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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cochise in fact and fiction

A great leader
If you take Highway 10 south east from Phoenix, you pass near the town of Chandler, AZ and, after Tucson, turn east heading towards Las Cruces. But before crossing the Arizona/New Mexico state line, you drive through Apache Pass. It’s quite impressive and it makes you think of Cochise.
Who was Cochise?

Cachise, Cheis, or A-da-tli-chi, in Apache K'uu-ch'ish, usually known as Cochise, was born somewhere in the Chiricahua lands in about 1805. He became principal chief or nantan of the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua Apache and the leader of an uprising that began in 1861. His name ranks with those of Mangas Coloradas and Geronimo as one of the greatest leaders of the Apache people.
A bronze bust of Cochise by Betty Butts in Fort Bowie
He was an unusually tall and large-framed man for his time and people, standing at 5’10” (1.78m) and weighing maybe 175 lbs. His name means oak tree. We have no certain photographic likeness of him, so have to imagine what he looked like.

The Mexicans try to exterminate the Apache peoples

As Spain, then Mexico tried to wipe out the Apache peoples, the various groups resisted more. A series of Mexican government campaigns against them were fought to a standstill. As Mexican forces, often aided by Americans and members of non-Apache Native American tribes, killed Apache women and children, putting a bounty on Apache scalps (Cochise’s father was one victim), Apaches made bloody retaliatory raids on settlers and travelers. It was a brutal time. Mexican forces captured Cochise in Sonora in 1848 but released him in return for Mexican captives.

The United States does no better

When a large part of the area was taken by the United States, there was a period of relative peace in the 1850s. But the peace came to a bloody end after the Bascom Affair in 1861.
 George N Bascom

George N Bascom (1837 – 1862) graduated (just) from West Point in 1858 and was stationed at Fort Buchanan in Arizona Territory as 2nd Lt. of the US 7th Infantry. In 1862, as a captain, he was killed at the Civil War battle of Val Verde but not before he had sparked an Indian war by his disastrous incompetence in January 1861.

When Indians raided the ranch of John Ward and carried off livestock and Ward's stepson Felix, Lt. Bascom was ordered to recover the boy. Bascom was wrongly convinced that the Chiricahua Apaches had carried out the attack and met for a parley with chief Cochise in Apache Pass in early February. Bascom did not honor the terms of the parley and ordered the arrest of Cochise who, however, escaped by cutting the tent with his knife. Nevertheless, Bascom held some of Cochise’s supporters as hostages, including his brother Coyuntwa and two nephews. On February 5, Cochise and his band attacked some Americans and took three hostages, whom he offered in exchange for the Apache prisoners. Bascom refused and on February 7 Cochise attacked the camp. After the inconclusive fight both sides killed their captives. It was the start of over a decade of relentless war.


Cochise joined with his father-in-law, Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves, Kan-da-zis Tlishishen), the powerful Chihenne-Chiricahua chief, in a long series of skirmishes, including the battle of Dragoon Springs in May 1862 near present-day Benson, AZ., when Cochise attacked a Confederate force.
The region concerned
The Apaches were generally very successful, partly because the US forces were increasingly occupied with the Civil War and partly because the Apaches were such superb guerrilla fighters and knew the terrain intimately.
The Battle of Apache Pass

The Battle of Apache Pass was one of the rare pitched battles the Apaches fought against the United States Army. Cochise and Mangas Coloradas, with around 500 men, held their ground against a force of California volunteers under General James Henry Carleton until howitzer artillery fire was brought to bear on the Apache positions in the rocks above, when they withdrew.
Mangas Coloradas

In January 1863 General Joseph R. West, under orders from Carleton, captured Mangas Coloradas by tricking him into a conference under a flag of truce. During what was to be a peaceful parley session, just as they had tried to do with Cochise, the Americans took the unsuspecting Mangas Coloradas prisoner and later murdered him. Naturally, this disgraceful affair only inflamed the enmity between the two sides.
General O. O. 'Bible' Howard
Years of raids

Cochise and his men were gradually driven into the Dragoon Mountains but were still able to continue attacks against white settlements and travelers until 1872. A treaty was finally negotiated by General O.O. ‘Bible’ Howard with the help of Tom Jeffords, who was Cochise's only white friend.
The Dragoon Mountains
Tom Jeffords

