From Cochise to Geronimo: The Chiricahua Apaches, 1874-1886

From Cochise to Geronimo: The Chiricahua Apaches, 1874-1886

by Edwin R. Sweeney


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In the decade after the death of their revered chief Cochise in 1874, the Chiricahua Apaches struggled to survive as a people and their relations with the U.S. government further deteriorated. In From Cochise to Geronimo, Edwin R. Sweeney builds on his previous biographies of Chiricahua leaders Cochise and Mangas Coloradas to offer a definitive history of the turbulent period between Cochise's death and Geronimo's surrender in 1886.

Sweeney shows that the cataclysmic events of the 1870s and 1880s stemmed in part from seeds of distrust sown by the American military in 1861 and 1863. In 1876 and 1877, the U.S. government proposed moving the Chiricahuas from their ancestral homelands in New Mexico and Arizona to the San Carlos Reservation. Some made the move, but most refused to go or soon fled the reviled new reservation, viewing the government's concentration policy as continued U.S. perfidy. Bands under the leadership of Victorio and Geronimo went south into the Sierra Madre of Mexico, a redoubt from which they conducted bloody raids on American soil.

Sweeney draws on American and Mexican archives, some only recently opened, to offer a balanced account of life on and off the reservation in the 1870s and 1880s. From Cochise to Geronimo details the Chiricahuas' ordeal in maintaining their identity despite forced relocations, disease epidemics, sustained warfare, and confinement. Resigned to accommodation with Americans but intent on preserving their culture, they were determined to survive as a people.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806142722
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 01/01/2012
Series: Civilization of the American Indian Series , #268
Pages: 720
Sales rank: 443,244
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.90(d)

About the Author

Retired as a professional accountant, Edwin R. Sweeney is an independent scholar and the author of Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief; Mangas Coloradas: Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches; and From Cochise to Geronimo: The Chiricahua Apaches, 1874–1886.

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From Cochise to Geronimo

The Chiricahua Apaches, 1874â"1886

By Edwin R. Sweeney


Copyright © 2010 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-8850-8



They [whites] told me when I was a boy that my mind and my way of living was no good.

Take ours [white men's,] that is the kind of mind to have and the only way to live. Yours is no good. Throw it away.

Naiche to Major Hugh L. Scott, September 21, 1911

In October 1872, after waging a twelve-year war against the Americans, Cochise, the Chiricahua Apache chief of the Chokonen band, made a peace treaty with General Oliver O. Howard. It was a historic moment. To memorialize the treaty, Howard placed a rock on a mesa just south of the mouth of the West Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Howard declared that "as long as the stone lasted the peace would remain unbroken." The terms of the treaty granted Cochise a reservation in his ancestral country and an agent (Thomas J. Jeffords) chosen by him. Moreover, although Fort Bowie adjoined the reservation, the soldiers had no jurisdiction over the Indians, an important point to Cochise, who retained a profound distrust of the military because of its mistreatment of him at Apache Pass (the Bascom Affair in early 1861).

Howard's acquiescence to Cochise's demands that Jeffords have complete autonomy on the reservation (effectively obviating General George Crook's intervention) would create enormous problems because the southern border of the Chiricahua Reservation adjoined northern Sonora. As far as Cochise was concerned, he had made peace with the Americans. The Mexicans were a separate issue, and he did not intend to make a treaty with them. If anything, Howard's failure to forbid the Chiricahuas from raiding in Sonora was an error of omission. His inexperience with Apaches was evident here; he simply had no idea of the fanatical hatred that the Chiricahuas felt toward Sonora.

In any event, Cochise and Tom Jeffords took immediate steps to bring stability and organization to the new reservation. Cochise sent out runners to gather the remainder of his band and to inform the Bedonkohe and Nednhi bands of Chiricahuas living in southwestern New Mexico and northern Mexico of his decision. About October 20, Jeffords brought in the Steins Peak local group, which was probably under the leadership of Chihuahua, a forty-year-old self-assured chief who was the boldest Chokonen of his time. Next, on November 20, 1872, Jeffords and his assistant, Fred Hughes, made a treaty with some 325 Nednhis and Bedonkohes at Pinery Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains. The Nednhis under Natiza, Juh, and Nolgee numbered about 225 individuals; the remainder were Bedonkohes under Esquine and Coha.

