Cochise, Apache Legend

chandler-seated.jpgNo, this isn’t a photo of Cochise.  It’s Jeff Chandler, the Brooklyn-born actor who played the great Apache chief in three different movies, winning an Oscar nomination for his portrayal in the 1950 film, BROKEN ARROW.  No photograph of the real Cochise exists.  But accounts of the time describe him as tall and handsome with a fiercely majestic presence.  At a time when Native Americans were commonly played by white actors, Chandler (who was 6’ 5” and Jewish) did a first class job.  The scene where James Stewart walks into the Apache camp and Cochise, played by Chandler, first steps into sight, is pure goose bump material.   

The real Cochise was born some time between 1812 and 1815, most likely in the Chiricahua Mountains of what is now southern Arizona.  By 1835 he was leading raids against the Apaches’ traditional enemies, the Mexicans.  His ferocity in battle and his chiefly bearing soon made him a leader among his people.

Cochise tolerated the growing presence of Americans in his territory until an incident in 1861.  A rancher had lost some cattle and his half-Mexican son.  The local army commander summoned Cochise to his tent.  Cochise came with his wife and son, his brother and several nephews.  Cochise, who was innocent, was accused of the crime.  When the soldiers tried to arrest him, he drew a knife, slashed the tent and escaped.The soldiers held Cochise’s family hostage.  To ransom them, Cochise kidnapped four men from a stagecoach station.  Believing that his family had been killed, Cochise tortured and killed his captives.  In retaliation, the soldiers killed his brother and nephews, who were still prisoners.  Cochise’s wife and son were released, but the damage was done.  Throughout the 1860’s Cochise made war on the Americans, raiding, killing, striking terror into the hearts of settlers and outwitting the army at every turn.  When his father-in-law, the great Mangas Coloradas, was murdered by whites, who removed his head and sent it back East, Cochise’s rage reached new heights.  By the end of the decade Cochise was the most feared Indian in America.

Enter a new player in this drama.  Mail supervisor Thomas Jeffords was the one white man Cochise respected and trusted.  Their friendship is one of the greatest legends of the West. Through a series of events, Jeffords managed to arrange a meeting between Cochise and General Howard, known for his fairness toward the Indians.  A treaty was arranged, which gave the Apaches a reservation in their beloved mountains and named Cochise’s friend Jeffords as the reservation agent. 

jeffords.jpgJeffords, shown here, was played in the film BROKEN ARROW by James Stewart.  The romance between Jeffords and the Apache girl, played by Debra Paget, was entirely fictional.  But the rest of the story is mostly true.

Cochise honored the treaty to the end of his days and died in his sixties of natural causes.  His grave has never been found.  His eldest son Taza, who followed him as tribal leader, also walked the path of peace.  He died of pneumonia on a visit to Washington DC in 1876.  Cochise’s younger son Naiche and his warrior daughter Lozen continued the fight for freedom alongside another Apache leader who, in my estimation, was even more fascinating than Cochise.  But that’s a story for next time.

Who is your favorite Native American character, in film, fiction or history?  What do you think of the way Native Americans are portrayed in movies?  I’m very interested in your opinions.

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22 thoughts on “Cochise, Apache Legend”

  1. In fiction, I loved Kicking Bird from Dances with Wolves, wonderfully protrayed by Graham Greene in the movie (I read the book before seeing the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it.)

    Just the other night the kids were watching the Disney Pocahontas 2 movie and my husband was asking me questions in regard to her real life that I wasn’t sure about, especially since Disney romanticized the story a wee bit much.

    I decided to research her online. Each site I went to had different tales about her and not all made sense or were in line with the others, so it’s hard to know what is true about her life and what wasn’t unless I invest in some research books, but her life fascinates me. So young and yet she made such an impact in her short life.

  2. Hey, good morning, Taryn. I agree with you about Graham Greene as Kicking Bird–he was just magnificent. And I’ll confess I’m not a fan of what Disney does to history. From what I’ve read, the real Pocahontas was very different from the Disney version. Wasn’t she about twelve years old at the time she saved John Smith? Trying to remember… Thanks so much for your comment.

  3. I’ve been doing a lot of research for my WIP about Comanche chief Quanah Parker, one of the last Indian chiefs to accept coming in to peace and agreeing to live on a reservation.
    He had a white boy, who had been captured by his tribe, who was like a son to him…which is what drew my interest because one of my characters, the heroine, is raised by the Flatheads and I wanted to really understand how that affected someone? How they’d re-entered the white world. I wanted to treat that experience with respect.
    So my research led me to Quanah Parker… seriously interesting character.

  4. AND I’ve been studying DeSmet. A priest who traveled quite freely among the western Indians, particularly the Flatheads, when it was very dangerous to do such a thing. DeSmet is famed for walking alone into a Sioux village of 5,000 hostile warriors, meeting with Sitting Bull and coming out alive and with a signed peace treaty.
    This is a fascinating story and to this day historians don’t really understand why DeSmet was treated as well as he was, but he was a stanch defender of native people and converted many tribes to Christianity as well as being a loyal friend.

