The Native American Story of Cochise
Famous Indian Chiefs I have Known, by General Oliver Otis Howard
The Story of Cochise
Once upon a time, far away in New Mexico, an Indian tribe lived on a large stretch of land near a place called Tulerosa. They had not always lived there, but now the white men said they must stay there and nowhere else, for there was much land, many trees, and plenty of water. But the ground was really too poor for the Indians to plant, and they said the water made the children sick.
The chief of this tribe, the Mescalero Apaches, was Victoria, a good man who was troubled for his people. He knew they were discontented and wanted to go on the war-path and that it was better for them to keep peace.
Now not far away from Tulerosa Uncle Sam had an army post where some soldiers lived who believed that the Indians had good reason to be unhappy. They thought about it awhile and then wrote down all they had heard the Indians say and sent it in a letter to President Grant at Washington. President Grant wanted everybody in the whole country to be happy, so he decided to send some one out to Tulerosa to see just what the titter was and what could be done.
I was very busy just then in Washington, but the Presidents sent for me and told me not to wait a minute, but go right out to New Mexico and find out about things; so, of course, I went.
After I arrived the very first Indian I saw was the chief, Victoria. He had been trying his best to keep peace but there were Indians on the war-path near by, who made it just as hard for him as they could, and among these Cochise, the chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, was the most warlike.
He had been fighting for many years, taking prisoners from the long wagon-trains that passed by, burning the wagons, and driving off the horses and mules quite like an old German robber baron. He lived in a stronghold, a great fortress among the rocks, way up in the Dragoon Mountains, and from here he attacked stages until none could go along the highways or on any road near where he lived.
He never took prisoners. No, indeed; he killed all the white people he came across, and had never spared one, except a man the Indians called Taglito, which means Red Beard. His real name was Jeffords, and he was a white guide. How he alone came to be spared nobody knew. Of course, there could never be peace till Cochise agreed to it, so I told Victoria I had made up my mind to try and see this powerful warrior. Victoria was horrified. He seemed to think this out of the question, for no white man had ever seen Cochise and lived, except this same scout, Captain Jeffords. But where there's a will there's a way, and I did not give up, and kept at Victoria to help me.
At last he said there was one Indian who might help me. This was Chie, the son of Mangus Colorado (Red Sleeve), a brother of the warlike Cochise. Chie's father, Red Sleeve, was killed by the white men when Chie as a tiny boy, so I could not expect much help from him, but it was worth trying and Victoria brought him to see me. He was a fine-looking young Indian, dressed in deer skin from head to foot, but with no cap, for his own thick black hair was cap enough. To my surprise I found him inclined to be friendly, and he spoke so much of Jeffords and the love of his Uncle Cochise for the scout, that I decided to see the famous Taglito. He was out just then acting as a guide to a troop of soldiers, but the next day would return, and then I could see him.
As soon as he arrived the commanding officer sent him to me, and when he entered my tent I did not wonder that he was called "Captain." He was very tall and fine looking, with clear blue eyes and a long bright red beard.
I said to him: "They tell me that you have really been up in the Dragoon Mountains in the stronghold of the famous Apache chief—Cochise?"
"Yes, sir," he replied, "I have! Some people doubt it, but I assure you I made the old chief a visit last year."
"You are the first man," I said, "who has been able to get beyond his Indian spies. I want to go to see him; will you take me?"
Jeffords looked very steadily into my face with his fearless eyes and then he said: "Yes, General Howard, I will; but you must go without any soldiers."
"All right," I said, "get ready to start as soon as you can."
Now Jeffords never hurried, he went to work very quietly and soon had done what was necessary. The next day he had a talk with Victoria and Chie and then came to see me again. He told me the first thing to do was to go with a few chosen Indians right out of our way back to the Rio Grande River. This seemed very funny to me, but Jeffords said that Victoria wanted very much to show General Howard his beloved country, Canyada Alamosa, and it would not do to disappoint him, for we needed his help very much and must keep him in good humor. Chie promised to go with us to see his Uncle Cochise if I would give him a horse, and his wife, who stayed behind, a horse too. Again I said: "All right."
