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Cochise: The Life of the Legendary Apache Chief

Immortalized in books, television and movies, Cochise, the famous chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, was an imposing figure. With a height of six feet and a strong muscular build, Cochise fiercely led his people during the turbulent Western Movement in the Southwest.

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Apache lands stretched from Mexico through what are now the states of Arizona and New Mexico. In the 19th century, Spanish colonials tried unsuccessfully to subdue the Apache tribes by offering them trinkets, guns and liquor.

Following the Mexican War in 1850, the United States acquired the Arizona Territory and, for a short time, the Apache and Americans had a period of peaceful coexistence. In fact, during 1861, Cochise found work with the Butterfield Stage Line as a woodcutter at the stagecoach station located at Apache Pass.

However, as gold-hungry prospectors headed to California and as waves of ranchers and settlers continued to stream into the Arizona Territory, their presence threatened the Indian tribes’ way of life. Mounting tensions and frequent raids by Apache tribes on cattle ranches and settlements brought fear and devastating conflicts to a boiling point.

Cochise continued to lead attacks on the American and European settlements for almost a dozen years leading to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of settlers and travelers through the 1860s.

On October 12, 1872, General Oliver Otis Howard, acting on orders from President Uysses S. Grant, negotiated a lasting peace treaty with Cochise.Howard, who had a long and distinguished Amy career, had become known as the “Christian General” in part because he based policy decisions on his personal religious convictions. Following the Civil War, Howard oversaw what was called the “Freedman’s Bureau” and worked to integrate former slaves into society. Later, General Howard’s belief in assisting former slaves led him to found Howard University in Washington, D.C.

General Howard worked tirelessly to bring peace to the Arizona Territory by brokering a treaty with Cochise. Howard’s success was thanks in part to, Tom Jeffords, who was considered a friend by Cochise. Jeffords, who had served as a prospector and scout for the U.S. Army, had met Cochise while serving as a superintendent of a rail line between Tucson and Socorro, Arizona. The treaty signed by Howard and Cochise created the Chiricahua Reservation where Cohise and his tribe were resettled with Tom Jeffords serving as the appointed agent for the U,S. government.

Cochise’s life ended on June 8, 1874. He was laid to rest on Dragon Mountain in Arizona. There, the body of Cochise, whose name meant “the quality and strength of an oak”, remains in peace in a location today known as “Cochise’s Stronghold” in the Coronado National Forest.

To take a virtual tour of some of the Native American artifacts at the Grace Dee May Museum, visit:

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