Jeffords (1832 – 1914) came to Arizona in 1862 as a scout for the Army. He became the superintendent of a mail line that later became part of the famous Pony Express system. After some of his mail riders were killed by Apaches, he rode alone into the camp of Cochise to parley. This bravery so impressed the chief that he became friend and blood brother to Jeffords, granting his mail riders safe passage.
Tom Jeffords
Peace again

When President Grant sent General Howard to deal with the situation in Arizona, Howard enlisted the help of Jeffords in concluding a treaty. Jeffords trusted Howard and took him to Cochise’s camp. A treaty was signed in 1872, ending the decade-long war with the Chiricahuas. Cochise asked that his people be allowed to stay in the Chiricahua Mountains and that Jeffords be made Indian agent for the region. These requests were granted, and the Indian raids subsided.

No honor among thieves

After 1872, Jeffords met with increasing hatred from whites wishing to exploit the copper and silver to be mined on Apache lands and was branded an “Indian lover”. In 1875, they succeeded in having him removed as agent and, in contravention of the agreement, the Chiricahuas were relocated to the San Carlos reservation. However, Cochise did not live to see this because he died of cancer in 1874.

(Tom Jeffords became a stagecoach driver, a deputy sheriff in Tombstone, AZ and finally a gold prospector. He lived out the last 22 years of his life in the Tortolita Mountains north of Tucson, AZ, at a homestead near the Owlhead Buttes. He died in 1914 and was buried in Tucson's Evergreen Cemetery.)

Cochise in fiction

Elliott Arnold

The story of Tom Jeffords, General Howard, Cochise, and the Apache wars was told in historically-based but dramatized form in a novel by Elliott Arnold (1912 – 1980) a journalist, screenwriter and novelist. Blood Brother came out in 1947 and was enormously influential in putting the Indian side of the case, which had been notably ignored for so long.

Broken Arrow
 Jimmy Stewart as Tom Jeffords

In 1950, the book was turned into the Fox movie Broken Arrow, directed by Delmer Daves and starring James Stewart. In that film Stewart as Jeffords argues with white men over the Bascom Affair and then sets out to do a deal with Cochise. Jeff Chandler, a burly New York actor, was an excellent Cochise (in the days when Native Americans were rarely cast in lead parts) and Jeffords leads General Howard (Basil Ruysdael) to Cochise to negotiate peace. Cochise is shown as a dignified and far-sighted statesman and most whites (with the exception of Jeffords and Howard) are racist bigots.
Jeff Chandler was Cochise
The movie spawned an ABC prime-time TV series that ran two seasons from 1956 to '58 for a total of 73 episodes. Michael Ansara as Cochise found the role unchallenging. He said in a 1960 interview, "Cochise could do one of two things – stand with his arms folded, looking noble; or stand with arms at his sides, looking noble." The TV show took more historical liberties than the book or film, as was probably to be expected, but it was very popular. Among the writing credits you can find Sam Peckinpah (3 episodes) and Gerald Drayson Adams (2 episodes).
John Lupton as Tom Jeffords
Caruso, Lupton, Ansara in the TV show
Apache Pass

In 1952 Gerald Drayson Adams wrote the story for a sort of ‘Cochise 2’, a Universal movie entitled The Battle at Apache Pass. It’s not of the quality of Broken Arrow but it is quite a good cavalry Western and it does stick unusually close to the facts, for a Hollywood movie. It’s a pre-Jeffords story set in 1861 and tells the tale of the Bascom Affair. Jeff Chandler was again Cochise and very good he was. The ‘goody’ is a US Army Major Colton played by John Lund, in his first Western. He is supported by a wise Sergeant Bernard, very well played by Richard Egan (Kansas Raiders, Love Me Tender, These Thousand Hills). After the treachery, Cochise allies with Geronimo (Jay Silverheels, who played Geronimo in several different movies) and there’s war. History goes a bit awry at the end, though, as Colton and Cochise make peace after the battle at Apache Pass.


Universal felt it was successful enough to contemplate a sequel. Unfortunately, as is often the case with sequels, it wasn’t very good. It was Taza, Son of Cochise (1954). Chandler appears in it only briefly, just long enough to die and urge his two warring sons to continue the peace he had made with James Stewart. The elder, Taza (Rock Hudson) is, naturally, statesmanlike yet brave while his younger brother Naiche (Rex Reason) wants to follow the way of Geronimo and fight the white eyes.
Non-Chandler Cochises

If we go back before Drayson Adams’s book, Cochise (played by Antonio Moreno) appeared in Valley of the Sun, a 1942 Lucille Ball picture set in 1868. A sort of Tom Jeffords-ish Army scout Johnny Ware (James Craig) is court-martialed for helping Indians against their white oppressors, but escapes and crosses paths with Christine Larson (Ball) who is about to marry one of the crooked Indian agents...but not if Johnny can help it. Ho hum.