Jeffords thought that we could find Ponce, a friend of Cochise, not far from Canyada Alamosa, with his band of Indians. He was a wild fellow, but he could interpret from Spanish into Apache to perfection, and, besides, Cochise always believed what he said.
The next morning Victoria was ready to lead us with a small band of his men over the one hundred miles to the Rio Grande. Here he showed me the Canyada Alamosa and the ojo caliente (hot spring), where his tribe used to live. How they loved their old home! Would I not beg Uncle Sam to let them come back from Tulerosa and live once more in their own home land? Indeed, I was glad to promise to do what I could, and then I said good-by to the chief and his Indians. We must find Ponce. Jeffords and I were, some distance ahead of our few followers when we came to the edge of an immense ravine. The Rio Negro (or Black River, because the water is so dark) flowed at the bottom. Along the banks of this river the farmers had planted corn and about three miles away we could see Ponce and his band helping themselves freely to the ripe ears. We rode as fast as we could till we were right in the midst of the Indians and then Jeffords, seeing that several were sitting in a circle playing games, sat down among them. I found some small boys a few steps away and began to amuse them, while the women watched with their eyes cast down as they worked over their pots and kettles or roasted the ears of green corn. By and by we told Ponce what we wanted and asked him to go with us as a guide and interpreter. He agreed to go if we would arrange to let his people meanwhile camp near a country store and be supplied from the store with food. Ponce was given a good horse, but he gave it to his wife and came to me for another. Now I had no more horses, so I told him he would have to ride behind on my horse. Sometimes I said he could ride, sometimes I would. With this arrangement he was perfectly satisfied, and, a party of nine men, we started for the border of Arizona, nearly 300 miles away. Ponce was a fat, good-natured, lawless fellow, lazy in camp, but capable of great endurance, of intense energy on the hunt for game and tireless when on the march. One day Ponce and I were riding quietly, his arms around me from behind, when he saw a deer track. At once he was alert, threw himself to the ground and, rifle in hand, pressed the deer till he had him caught in a thicket. I heard just one shot and then Ponce came back to the road with the deer swung over his shoulders.
We came, after a while, to a place called Silver City. It was only a little town, but there was a hotel were we could spend the night. After we had settled down some one told me that the people who lived in Silver City did not like Indians, and that they were going to take Ponce and Chie in the morning and kill them. When I knew this was true I told nobody but very early in the morning we all got up and were far away from Silver City long before the people who lived there were awake. Now there was one white man who hated Indians more than any one else in Silver City because some bad Indians had killed his brother. Well, he said that he would never be happy till he had killed an Apache, so he managed to get in front of us on the road. He was very angry when he saw us, and pulled out his gun ready to fire at Ponce and Chie. We were all on horseback, and when this bad man rode forward, pointing his gun at the Indians, I believe I was angry too. Anyway, I turned my horse so that I was between the gun and our Apache guides.
"Man," I said, "shoot them, if you please, but you'll have to shoot me first." This made him more angry than ever, but I think he must have been a coward at heart, after all, for he did not quite dare to shoot the representative of President Grant, and so he turned his horse and rode away; but Ponce and Chie never forgot.
At last we reached the Mogollon mountain range. Here Chie ran ahead of us and started nine fires, far enough apart so that anybody up in the wooded heights could see the smoke and count them. It meant that we came in peace and that there were nine of us. After a little while Chie began to bark like a coyote, and, as we listened a coyote bark came back from the hills. Chie waited not a moment, but ran quickly up the steep mountain side and disappeared among the trees. There was nothing for us to do but to wait for him to come back, and when he finally did return a small party of Cochise's Indians were with him. We had run into a small party of Cochise's Indians under Nazee, a sub-chief. The springs of water had dried up in the Chiricahua Range of mountains and that was why they were so far away. There was only one spring of water and that night we all shared it. In the morning with Ponce to talk for us we had a council with Nazee. He told us that we were still a hundred miles from Cochise, and that we would never find him as long as there were so many of us. Nine had not seemed very much to me, but I was determined to see Cochise, if I possibly could, and I sent every one back except Captain Sladen (my aide), Jeffords, and the two Indian guides, Ponce and Chie; so we started once more. The next night we came to Rodger's Ranch, near Sulphur Springs, and Ponce and Chie were afraid of old Rodger's dogs, for he taught them to bark at Indians and bite them.
