Tag Archives: John Ward

Cochise’s war

Written April 8, 2016


The Apache Wars are well-known as the context behind Geronimo’s fame, and are often thought of as a continuous series of battles between Apaches and the United States. This is not wholly incorrect, but it presents an incomplete understanding of the events. In fact, the Apaches Wars might be more accurately thought of as two distinct wars, separated by a brittle two-year peace. The second – the one which made Geronimo famous in Anglo-American culture – spanned the decade between 1876 and 1886. The first, from 1861 to 1872, was Cochise’s War.

Cochise was born sometime between 1800 and 1810,[1] to the Chokonen, one of four bands of Chiricahua Apaches.[2] That was a time of relative peace; the Spanish had ended their war of extermination against the Apaches, and made peace by offering rations in exchange for an end to the Apache practice of raiding.[3] The Chokonen, like other Apaches, returned to raiding for sustenance when the Spanish hold over the region – and their rationing system with it – began to fail. Typically, Chokonen and other Apaches would raid in Sonora and Chihuahua, then return to their homes farther north, where there was nobody to raid from,[4] in what would become Arizona and New Mexico.[5]

After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, the new government abandoned the rationing system, leading to a sharp increase in raids by Apaches.[6] This change happened at approximately the same time Cochise reached adulthood and began participating in raids.[7] The increased raids were a nuisance to the young Mexican government; profitable mining settlements, like Santa Rita del Cobre, were vacated due to the lack of security.[8] In September 1835, the Mexican government in Sonora and Chihuahua began offering money in exchange for Apache scalps.[9] The resulting scalp-hunters served primarily to increase the animosity between Apaches and Mexicans. Apaches, previously unfamiliar with the practice of scalping, saw the act as a desecration of the dead, and began copying the practice as an act of retaliation.[10] Mexico’s scalps-for-money policy inflamed the violence in the region, which continued through the two and a half decades that Mexico controlled the area, despite occasional attempts at peace. In August of 1846, just months after the border dispute that started the Mexican-American War,[11] one event cemented Apache hatred for Mexicans: the massacre of 130 Chiricahua Apaches, including Cochise’s parents, by a scalp hunter.[12]

When the United States Army came to Apacheria early in the Mexican-American War, Chiricahua Apaches greeted them with offers of an alliance against their common enemies.[13] General Stephen Kearny was in charge of the invading force, and, upon entering Apacheria, he met with Mangas Coloradas, a well-connected chief of the Bedonkohe Chiricahua Apache.[14] Mangas Coloradas’ offer of friendship was not taken seriously by Kearny or the US government, and through the combination of racism and political expediency, Apaches were targeted by the rhetoric of the invading force. In his campaign across the Southwest, Kearny told Mexican inhabitants they would be protected from “Indian raiding”[15] – mostly Apaches – by his government. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, included Article Eleven, which “enjoined the United States to protect Mexican borders against marauding Indians, which meant, mainly, Apaches, … to repatriate any captured Mexicans whom U.S. troops or officials might recapture, and to make it illegal for an American citizen to buy from the Indians any stolen Mexican property of any kind.”[16] The Chiricahua Apaches’ home, though, was still south of the American-Mexican border, and would remain so until 1854, when the Gasden Purchase placed the border in its modern location. Thus the U.S. Army was positioned to attempt to control the Apaches’ movements, even before the Chiricahua’s lands came into U.S. jurisdiction.[17]

Up until the mid-1850s, the Apaches’ territory had been largely untroubled by Anglo settlements. According to historian Eric Meeks, “When the region that would become Arizona was acquired by the United States, most of its territory remained under indigenous control. After decades of neglect by the newly independent nation of Mexico and renewed raids and resistance from the Apaches, only about one thousand Mexicans remained in the area.”[18] Cochise had grown up in a time when his people were undisputedly in control of their land, but following the Gasden Purchase, miners flooded the area.[19]

The influx of Anglos was a mixed blessing for the Chiricahua Apaches, including Cochise’s band. While the miners provided an eager outlet for the Apaches’ stolen goods, their settlements encroached on Apache lands and represented the threat of the United States’ westward expansion. The Chiricahua Apaches continued to focus their raiding in Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, but raids provided a means of discouraging Anglo settlements north of the new border, too. By 1860, Cochise had earned a reputation in the region as a formidable Apache chief. When the Butterfield Overland Mail Company wanted to establish a route through Chokonen territory, Indian Agent Michael Steck sought out Cochise for an agreement to allow it.[20]

