Friday, June 8, 2012


Naiche (or Wei-chi-ti), son of Cochise, with wife. c1884
Cochise (or "Cheis") was one of the most famous Apache leaders (along with Geronimo and Mangas Coloradas) to resist intrusions by Americans during the 19th century. He was described as a large man (for the time), with a muscular frame, classical features, and long black hair which he wore in traditional Apache style. He was about 1.78 m (5'10") tall and weighed about 175 lbs. In his own language, his name "Cheis" meant "having the quality or strength of oak."
Cochise and the Chokonen-Chiricahua lived in the area that is now the northern Mexican region of Sonora, New Mexico, and Arizona, which they had moved into sometime before the coming of the Europeans. As Spain and later Mexico attempted to gain dominion over their lands, the various Chiricahua groups became increasingly resistant. Cycles of warfare developed, which the Apaches mostly won. Eventually, the Spanish tried a different approach; they tried to make the Apaches dependent (thereby placating them) upon poor-quality firearms and liquor rations issued by the colonial government (this was called the "Galvez Peace Policy"). After Mexico wrested control of the territory from Spain, and didn't have the resources (and/or possibly the will) to continue it, the practice was ended. It had worked for quite a number of years, but the various Chiricahua bands resumed traditional raiding to acquire what they needed after the Mexicans no longer made provisions for them (in the 1830s).
As a result, the Mexican government began a series of military operations in order to either capture or neutralize the Chiricahuas, but they were fought to a standstill by the Apaches. As part of their attempts at controlling the Chiricahuas, Mexican forces began to kill Apache civilians. Oftentimes this would be accomplished with the help of American and Native American mercenaries, and paying bounties for scalps was not uncommon. Cochise's father was one of these victims. This hardened Cochise's resolve and gave the Chiricahuas Apaches more rationale for vengeance. Mexican forces did capture Cochise at one point in 1848 during an Apache raid on Fronteras, Sonora, but they exchanged him for nearly a dozen Mexican prisoners.
At Apache Pass in 1862, Cochise and Mangas Coloradas, with around 500 fighters, held their ground against a New Mexico-bound force of California volunteers under General James Henry Carleton until caisson-mounted howitzer artillery fire was brought to bear on their positions in the rocks above.
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." Geronimo later recalled in his autobiography that his people were winning the fight until "you fired your wagons at us." The Battle of Apache Pass was one of the rare pitched battles the Apaches fought against the United States Army. Normally, the Apaches' tactics involved "guerrilla-style" warfare. Capt. Thomas Roberts was persuaded by the engagement that it would be best to find a route around Apache Pass, which he did. Gen. Carleton thus continued unhindered to New Mexico and subsequently took over as commander of the territory.
In January 1863 Gen. Joseph Rodman West, under orders from Gen. 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 murdered him. This was just one more in 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 and killing Mangas Coloradas during a parley session. Cochise and the Apaches 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 but were nevertheless able to use the mountains for cover and as a base from which to continue attacks against the white settlements. Cochise managed to evade capture and continued his raids against white settlements and travelers until 1872. A treaty was finally negotiated by General Oliver O. Howard with the help of Tom Jeffords, who was Cochise's only white friend. After making peace, Cochise retired to his new reservation, with his friend Jeffords as agent, where he died of natural causes (probably abdominal cancer) in 1874. He was buried in the rocks above one of his favorite camps in Arizona's Dragoon Mountains, now called Cochise Stronghold. Only his people and Tom Jeffords knew the exact location of his resting place, and they took the secret to their graves.

“I commenced dragging on the corn ground this morning.  We worked with two teams after about half past ten and we got it twice over and about an acre the third time.  Looks rainy tonight.  Has been a pleasant day though.”

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