Apache! In the 1860’s and 1870’s, most people on the fringe of civilization lived in fear of the word. It meant death, a horrible, brutal death, often accompanied by some form of barbaric torture, such as flaying one alive. Not many people met the Apache and lived to tell about it. The most feared of the Apaches were the Chiricahua. Their leader, Cochise, was perhaps the greatest Indian leader in Western history. The wrongs done to him by the white man, his abundant vengeance, his strange pact with one lone white man, and his final pledge to cease warring against Americans are legendary to this day.

There are seven tribal groups of Apaches: Navajo, Western, Chiricahua, Mescalero. Jicarilla, Lipan, and Kiowa-Apache. Of these, the Lipan and Kiowa-Apache are more closely oriented with the Plains-culture of Texas, and the Navajo came to be considered a distinct entity by virtue of developments in their culture. The Jicarilla and Mescalero settled mostly in the mountains of New Mexico, leaving the Western and the Chiricahua tribes to settle in Arizona. Of these two, the Western Apache settled to the north of the Chiricahua and are mostly referred to as the White Mountain, San Carlos, or Coyotero Apaches. The Chiricahua lands stretched into Mexico and New Mexico from southeast Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, which give the band and the tribe their name and which includes the infamous Apache Pass.

The Chiricahua were further divided into three bands. 1) The Eastern Chiricahua band were known as the Gila Apaches because the Spanish lumped them all together as being those living at the headwaters of the Gila River. After 1800, they were identified as the Mimbrenos (containing the Warm Springs Apaches) and the Mogollon (containing the Bedonkohe Apaches), each named after the mountain ranges they inhabited. One of the most famous of the Mogollon Apaches was Geronimo. 2) The Chokonen band were the only true Chiricahua, as they lived in the center of the Apache lands. They have also been called the Cochise Apaches after their famous leader. Another of their famous leaders was Chihuahua. 3) The Southern Chiricahua, also called the Nednhi, ranged in the Sierra Madre region of northern Mexico. They have been called the Pinery or Bronco Apaches, and their most famous leader was Juh.

Cochise was perhaps the greatest of all Apache chiefs. He had an acute sense of honor, and even before he became a war chief, his wisdom was well-known by the whites. He was born about 1823 or 1824, the son of Nachi, a hereditary chief of the Chiricahua. In 1870, he was described as "five feet nine and one-half inches high;…weight 164 pounds; broad shoulders; stout frame; eyes medium size and very black; hair straight and black…; scarred all over the body with buck-shot; very high forehead; large nose, and for an Indian straight."

Not much is known about Cochise as a youth. It is presumed that he had the usual upbringing of young men in Apacheria, which included hunting and raiding in all areas of their lands. By the traditions of his people, he and his band were in perpetual feud with the Mexicans, but aside from stock theft and things of that nature, Cochise had no real animosity toward the American white man. He was well known to travelers across the Southwest, even before the Civil War, and appears to have been generally regarded as a friendly, intelligent person. All that changed in 1861.

In the winter of 1860-61, Cochise had a contract to supply the Butterfield Stage Line with wood for its station at Puerto del Dado in the Apache Pass near where Fort Bowie would soon be built. Nearby lived John Ward on his squalid ranch with his Mexican mistress, Jesusa Martinez, who had brought with her to the union in 1857, a son named Felix, who had been born about 1850. It is believed that there was real affection between Felix Ward and his foster father John Ward.

One day, Apaches swooped down on the ranch and carried off young Felix and some oxen and cattle. John Ward reported the outrage to Fort Buchanon, and the commanding officer immediately dispatched a scouting party to locate the boy. The men returned with a report that the raiders had split into three parties, and their trails had been lost. Neither Ward or Jesusa ever saw Felix again, and they died believing the boy had been killed.