It’s no wonder, then, that Cochise’s name was the first on the settler John Ward’s lips when his son was kidnapped by Apaches. Cochise’s reputation made it understandable, if not reasonable, for the settler to believe that Cochise’s band was to blame. John Ward was a rancher who had settled in the Sonoita Valley, about twelve miles from Fort Buchanan. In January 1861, his ranch was raided by Coyotero Apaches.[21] The Coyoteros were a separate tribe from the Chiricahua, but although they lived north and west of Sonoita Valley,[22] their withdrawing tracks led eastward, toward the more infamous Cochise’s Chokonen territory. Ward reported the kidnapping to the garrison at Fort Buchanan, where Post Commander Lieutenant Colonel Morrison put the untried Second Lieutenant George Bascom in charge of recovering the boy. This was Bascom’s first command. He took fifty-four soldiers and John Ward with him to Apache Pass, where he hoped to intercept Cochise’s band. It’s worth noting that Bascom did not take with him anyone who could track the raiders. While he may have initially followed the tracks eastward, he persisted toward Apache Pass past the end of the visible trail.[23] Later, Bascom’s contemporaries and critics would remark on the “treachery”[24] that started the war; they would not be referring to Cochise.

Bascom took his soldiers to the Apache Pass Butterfield Overland Mail station, where he employed two local women, and then a Butterfield employee, to send invitations to Cochise. He indicated that his company was just passing through on their way to El Paso, and they wanted to simply meet with Cochise. When Cochise came to meet with Lieutenant Bascom, he was accompanied by women and children and clearly not expecting a fight. Bascom welcomed Cochise into his tent to talk, then accosted Cochise with the accusation of kidnapping. Cochise denied having taken the child but offered to help locate the band who had. The young lieutenant, perhaps thinking to show no weakness, escalated the situation by condemning Cochise’s assertions and attempting to take Cochise and his family members hostage until the Ward boy was returned. Cochise is famously said to have cut his way out of that tent with his knife and run for his life under a volley of bullets.

Cochise escaped that day, but his family members did not; thus ended the ‘Bascom Affair,’ and began the Apache Wars. That was February 1861. By March 1861, the Butterfield Overland Mail station at Apache Pass was abandoned.[25] In April 1861, the Army was called back east. It must have appeared to Cochise and the Chiricahuas as though they had won. But the Butterfield line was abandoned because Congress had decided it was untenable financially, and the Army was not retreating, but shifting to a more pressing matter, the Civil War. Only a year later, a Union Army unit returned to the Chiricahua’s territory, defeated Cochise’s band, and built Fort Bowie at Apache Pass. “There followed ten-plus years of war between the white settlers and the army on one side and the Chiricahuas on the other.”[26]

Captain Joseph Alton Sladen accompanied General Howard, who signed the 1872 treaty with Cochise and effectively ended Cochise’s War.[27] Captain Sladen kept notes of the peace talk proceedings, including his journey to find Cochise and his stay with the band, which lasted a few weeks. From Sladen’s notes, we learn that both General Howard and Cochise were prepared to go to some risk to achieve peace. The warrior and the soldier had had enough. In order to negotiate with Cochise, General Howard, a one-armed veteran of the Civil War,[28] had to leave the safety of his army and travel a significant distance with only his aide-de-camp (Captain Sladen), a guide named Jeffords who was already well known to Cochise, and two members of the Chiricahua tribe, Ponce and Chie.[29] The small group – particularly the two soldiers – were completely at Cochise’s mercy, as they were relatively alone and unarmed in the heart of Chiricahua territory. Sladen, concerned for their safety, asked General Howard why he put himself at such risk, putting himself at Cochise’s mercy as he did. Howard replied, “I can never see him [Cochise], unless I go where he is, and it is the only change to stop these murders and outrages, and I must take the chance.”[30]

The US Army had been fighting Cochise for over a decade and had made no real gains; they could not flush Cochise from his home with the resources they had, so their only hope was to make peace. It was a surrender of the United States Army and a victory for Cochise and his warriors. When the two soldiers finally met Cochise and stated their purpose – to negotiate peace – Cochise replied, “Nobody wants peace more than I do.”[31] General Howard, encouraged by this opening, pursued negotiations to move the Chiricahua tribe to a reservation in New Mexico. Cochise refused to move, saying instead that he would “protect the road to Tucson” in exchange for remaining in Apaches Pass in peace.[32] Eventually, General Howard backed down and agreed to Cochise’s terms.

The Apache War appeared to be over. Cochise’s War, as it turned out, certainly was over. The peace agreed to by Cochise and General Howard lasted until after Cochise’s death in 1874, only two years after their agreement. The peace brokered by these two men was brittle and eventually proved unequal to the economic and political forces that pushed the United States ever westward. Yet, Cochise can rightly be remembered as “arguably the only Native American leader to actually win his war with the United States of America.”[33]





Aleshire, Peter. Cochise: The Life and Times of the Great Apache Chief. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2005.

Blythe, Lance R. Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwest Borderlands, 1680-1880. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012.

DeJong, David H. “’Advantageous to the Indians?’ The Overland Mail Routes and the Establishment of the Pima Indian Reservation, 1852-1860.” Journal of the West 45, no. 3 (Summer 2006): 17-33.

Dobyns, Henry F. Spanish Colonial Tucson: A Demographic History. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1976.

