The Basis of the Apache Wars

1848: Gold rush in California. Hundreds of prospectors and fortune seekers began exploring the area looking for gold, silver and copper fortunes infringing on the established Apache and Yavapai lands. One act by one group of prospectors set off a chain reaction of events that spanned the next 40 years.

Mangas Coloradas, one of the most influential Apache  leaders, entered a  mining camp to try to negotiate a peaceful coexistence in the land and was physically whipped and humiliated by the miners. From that point on, his hatred boiled over into raids of would-be settlers and prospectors, both white and Mexican. His nephew, Cochise, resisted joining his uncle for 13 years until…

1861 Cochise had been working as a woodcutter for the Butterfield Overland line, and had granted safe passage through the mile high Apache Pass for both the stagecoach line and our military.  A local rancher by the name of Ward had 20 head of cattle stolen by an unrelated Apache band who lived about 100 miles east of Apache Pass in southern Arizona. Ward’s mistress had a son named Mickey Free who was abducted by that band during the cattle rustling. Ward went to the Army demanding the return of both the cattle and the boy.

Infamous Apache Pass, 1868. Click to enlarge.

TURNING POINT  Lt. George Bascom, a recent West Point graduate, had arrived in Arizona 3 months earlier, and was sent to deal with the problem.  He camped with his men about a mile from Apache Pass and sent for Cochise.  Cochise, unaware of any of this, arrived with his brother, two of his nephews, his wife, two of his children and other Apache band members to talk to Bascom who was flying a white flag of truce. Cochise,  about 50 years old at this time, was a well respected leader. Bascom invited them into his tent.  Quietly, the troops surrounded the tent while Cochise denied the charges.  His men and family were seized.  Cochise quickly took out his knife and cut through the back of the tent, escaping through the confused troops, into the mountains.  1-3 bullets hit him during the escape. In the ensuing struggle, soldiers killed one Apache and subdued 4 others. He soon abducted a number of whites to negotiate an exchange for the Apache captives, but Bascom retaliated by hanging 6 Apaches, including relatives (his brother and nephews) of Cochise. This sequence of events is usually referred to as “The Bascom Affair.”

Cochise took three white captives to exchange for his wife and children.  Bascom refused the exchange.  Cochise retaliated by killing the captives.

At this point, Mangas Coloradas’s nephew, Cochise finally joined his uncle in fighting all intruders. During the next twenty years, 5,000  people died and 100’s of thousands of dollars in damages resulted from the Apache Wars.

Avenging these deaths, Cochise took to the warpath with his uncle, Mangas Coloradas. During the following year, warfare by Apache bands was so fierce that troops, settlers and traders all withdrew from the region. And upon the recall of army forces to fight in the U.S. Civil War in 1861, Arizona was practically abandoned to the Apaches.

1862    An army of 3,000 California volunteers under Gen. James Carleton marched to Apache Pass to prevent Confederate attacks and put the Apaches to flight with their howitzers. Although Mangas Coloradas was captured, tortured and killed in 1863 at the hands of the Army, Cochise and 200 followers managed to elude capture for more than 10 years by hiding out in the Dragoon Mountains in southeastern Arizona, from which they continued their raids, always fading back into their mountain strongholds.

1871  General Stoneman literally destroyed all progress by telling a group of people from Tucson to settle their own problems with the Apache.   Stoneman’s task, in his estimation, was simply to set up apacherias across the Arizona Territory.  The locals formed a vigilante group who descended on Apaches who had surrendered and massacred them.  Word reached Washington of the disaster and relieved Stoneman of his command.  Hundreds of helpless Apache who were under the protection of the government were murdered.

Command of the Department of Arizona was next assumed by Gen. George Crook, who succeeded in winning the allegiance of a number of Apaches as scouts and bringing many others onto reservations. Prior to devising any plan, Crook, who was a lover of the wilderness, had ridden 700 miles on a mule throughout the Arizona Territory, learning about both the country and the native people.  Mile markers cut into trees made during that journey can still be seen on the Mogollon Rim and in the Mazatzal Wilderness today. His approach was another turning point in the battle with the Apache.

a.       Cochise surrendered in September, but, resisted the transfer of his people to the Tularosa Reservation in New Mexico

b.      1872  Cochise escaped in the spring surrendering again when the Chiricahua Reservation was established that summer .

c.       There he died June 8, 1874. Today, the southeastern most county of Arizona bears his name; it includes Tombstone, Douglas and Bisbee, the county seat.

1872        Enter Geronimo, both a medicine man and a Bedonkohe Apache leader of the Chiricahua Apache, who was chosen to lead his people’s defense of their homeland against the U.S. military after the death of Cochise.

In the early 1870s, Lieutenant Colonel George F. Crook, commander of the Department of Arizona, had succeeded in establishing relative peace in the territory. The management of his successors, however, was disastrous.

1874    Some 4,000 Apaches were forcibly moved by U.S. authorities to a reservation at San Carlos, a barren wasteland in east-central Arizona. This reservation still exists today north of Globe and is one of the smallest of the 21 reservations in Arizona.

Deprived of traditional tribal rights, short on rations and homesick, they revolted. Spurred by medicine man, Geronimo, hundreds of Apaches left the reservation to resume their war against the whites.

1882  Crook was recalled to Arizona to conduct a campaign against the Apaches.

January 1884 Geronimo surrendered.

May 1885  Geronimo escapes from the San Carlos reservation  accompanied by 35 men, 8 boys and 101 women.

March 27, 1886 Crook, along with scouts Al Sieber, Tom Horn and Mickey Free (the white child Cochise was falsely accused of abducting) set out in pursuit, and 10 months later,   Geronimo surrendered at Cañon de Los Embudos in Sonora, Mexico. Near the border, however, fearing that they would be murdered once they crossed into U.S. territory, Geronimo and a small band bolted. As a result, Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles replaced Crook as commander on April 2.

During this final campaign, at least 5,000 white soldiers and 500 Indian auxiliaries were employed at various times in the capture of Geronimo’s small band. Five months and 1,645 miles later, Geronimo was tracked to his camp in Mexico’s Sonora mountains.

Sept. 3, 1886   At a conference  at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona, Miles induced Geronimo to surrender once again, promising him that, after an indefinite exile in Florida, he and his followers would be permitted to return to Arizona.

1894 The promise was never kept. Geronimo and his fellow prisoners were put to hard labor, and it was May 1887 before he saw his family. Moved to Fort Sill in the Oklahoma Territory in 1894, he at first attempted to “take the white man’s road.

He farmed and joined the Dutch Reformed Church, which expelled him because of his inability to resist gambling. He never saw Arizona again, but by special permission of the War Department, he was allowed to sell photographs of himself and his handiwork at expositions.

He died at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Feb. 17, 1909 after dictating his autobiography to S.S. Barrett: “Geronimo: His Own Story” is still in print today.

Map of Arizona


Map of the reservations and Four Corners



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