In late January 1861, Second Lieutenant George Nicholas Bascom of the 7th Infantry led 54 men to Apache Pass, accompanied by John Ward and an interpreter. They soon established contact with Cochise, who, with six of his men, some of whom are believed to be his close relatives, met with Bascom in an Army tent for a parley. Cochise denied knowledge of the boy, suggesting that the boy had been kidnapped by Coyotero Apaches, and offered to intervene, but Bascom did not believe Cochise. The lieutenant ordered Cochise held hostage until Felix was returned.

Cochise whipped out his knife, slashed his way through the tent, and gained the safety of the surrounding hills, despite the 50 or more shots fired at him by surprised soldiers, who had surrounded the tent. The next day, Cochise went on the warpath. He amassed a number of hostages, and on February 6, he offered to exchange them for his own men, who were the hostages of Bascom. Bascom refused unless Felix was returned. Cochise did not have Felix, and the result was that the Apaches tortured their prisoners to death, and Bascom hanged his.

Cochise continued his war against the whites, plundering and killing over a wide range. His strategic abilities were so great that he never lost a battle, and he outwitted the Army detachments sent to subdue him. Within 60 days, 150 whites were killed, and it has been claimed that the series of blunders which loosed Cochise upon the whites eventually cost "5000 American lives and the destruction of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property." No traveler, settler, miner, small party of soldiers, nor small community was safe from Cochise and his vengeance. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the troops were withdrawn, and this added to the depopulation of a considerable part of the area. When Chief Mangas Coloradas joined Cochise in the depredations, many settlements were abandoned.

Mangas Coloradas was about 70 in 1863 when he was assassinated by the whites. Cochise then became Chief of the Chiricahuas, and his retaliation was swift and savage. Every white man lived in fear of Cochise.

At the height of his vendetta, Cochise met a most remarkable white man. Thomas Jonathan Jeffords was born in 1832 in New York. He came west as an adult and worked as a hunter, a road builder, and as a prospector, all of it in Apache territory. He became a dispatch bearer and scout in the Civil War. After the war, he drove a stage and operated a line through Cochise’s country. At this time, Cochise and his warriors were raiding the stagecoaches with astonishing regularity. Jeffords himself was even wounded when the Apaches held up one of his coaches. When 14 of his drivers were killed over a short period of time, Jeffords decided to speak to Cochise.

In a move indicative of Jeffords’ courage, he rode into Apache territory alone to see the feared chief. This so impressed Cochise that the two men became friends, later to become blood brothers. Cochise agreed to let the mail coaches pass in peace, although he still raided everything else.

It was Jeffords who finally guided General Oliver Otis Howard to the great chief for a peace parley in 1871. This parley resulted in an agreement, or, possibly, a treaty between General Howard and Cochise, although it was never put into writing. In any case, Cochise agreed to live on a reservation if Jeffords would be the Indian agent for it. The Chiricahuas were given the reservation at Ojo Caliente in western New Mexico, but Cochise was restive there, and left for his Dragoon mountains with a band of his followers. In 1872, he returned to the reservation and kept the peace.

It should be noted that Felix Ward, whose kidnapping was the linchpin which started Cochise on the warpath, would later turn up as an adult. Historians think that he may have been captured by a marauding band of Pima Apaches, who were part of a Coyotero Western Apache group, just as Cochise originally claimed. He would go on to become an Indian scout and interpreter for the Army, using the name Mickey Free.

Cochise died of a strange malady on 8 June 1874, which scholars today think was cancer. Upon his death, he was succeeded as hereditary chief by his oldest son Taza, who was in turn succeeded by Naiche, Cochise’s second son. Both sons had distinguished themselves in warlike action. It was Naiche (sometimes spelled Nachez) who led a number of raids in Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora and northern Chihuahua for which Geronimo was blamed. Naiche was the Chiricahua’s principal chief in the later days at Fort Sill Military Reservation in Oklahoma, and is buried in the Apache Cemetery there.

Today, Cochise lives on with a park at his onetime fortress in the Dragoon Mountains, a town, a county, and another park in Arizona being named in his honor. He was perhaps the greatest Apache of all time.

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