Lamar, Howard R. The Far Southwest 1846-1912: A Territorial History. Revised edition. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.

Meeks, Eric V. Border Citizens: The Making of Indians, Mexicans, and Anglos in Arizona. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2007.

Mort, Terry. The Wrath of Cochise: The Bascom Affair and the Origins of the Apache Wars. New York: Pegasus Books, 2013.

Sheridan, Thomas E. Arizona: A History. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2012.

Sladen, Joseph Alton. Making Peace with Cochise, Chief of Chiricaua Indians: 1872. Compiled by J. A. Cranston. Vancouver Barracks, WA, 1896.



[1] Peter Aleshire, Cochise: The Life and Times of the Great Apache Chief (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2005), ix.

[2] Aleshire, Cochise, 13.

[3] Henry F. Dobyns, Spanish Colonial Tucson: A Demographic History (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1976), 98.

[4] Thomas E. Sheridan, Arizona: A History (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2012), 64 & 69.

[5] Aleshire, Cochise, 39.

[6] Lance R. Blythe, Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwest Borderlands, 1680-1880 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 116.

[7] Aleshire, Cochise, 38. Indeed, Cochise would have been between 11 and 21 years old in 1821, and Chiricahua Apache boys began participating in raids at age 15, as a rite of passage into manhood; Terry Mort, The Wrath of Cochise: The Bascom Affair and the Origins of the Apache Wars (New York: Pegasus Books, 2013), 99.

[8] Sheridan, Arizona, 20.

[9] Aleshire, Cochise, 46.

[10] Ibid., 46.

[11] Sheridan, Arizona, 18.

[12] Aleshire, Cochise, 62; Sheridan, Arizona, 67-68.

[13] Sheridan, Arizona, 68.

[14] Mangas Coloradas was a strong strategist and politician; historian Thomas Sheridan notes that, “Like a European monarch, Mangas Coloradas wove a web of marital alliances from northern Arizona to Chihuahua” (67). One of these alliances was with the Chokonen Chiricahua Apaches, through the marriage of one of Mangas Coloradas’ daughters to Cochise, who would later become the Chokonen chief. Ibid., 67-68.

[15] Ibid., 20.

[16] Sheridan, Arizona, 25.

[17] The Gasden Purchase also nullified Article Eleven of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which had proven unenforceable. Mort, Wrath of Cochise, 54.

[18] Eric V. Meeks, Border Citizens: The Making of Indians, Mexicans, and Anglos in Arizona (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2007), 18.

[19] Mort, Wrath of Cochise, 55.

[20] The agreement between Steck and Cochise is mentioned by Howard R. Lamar, in The Far Southwest, 381. Lamar seems to imply that there was an official agreement; Howard R. Lamar, The Far Southwest, 1846-1912: A Territorial History, Revised edition (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2000): 381. Further detail on this agreement is discussed by Terry Mort, in Wrath of Cochise, who asserts that the agreement was “probably tacit;” Mort, Wrath of Cochise, 10-12.

[21] Mort 2013, 229.

[22] Ibid., 33.

[23] Ibid., 230-235.

[24] Captain Sladen, a contemporary of Bascom, wrote an account of the peace talks between General Howard and Cochise which would happen in 1872; in his account, he repeatedly refers to Bascom’s “treachery” and “treacherous behavior,” clearly indicating a distaste for the young officer’s miscalculations; Joseph Alton Sladen, Making Peace with Cochise, Chief of Chiricaua Indians: 1872, compiled by J.A. Cranston (Vancouver Barracks, WA, 1896). Mort also discusses the common view by historians of Bascom as a bit – or more – of a fool; Mort, Wrath of Cochise, 9.

[25] David H. DeJong, “’Advantageous to the Indians?’ The Overland Mail Routes and the Establishment of the Pima Indian Reservation, 1852-1860,” Journal of the West 45, no. 3 (Summer 2006), 21.

[26] Mort, Wrath of Cochise, 292.

[27] Sladen, Making Peace, 1.

[28] Mort, Wrath of Cochise, 292.

[29] The edition of Captain Sladen’s account used in the research for this essay is a facsimile of the 1896 printing, which is illegible in select areas; the word “Chie” was consistently marred, and may be a misspelling. The name could also have been Ohio, Chio, or Ohie; Sladen, Making Peace, 5.

[30] Ibid., 21.

[31] Sladen, Making Peace, 28; this is a translation. Sladen notes that Cochise could speak Spanish, but was perhaps uncomfortable with his fluency. Cochise would speak Apache to his interpreter, who would then repeat the chief’s words in Spanish. Cochise would make any corrections to the Spanish translation, then the interpreter would translate that into English.

[32] Ibid., 29; “Pass” is the most likely word that Sladen used in his quotation of Cochise. The account reads “’Give me,’ said he [Cochise], ‘Apache [illegible – four letters] for my people and I will protect the road to Tucson.’” The conventional name for the area in question is Apache Pass.

[33] Aleshire, Cochise, ix.