I had settled down for the night with a bear skin thrown over me and I told Ponce to stay by Captain Sladen, and Chie to come and sleep with me. Chie came to my bed on the ground, but when he had one look at my bear skin, he cried: "Shosh! Shosh! no bueno!'' (bear, bear, no good) and refused to come nearer. I threw aside my bear skin and with two good blankets made him comfortable all the night, for afraid as he was of the savage dogs, he feared the bear skin more.
By the next day we were on the west side of the Dragoon Mountains. Here we rested by a clear flowing stream, while Chie went ahead of us into Cochise's stronghold. He did not return, but after awhile two Indian lads rode toward us on an Indian pony. We received them as guides and offered them food and drink, which they seemed to enjoy. Then they were ready and pushed us on, riding behind us for five or six miles along a narrow ravine which led us finally into the very stronghold of Cochise. Forty acres were inclosed by a natural wall of rock, nearly a hundred feet high, and the only way in or out was by following the tiny mountain brook at the bottom of the ravine. When we were once in, it was very beautiful, for the grass was high, making a thick green carpet, and there were lovely shrubs. . Here we met another sub-chief, Nasakee, but there were no other warriors, only a few old men and many women and children. When we finally arrived at the stronghold, Cochise was off hunting, or hiding, and Nasakee said he could not tell us what Cochise would do with us when he came back, whether it would be peace or war. I could see that Chie felt very much afraid, for his uncle might be angry at him for bringing us. Ponce lost his usual jolly looks. Would the great chief accept our peace message in the morning, or would he kill us as he had killed all the other white prisoners.
Whatever happened in the morning we were safe for one night, and must make the best of it. I wanted to talk with the boys and girls, so I took out my memorandum book and holding up an arrow, said: "What's that?" All the children cried: "What's that?" But I said: "Apache." One boy saw in a minute what I wanted, and called out: "Kah," so I wrote it down in my book. Next I held up a bow. "Eltien," said the children, and in a few minutes they were bringing all sorts of things and telling me their names in Apache. The women stood around laughing, and so I spent the hours till it was dark, and they went away to sleep under the trees, but when I put my head on a saddle and drew a blanket over me for the night, the children put their little heads all around on my cover and fell asleep, too. "Sladen," I said, "this does not mean war"; and very soon I fell asleep and did not wake till morning.
We had just had our breakfast when the chief rode in. He wore a single robe of stout cotton cloth and a Mexican sombrero on his head with eagle feathers on it. With him were his sister and his wife, Natchee, his son, about fourteen years old, and Juan, his brother, beside other Indians. When he saw us he sprang from his horse and threw his arms about Jeffords and embraced him twice, first on one side, 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" (Good day, sir). He greeted us all pleasantly and asked us to go to the council ground where the chief Indians had already gathered. Just as we started, Ponce told an Indian woman of the death of one of her friends among the Mescaleros. She listened for a moment, then gave forth a shrill, sorrowful, prolonged cry. Instantly every Indian stood still and showed silent respect till her repeated wailings had ceased. Then we went on and took our seats on the blankets spread for us and the council opened.
