One of six main groups of Apaches spread over the American Southwest, the Chiricahua made their home the mountains and wide valleys of what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico and northern Mexico. Their most well known leader was Cochise, for which Cochise County, Arizona, is named. His favorite haunt during his lifetime, and where he was buried, is know to this day as Cochise Stronghold. It is a beautiful section of the Dragoon Mountains, a spine of granite boulders, evergreens, and cactus, where he spent many summers with his band of people.
The Chiricahua, like most of the other Apache groups, were divided into bands of nomads, each made up of several or more extended families. Each band roved over its traditional area, following the ripening wild crops, such as acorns, pinon nuts, and agave, and the game herds, the deer and antelope, as well as seasonal weather. Generally the people liked to gather in the mountains, at the higher elevations when the fierce heat of summer baked the wide valleys. Among the ranges preferred by the Chiricahua were the Chiricahua Mountains, a large complex of spire-like rocks in Arizona, and the mighty Sierra Madre in Mexico. But the Dragoons held a special allure as well, for their well-watered protection, good hunting, and many avenues of escape from enemies.
The historic Cochise Stronghold Trail can be walked to today, in the footsteps of the Apache who crossed over and camped in these mountains. Here in 1872, at the western entrance, General Oliver Howard and Tom Jeffords signed a treaty with Cochise, ending over a decade of bloodshed following the treacherous Bascom Affair, where Cochise had “cut the tent” with his knife to elude capture while parlaying under a flag of truce.
Here in the beautiful Dragoon Mountains, Cochise lived in peace for two years following, in the shade within a prime reservation given him, but which would be taken away following his death in 1874. And in the vast array of crevices and prominences, his followers lowered the body of their fallen leader, and his horse, to a resting place unknown today.
Today the wickiups of the ancestors are gone, but the aura of their spirits remain. Most of the water is gone, the main spring having dried up following an earthquake over a hundred years ago. But the plants and animals still inhabit the area, and the runoff ravines, and the trail winding up over a thousand feet from the box canyon on the eastern side before plunging over the western slope, within sight of historic Tombstone.
The last resisters under Geronimo were sent as prisoners of war to Florida, and later to Oklahoma, and only much later were allowed to join some of their Mescalero brethren in New Mexico. The Chiricahua are the only group of Apache without a reservation of their own to this day. Some did not ever submit and lived out their time on this earth secretly in the Sierra Madre in Mexico. Known as Broncos, they were sighted as late as the 1930s before the last of them died or were assimilated into the local populace.
The Chiricahua were indeed a fiercely free and brave people and an inspiration to patriots everywhere even today.
Photos and text Copyright 2014 Carl Grimsman, All rights reserved.