Life of Cochise, Apache Warrior and Chief

Bronze bust of Cochise
Bronze bust of Cochise, sculpted by Betty Butts. Fort Bowie National Historic Site.

National Park Service / A. Cassidy 

Cochise (ca. 1810–June 8, 1874), perhaps the most powerful Chiricahua Apache chief in recorded times, was an influential player in the history of the U.S. southwest. His leadership came during a critical period in North American history, when shifting political relationships between Native American and European Americans resulted in a complete reconfiguration of the region.

Fast Facts: Cochise

  • Known For: Chiricahua Apache chief from 1861–1864
  • Born: ca. 1810 in southeastern Arizona or northwestern Sonora
  • Died: June 8, 1874 in the Dragoon Mountains, Arizona
  • Spouses' Names: Dos-teh-seh and a second wife, whose name is not known
  • Children's Names: Taza, Naiche, Dash-den-zhoos, and Naithlotonz

Early Years

Cochise was born around 1810, in either southeast Arizona or northwest Sonora, Mexico. He was destined for leadership: his father, most likely a man named Pisago Cabezón, was the head chief of the Chokonen band, one of four bands in the Apache tribe.

Cochise had at least two younger brothers, Juan and Coyuntura (or Kin-o-Tera), and one younger sister. As is traditional, Cochise received his name Goci as a young adult, which in the Apache language means "his nose." There are no known surviving photographs of Cochise, who was described as a striking-looking man with black hair to his shoulders, a high forehead, prominent cheekbones, and a large, handsome Roman nose. 

Cochise wrote no letters. His life was documented during a series of interviews conducted during the end of his life. The information from those interviews is somewhat contradictory, including the spelling of his name (variations include Chuchese, Chis, and Cucchisle).

Education

The Apaches of the 19th century followed a traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle, which they supplemented with raids when hunting and gathering alone could not feed their families. Raiding involved attacking ranches and ambushing travelers in order to steal their supplies. The raids were violent and often left victims wounded, tortured, or killed. Although there are no specific records about Cochise's education, anthropological studies and oral and written histories from the Apache community describe the learning processes for prospective warriors, which Cochise would have experienced.

Young boys in the Apache world were separated from young girls and began training in the use of the bow and arrow at the age of six or seven. They played games which emphasized speed and agility, physical strength and fitness, self-discipline and independence. At 14, Cochise likely began training as a warrior, starting as a novice (dikhoe) and practicing wrestling, bow and arrow contests, and foot races.

Young men played the role of "trainee" at their first four raids. During the first raid, they performed menial camp chores, such as making beds, cooking, and standing guard. After completing his fourth raid, Cochise would have been considered an adult.

Indian–White Relations 

At the time of Cochise's youth, the political climate of southeastern Arizona and northeastern Sonora was fairly quiet. The region was under the control of the Spanish, who had skirmished with the Apaches and other tribes in the region but settled on a policy that brought a kind of peace. The Spanish aimed to replace Apache raiding with the provision of rations from established Spanish outposts called presidios. 

This was a deliberately planned action on the part of the Spanish to disrupt and destroy the Apache social system. Rations were corn or wheat, meat, brown sugar, salt, and tobacco, as well as inferior guns, liquor, clothing and other items designed to make the Native Americans dependent on the Spanish. This did bring peace, which lasted nearly forty years, until near the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1821. The war seriously depleted the treasuries, rationing broke down slowly, and disappeared entirely when the Mexicans won the war. 

As a result, the Apaches resumed their raiding, and the Mexicans retaliated. By 1831, when Cochise was 21 years old, hostilities were so extensive that, unlike earlier times, nearly all of the Apache bands under Mexican influence participated in raiding and conflicts. 

Early Military Career

The first battle that Cochise probably participated in may have been the three-day battle from May 21–23, 1832, an armed conflict of Chiricahuas with Mexican troops near the Mogollon Mountains. Three hundred warriors led by Pisago Cabezón lost after the last eight-hour battle under 138 Mexican men led by Captain Jose Ignacio Ronquillo. The following years were punctuated by a number of treaties signed and broken; raidings halted and resumed. 

In 1835, Mexico put a bounty on Apache scalps and hired mercenaries to massacre them. John Johnson was one of those mercenaries, an Anglo living in Sonora. He was granted permission to track down "hostiles" and on April 22, 1837, he and his men ambushed and massacred 20 Apaches and wounded many more during a trading deal. Cochise was not likely present, but he and other Apaches sought revenge. 

