Cochise: Legendary leader of the Chiricahua Apache

Bust of Cochise, Apache Leader. Photo copyright Karen Gonzales, NPSCochise. You know the name, but do you know why he is such a legendary figure? Start in Cochise County to learn more about Cochise and the Chiricahua Apaches.

The renowned Apache leader, with his family, and his fellow Apaches roamed what is now the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. They fought the U.S. military during the Indian Wars of the 1800s.

There are no known photos of Cochise. The bust pictured here is a likeness of Cochise, which is in Fort Bowie National Historic Site's visitor center. Photo courtesy of Karen Gonzales, National Park Service.

The Bascom Affair
It started with the Bascom Affair, an incident in 1861. Wrongly accused of kidnapping a child, Cochise came to a meeting inside the tent of Lt. George Bascom. Cochise realized Bascom had tricked him when the lieutenant’s men surrounded the tent intending to keep him captive. He told him he hadn’t kidnapped the boy, but Bascom didn’t believe him.

Cochise slashed the side of the tent, fought his way out of the camp and escaped. The “Bascom Affair” inflamed fighting with the U.S., and the Indian Wars continued for many years. The incident happened southeast of Willcox in what is now Fort Bowie National Historic Site.

Walk in the steps of Cochise
Cochise and many Apaches roamed the countryside here. As you hike the 1.5-mile trail into Fort Bowie, you will come across markers noting the site of the Bascom Affair. Along the way you’ll also see the site of a Butterfield Overland Stage stop as well as a small cemetery. (On a side note, Geronimo’s son, Little Robe, is buried at this cemetery as are local settlers and a few Apache children.)

West of Fort Bowie in the Dragoon Mountains is Cochise Stronghold, a place to which Cochise and the Apaches retreated many times. Skirmishes between the military and the Chiricahua Apaches happened in and around Cochise Stronghold. The Apaches could hide among the gigantic rocks and keep lookout for their approaching enemies. When you hike along the trail at Cochise Stronghold, you can imagine how these rocks provided cover and gave them a great advantage to see their adversaries approaching.

At-a-glance: ways to learn about Cochise

  • Amerind Foundation Museum – learn about Cochise, the Chiricahua Apaches as well as native peoples of the Americas
  • Hike the trail into Cochise Stronghold where Cochise is buried… no one knows where
  • Chiricahua Regional Research Center, located in Willcox – find a wealth of information about Cochise and Geronimo and other Native Americans. Located at 127 E. Maley Street. Phone: 520-384-3971
  • See the remains of Fort Bowie at Fort Bowie National Historic Site – it was established to protect settlers during the Chiricahua Indian Wars
  • Chiricahua National Monument – the “land of the standing up rocks” and see Cochise Head, a formation visible at the top of the Monument’s Bonita Canyon scenic drive.