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Cochise (1815-1874)


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PEOPLE IN AMERICA, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.

During the Eighteenth Century, Indians tried to halt the move of white settlers into territory in the American west. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Steve Ember. Today we tell the story of one of the leaders of the Indian resistance, Apache chief Cochise.

In the middle Eighteen-Hundreds, there were only a few white settlers in the southwestern United States. This was Apache territory. The Chiricahuas were one of several Apache groups that lived in what today is southern Arizona and New Mexico.

The Chiricahua war chief, Cochise had become used to American travelers and military officials stopping at Apache Pass. It was the only place in the area where drinking water could be found. The Chiricahuas lived at peace with the settlers. They sold wood to the settlers. And, in Eighteen-Fifty-Eight, Cochise had permitted the Butterfield Overland Mail Company to build a rest area at Apache Pass. He let mail carriers and other travelers pass safely through the area on their way to California.

In February of Eighteen-Sixty-One, an American military officer asked to speak with Cochise. He wanted to discuss several problems. Some cattle were missing. And a boy had been taken from a farm in the area. Second Lieutenant George Bascom had been ordered to do whatever was necessary to find the child. He did not have any experience in dealing with Indians.

Cochise was tall for an Apache -- almost six feet. He had strong cheekbones and a straight nose. He wore his black hair to his shoulders in the traditional Apache way. He carried himself as a person with power does. One American officer said he stood "...straight as an arrow, built, from the ground up, as perfect as a man could be."

The Chiricahua Apaches believed that a leader was one who was wise and able to win in war. They believed that a leader is not chosen, but just recognized.

Cochise was the son of a Chiricahua Apache chief. He had been trained to lead from a young age. The whites who knew him both feared and respected him. Friends as well as enemies considered him to be an honest man. He always told the truth and expected others to do the same.

By the time he met with Lieutenant Bascom, Cochise was about fifty-five years old. He was an unusually powerful Apache leader.

Lieutenant Bascom knew nothing about Cochise. The officer was concerned only with succeeding at his first command.

Cochise was not responsible for the raid against the farm. So, the Apache chief believed the American soldiers had come in peace. He went to meet them with his wife and four other people. These included his brother, his young son, and two other relatives. That he came with his family was a sign of trust. But, Lieutenant Bascom did not understand the sign.

They met in Lieutenant Bascom's cloth tent. Cochise told the officer that his people were not involved in the raid. Cochise said he would do what he could to help them find the boy. He told Lieutenant Bascom that he believed the boy had been taken by the White Mountain Apaches, a group that lived north of the Chiricahuas. Years later, this was found to be true.

Lieutenant Bascom, however, was sure Cochise was hiding the boy. He accused Cochise of lying. At first, Cochise did not understand. He thought the American was joking. Then Lieutenant Bascom told Cochise that he and his family would be held prisoner until the cattle and the boy were returned.

Cochise reacted quickly. He stood up, pulled out his knife and cut a hole in the tent. He escaped through the hole. The soldiers waiting outside were taken by surprise. They shot at Cochise three times but could not stop him. One of Cochise's relatives also tried to jump through the tent. But the soldiers captured him. Cochise later told an American that he ran all the way up the hill with his coffee cup still in his hand.

Cochise captured four Americans and left a message for Lieutenant Bascom about exchanging prisoners. But Bascom did not find Cochise's message until two days later. By then, it was too late. The Americans already had hung Cochise's brother and two other relatives. They released Cochise's son and wife.

Cochise immediately made plans to repay the Americans for the deaths of his relatives. Cochise killed his prisoners. He decided that Americans could never be trusted. He said, "I was at peace with the whites until they tried to kill me for what other Indians did; I now live and die at war them."

The incident led to years of violence and terror. Cochise united the Apaches. They attacked the United States army and the increasing number of white settlers moving into the southwest. The Apaches fought so fiercely that troops, settlers and traders were forced to withdraw from the territory. It appeared for a time that the Apaches controlled Arizona.

News of Cochise's bravery in battle became widely known. He fought as if he believed he was protected from harm. One American soldier described how his shots missed Cochise. He said Cochise would drop to the side of his horse, hang on its neck and use its body as protection.

In Eighteen-Sixty-Two, about two-thousand men marched from California to Apache Pass. General James Carleton commanded them. They were trying to re-establish communications between the Pacific coast and the eastern United States.

Cochise had five-hundred Apache fighters hidden near Apache Pass. The Apaches attacked fiercely. Suddenly the Americans fired two large cannons. The Indians fled.

Mangas Coloradas, chief of the Chihenne Apaches, was badly wounded. He survived. Six months later, he tried to make a peace treaty with a group of American soldiers. He was taken prisoner, shot and killed. Mangas's murder confirmed Cochise's belief that Americans must never be trusted.

Cochise became the main chief of all the Apache tribes. He and his warriors rode through southeastern Arizona torturing and killing everyone they found, including small children.

The federal government began a campaign to kill or capture all Apaches. Cochise and two-hundred followers escaped capture by hiding in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. During this time, new white settlements were built. The Apaches continued to raid and return to hide in the mountains.

For twelve years, Cochise escaped capture by troops from the United States and Mexico. Officials in Arizona named him "public enemy number one." The story spread that no white person could look at Cochise and live to tell about it.

Cochise refused to go to Washington for negotiations of any kind. He did not trust the United States government. Yet he permitted his son, Taza, to go. Taza got the disease pneumonia and died. He is buried in the American capital.

In Eighteen-Seventy, General George Crook took command of the territory of Arizona. He won the loyalty of a number of Apaches. He got many of them to live on reservations, the public lands set aside for the Indians. But his main target was Cochise.

Cochise agreed to come out of the mountains to discuss moving his people to a reservation in Arizona. But the federal government began moving other Apache tribes to a reservation in New Mexico. Cochise refused to agree to move to any place but his home territory. He returned to the mountains to hide.

In the spring of Eighteen-Seventy-Two, he decided to negotiate a peace treaty. General Oliver Otis Howard met with Cochise in his hidden mountain headquarters. That summer, they agreed to establish a reservation in Chiricahua territory in Arizona. General Howard promised Cochise that his people would be allowed to live on their homeland forever. Cochise surrendered. He lived on the reservation peacefully until his death, in Eighteen-Seventy-Four.

Two years later, the federal government broke the treaty and forced the Apaches to move. Some of them refused. Led by Geronimo and Cochise's son Naiche, they fled to the mountains. For ten years, they continued raiding. Finally, they too surrendered and were moved far away.

Cochise had fought fiercely to protect the land the Apaches considered home. But he lost. He once said, "Wars are fought to see who owns the land, but in the end it possesses man. Who dares say he owns it--is he not buried beneath it?"

This Special English program was written by Vivian Bournazian and produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Steve Ember. Listen again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.


Voice of America Special English
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Source: PEOPLE IN AMERICA - Cochise
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