The Tularosa Reservation in the Mogollon Mountains in New Mexico housed the fourth Chiricahua band, the Chihennes under Victorio and Loco, and a second group of Bedonkohes led by Chiva and Gordo. In the spring of 1872, the government had moved them there from Ojo Caliente (where they had settled in 1869), despite their vigorous objections. Though confinement to reservations was the price for peace, after the long period of warfare with Americans, the two Bedonkohe chiefs were somewhat content because the locations were in their ancestral grounds. But the Chihenne chiefs longed to return to their former reservation at Ojo Caliente, which Chiricahuas considered sacred grounds.

By late 1872, for the first time, every Chiricahua was on a reservation, giving us accurate population figures for the Chiricahua tribe. They numbered about 1,244 individuals, 544 at Tularosa, and about 700 at Chiricahua.

Despite what most southwesterners thought, this new era of tranquillity pleased the Indians, for their chiefs realized that peace was necessary for the survival of their people. And if the government treated them well, honored its agreements, and allowed them to live on the grounds set aside by treaty, their days at war with Americans were over. Although the Chiricahua Reservation lasted less than four years, the rock that symbolized the commitment of the United States government to the Chiricahua Apaches remains today at the mouth of Cochise's pristine West Stronghold. It did not disappear, despite the whims of an institution that valued expediency over integrity when it came to honoring its agreements with Native Americans.

The Chiricahua Apaches have earned a reputation for being fierce, uncompromising, and unmerciful adversaries of Americans and Mexicans. But were they warlike by nature? One of my earliest statements in my Cochise biography makes that assertion, but I would now argue the reverse. Most nineteenth-century whites saw Apaches as cruel and merciless, warlike and incorrigible. These characterizations were certainly apt for describing their mode of warfare and their methods of dealing with their enemies. Yet, most Anglos and Mexicans failed to understand that Apaches were not intrinsically warlike. It may surprise some readers to learn that when Americans first arrived in New Mexico, the Chiricahuas did not consider them enemies because the former had not done anything to merit that designation. The evolution from friend to foe was earned only by systematic abuses of the relationship or by egregious acts of treachery that took Apache lives. Only when Americans betrayed the Chiricahuas' trust did they go to war.

They went to war, by their own definition, to avenge what they considered unlawful, unjustifiable, or treacherous acts carried out against them. That they sustained some warfare for prolonged periods, as in the Chiricahuas' hostilities against the Spanish and Mexicans, and in Cochise's case for over a decade against Americans, was a function of a self-perpetuating cycle of violence. Periods of prolonged warfare against Mexicans in the nineteenth century became a way of life from one generation to another. This insatiable hunger for revenge only spawned more vengeance and, even more important in the Chiricahua world, a deep and abiding distrust of whites.

Violence begot more violence. If the initial act was extreme, such as the betrayal of Cochise and the hanging of his relatives at Apache Pass in 1861, or the treacherous capture and brutal, premeditated execution of Mangas Coloradas in 1863, the impact on the Chiricahuas far transcended the loss of loved ones and respected tribesmen. They had to avenge the infamous abuses that had become seared in the memories of all Chiricahuas, particularly those of the leaders who succeeded Cochise and Mangas Coloradas. They had learned the hard lesson not to trust Americans, especially the military. These ingrained suspicions factored into the outbreaks of the 1870s and 1880s.

Apaches were a happy, proud, and fiercely independent people. Members of the Athapaskan linguistic family, they called themselves Tinneh or Inde, which, loosely translated, means "Man" or "People." Historians and anthropologists disagree about when they reached their historic homelands in the American Southwest, but they were probably well entrenched there by the mid-1500s. Linguistically, the Apache nation consisted of seven major groupings: the Jicarillas, Lipans, and Kiowa-Apaches formed the eastern division, and the Navajos, Mescaleros, Western Apaches, and Chiricahuas formed the western division. Besides a closely related language, these tribes shared several cultural traits. They lived in small mobile bands or groups, usually in mountainous areas. Gatherers and hunters, they were quick to adopt new technology from the people with whom they came into contact. A spiritual race, they believed that both animate and inanimate objects possessed power that they could hand over to tribal members. They usually went to war to protect their territory or their families, or to exact vengeance on enemies who had wronged them.

