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Dictionary Definition

Cochise n : Apache leader of the resistance to United States troops in Arizona (1812-1874)

Extensive Definition

Cochise () (K'uu-ch'ish = "firewood") (c. 1815June 8, 1874) was a chief (a nantan) of the Chokonen ("central" or "real" Chiricahua) band of the Chiricahua Apache and the leader of an uprising that began in 1861. Cochise County, Arizona is named after him.


Cochise was one of the most famous Apache leaders (along with Geronimo) to resist intrusions by Mexicans and Americans during the 19th century. He was described as a large man (for the time), with a muscular frame, classical features, and long black hair which he wore in traditional Apache style.
Cochise and the Chokonen-Chiricahua lived in the area that is now the northern Mexican region of Sonora, New Mexico, and Arizona, which were traditional Apache territories until the coming of the Europeans. Due to encroachment by Spain and later Mexico, the Chokonen and Nednhi-Chiricahua became increasingly dependent upon food rations issued by the Mexican government to placate them. When this practice was abruptly ended in 1831, the various Chiricahua bands resumed raids to acquire food.
The Mexican government began a series of military operations in order to either capture or neutralize the Chiricahua, but they received stiff resistance from Cochise and the Apache who were implacable foes. Mexican troops were largely unsuccessful in their attempts and were often fought to a standstill by the Apache. As part of their attempts at controlling the Chiricahua, Mexican forces, often with the help of American and Native American mercenaries, began to kill Apache civilians, including Cochise's father. This hardened Cochise's resolve and gave the Chiricahua more reason for vengeance. Mexican forces were finally able to capture Cochise in 1848 during an Apache raid on Fronteras, Sonora, but they exchanged him for nearly a dozen Mexican prisoners.

Border tensions and fighting

The region inhabited by the Apache had experienced increased tension between the Apache and European settlers (including early Spanish encroachment) from about 1831 until the greater part of the area was annexed by the United States in 1850, which ushered in a brief period of relative peace. Cochise worked as a woodcutter at the stagecoach station in Apache Pass for the Butterfield Overland Mail line.
The tenuous peace did not last as American encroachment into Apache territory continued. The formal peace ended in 1861 when an Apache raiding party drove away a local rancher's cattle and kidnapped his twelve-year-old son. Cochise and five others of his band were falsely accused of the incident (which had actually been done by the Coyotero band of Apaches). The six suspects were ordered by an inexperienced Army officer (Lt. George Bascom) to report to the fort for questioning. Although they maintained their innocence, the group was arrested and imprisoned.
The group soon mounted an escape attempt; one was killed and Cochise was shot three times but managed to slip away. He quickly took hostages to use in negotiations to free the other four Chiricahua. However, the plan backfired; both sides killed all their hostages in what was later known as the "Bascom Affair". Bascom's retaliation included hanging Cochise's brother and two of his nephews, which served to further enrage Cochise.
Cochise then joined with his father-in-law Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves, Kan-da-zis Tlishishen), the Bedonkohe-Chiricahua Apache chief, in a long series of retaliatory skirmishes and raids among the settlements. Many people were killed on both sides, but the Apache began to achieve the upper hand, which prompted the United States Army to send an expedition (led by General James Carleton).

Apache Pass conflict

At Apache Pass in 1862, Cochise and Mangas Coloradas, with around 500 fighters, held their ground against a force of California volunteers under General James Henry Carleton until howitzer artillery fire was brought to bear on their position.
According to scout John C. Cremony and historian Dan L. Thrapp, the howitzer fire sent the Apaches into an immediate retreat. But Carleton's biographer, Aurora Hunt, wrote, "This was the first time that the Indians had faced artillery fire. Nevertheless, they fought stubbornly for several hours before they fled." Capt. Thomas Roberts was persuaded by the engagement that it would be best to find a route around Apache Pass, which he did. Gen. Carleton thus continued unhindered to New Mexico and subsequently took over as commander of the territory.
In January of 1863 Gen. Joseph Rodman West, under orders from Gen. Carleton, was able to capture Mangas Coloradas by duping him into a conference under a flag of truce. During what was to be a peaceful parley session, the Americans took the unsuspecting Mangas Coloradas prisoner and later executed him. This continued a series of incidents that fanned the flames of enmity between the encroaching Americans and the Apache. For Cochise, the Americans held nothing sacred and had violated the rules of war by capturing Mangas Coloradas during a parley session. Cochise and the Apache continued their raids against American and Mexican settlements and military positions throughout the 1860s.

Capture, escape, and retirement

Following various skirmishes, Cochise and his men were gradually driven into the Dragoon Mountains but were nevertheless able to use the mountains as cover and as a base from which to continue significant skirmishes against white settlements. This was the situation until 1871 when General George Crook assumed command and used other Apaches as scouts and informants and was thereby able to force Cochise's men to surrender. Cochise was taken into custody in September of that year.
The next year, the Chiricahua were ordered to Tularosa Reservation located in New Mexico, but refused to leave their ancestral lands in Arizona, which were guaranteed to them under treaty. Cochise managed to escape again and renewed raids and skirmishes against settlements through most of 1872. A new treaty was later negotiated by General Oliver O. Howard, with the help of Tom Jeffords who had become blood brother to Cochise, as the Americans relented to some of the Apaches' terms. Cochise quietly retired to an Arizona reservation, where he died of natural causes.


He married Nah-ke-de-sah, the daughter of Mangas Coloradas, in the 1830s. Their children were Taza, born in 1842, and Naiche, born in 1856.

References in popular culture

  • Cochise's grandson (Taza's son) played Cochise in the pilot episode of the classic 60s western series The High Chaparral despite being 92 years old and missing a leg (Cochise would not have yet have been 60 in 1870 when the series was set, and he remained bipedal throughout his life). Nino repeated the portrayal in episode 4 of the first series.
  • The band Audioslave has a song inspired by him titled "Cochise".
  • In the Lethal Weapon film franchise, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), calls Roger Murtagh (Danny Glover) "Cochise" at least once in each film. For example, in Lethal Weapon 2, during a scene where Murtagh has a bomb under his toilet and asks if they are going to jump on 3, Riggs replies, "Well, it's your ass, Cochise!"

External links


  • Rock supergroup Audioslave released a single entitled Cochise, found on their self titled first album. Thematically, the album features frequent reference to fire and burning, hence the name of the track.


  • Thrapp, Dan L. The Conquest of Apacheria. Norman:University of Oklahoma Press, 1967 LCCCN 67-15588 ISBN 0806112867
  • Bourke, John G. On the Boarder with Crook. Lincoln:University of Nebraska Press, 1971 LCCCN 74-155699 ISBN 0803257414
  • Cochise, Ciyé "The First Hundred Years of Nino Cochise" New York: Pyramid Books 1972 ISBN 051502838X
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