Native History: Apache Chief and ‘Crusader for Peace’ Cochise Walks On
This Date in Native History: On June 8, 1874, the great Apache Chief Cochise died in southeastern Arizona after fighting U.S. troops for 12 years and establishing the Chiricahua reservation.
Born in about 1810, Cochise in his prime was described as being five feet, 10 inches tall and 175 pounds with shoulder-length, jet-black hair. Although he was physically formidable, Cochise had a quiet, meditative personality, said Edwin Sweeney, a historian and author of several books about the Apache.
“People who knew him described him as physically well put together with a powerful build,” Sweeney said. “Personality-wise, he was a reticent man, a little provincial. He was very reserved, though he would become energetic when discussing the wrongs against the Apache.”
Cochise was chief of the Chiricahua Apache, one of four bands of Apache living in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. Cochise fought the Mexicans, but he was generally friendly toward the Americans, Sweeney said. All of that changed in January 1861 when two parties of Apaches raided a white man’s ranch and kidnapped a 12-year-old boy.
Although his band was not involved in the raid, Cochise was blamed for the kidnapping and the U.S. Army sought him for questioning. When Cochise, his wife, two children, a brother and two nephews arrived at the camp of Lieutenant George Bascom, he was immediately arrested and the whole family held captive.
Cochise pulled out a knife and escaped by cutting through the tent, Sweeney said, but he left his family behind. He then captured four Americans and offered to trade them for his family. Bascom refused, saying he would only release Cochise’s family when the 12-year-old boy was returned.
Unable to do so, Cochise’s people tortured and killed their American hostages. In response, the U.S. Army hanged Cochise’s brother and his two nephews, an action that resulted in 12 years of war between the Apaches and the U.S.
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