Published on December 11, 2011 by Amy
Birthdate unknown – 1874
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Drive south down Highway 666 through the farmlands of Arizona and watch as the Dragoon Mountains rise in a prime example of “purple mountains majesty.” It was among the canyons and rises of these mountains that Cochise, leader of a band of Chiricahua Apache, and his people were able to elude the countless government forces sent to corral them. The area became known as the Cochise Stronghold, and still bears that name today and while the land once sheltered the Chiricahua it still shelters Cochise as the site of his tomb.
The Apache were known as fierce warriors, resistant to government efforts to settle their lands and place them on a reservation. The few thousand whites in the area felt threatened and routinely responded to encountering an Apache village with violence. Retaliation by the Apache always followed close behind any white act. Cochise was no exception, however he also was no fool. He realized it was fruitless to continue to resist the western movement of the whites along the Overland Trail, and actually entered into an “agreement” with the staff of the Butterfield Stage Line. It was “understood” that Cochise could raid or attack anything he chose south of the Mexican border to secure what he needed but would leave the stage line alone.
This situation fell apart in 1860, when a band of Pinal Indians raided the area and abducted a young boy. Despite the arguments of the stage line personnel, a young army officer sent to retrieve the child was convinced it was Cochise and the Apache behind the attack. Hearing this, Cochise came forward under a flag of truce when summoned by the army to declare his innocence. The army chose not to believe him and tried to place him under arrest. Cochise pulled his knife, slashed the wall of the tent in which the meeting was being held and escaped into the brush. The six men who had accompanied him, including three relatives, were held and then hanged.
This act erased any sense of fairness in Cochise’s mind and negated the arrangement he had made with the stage line. Reports list 150 white travelers along the Overland Trail killed within the 60 days following the attempted arrest of Cochise and murder of the six Chiricahua men. For more than 10 years Cochise and his small band staved off the army waging war throughout southern Arizona, an area that became the most dangerous corner of the entire country. Tucson, the largest white settlement in the area, was virtually cut off during portions of this was, as Cochise let nothing go through Apache Pass.
After a decade of struggle, both sides were weary. In 1872 Tom Jeffords, owner of a small stage line through the area, a trusted friend of Cochise and the only white man with access to him arranged for Cochise to surrender to General O.O. Howard. Jeffords knew Cochise would respect Howard, as he had been head of the Freedman’s Bureau, the agency responsible for assisting freed black slaves. (Howard University is named for the general.) Cochise was literally able to dictate his own terms of surrender, one of which was that Jeffords be named Indian agent.
The remote White Mountains had been chose as the Apache reservation because they were distant from white settlements and transportation routes but still held decent grazing lands for Apache herders. Cochise refused to settle there however, remaining at Camp Bowie. By the time he surrendered he was in his 50s and had been at war constantly for 12 years. He became ill and died just two years later, in 1874. His body remained in the Stronghold. Chiricahua warriors rode their horses back and forth across the burial site until no evidence of its location would remain. It was always believed that Jeffords knew, but he never told, perhaps eliminating the belief Jeffords was a friend of Cochise because he supplied the Apache with weapons and fortifying the belief that their friendship existed because Cochise considered Jeffords an honorable man.