Cochise (A-da-tli-chi = "hardwood," also Cheis) (c. 1805 – June 9, 1874) was a chief (a nantan) of the Chokonen ("central" or "real" Chiricahua) band of the Chiricahua Apache. He is famous for his skills as a warrior, and as the leader of an uprising that began in 1861 in reaction to false accusation, imprisonment, and execution of several Chiricahua.
Cochise was also famous for his truthfulness and honor and was the chief who negotiated a treaty with the white American settlers. Due to his willingness to embrace a white man and former enemy as his brother, Cochise's people were able to remain on part of their ancestral lands and their culture survived.
Cochise was born in the beginning of the nineteenth century, around 1805, and became one of the most famous Apache leaders (along with Geronimo) to resist intrusions by Mexicans and Americans during the nineteenth century. He was described as a large man, over six feet tall, muscular frame, classical Roman features, and long black hair—which he wore in traditional Apache style. Like Crazy Horse, Cochise was never photographed.
Cochise's tribe lived in an area covering Northern Mexico through Arizona, and when settlers arrived, the first were Mexicans. Relationships between the native Apache and these invaders were difficult.
In the 1830s, Cochise married Dos-Teh-Seh, the daughter of Mangas Coloradas, also known as Dasoda-hae (Red Sleeves), a famous Apache chief of the Eastern Chiricahuas. They had two children, a son Taza, born in 1842, who succeeded Cochise as chief, and Naiche, born in 1856. During this time, Cochise hoping that the Americans who had taken over the area from Mexico would be better to the Chiricahua than the Mexicans had been, worked as a woodcutter at the stagecoach station in Apache Pass for the Butterfield Overland line. Unfortunately, however, peace between the Apache and the Americans did not last, and Cochise and his tribe soon found themselves at war with the settlers.
Cochise died on June 4, 1874 of natural causes, on the newly formed Chiricahua reservation in or near the Dragoon Mountains where his tribe had lived and fought. Cochise wanted his burial site kept secret, and its remains unknown.
Cochise and the Chokonen-Chiricahua lived in the area that is now the northern Mexican region of Sonora, New Mexico, and Arizona—which were traditional Apache territories until the coming of the Europeans. Due to encroachment by Spain and later Mexico, the Chokonen and Nednhi-Chiricahua became increasingly dependent upon food rations issued by the Mexican government to placate them. When this practice was abruptly ended in 1831, the various Chiricahua bands carried out raids to acquire food.
The Mexican government began a series of military operations in order to either capture or neutralize the Chiricahua, but they received stiff resistance from Cochise and the Apache who were implacable foes. Mexican troops were largely unsuccessful in their attempts and were often brought to a standstill by the Apache. As part of their attempts at controlling the Chiricahua, Mexican forces, often with the help of American and Native American mercenaries, began to kill Apache civilians, including Cochise's father. This hardened Cochise's resolve and gave the Chiricahua more reason for vengeance. Mexican forces were finally able to capture Cochise in 1848 during an Apache raid on Fronteras, Sonora, but they exchanged him for nearly a dozen Mexican hostages.
In 1850, the greater part of the area was annexed by the United States, which ushered in a brief period of relative peace. The tenuous peace did not last as American encroachment into Apache territory continued. The formal peace ended in 1861 when an Apache raiding party drove away a local rancher's cattle and kidnapped his twelve-year-old son. Cochise and five others of his band were falsely accused of the incident (which had actually been done by the Coyotero band of Apaches). The six suspects were ordered by an inexperienced Army officer (Lt. George Bascom) to report to the fort for questioning. Although they maintained their innocence, the group was arrested and imprisoned.
The group soon mounted an escape attempt—one was killed and Cochise was shot three times but managed to slip away. He quickly took hostages to use in negotiations to free the other four Chiricahua. However, the plan backfired and both sides killed all their hostages in what was later known as "The Bascom Affair." Bascom's retaliation included hanging Cochise's brother and two of his nephews, which served to further enrage Cochise. Cochise then joined with his father-in-law, Mangas Coloradas, "Red Sleeves," the Bedonkohe-Chiricahua Apache chief, in a long series of retaliatory skirmishes and raids among the settlements. Many people were killed on both sides, but the Apache began to achieve the upper hand, which prompted the United States Army to send an expeditionary force to the area.