The Chiricahua tribe consisted of four bands with each, at least before the reservation period in the early 1870s, inhabiting a well-defined area. The easternmost band, called Chihennes ("red-paint people") by the Chiricahuas and Warm Springs, Mimbres, or Copper Mine Apaches by southwesterners, lived between the Rio Grande River and Silver City. This band consisted of at least three smaller units, called local groups, with the Mimbres River, Black Range, and Ojo Caliente among their favorite village sites. In the 1850s, their leaders were Delgadito, Cuchillo Negro, and Ponce. Upon their deaths in the 1850s and early 1860s, Victorio, Loco, and Nana succeeded them, though sons of those 1850s leaders remained prominent men in the Chihenne band through the Victorio War of 1879–1880.

The smallest band in numbers was the second Chiricahua band, the Bedonkohes, which enjoyed political strength within the tribe because of its influential chief, Mangas Coloradas, a powerful man standing nearly six and a half feet tall. A Bedonkohe by birth, he exercised enormous influence among the Chihennes throughout his lifetime. He held close ties to Victorio, who one informant claimed was born into Mangas Coloradas's local group, which consisted of Chihennes and Bedonkohes. The Chiricahuas called this unit Ne-be-ke-yen-de, meaning "Country of People" or "Earth They Own It People," in reference to the large tribal gatherings at Santa Lucía Springs. This famous place was situated along the northeastern face of the Burro Mountains, a few miles below the Gila River, near today's Mangas, northwest of Silver City. One informant of Morris Opler said that Mangas Coloradas was chief of the Chihennes though he lived in a separate region. Another informant revealed that Mangas Coloradas was a tribal chief, "the head of all the Chiricahuas," during his lifetime, which agrees with the historical record. Chatto, the famous Chiricahua leader of the 1880s, was born into Mangas Coloradas's group. His father was Mangas's brother, perhaps the man known as José Mangas. In later years, Chatto waxed nostalgically about the exciting times during his formative years when the bands gathered to celebrate important events and to develop political and military strategies under the direction of Mangas Coloradas.

Two local groups lived mainly in the Mogollon Mountains, considered by the Chiricahuas to be their sacred mountains. After Mangas's death in 1863, the Bedonkohes' leaders were José Mangas, Chastine, Gordo, Chiva, and Esquine. Several sons of Mangas Coloradas were prominent men into the 1870s and 1880s. Mangas Coloradas also enjoyed tremendous influence among the Chokonens, the third Chiricahua band that called southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico its home range. His son-in-law, the legendary Cochise, led the Chokonen band from the mid-1850s until his death in 1874. His local group was called Cai-a-he-ne, "Sun Goes Down People," signifying their position as the group farthest west. Other Chokonen groups were located in the Chiricahua Mountains (Tse-ga-ta-hen-de, or Rock Pocket People) and in the Dragoon Mountains (Dzil-dun-as-le-n, or Rocks At Foot Of Grass Expanse). After Cochise's death in 1874, his two sons, Taza and Naiche, succeeded him. But neither possessed the charismatic leadership skills of Cochise. As a result, leaders such as Skinya, Chihuahua, Cathla, Nahilzay (known as Talking Chief for obvious reasons), and Chatto (whose mother was a Chokonen) shared leadership duties with Cochise's sons from 1874 to 1886.

The Nednhis were the fourth Chiricahua band. Before the reservation period, which for them began in 1872, they lived almost exclusively in the mountains of northern Mexico. Probably the most independent of the bands, they maintained close ties with the Chokonens, whose territory adjoined theirs, the Bedonkohes, who occasionally roamed into northern Mexico, and the Chihennes, for one Nednhi local group often camped in the Florida Mountains south of Deming, New Mexico. In 1840, they were the most numerous of the four bands, boasting between six and seven hundred members. Martine and Fatty, two of Morris Opler's principal informants, have shed some light on the political organization of the Nednhis, which in the late 1840s had two distinct divisions, each comprising two or three local groups.

The Chiricahuas called the Carrizaleno division Gol-ga-ene or Gul-ga-ki, "Open Place People" or "Prairie Dog People," referring to their penchant for camping in the Chihuahuan lowlands near El Carmen or Carrizal. They also occasionally roamed north to Janos and southern New Mexico. Their main chiefs in the 1850s were Cojinillin and Felipe. From the mid-1840s through the early 1860s, Chihuahuan soldiers, aided by their counterparts from Sonora, systematically wiped them out. After killing Cojinillin in 1863, they convinced Felipe and forty-six Gol-ga-enes to surrender in early 1864. The chief capitulated only after soldiers captured his wife and children. His reward for wanting to be with his family was an all-expenses-paid trip to Chihuahua City, where officials hanged him before a cheering crowd in the town square.

