Part I – This is the first of a series on the great Chiricahua Apache chief, Cochise, and his part in the fascinating history of Southern Arizona.
Click here for some background: A timeline of the Apache Wars and the most notable leaders of both sides of the conflict.
EXECUTIVE MANSION, October 30, 1876.
It is hereby ordered that the order of December 14, 1872, setting apart the following-described lands in the Territory of Arizona as a reservation for certain Apache Indians, viz: Beginning at Dragoon Springs, near Dragoon Pass, and running thence northeasterly along the north base of the Chiricahua Mountains, to a point on the summit of Peloncillo Mountains, or Stevens Peak Range; thence running south-easterly along said range through Stevens Peak to the boundary of New Mexico; thence running south to the boundary of Mexico; thence running westerly along said boundary 56 miles; thence running northerly, following substantially the western base of the Dragoon Mountains, to the place of beginning, be, and the same is hereby, canceled, and said lands are restored to the public domain.
U. S. GRANT
With the stroke of his presidential pen, President Grant dissolved the Chiricahua Apache’s huge reservation in Southeastern Arizona. It was the beginning of the end for the Chiricahua people in Arizona.
Below are the approximate boundaries of the Chiricahua Apache Indian Reservation described above. It was created by a verbal agreement between General Oliver Howard and Chiricahua Apache chief Cochise in 1872. This “gentleman’s agreement” never became a formal treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate.
This accord included Cochise’s demand that his friend, Tom Jeffords, be the agent for the new reservation. Jeffords worked diligently to protect his charges and provide them with necessities – clothing, firewood, beef, etc. – as promised by General Howard.
Once satisfied that the agreement would hold, Cochise sent runners to contact other Chiricahua bands and tell them they would be safe and provided for if they relocated to the new reservation.
Geronimo and Juh brought their followers in from Chihuahua, Mexico; and other bands added to a growing population that in four months went from a few hundred to over a thousand Chiricahua Apaches.
However, there were challenges from the beginning. First, the gathering took place in winter and, according to Jeffords, “most were almost completely naked.” General Howard gave the Apaches some rough-textured cotton blankets but left the delivery of other promised supplies to the Office of Indian Affairs.
No Money For The Chiricahua Reservation
Bureaucratic indifference resulted in no money for expenses to maintain the Indians until they could become self-sufficient. As Jeffords wrote, “not a dollar was furnished to meet expenses, nor as much as a hammer to work with.” Using vouchers, he secured what supplies he could, including grain and beef.
By February 1873, Jeffords reported that “the Indians are exceedingly well behaved; not a single complaint has been made against them.” The Anglo and Mexican population of Arizona Territory were delighted with the newly won peace.
In May 1873, Cochise and about 400 Chiricahuas settled near Jeffords’ agency at Sulphur Springs, approximately 6 miles northeast of present-day Pearce. That lasted only two weeks because several children became ill from the water. Cochise then varied his camps between the Dragoon and Dos Cabezas Mountains, which made keeping an eye on his charges difficult for Jeffords.
Jeffords’ agency was moved to San Simon Cienega in August. But five children died there of fever, so in November, the agency was moved to Pinery Canyon adjacent to present-day Chiricahua National Monument.
By November 1873, the failure of the Office of Indian Affairs to back up General Howard’s promises with money and supplies for the reservation left the Chiricahuas gravely concerned about the coming winter. Among other supplies, they had to get clothing. Facing death by exposure, some fifty Chiricahua warriors bolted the reservation and began raiding in Sonora.
Cochise told the renegades that they either had to cease raiding across the International Border or leave the reservation. So powerful was Cochise’s influence that most complied.
Death of Cochise
But, by May of 1874, that influence was waning. Cochise was gravely ill. His eldest son, Taza, led 27 heavily-armed warriors in search of a rival they believed had used witchcraft to stricken their chief. Their intent was to either force the culprit to cure Cochise or tie him to a tree and burn him alive.
On June 8, 1874, Cochise died in what is known as Cochise Stronghold. All night his people wailed in grief. He was buried with ritual appropriate to his status at a place in the Dragoon Mountains known only to one white man, Tom Jeffords.