At Apache Pass in 1862, Cochise and Mangas Coloradas, with 500 fighters, held their ground against a force of California volunteers under General Carleton until howitzer artillery fire was brought to bear on their position. 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." Captain Thomas Roberts was persuaded by the engagement that it would be best to find a route around Apache Pass, which he did. General Carleton thus continued unhindered to New Mexico and subsequently took over as commander of the territory.
In January of 1863, General Joseph Rodman West, under orders from General Carleton, was able to capture 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 executed him. This continued a series of incidents that fanned the flames of enmity between the encroaching Americans and the Apache. For Cochise, the Americans held nothing sacred and had violated the rules of war by capturing Mangas Coloradas during a parley session. Cochise and the Apache continued their raids against American and Mexican settlements and military positions throughout the 1860s.
Following various skirmishes, Cochise and his men were gradually driven into the Dragoon Mountains of Arizona, but were nevertheless able to use the mountains as cover and as a base from which to continue significant skirmishes against white settlements. This was the situation until 1871, when General George Crook assumed command and used other Apaches as scouts and informants and was thereby able to force Cochise's men to surrender. Cochise was taken into custody in September of that year. The next year, the Chiricahua were ordered to the Tularosa Reservation in New Mexico, but refused to leave their ancestral lands in Arizona, which had been guaranteed to them under treaty. Cochise escaped and renewed raids and skirmishes against settlements through most of 1872.
Then a most serendipitous event occurred. In 1871, Thomas Jefferson Jeffords was the U.S. Government Mail Superintendent. He had lost 14 mail drivers to the attacks of Cochise’s warriors and wanted to settle this matter. He had learned the Apache language, and set out alone to meet Cochise. Cochise realized this was an unusual event, and was curious to see what this man wanted. When they finally met, Jeffords explained that he wanted safe passage for his mail carriers. Cochise said this was unreasonable, because they carried military messages that were against him. Jeffords explained that military messages were carried by their own couriers, not the U.S. Mail. Cochise admired the bravery and truthfulness of this man, and Jeffords also wrote of his admiration of the character of Cochise. They became "blood brothers" and life-long friends.
General Oliver O. Howard, a man who was known to drop to one knee in prayer anytime in any circumstances, was quick to note that Cochise trusted Jeffords, and asked him to help negotiate a new treaty. Howard stayed with Cochise 11 days, and in 1873 the Americans accepted some of Coshise's terms. The Chiricahua Apache were given a reservation that took in the Chiricahua and Dragoon Mountains where they had always lived, they could keep their weapons, and live freely as they had always lived. At Cochise’s insistence, Jeffords was appointed reservation agent.
Cochise and Geronimo had often disagreed about policy concerning the European invaders. During the years of peace, many of Cochise's younger warriors broke away and joined with Geronimo to continue the fight. The acceptance of treaty terms set the two leaders apart permanently.
Cochise quietly retired to his Arizona reservation, and one year later, he died of natural causes, with his friend Tom Jeffords at his side.
In popular culture, Cochise is eclipsed by Geronimo, who is revered as a great, resistant leader of his people. However, it should be noted that the people who followed Cochise remained and kept the Apache culture alive, while those who followed Geronimo perished almost entirely. Those who were in Geronimo's tribe were shipped off to reservations far away in the east, and none live today in their native land of Arizona. Our contemporary knowledge of Apache culture is largely due to the ability of Cochise to secure the peace treaty, and find a way for his people to endure.
The popular Western movie, Broken Arrow (1950) with Academy Award winner, James Stewart, dramatized the meeting between Cochise and Jeffords. Although somewhat fictionalized, it helped Americans understand that many Native Americans had honor, and that the ways to peace involved friendship and trust on both sides. The legacy of Cochise, therefore, lies not just in his successes against the invaders, but, more importantly, in his willingness to embrace his enemy as his brother, thus ensuring a future for his people.
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