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Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Apache and the Bascom Incident

By Kristy McCaffrey

In the latter half of the 1800’s, the westward expansion of the United States brought with it endless clashes between immigrants and the military with Native American peoples. Oddly enough, the Apache Indians of the territories of Arizona and New Mexico initially tolerated Americans, and didn’t consider them an immediate threat. Apache had their hands full with the Mexicans, who passionately despised the Indians for all the raiding and plundering they wreaked in northern Mexico. Historians generally agree that this all changed with the Bascom Affair.

In January 1861, Apache marauders attacked John Ward’s farm, located in the Sonoita Valley of the Arizona Territory, eleven miles from Fort Buchanan near the U.S./Mexican border. Two war parties stormed the ranch, one driving off a number of cattle, and the other abducting Ward’s twelve-year-old adopted son, Felix Martinez, who was outside herding stock. Ward himself was away on business at the time, and while two men from the ranch attempted to pursue, they were unsuccessful.

George Bascom
When news of the raid reached Fort Buchanan two weeks later, the post commander, Lieutenant Colonel Pitcairn Morrison, ordered Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom to locate the Indians and recover the boy. Morrison incorrectly assumed that Cochise and his band were accountable for the kidnapping, so he directed Bascom to proceed east toward Apache Pass in search of the boy and the stolen cattle. Had the military been more familiar with the habits of the Indians in their district, they would’ve known that Cochise, a Chiricahua Apache—while certainly not innocent in other circumstances—had never been known to take American captives. The White Mountain Apache, however, habitually kidnapped whites to barter with other tribes or the Mexicans.

Cochise had made efforts to keep a friendship with the U.S. government by frequently returning token animals stolen by other bands. But the increasing occurrence of raids on the Sonoita and Santa Cruz valleys had hardened the army toward the Chiricahua. Morrison told Bascom that if he located Cochise he was to settle for nothing less than the return of the boy and to use force if necessary. Bascom assembled 54 men and rode toward the Chiricahua Mountains, known to be a winter home for Cochise.

Apache Pass
Once they arrived, Bascom learned that Cochise was indeed in the area and sent word to him. After a lengthy delay, Cochise finally came to Bascom’s camp, along with his brother, three other male relatives, his wife, and two boys. It is thought that Cochise must not have sensed danger in the meeting since he brought immediate family members with him. When Bascom questioned him about the raid on Ward’s farm, Cochise denied any involvement and even offered to help find the boy, cautioning that it could take at least ten days. Bascom agreed but would keep Cochise’s family hostage until the boy was returned. At this point, Cochise and his brother, Coyuntura, pulled their knives and slashed their way out of Bascom’s tent. Cochise managed to escape.

Bascom now had six Apaches in custody, many of them related to Cochise, and he swiftly reinforced his defensive position around the camp. They readied for a long siege if necessary. The following morning a large contingent of Chiricahua Apache assembled in the distance, but after a time most dispersed, leaving a small party bearing a white flag. Bascom reciprocated with his own white handkerchief, and a warrior approached. Cochise wished to speak with Bascom so arrangements were made for a meeting. Each leader would be permitted to bring three men, all unarmed.

Cochise
While they spoke, two civilians by the name of Culver and Wallace, ignored the rules set forth and began to approach the meeting. Bascom told them to stay back, but they didn’t. Apache warriors struck and managed to drag both men into a ravine. Both sides opened fire and a battle continued throughout the day. The following day, Cochise appeared on a hill with Wallace—hands bound and a rope about his neck—and 16 stolen government mules and offered to exchange them for the Apache prisoners. Bascom agreed, but Ward’s boy also needed to be returned. No resolution could be reached.

Unbeknownst to Bascom, Cochise managed to gain three additional prisoners by attacking a train of five wagons loaded with flour eastbound for the Pinos Altos mines through the pass they all now occupied. Six Mexican teamsters had been killed during the abduction. Two of the survivors had been lashed to wagon wheels and set on fire. Cochise only spared the three white men to use as a bargaining position with Bascom. Cochise left a dictated note on a bush near Bascom’s camp stating that he would come in the following day to negotiate.

But due to the lack of cooperation of the army to exchange the prisoners, Cochise decided he would take back his people by force. He enlisted the aid of Francisco and the White Mountain Apache as well as Mangas Coloradas’s band of Mimbres Apaches. Over 200 Apache attacked two days later. Bascom’s men held them off, and for days he and his men were trapped. Reinforcements arrived and troops were sent out to scout the situation. They found the decomposed remains of Cochise’s four prisoners—Wallace and the three men taken from the attacked wagon train.

The dead were buried and talk soon turned to retribution. It was suggested that the Apache hostages be hanged in reprisal for the murders of Wallace and the three men. A Lieutenant Moore made the decision to hang the Apache prisoners, and while Bascom objected, Moore outranked him. The bodies of three warriors were left swinging to insure that Cochise saw them.

Felix Martinez, aka "Mickey Free"
The Bascom Affair, as it is known today, marked a significant turning point in relations between the Americans and the Chiricahua Apaches. It’s speculated that if Lieutenant Bascom hadn’t been duplicitous with Cochise at the outset (by keeping those Apache who accompanied him prisoner), then the outcome might have been much different. As for the abducted Ward boy, Felix Martinez did live and later became an army scout called “Mickey Free.” It’s very possible that Cochise could have obtained the boy’s freedom if Bascom had just been more patient. In the killing of his white hostages, Cochise forever changed the Apache-American relations, and the officers responsible for hanging the Apache men demonstrated that, in the end, they were no better than the savage men they condemned. This would lead to hostilities between the Chiricahua and Americans that would last for the next 25 years.





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Available at

Arizona Territory 1877

Bounty hunter Cale Walker arrives in Tucson to search for J. Howard “Hank” Carlisle at the request of his daughter, Tess. Hank mentored Cale before a falling out divided them, and a mountain lion attack left Cale nearly dead. Rescued by a band of Nednai Apache, his wounds were considered a powerful omen and he was taught the ways of a di-yin, or a medicine man. To locate Hank, Cale must enter the Dragoon Mountains, straddling two worlds that no longer fit. But he has an even bigger problem—finding a way into the heart of a young woman determined to live life as a bystander.

For two years, Tess Carlisle has tried to heal the mental and physical wounds of a deadly assault by one of her papá’s men. Continuing the traditions of her Mexican heritage, she has honed her skills as a cuentista, a storyteller and a Keeper of the Old Ways. But with no contact from her father since the attack, she fears the worst. Tess knows that to reenter Hank Carlisle’s world is a dangerous endeavor, and her only hope is Cale Walker, a man unlike any she has ever known. Determined to make a journey that could lead straight into the path of her attacker, she hardens her resolve along with her heart. But Cale makes her yearn for something she vowed she never would—love.


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Kristy McCaffrey has been writing since she was very young, but it wasn’t until she was a stay-at-home mom that she considered becoming published. She’s the author of several historical western romances, all set in the American southwest. She lives in the Arizona desert with her husband, two chocolate labs, and whichever of their four teenaged children happen to be in residence. Sign up for her monthly newsletter or visit her website for more info.

4 comments:

  1. I never knew about this chunk of very interesting history. Great research, Kristy.

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    1. Thanks Sarah! I appreciate you stopping by.

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  2. Could it be determined then that the Bascom affair that triggered a 25 year war was indirectly caused by Colonel Morrison, rather than Bascom, which all the blame seems to rest?

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    1. Dear Anonymous,
      It's certainly something to consider.

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