricahua Mountains to the south, about an hour and a half drive east of Tucson. Today, we know this act of American military stupidity and outright treachery as “The Bascom Affair”.
Every Anglo and Mexican in Arizona at that time knew who Cochise was and feared him. By the mid-1860’s, he was the U.S. Army’s most formidable enemy, except perhaps for his father-in-law Mangas Coloradas’ band of Chihennes Chiricahuas that controlled much of Southern New Mexico.
After the Bascom Affair, Cochise declared all out war on the Americans. His capacity for vengeance and cruelty was unbounded. What Cochise did to many of his captives makes present-day “enhanced interrogation” seem like patty-cake.
However, Cochise realized that he could not win at war against both Mexicans and Americans at the same time. He needed to be at peace with one or the other in order to trade. The Chiricahuas stole cattle, mules, horses and other booty on the American side of the International Border, and traded these for food, whiskey, guns, and ammunition in Mexican towns, such as Fronteras, only 80 miles south of Fort Bowie.
In turn, he and his Chokonen Chiricahuas would raid Mexican rancheros and villages and trade their loot to unscrupulous Anglos in Southern Arizona and Southern New Mexico for whatever they needed to feed their people and continue their war effort.
Thus, in the decade following the Bascom Affair in early 1861, Cochise and many other Chiricahua leaders negotiated innumerable truces with the Americans and Mexicans, all of which were soon broken by one side or the other.
In the fall of 1862, General Carleton, head of the California Volunteers, who had recently chased Confederate soldiers out of Tucson, ordered all out war on the Apaches. He ordered his men to ignore white flags of truce and to hunt down and kill any male Apaches of fighting age and deliver their female and child captives to headquarters in Mesilla, New Mexico. In effect, Carleton, in a move similar to the Mexicans before him, instituted a policy of extermination.
About this same time, the Mexican governments in Chihuahua and Sonora re-instituted the pay-per-scalp policy and Indians no matter their age or gender were hunted down like wild animals for bounty.
The Apaches, it should be remembered, did not have a policy of genocide. Their goal was to first drive the Mexicans, and later the Americans, out of their ancestral homeland. The American’s goal was to conquer – by extermination if necessary – occupy and exploit the Chiricahua’s land. (Which they did with remarkable success in the 1880’s.)
As a result of Carleton’s harsh Indian policies, when the great Chihennes chief, Mangas Coloradas, father-in-law of Cochise, was captured when trying to negotiate a truce, he was tortured then executed. Cochise went ballistic.
Before the death of Mangas, Cochise could muster a war party of between a few dozen and a hundred warriors, more than any other Apache band leader save Mangas. After his father-in-law’s death, Mangas’ Chihennes band, now led by Victorio, Nana and Loco, and other Chiricahua bands, including the Nednhi band led by the powerful Juh (Whoa) and Geronimo’s Bedonkohes, often joined forces under the overall leadership of Cochise.
It was then, in the latter half of the 1860’s that Cochise became, not merely the leader of a small band of Chiricahua Apaches, but a tribal leader with powerful influence over many bands. Now he could organize and direct a force of 500 well-armed, well-mounted Apache warriors bent on revenge as much as looting.
However, even with this formidable fighting force, the forces arrayed against them grew exponentially, both in Mexico and the United States. The American Civil War was over and the U.S. Army was returning to Southern Arizona and Southern New Mexico en masse with the determination and (eventually) resources to pacify this lawless region. In time, Cochise came to the realization that “resistance was futile”. (Yes, we watch Star Trek too. To the Chiricahuas, the Americans must have seemed like the Borg.)
Consequently, in 1872, Cochise made a peace agreement with General Oliver Howard in 1872 and vowed never to violate it. He never did.
However, in June 1874, at what is known today as Cochise Stronghold, the old chief lay dying in great pain, almost certainly from abdominal cancer. This was bad news for the Americans and most knew it. They feared that only Cochise had enough influence over the Chiricahuas to keep the peace.
The following is the last recorded interview with the great chief as published in the New York Times on October 29, 1874. It is included in a report authored by L. Edwin Dudley, Superintendent of Indian Affairs to his immediate superior, E. P. Smith, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C. It is most revealing of those times in Southern Arizona.
Click here for a PDF of the News Article. (Please be patient, it may take a while to load.)
Read more history on Cochise.
Part I – Cochise becomes a “Reservation Indian.”
Part II – Cochise and the Battles of Dragoon Springs and Apache Pass or if you missed
Part III – How Tucson Became the Capital of the Arizona Territory.
For more information on the Apaches and the history surrounding the Apache Wars, see our page on the Local History of the Apaches.