Today In Western History: Cochise Wins At Bear Springs

May 5 –

On this day in 1871, the U. S. Army is caught napping and Lt. Howard B. Cushing and 10 of his men are killed when a band of Chiricahua Apaches, surprises the 3rd Calvary at Bear Springs, in the Arizona Whetstone Mountains.  The Apaches were led by either Juh, or maybe his better known associate, Cochise

Cochise, legendary Apache leader and eventual peace advocate
Cochise, legendary Apache leader and eventual peace advocate

Cochise (or “Cheis”) was one of the most noted Apache leaders (along with Geronimo and Mangas Coloradas) to resist intrusions by European Americans during the 19th century. He was described as a large man (for the time), with a muscular frame, classical features, and long black hair, which he wore in traditional Apache style. He was about 6′ tall and weighed about 175 lbs.  In his own language, his name Cheis meant “having the quality or strength of oak.

Following years of conflict beginning in 1861, Cochise and his men were eventually driven into the Dragoon Mountains, where they used the mountains for cover and as a base operate from in order to continue attacks against the white settlements. Cochise continually evaded capture and continued his raids against white settlements and travelers until 1872.  In 1871, General Oliver O. Howard  had  been ordered to

Union General Oliver Otis Howard, he was surprised at Chancellorsville, but negotiated a peace with Cochise
Union General Oliver Otis Howard, he was surprised at Chancellorsville, but negotiated a peace with Cochise

been ordered to find and treat with Cochise and in 1872, accompanied by 1st Lt Joseph Alton Sladen, who served as his aide, Howard came to Arizona to negotiate a peace treaty, and with the help of Tom Jeffords, who was the only white man that Cochise had learned to trust, a treaty was negotiated on October 12, 1872.

After making peace, Cochise retired to his new reservation, with his friend Jeffords as agent, where he died of natural causes (most likely, it would have been diagnosed today as abdominal cancer) in 1874. He was buried in the rocks above one of his favorite camps in Arizona’s Dragoon Mountains, now called Cochise Stronghold. Only his people and Tom Jeffords knew the exact location of his rest-ing place, and they took the secret to their graves.

Geronimo, legendary Apache warrior, he was considered the most scary of all.
Geronimo, legendary Apache warrior, he was considered the most scary of all.

Geronimo was never considered to be a chief among the Apache, and seldom had any more than 50 warriors in his band of followers.  On the other hand, however, he was an acknowledged exceptional leader in strategy regarding warfare or revenge raids, At any one time, only about 30 to 50 Apaches would be numbered among his personal following. However, since he was a superb leader in raiding and revenge warfare he frequently led combined bands with numbers larger than his own band.  Among Geronimo’s own Chiricahua tribe, however, he wasn’t a people person.  Many had mixed feelings about him—although he was respected as a skilled and effective leader of raids or warfare, his personality made him hard to get close to.  The Apache people stood in awe of Geronimo’s apparent supernatural “powers” which he consistently demonstrated to them. These powers indicated to other Apaches that Geronimo had super-natural gifts that he could use for good or ill. In eye-witness accounts by other Apaches Geronimo was able to become aware of events, as they happened, though they were at a far distant place, and he was able to anticipate events that were in the future.  He also demonstrated powers to heal other Apaches.


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