Cochise and the Bascom Affair
In Esperanza Means Hope, Carlos tells his sister the story that sparked war between Cochise and his Chokonen band of Chiricahuas and the U.S. government in 1861. The event is referred to as the Bascom Affair and is described on page 157 of the book. The event took place in the remote Apache Pass, near the site where Fort Bowie was built a year later. Some of the specifics of the event are disputed and accounts of the story vary because official Army records are missing.
The sequence of events were as follows:
- Two groups of Apaches raided John Ward’s ranch, stole livestock and kidnapped John Ward’s, 12-year-old Mexican stepson.
- Ward reported the incident to the commander at Fort Buchanan, but it took some time before the military search began.
- Chiricahua Apaches, led by Cochise, were blamed for the attack, and a young, inexperienced Second Lt. George Bascom was sent with an attachment of 54 troops to Apache Pass to recover the boy and the livestock.
- Some accounts indicate that Bascom invited Cochise to meet with him; others say Cochise went on his own to greet the soldiers.
- Unaware of Bascom’s intentions, Cochise brought along his wife, son, half-brother and two nephews to the meeting. (Some accounts give different numbers of family members.)
- During the meeting, Bascom accused Cochise of the raid; Cochise denied he or his band were involved, but offered to help.
- Bascom had his soldiers take Cochise and his party as hostages, confining Cochise to his tent, saying they would be released when the boy and the livestock were returned.
- Cochise reacted quickly, cut a hole in the tent with his knife and escaped, although he was wounded. The rest of his party was unable to escape and were held as hostages.
- Cochise then captured three male Americans from a wagon train and snagged a Butterfield Stage official as his hostages. He later executed them when he was unable to free the Apaches held as hostages by Lt. Bascom. He also cruelly killed 7 or 8 Mexicans that were part of the wagon train party.
- In retaliation of the executions, the military hanged the male Apache hostages (the brother and nephews) and three other captured male Apaches, but the woman (or women) and boy (or boys) were spared and later released. It is unclear if Lt. Bascom authorized this punishment.
- Some accounts say the affair caused a state of warfare for 10 years between Cochise and the Chiricahuas and the U.S. government. Others say it contributed to the ill will, but was only one of several events that sparked the clashes that followed.
- During this period, Cochise and his followers attacked mail riders, ranchers, miners and the military.
- Cochise agreed to return to peaceful relationships in 1872 when approached by General Granger.
- Cochise died two years later of natural causes or possibly of cancer. His burial site is unknown and is believed to be in the Dragoon Mountains.
- The kidnapped boy, Felix Martinez, was raised to adulthood by Apaches just as Carlos was in the story; in 1872 he became an Apache Army scout, guide and interpreter. He was nicknamed, Mickey Free, by the soldiers at Camp Verde and went by that name. John Ward and his wife never saw their son again.
- Lt. Bascom was promoted to captain and then killed a year later at the Battle of Valverde; a fort in New Mexico was named in his honor.
Descriptions of Cochise’s Appearance and Character
There are no known pictures of Cochise, but there are several written accounts of his appearance and character. Read through the following pages in Esperanza Means Hope to reacquaint yourself with Carlos’ view and description of meetings with Cochise: pages 146 -147; 158; 161- 163; and 172- 174.
Now read through a few other descriptions of Cochise. The first is from Tom Jeffords, a white friend of Cochise and the first Indian agent for Cochise and his people.
# 1 – “I found him to be a man of great natural ability, a splendid specimen of physical manhood, standing about six feet two, with the eye of an eagle. This was the commencement of my friendship with Cochise and although I was frequently compelled to guide troops against him and his band, it never interfered with our friendship. He respected me, and I respected him. He was a man who scorned a liar, was truthful in all things. His religion was truth and loyalty.”
The second description is from an Army doctor, Dr. Anderson Ellis, who observed a meeting between Cochise and General Granger. Cochise is 56 years old at the time and still appears to be physically fit.
# 2 – “While he was talking, we had a fine opportunity to study this most remarkable man…His height, five feet ten inches; in person lithe and wiry, every muscle being well-rounded and firm. A silver thread was now and then visible in his otherwise black hair, which he wore cut straight around his head about on a level with his chin. His countenance displayed great force. Cochise spoke through an interpreter. He spoke in his language to one of his warriors who also spoke Spanish. The warrior repeated the words in Spanish to a Spanish speaker in Gen. Granger’s contingent, who then translated them into English for the general.”
Cochise declared: “When I was young, I walked all over this country, east and west, and saw no other people than the Apaches. After many summers I walked again and found another race of people had come to take it.”
“How is it? Why is it that the Apaches wait to die, that they carry their lives on their fingernails? They roam over the hills and the plains and want the heavens to fall on them. The Apaches were once a great nation. They are now but a few, and because of this they want to die, — and so carry their lives on their fingernails.”
When General Gordon Granger asked Cochise to move to a reservation in New Mexico, he replied:
“Now that I am cool I have come with my hands open to you to live in peace with you. I speak straight and I do not wish to deceive or be deceived. I want a good, long, lasting peace. When God made the world he gave one part to the white man and one to the Apache. Why as it? Why did they come together? Now that I am to speak, the sun, the moon, the earth, the air, the waters, the birds and the beasts, even the unborn children shall rejoice at my words… I do not wish to hide anything from you or have you hide anything from me; I shall not lie to you; do not lie to me. I want to live in these mountains; I do not want to go to Tularosa. That is a long ways off. The flies in those mountains eat out the eyes of the horses. The bad spirits live there. I have drunk of these waters and they have cooled me. I do not want to leave here.”
The third description is from General Oliver O. Howard who met with Cochise for 10 days in 1872 to make a peace with Cochise. Howard wrote a children’s book about the famous Indian chiefs he had met on the frontier. This excerpt is from his book.
#3 – “We had just had our breakfast when the chief (Cochise) rode in. He wore a single robe of stout cotton cloth and a Mexican sombrero on his head with eagle feathers on it. …When he saw us, he sprang from his horse and threw his arms around Jeffords and embraced him twice, first on one side, and then on the other. When Jeffords told him who I was, he turned to me in a gentlemanly way, holding out his hand and saying: Buenos dias Señor. He greeted us all pleasantly…
I answered him plainly that the President had sent me to make peace with him. He replied: Nobody wants peace more than I do. I have killed ten white men for every Indian I have lost, but still the white men are no less, and my tribe keeps growing smaller and smaller, till it will disappear from the face of the earth if we do not have a good peace soon.”
The final description is from Assistant Surgeon Henry Turrill who served at Fort Craig.
#4 – “Cochise impressed me as a wonderfully strong man, of much endurance and accustomed to command and to expect instant and implicit obedience. He was the greatest Indian I ever met.”
Cochise died before his people lost their homelands with the closure of the short-lived Chiricahua Reservation; his band and other Chiricahua Indians were transferred to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. They did not do well on the barren, inhospitable land because they were mountain Apaches.
Read Sgt. Polk’s description of the closure of the Chiricahua Reservation in Esperanza Means Hope on pages 102 – 103. Do you think that Papá’s response to Sgt. Polk’s comments is a fair one? Why or why not? Are you surprised that an Anglo soldier would take this sympathetic point-of-view regarding the Chiricahua Indians? Why or why not?