Much has been written and portrayed about the great Apache leader Cochise. Whatever the stories and legend, it should be remembered that he was a man of honor and an unyielding fighter when aroused by a sense of injustice.
One afternoon in 1860, Cochise and four of his braves visited their friend, the American agent Wallace at Fort Bowie. A few days before, a new 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Infantry had arrived at the Fort. Wallace introduced Cochise to him and the new officer immediately had Cochise and his braves arrested, accusing them of stealing. Cochise was surprised. He didn’t know anything about the crime, but he said nothing as his men were disarmed and placed in a guarded army tent.
That night Cochise told the other Apaches to wait. He withdrew a knife he had hidden in his breech cloth and cut a hole in the tent. The Apache leader vanished.
There is one thing the shave-tail Lieutenant hadn’t learned about Native Americans, they knew the secrets of stealth. Much of their hunting was carried out by sneaking up on their quarry and surprising them before they could react and run away. This they could do in the darkest night or brightest day.
Now in the night Cochise traveled a number of miles in total darkness – there was no moon to light his way. At a prospector’s camp, he surprised two men sleeping near a lighted fire. He held their guns in his hands. It took no threat from him for the men to understand his commands – they quickly dressed and followed their captor.
By noon the next day, Cochise stood on a hillside overlooking Fort Bowie. There were ten braves and his two captives standing with him.
“Agent Wallace,” he called, “tell the boy soldier I have two American captives to trade for my four men he is wrongfully holding.”
But the brash Lieutenant refused, and boasted he would kill the four Apaches before he would let them go. But Cochise replied, “Since your boy soldier took our men first, let him release them first, then I will do as you ask.”
The officer without further talk hanged the Apaches. Cochise watched from a distance as his braves died, then he hanged the two Americans. As the six men swung from the ropes, Cochise gazed with hatred on Fort Bowie, mounted his horse and returned to his stronghold in the mountains, brooding upon the injustice of white men.
Six days later Cochise called a meeting of his tribe. He announced: “Ten Americans must die for each Apache the Americans have killed.”
Hundreds of innocent people were killed during the following years as Cochise turned against the people he had wanted to befriend. He destroyed them with the ruthlessness of a savage chieftain whose trust had been betrayed.
Today, the name of the “boy soldier” – 2nd Lieutenant George N. Bascom – is forgotten, but we all remember Cochise. Arizona named a county for him and his old camp ground in the Dragoon Mountains is still called “the Cochise Stronghold.”