When traveling the Arizona highways there are more than a few reminders that this land was and is the home of the Apache Indians. Arizona today was once part of the New Mexico Territory and then the Arizona Territory before United States statehood.
The Apache Indian Wars
There were many ways to start an Indian war in 1800's America. One way was to take land from the Native Americans and force them to live on reservations. Another way was to hunt the buffalo to near extinction thus taking away the most important source of their sustenance. Still another was to make a treaty and then break it. In the 1861 Arizona Territory a new way was found. That was to kidnap a chiefs family and hold it for ransom.
This story starts in 1861 when a Tonto Apache Indian party raided a ranch in far southern Arizona Territory. The raiders stole livestock and ended up kidnapping a twelve year old boy, a stepson of the rancher's Mexican wife. The rancher told his story to the local military at nearby Fort Buchanan (the remains of which are pictured below right). The commander, a Colonel Morrison, ordered a Lieutenant George Bascom to take a large contingent of troops and locate the boy. It's thought that while the army (Morrison) wanted to make a concerted effort to find the boy and have the ranchers livestock returned, his main concerns were the raging Civil War back east. He may not have been involved as much as he should have been in the unfolding drama.
A bit also needs to be said regarding Bascom's background and experience. A Kentuckian and recent graduate from West Point, he had just recently arrived in the Arizona Territory about three months prior. He was unfamiliar with the area and likewise unfamiliar with the Apaches. In other words, he was inexperienced on the ground. Likewise, the troopers assigned to accompany him were a new contingent of troops also inexperienced. Not a good combination to deal with a delicate kidnapping situation as future actions would reveal.
The Story Unfolds
Bascom was unable to locate the tribe or the boy.
His commander then ordered him to go after the Chiricahua's and do anything necessary to free the boy. That's a fairly open order and alot of responsibility for a relatively new Lieutenant.
Bascom along with 54 troopers traveled to a location known as Apache Pass where a Butterfield Stage station was located. In fact, the two station attendants were familiar with Cochise who had a winter camp in the nearby rugged mountains. There Bascom sent word that he wanted to have a meeting with Cochise. Bascom and his men set up tents about a mile away from the stage station and awaited Cochise. Apparently Cochise, who had a reputation for honesty, was suspicious of the meeting and as a precaution took along several family members.
What happened next was probably not a good move by the army. When Cochise and his family arrived at the meeting site pictured to the left, Bascom arrested him. Cochise managed to escape from the troopers and in retaliation Bascom took captive five members of Cochise's family.
The Conflict with Cochise Grows
A short time later Cochise sent a message to Bascom pleading for the release of his family members. Lt. Bascom refused the request and simply sent word back to Cochise that his family would be released when he twelve year old boy was released. When Cochise received Bascom's reply, he went out with some braves and attacked and kidnapped three Americans. Cochise planned to trade the Americans for the release of his family. Bascom refused to negotiate with Cochise. Cochise was in a corner.
The situation just continued to escalate. Cochise, pictured to the right, decided to flee to nearby Sonora Mexico and on the way he killed the three American captives. Not a wise thing to do. This intensified the conflict.
The moment Cochise learned of the killing of his family is commonly recognized as the start of the 25 year long Apache War. An interesting fact is that the Apaches from Arizona looked upon the Mexicans as there enemies, not the Americans. The antagonism toward the Mexicans was an offshoot of the years of Spanish rule. It was the Spaniards who originally explored the American southwest and it was the Spaniards who first changed the Apache way of life. This was the situation in the entire southwest, all the way from Texas to California.
Also see our Western Trips photo article on a Visit to Old Tucson
A Situation Out of Control
The act of the kidnappings and the escalation that followed went out of control. The killings of the kidnapped victims turned into a catastrophe that in all respects could have been avoided. When you consider what occurred, you almost have to ask if the higher authorities were involved or was the kidnapping of Cochise's family by Lt. Bascom a decision made by him alone. If it was a spur of the moment decision by an inexperienced young officer then the 25 year long Apache War may have been avoided.
Skirmishes took place as far back as the 1840's and even after Geronimo's surrender there were small skirmishes up to about 1900. Most of the latter skirmishes resulted from the army trying to put wayward Apaches back on their reservation land.
Small fights also resulted between Apaches and miners and ranchers over suspected theft of livestock and property. The question really is would there have been conflicts with the Apaches regardless of the Bascom Affair? With settlers heading into the territory in large numbers there certainly would have been problems. Would the warfare go on as long as it did without the Bascom Affair? You be the judge. Nobody knows for certain.
Taking a vacation or short trip to Arizona is always enjoyable. The vistas are magnificent. Arizona is always near the top of any list with southwest travel ideas. The area where this story took place is in far southern Arizona. Cochise County is along the Mexican border southeast of Tucson. It's in the far southeastern corner of Arizona. The towns of Tombstone and Bisbee, AZ ( see our post on Bisbee on this site) are in Cochise County. The region is very arid, rocky and picturesque. It's an area that truly exemplifies the natural beauty of the southwestern United States.
Some Good Travel Stops
There are numerous historic areas in Cochise County. While I would say to visit as many as possible, I would recommend putting the following ones in your trip planner. The Cochise Hotel located in the ghost town of Cochise. Built in 1882 it served as a Wells Fargo station and a telegraph station. The Coronado National Memorial located 30 miles southwest of Bisbee. The San Bernardino Ranch ( now called Slaughter Ranch) near Douglas, AZ which is associated with early ranching in the Arizona Territory. Also the Fort Bowie National Historic Site which is located near Apache Pass.
(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)
APACHE INDIAN RESISTANCE-GERONIMO VIDEO