  5. You do such great research, Mary. And Quanah Parker’s own background, as the son of a captive white woman, is fascinating. Another of my favorite historical characters is Washakie, Shoshone chief in the late 1800s, who was half Shoshone and half Flathead. He was smart enough to foresee the power of the whites and maintain peace with them. Amazing man, with a delightful sense of humor. I’ve used him in several books. He lived into the early 1900s and passed away at the age of 102.

  6. Hi Elizabeth,

    I don’t know enough about Native Americans to have a favorite really, but I think of women like Sacagewea and Pocahantas. And on the big screen, it was the haunting voice who narrated Legends of the Fall, applying the folklore and Indian legend to give the story another dimension.
    As a child, I would have said, Tonto. The Lone Ranger was a favorite of mine.

  7. Thanks, Charlene. Jay Silverheels, the handsome actor who played Tonto for the entire series was a Native American, who paved the way for other performers of his race. Here’s a bit of trivia–He was born Harold Jay Smith and first came to the U.S. as a member of the Canadian National Lacrosse team.

  8. I’m late to the computer today, but I really enjoyed your blog about Cochise. I’m not as familiar with the Native Americans as I should be, but I know Cochise was very much feared. The brutal things they did to one another back then. Oh,my! A hard life, for sure.

    I’m curious why Thomas Jeffords managed to befriend and win Cochise’s trust. Do you know?

  9. Jeffords himself told different versions of the story. In the movie, Jeffords wants Cochise to let his mail carriers cross the territory unharmed. He hires a guide to take him into Cochise’s camp and just walks in, unarmed. Cochise respects his courage and give him what he wants. This may be what really happened. There’s also some evidence that they’d met earlier. I got much of my information from an excellent web site: The movie was based on the book BLOOD BROTHER, by Elliot Arnold. Thanks for your comment, Pam.

  10. I enjoyed learning about Cochise, too, Elizabeth. Thanks for making history come alive for us today. If only high school history had been about this kind of stuff. *G*

    Taryn, I’d love to see a blog about Pocahontas!

  11. I think history taught through ficational characters is the great unknown secret weapon to teaching history in an engaging way.
    The Winds of War and War and Remembrance… I learned more about WWII through that then anywhere else. The history needs to be reliable, but putting fictional characters right next to real ones is such a great idea.

    Read Daughter of Liberty by J.M. Hochstetler for a great history lesson about the start of the American Revolution. A British soldier, and American rebel
    it’s great romance, perfect conflict and in my spare time, I’m listening to George Washington and refighting the battles of Lexington and Concord.
    Or Hannah Rose by Louise Gouge for this great background into what led up to the Civil War. He’s helping escaping slaves…and he’s using her house, unknown to her, as part of his underground railroad. This couple if falling in love while they’re battling over her wanting to keep her child safe and him risking everything, including her, for his most fundamental belief in the wrongness of slavery.
    So history class should be having their students read romance novels and war story, and slip the learning in while their little lips are busy moving while they read.

  12. Thanks all of you who posted. As a special Valentine treat, Lori will be doing the February 14th blog. I’ll be back with you on February 28. Have a happy and romantic Valentine’s Day!

  13. Cochise was a great Native American, but I have to go with the Indian chief in the movie, “I Will Fight No More Forever”. He didn’t want the Nez Perce tribe to be kept on a reservation, so they made their journey northward to get away from the US cavalry who wanted the tribe to come to the reservation. The tribe suffered hardships along the way, and before they came to the border the cavalry had the tribe blocked in and there was a battle and the Indian chief’s son was killed. The chief stands motionless as he is the only one there among his tribe who are fallen. Just a few of the tribe made it across the border into Canada. It takes a loyal caring man to do what he did. This movie is one that I would recommend to watch as it shows history as it really was then.

  14. Thanks for your great comment, Terry! That’s a movie I haven’t seen. It’s going into my Netflix queue. It’s about Chief Joseph, right? Or is the character just based on him?
    He was truly a great man.

  15. Thanks for the great comments about Cochise, but I do have to correct one detail. Lozen, the “Woman Warrior” was the sister of Victorio, who was himself a great Apache Chief, but his band was called Chihene and they were based mostly in southwestern New Mexico, close neighbors of Cochise and the Chokonen band of southeast Arizona. Cochise was not known to have had any daughters.
    By the way, I am now building a solar home near the base of the east Stronghold, about 4 miles west of Sunsites, Az.

  16. Thanks so much for your correction, Kim. You definitely know your Apaches, and I appreciate your clearing up my mistake.

    Your solar home sounds wonderful.

    Thanks again,

  17. Dago te, means hello I.m White Mountian Apache and your article on Cochise is interesting, it is true, there is no picture taken of Cochise. The film I believed was made here in Arizona. Sedona Arizona. The film also had our people in it. My favorite native american actor Wes Studi not because he played Geronimo but his other roles as a native american. I wishing they would do a film on Apache Scouts and have Apaches from Fort Apache become actors and make the film here in real Apache country….

  18. Thank you for your very interesting comment, Elmer. I appreciate hearing from a real Apache. I’m a Wes Studi fan, too (I think). Didn’t he play Leaphorn in the PBS Tony Hillerman series, or am I confusing him with someone else?
    I, too, would enjoy a film on Apache scouts. Maybe someday they’ll make one.

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