Then of course Cochise was the Apache leader played by Miguel Inclán in John Ford’s Fort Apache. In a kind of Apache Pass moment, John Wayne’s Captain York persuades Cochise to talk about returning to the reservation. But martinet Colonel Thursday 'bascomishly' breaks his word and leads an attack against the Apaches, which results in Thursday and his men being needlessly slaughtered.

Between Broken Arrow and The Battle at Apache Pass, in 1951, Cochise (played by Chief Yowlachie) appeared along with Mangas Coloradas and Geronimo (all uncredited) in a Ronald Reagan/Rhonda Fleming B-Western, The Last Outpost.
John Hodiak as Cochise in Conquest of Cochise (1953)
In 1953 John Hodiak was top-billed as Cochise in Columbia’s Conquest of Cochise. The IMDb plot summary runs as follows: It’s the 1850s and the Gadsden Purchase has just brought part of Mexico into the United States. An Army Major has been sent to Tucson to make peace with the Indians. He is successful with Cochise, the Apache leader, but Cochise is unable to get the Comanches to agree. The Apaches then turn back a raid by the Comanches. There is a man in Tucson who wants the Indian war against the Americans to continue and when a stray Army rifle is found and it kills Cochise's wife, it appears the Apaches will break the peace treaty.

Michael Keep was Cochise in a 1967 Audie Murphy Western, 40 Guns to Apache Pass. It’s a very unhistorical affair. The Apaches are on the warpath. Audie's mission is to get a shipment of rifles, but it's stolen by greedy white traders with the help of mutinous soldiers.


Cochise appeared in three Rin Tin Tin episodes played by X Brands (the Indian in Yancey Derringer) in two and Dean Fredericks in one, and a Bonanza episode in 1961, played by Jeff Morrow. The Bonanza show, The Honor of Cochise, was in fact quite good, with DeForest Kelley as a murderous Army Captain who has poisoned Apache women and children - though what he and Cochise were doing up there on the Ponderosa is rather a mystery. Cochise was in no fewer than four High Chaparral shows, played by Michael Keep again, Paul Fix (twice) and Nino Cochise. Nino Cochise was the legendary chief’s grandson (a son of Taza). He was 90 when he appeared in the TV show and only had one leg. Impressive.

Nino Cochise, grandson

Cochise didn’t appear in the Walter Hill movie Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) but he was in the 1993 TV movie Geronimo, played by August Schellenberg.

I’m sure the list of screen appearances here isn’t exhaustive. There were probably some silent movies Cochise figured in and doubtless some spaghetti westerns. Still, it’ll give you an idea.

The Bascom Affair plays a central part in the graphic novel series, Blueberry. The first three episodes (Fort Navajo, Thunder in the West and Lone Eagle) were published in French magazine Pilote between 1965 and 1967, and English translations by Egmont/Methuen in 1977 and 1978. The plot and characters are not of course accurate but you do get a Cochise story.

Jeff Chandler probably provided the best Cochise. But we await the definitive Apache chief. One day maybe.


  1. Hi
    You might be interested in a novel I've written - THE PEACEMAKER - published by Sundown Press. It's partly based on the High Chaparral episode, which features Cochise. Check it out at


    1. Your cover photo on The Peacemaker is not Cochise but the Pueblo leader Juan Rey Abeita. That exact photo appeared on the magazine cover in the 1903 edition "Out West." The artist was Maynard Dixon, a friend of Charles Lummis who visited the Pueblo in 1900.

  2. The photo you have not Cochise. And the one of Taza is not Taza--it is Noche, an Apache who attended the 1886 delegation to Washington DC and you can find it in the National Archives online.

  3. http://www.begottenson.com/Carl%20Adams/carl%20adams.html

  4. I read long ago that niño cochise had learned to fly and lost his leg in a plane crash, I also read in the same novel that he was a widower, that his young bride had been killed, it was very sad to me.

  5. Your photo of Taza is not Taza. It's George Noche. Th ephoto was taken in 1886, 10 years after Taza died.