Marriage and Family 

In the late 1830s, Cochise married Dos-teh-seh ("something at the campfire already cooked"). She was the daughter of Mangas Coloradas, who led the Chihenne Apache band. Cochise and Dos-teh-seh had at least two sons—Taza, born 1842, and Naiche, born 1856. His second wife, who was from the Chokonen band but whose name is not known, bore him two daughters in the early 1860s: Dash-den-zhoos and Naithlotonz. 

Naiche, Hereditary Leader of Chiricahua Apaches
Cochise's son Naiche, Hereditary Leader of the Chiricahua Apaches, taken by Adolph F. Muhr about 1898.  Library of Congress

According to Apache custom, men lived with their wives after they married. Cochise most likely lived with the Chihenne for six to eight months. However, he had become an important leader in his father's band, so he soon returned to Chokonen. 

A (Temporarily) Settled Peace

In early 1842, Cochise's father — Pisago Cabezón, leader of the Chokonen — was ready to sign an armistice with the Mexicans. Cochise's father-in-law — Mangas Coloradas, leader of the Chihinne — disagreed. A treaty was signed on July 4, 1842, with the Apaches promising to cease all hostilities, and the Mexican government agreeing to feed them rations.

Cochise drew rations with his wife in October, and Mangas, seeing that the Chokonen treaty would hold, decided to negotiate a similar treaty for his own band. In late 1842, that armistice was also signed. 

This settled peace would not last long. In May of 1843, Mexican troops at Fronteras murdered six Chokonen men for no apparent reason. In late May, seven more Chiricahua men were murdered at the Presidio in Fronteras. In retaliation, Mangas and Pisago attacked Fronteras, killing two citizens and wounding another. 

Deteriorating Conditions

By 1844, conditions among the Apache bands in the region had deteriorated sharply. Smallpox arrived in the fall, and the supply of rations for the communities had sharply decreased. Mangas Coloradas and Pisago Cabezón returned to the mountains by February 1845, and from there they conducted several raids on Sonora. Cochise would have participated in these raids. 

In 1846, James Kirker, a mercenary sanctioned by the Mexican government, set out to kill as many Apaches as possible. On July 7, under the protection of a treaty, he hosted a feast at Galeana (in what is now Chihuahua state in Mexico) for 130 Chiricahuas, and then had them beaten to death in the morning. It was an ill-chosen moment, because in April of that year, fighting had broken out between the U.S. and Mexico, and Congress declared war on Mexico in May. The Apaches had a new and dangerous source of support, but they were rightly wary of the Americans. 

In December of 1847, a war party of Apaches attacked the village of Cuquiarachi in Sonora and killed a longtime adversary, seven other men and six women, and captured six children. The following February, a large party attacked another town called Chinapa, killing 12 men, wounding six and capturing 42, mostly women and children. 

Cochise Captured

Throughout the summer of 1848, the Chokonen band carried on a siege of the fort at Fronteras. On June 21, 1848, Cochise and his Chokonen chief Miguel Narbona led an assault on Fronteras, Sonora, but the attack went awry. Narbona's horse was killed by cannon fire, and Cochise was captured. He remained a prisoner for about six weeks, and his release was only obtained by the exchange of 11 Mexican prisoners. 

Apache Pass, Arizona
Apache Pass, Arizona, as viewed from Fort Bowie facing north.  Mark A. Wilson

In the mid-1850s, Miguel Narbona died and Cochise became the principal chief of the band. In the late 1850s, United States citizens arrived in his country, first settling at Apache Pass, a station on the Butterfield Overland Mail Company route. For a few years, the Apaches maintained a tenuous peace with the Americans, who now provided sorely needed rations to them. 

Bascom Affair, or "Cut the Tent"

In early February 1861, U.S. Lieutenant George Bascom met Cochise at Apache Pass and accused him of capturing a boy who had in fact been taken by other Apaches. Bascom invited Cochise into his tent and told him he would hold him as a prisoner until the boy was returned. Cochise pulled out his knife, cut through the tent, and escaped into the nearby hills. 

In retaliation, Bascom's troops captured five members of Cochise's family, and four days later Cochise attacked, killing several Mexicans and capturing four Americans whom he offered in exchange for his relatives. Bascom refused, and Cochise tortured his prisoners to death, leaving their bodies to be found. Bascom retaliated by hanging Cochise's brother Coyuntura and two nephews. This event is known in Apache history as "Cut the Tent."

