Cochise

Cochise (1815-1874) Chief of the Chiricahua Apache was arrested and accused of kidnapping a rancher’s son in 1861, igniting conflict between his people and the U.S. government.  Over the following decade, Cochise conducted more raids and fought with U.S. soldiers, eluding capture by retreating into the Dragoon Mountains.  He accepted the government’s offer to move the Chiricahuas to large reservation in southeastern Arizona when he realized it was fruitless to continue resisting the western movement of the whites along the Overland Trail.  He dictated his terms of surrender to the US Army, which included establishing a reservation in Chiricahua territory in Arizona.

Cochise resented the encroachment of Mexican and American settlers on their traditional lands, so he led numerous raids on the settlers living on both sides of the border, and Mexicans and Americans alike began to call for military protection and retribution.  The real trouble started after a farm boy was abducted and the US army thought that Cochise was behind the attack.  A band of Apache attacked the ranch of an Irish-American named John Ward and kidnapped his adopted son, Felix Tellez.  Although Ward had been away at the time of the raid, he believed that Cochise had been the leader of the raiding Apache.  Ward demanded that the U.S. Army rescue the kidnapped boy and bring Cochise to justice.  The military obliged by dispatching a force under the command of Lieutenant George Bascom.  Cochise heard that the army wanted to talk with him about the boy’s disappearance, so he came forward under a flag of truce when summoned, so he could declare his innocence.  The army chose not to believe Cochise, so they placed him under arrest, but he escaped using his knife to cut a hole in the tent where he was held and then he lost all trust in the white man.

For many years the Chiricahuas lived at peace with the white settlers that stopped at Apache Pass, as this spring was the only place in the area where drinking water could be found for travelers in southern Arizona harsh desert landscape.  Following this false imprisonment, Cochise and his small band of fierce Apache warriors resisted government efforts to settle their lands and retaliated against the army for more than 10 years.  Cochise let nothing go through Apache Pass and the army knew little about finding water in such a dry climate, so the soldiers often faced long periods without water.  Cochise and his warriors increased their raids on American settlements and fought occasional skirmishes with soldiers.  Panicked settlers abandoned their homes, and the Apache raids took hundreds of lives and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damages.

By 1872, the US government was anxious for peace, and they offered Cochise and his people a huge reservation in the southeastern corner of Arizona Territory, if they would cease hostilities.  Cochise agreed, saying, “The white man and the Indian are to drink of the same water, eat of the same bread, and be at peace.”   The great chief did not have the privilege of enjoying his hard-won peace for long.  In 1874, he became seriously ill, and died.  That night his warriors painted his body yellow, black, and vermilion, and took him deep into the Dragoon Mountains.  They lowered his body and weapons into a rocky crevice, the exact location of which remains unknown.  Today that section of the Dragoon Mountains is known as Cochise’s Stronghold.  About a decade after Cochise died, Felix Tellez, the boy whose kidnapping had started the war, resurfaced as an Apache-speaking scout for the U.S. Army.  He reported that a group of Western Apache, not Cochise, had kidnapped him.

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