Broken Arrow

Cochise:  Michael Ansara
Tom Jeffords:  John Lupton

In 1950, Hollywood executives came up with the idea to do an authentic portrait study of the famed Apache leader Cochise.  Basing their premise on the book Blood Brother by Elliott Arnold, they chose Jeff Chandler to play the role of the great chief, and combined with Jimmy Stewart as the fabled Tom Jeffords, the movie Broken Arrow became an instant success.  Jeff Chandler would yet again portray Cochise in Taza, Son of Cochise and The Battle at Apache Pass, thus keeping a continuity aspect for the viewer, something totally unheard of for Hollywood at that time.  With the success of the movie version of Broken Arrow, it followed that the television version couldn’t be far behind.  In 1956, ABC launched what is now considered one of the legends in television Westerns history.

Michael Ansara played Cochise in the television version, and John Lupton was his blood brother Tom Jeffords.  The first episode, telecast 25 September 1956 and titled “The Mail Riders,” gave the background of the unique friendship which existed between these two extraordinary men.  Tom Jeffords had been commissioned by the Army to get the mail through Apache lands, but when his coaches were shot up and his drivers all ended up dead or wounded at the hands of the Apache, he decided to journey alone to Cochise to seek a solution.  This bravery so impressed Cochise that the two became blood brothers.  Cochise only agreed to a reservation way of life if Jeffords, whom he called Taglito in real life, would be the Indian agent.

The whole premise of the series was based upon the friendship and trust that existed between these two men.  It recounted the adventures of both men working together to achieve peace during the turbulent prejudices of the 1870’s Tucson area.  It ran for three seasons with a total of 72 episodes being filmed.  During the fourth season in 1960, it was telecast in reruns.

For the trivia buff, Nino Cochise was the grandson of Cochise.  He was the son of Taza and born in 1874.  When Cochise died in 1875, the Chiricahua Reservation was slowly dissolved, mostly because the white man had found copper and silver on the Apache lands and were greedy.  When the Cochise Apaches, as that band of the Chiricahuas were called, were ordered to San Carlos under Indian agent John Clum, Tom Jeffords resigned in disgust.  Fearing what would happen to his people at San Carlos, Taza journeyed to Washington to try and get his people back under the protection of Tom Jeffords.  He caught cold on the journey and died shortly after he arrived in Washington of pneumonia, but before he left Arizona, he had made arrangements for his wife and son to escape into Mexico.  When the Army came to forcibly move the Cochise Apaches to San Carlos, Nino Cochise and his mother were among the 40 families who managed to escape. They lived under the protection of Nino’s Uncle Juh of the Nedhi Apaches, until Juh’s death, at which time Nino’s notorious Uncle Geronimo sort of assumed responsibility for them.  But, Geronimo was still waging war on both sides of the border, and it made for some interesting lessons for young Nino.  When he was sixteen, Nino was elected chief.

Throughout Nino’s childhood, Tom Jeffords came to Juh’s Stronghold many times.  He taught Nino how to count and to read and was generally a “father figure” to Nino until the day Jeffords died.  He was one of the very few outsiders ever allowed inside the Stronghold by Geronimo.  When Jeffords led Teddy Roosevelt to the Stronghold to enlist the aid of Nino and his Apaches during the Spanish-American War in 1898, Nino refused, concerned that it wasn’t yet safe for him to cross back into American territory.  Nino never came into Arizona that he wasn’t in the company of Tom Jeffords, whom he loved and trusted completely.  It was well into the 1920’s before Nino felt it was safe enough to come to America to live.

To make a long story short, when David Dortort was looking for authenticity in his television western The High Chaparral in 1967, Nino Cochise asked for the part of Cochise, his fabled grandfather.  At that time, Nino was 92 years old, missing one leg, and needed to be helped into and out of the saddle, but he won the role.  There has never been a greater coup in film-making history before or since.

(Text and photos by Sandy Sturdivant)

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