Ponce and Chie first told Cochise all about me, who I was, and what I had done for other Indians. He seemed very pleased with the story, and you may be sure we watched very carefully to see how he took it. Then he turned to Jeffords, and, calling him Taglito, told him to ask me what I came to him for. 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." He told me too how the war with the white men began. An officer had lost some horses, so he seized Cochise, his brother, Mangus Colorado, and some other Indians, and put them in a tent under guard. Cochise slit the tent with a knife and escaped. Then he seized the first white man he met and sent word to the officer that he would tie a rope round the white man's neck, hitch him to a pony and drag him along till he died. He would let the officer know that if he hurt Indian prisoners Cochise would drag white men by ropes till they died. But the officer would not hear. He took the Indians and hanged them all in Apache Pass. So war began, and how could it be stopped? It was a dreadful story. I had heard part of it before, but now as I listened I was very, very sorry. Cochise asked me how long I would stay. He said it would take ten days for all of his captains to come into camp, for they were off in all directions. I told him I would stay as long as it took to make peace. Cochise was very much afraid if any of his captains met the soldiers, that the soldiers would fire on them and then there would be war again, so I proposed to send Captain Sladen to Fort Bowie, where he could telegraph to all the soldiers in New Mexico and Arizona not to fire on Indians, but Cochise shook his head. "No, no," he said, "you go. Leave Captain Sladen here; we will take good care of him." I was very willing to go, and felt sure that Captain Sladen would be safe even in Cochise's stronghold; but who would be my guide? All the Indians were afraid, for I was going straight among soldiers and they knew that most soldiers did not like Indians. Every one who was asked to be my guide, refused, even Ponce. At last Chie said he would go. I had saved his life once and he did not believe I would let the soldiers hurt him.
On two good mules Chie and I made the journey to Fort Bowie, and were back again the second day, followed by a wagon with provisions, and a spring wagon drawn by four mules. While we were gone Cochise had chosen a new camp ground looking west. On a high rock, a quarter of a mile away, a large white flag on a pole stood out plainly. When we arrived we spread a piece of canvas on the ground and called it a table. I took the head and Sladen at the foot was carver. Cochise sat at my right and Jefford's with Chie on the left, Ponce and one or two others between. Here we ate three times a day, and Cochise and I became close friends while we waited for his captains to arrive. When they did come he held a Spirit meeting, taking his stand in a cozy place surrounded by small trees and wild vines. The women formed a large circle sitting side by side. The men inside the ring sat or knelt. Then followed a wonderful song in which all joined. It began like the growl of a bear and rising little by little to a high pitch, lasted ten or more minutes and then suddenly stopped. After this Cochise interpreted to the people the will of the Spirits, saying: "The Spirits have decided that Indians and white men shall eat bread together."
Then what a rejoicing there was. The Indian captains crowded around us and tried in every way to make me understand their joy, promising to keep the peace.
The next day we all went ten or twelve miles to Dragoon Springs, where we met Major Sam Sumner and the officers from Fort Bowie who came at my request to confirm the "Great Peace."
When Cochise saw their uniforms in the distance he put his warriors at once into a sort of skirmish order, so that they could go forward for battle, seek cover, or run back in retreat at his word of command, but Captain Sladen and I brought about a happy and cheerful meeting, and the great good peace which we had made in the mountains was witnessed and confirmed. Then we went with Cochise and his five hundred Indians to Sulphur Springs near Rodger's Ranch. Captain Jeffords was made Indian Agent, and a large reserve of good public land was put aside for these Indians.
At last, when I was about to go, Cochise wrapped me in his arms and begged me to stay with him, but I said: "Your men obey you and I must obey the President, who wants me to come back to Washington and tell him all about this 'Good Peace.'" And as I started for my home so far away I felt very happy, for I knew that while Cochise was a wild, desperate warrior, still his heart was warm toward me, and he was true to his friends and every inch a man "for a' that."
The Story of Cochise
This story of Cochise is featured in the book entitled Famous Indian Chiefs I have Known, by General Oliver Otis Howard, New York, NY, The Century Co. 1916 that was first published in 1908.
The Story of Cochise
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The Story of Cochise for Kids
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Cochise - Pictures and Videos of Native Americans
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