The Cochise Wars (1861–1872)

Cochise became the dominant Chiricahua Apache chief, replacing the aging Mangas Coloradas. Cochise's rage at the loss of his family members led to a bloody cycle of revenge and retaliation between the Americans and Apaches for the next 12 years, known as the Cochise Wars. For the first half of the 1860s, the Apaches maintained strongholds in the Dragoon mountains, moving back and forth attacking ranchers and travelers alike, and keeping control of southeastern Arizona. But after the U.S. Civil War ended, a massive influx of U.S. soldiers put the Apaches on the defensive.  

By the late 1860s, the war continued sporadically. The worst event was an ambush and massacre by the Apaches of the Stone party in October of 1869. It was likely in 1870, when Cochise first met Thomas Jeffords ("Red Beard"), a stage driver for the Butterfield Overland Stage. Jeffords, who would become Cochise's closest white friend, played a significant role in bringing peace to the American southwest. 

Making Peace

On October 1, 1872, true peace efforts were established at a meeting between Cochise and Brigadier General Oliver Otis Howard, facilitated by Jeffords. Treaty negotiations included a cessation of hostilities including raiding between the U.S. and Apaches, the safe passage of his warriors to their homes, and the creation of a short-lived Chiricahua Apache reservation, located initially in the Sulphur Spring Valley of Arizona. It was an agreement not on paper, but between two highly principled men who trusted one another. 

Union Army General Otis Howard (1830–1909)
The brigadier general Otis Howard made a lasting peace agreement with Cochise on October 1, 1872.  Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The agreement did not include cessation of raiding in Mexico, however. American troops at Fort Bowie were prohibited from interfering with the Chokonens' activities in Arizona. The Chokonens kept the terms of the treaty for three and a half years, but continued conducting raids in Sonora until the fall of 1873.

Quotes 

After the "Cut the Tent" affair, Cochise is reported to have said:

"I was at peace with the whites, until they tried to kill me for what other Indians did; I now live and die at war with them." 

In a conversation with his friend Thomas Jeffords, then the agent for the Chiricahua reservation, Cochise said:

"A man should never lie... if a man asks you or I a question we do not wish to answer, we could simply say 'I don't want to talk about that.'"

Death and Burial

Cochise became ill in 1871, probably suffering from abdominal cancer. He met with Tom Jeffords for the last time on June 7. In that final meeting Cochise asked that control of his band be passed on to his son Taza. He wanted the tribe to live in peace and hoped that Taza would continue to rely on Jeffords. (Taza went on to keep his commitments, but eventually, the U.S. authorities broke Howard's covenant with Cochise, relocating Taza's band out of their homes and into Western Apache country.)

Cochise died at the Eastern Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains on June 8, 1874.

Cochise's Eastern Stronghold, Dragoon Mountains, Southeastern Arizona.
The Eastern Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Mark A. Wilson 

After his death, Cochise was washed and painted in war style, and his family buried him in a grave wrapped in blankets with his name woven into them. The sides of the grave were walled up about three feet high with stone; his rifle, arms and other articles of value were laid beside him. To give him transportation in the afterlife, Cochise's favorite horse was shot within 200 yards, another killed about one mile away, and a third two miles away. In his honor, his family destroyed all the clothing and food stores they had and fasted for 48 hours.

Legacy 

Cochise is known for his significant role in Indian-White relations. He lived and prospered by war, but died in peace: a man of great integrity and principle and a worthy leader of the Apache people as they experienced massive social change and upheaval. He is remembered as a fierce warrior as well as a leader of sound judgment and diplomacy. Eventually, he was willing to negotiate and find peace despite suffering the great loss of his family, tribe members, and way of living.

Sources

  • Seymour, Deni J., and George Robertson. "A Pledge of Peace: Evidence of the Cochise-Howard Treaty Campsite." Historical Archaeology 42.4 (2008): 154–79. Print.
  • Sweeney, Edwin R. Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief. The Civilization of the American Indian Series. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991. Print.
  • —-, ed. Cochise: Firsthand Accounts of the Chiricahua Apache Chief. 2014. Print.
  • —-. Making Peace with Cochise: The 1872 Journal of Captain Joseph Alton Sladen. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997. Print.