With his father’s death, Taza became chief of the Chokonen band of Chiricahua Apaches. However, he did not possess his father’s charisma and many warriors would not follow his lead. To make matters much worse for the reservation Chiricahuas, white men began to look greedily on the considerable mining and ranching potential of the reservation. They looked for any event to justify removing the Chiricahuas and opening their land to Anglo settlements.
Two Chiricahua Apaches Go Postal
That event came in April 1876, less than 2 years after Cochise’s death. Two Apaches, Pi-on-se-na and his half-brother Skin-yea, got roaring drunk on whiskey supplied by two white men. Pi-on-se-na killed two of his sisters. Then, in search for more whiskey, they killed their two suppliers.
The news of these murders caused panic among the white population. The number of renegades was greatly exaggerated. The U.S. Army was called in to restore order and hunt down the renegades with the help of some 200 Apache scouts.
A month later, May 3, 1876, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered Apache Agent John Clum to remove the Chiricahuas to the dreaded San Carlos Reservation were many would die of malnutrition, disease, and exposure. On June 11, faced with overwhelming military force, Taza and the other chiefs brought their people to Fort Bowie at Apache Pass where their war with the white man had begun in 1861.
Cochise’s Sons Deal With The Troublemakers
While there, Naiche, Taza’s younger brother, killed Skin-yea and Taza wounded Pi-onse-na, but he escaped into the mountains. Such was their anger toward the two men who had brought this humiliation upon their people.
That same day, Geronimo led a small group of Chiricahua Apaches to the relative safety of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Sonora, Mexico where they joined two other Chiricahua bands. These renegade Apaches would war on Mexicans and Americans off and on for another decade.
Note: the Sierra Madre (Mother Mountain) is huge; a thousand miles long and far more rugged than the mountains of Arizona & New Mexico. Geronimo and his lifelong friend, Chief Juh (pronounced Ho or Whoa) thought that their camps in the Sierra Madre were impregnable. Here they could relax and enjoy a life of freedom, knowing that the Mexicans could never find, let alone attack them here. Moreover, in the Sierra Madre, they were safe from the Americans because Mexico would not allow U.S. soldiers to cross the International Border.
In 1883, that would change. General Crook, America’s preeminent Indian fighter, negotiated with the Mexicans to let his troops hunt down the Chiricahua Apaches hiding in the Sierra Madre. It was the beginning of the end for Geronimo and his renegade Chiricahuas.
Agent John Clum
On June 12, 1876, Agent John Clum, backed by San Carlos Apache Reservation police began marching 325 Chiricahua Apaches to their new home. To ensure that all went as planned, they were followed by three companies of U.S. Cavalry.
The Americans Win
In this way, Americans gained access to all of Southeastern Arizona Territory and its rich gold, silver & copper ore that created mining boom towns, such as Tombstone, Bisbee, Pearce, Courtland, and Gleeson.
Five years later, in 1881, the Americans would carve a separate county out of the southeastern-most portion of Arizona Territory, over 6,000 square miles. They would name it Cochise County after the great leader of the Chiricahua Apaches whose homeland they had stolen “fair and square”.
- John Clum founded the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper in 1880. The next year he became Tombstone’s first mayor and supported the Earps in their fight with The Cowboys. However, before his Tombstone days, Clum was a young Indian Agent at the San Carlos Apache Reservation. The Apaches had a name for him that translated to “Turkey Gobbler” for the way Clum pompously strutted about the Res.
- General George Crook, commander of the Department of Arizona, considered General Oliver Howard a “pompous religious fanatic”. However, in following Tom Jeffords to talk peace with Cochise – without his soldiers – Howard was certainly brave. Presumably, he thought he was on a “Mission From God”.
- Taza, the eldest son of Cochise, became chief upon his father’s death. In September 1876 Chief Taza was one of a delegation of Apaches taken to Washington D.C. for a visit. This was one means the Americans used to show the might of the United States and the futility of resistance. While in Washington, Taza died of pneumonia. His younger brother, Naiche, then became the last hereditary chief of the Chiricahua Apaches. Naiche fought with Geronimo until they surrendered in 1886. Both were exiled to Florida as prisoners-of-war.
- Tom Jeffords died 40 years after the death of Cochise and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson, Arizona.
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