Only a few of the Gol-ga-enes survived. One was a young teenage boy named Fatty, who joined the Nednhi division for a while. His cousin, Martine, who went through his dikohe, or novice period, in the early 1860s, recalled these violent times in Sonora and Chihuahua: "There were so many raids [that] I got through in a hurry." It had taken him less than one month to complete the four raids necessary to become a warrior.

Martine explained that his Nednhi division had two local groups: The Nde-nda-i, to which he belonged, inhabited the Carcay Mountains in northwestern Chihuahua and the Teras and El Tigre ranges in northeastern Sonora. The second was the Haiahende, who lived in the New Mexico panhandle and in the mountains in northeast Sonora and northwest Chihuahua. Both groups occasionally wandered north into southern Arizona and New Mexico and far south to Guaynopa, a stronghold deep in the Sierra Madre, to a mountain they called Dzil-da-na-tal, "Mountain Holding Head Up And Peering Out," just east of the Sonora boundary. This was the home of a small group called Tu-ntsa-nde, "Big Water People," an appellation referring to the Aros River, which sweeps around Guaynopa in a semicircle.

The leaders for the Nde-nda-i were Soquilla (Chewing Rocks), Coleto Amarillo, Tuscaze, and Nolgee. Mexican troops killed the first two leaders in the Florida Mountains in southern New Mexico in 1849 and 1852, and Tuscaze in the Chiricahua Mountains in 1867. Soquilla was Martine's grandfather, and Nolgee was Martine's father. The second main group, the Haiahende, was led by Láceris, sometimes called Pláceris. Upon his death in the late 1850s, Láceris's two sons, Galindo and Juh, succeeded him. When the former passed from the scene in the early 1860s, Juh took his rightful place as chief, for as Martine explained, Juh's father (Láceris) and grandfather had led the group since the 1830s.

The Nednhi band showed great devotion to Juh, a powerfully built leader also called Tandinbilnojui, "He Brings Many Things With Him," a name likely referring to his prowess as a raider. Born in the early 1820s, by 1860 he had forged a close alliance with Cochise, spurning contacts with Mexico and finding refuge in the remote high country of the Sierra Madre Mountains. He would lead the Nednhis until his death in 1883.

The Chiricahua people experienced tremendous disruptions to their way of life during these transitional years from war to peace. After all, reservation life with its inherent constraints affected the fabric of their traditional existence. Before this, their movements were contingent on which plants and fruits were coming into season and where they might best find game. Confined to a specific area, they found that much of their ancestral homeland was now off-limits, especially for the two bands in New Mexico, where it was too dangerous to leave the reservation to hunt or to gather at places now overrun by miners or claimed by ranchers. Suddenly they were supposed to transform their existence, in which gathering, hunting, and raiding were vital economic pursuits, to a life of government rations and eventually self-subsistence by raising crops and stock. Indian agents also expected them to exploit the reservation's natural food sources and to hunt game within its confines.


Excerpted from From Cochise to Geronimo by Edwin R. Sweeney. Copyright © 2010 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 3

Maps 9

1 The First Chiricahua Reservations 15

2 Prelude to Removal 28

3 Removal to San Carlos 45

4 Geronimo's and Clum's Travels 64

5 New Troubles at San Carlos 86

6 The Cost of Freedom 107

7 Resistance, Survival, Misery 125

8 Naiche Speaks, and Fate Finds Victorio 147

9 Suspicion and Fear Lead to Outbreak 167

10 Juh Takes Charge 185

11 Loco Has No Choice 207

12 Life in the Sierra Madre 230

13 Juh Falls from Grace 279

14 Cool Hand Crook 299

15 Crook and Crawford Play the Waiting Game 319

16 No Chiricahuas Are Left in Mexico 341

17 New Home, New Agent, New Hope 363

18 Prelude to Disaster 385

19 Crook Empowers Chatto 408

20 Crook Sends His "Indian Men" into Mexico 429

21 "Moccasin Tracks Left in the Sand" 454

22 The Trail to Espinosa del Diablo 477

23 The Road to Embudos Canyon 500

24 General Miles to the Rescue 528

25 All Chiricahuas Are Created Equal 552

Epilogue 576

Abbreviations Used in Notes 583

Notes 585

Bibliography 665

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