On October 14, 1872, Chief Cochise of the Chiricahua Apaches and General Oliver O. Howard of the United States Army signed a peace treaty. This was to end the fighting between the Chiricahua and the Whiteman. The Chiricahua Reservation was established on December 14, 1972. By Executive Order 3,100 square miles in the Dragoon Mountains were given to the Chiricahua.
*Photo By Mike Griffin
Cochise died on the reservation on June 7, 1874 and his oldest son, Tahza, became the hereditary chief over this vast domain with its population of 2,500 Chiricahua Apaches. In the summer of 1876, John Philip Clum, over the strong objections of the Dragoon Indian Agent, Tom Jeffords, invaded the Dragoon Reservation with scouts and cavalry to force the Chiricahui (the plural form of Chiricahua) to leave their reservation and home-land and to move to his adjacent San Carlos Reservation. His effort was less than half successful. Over a thousand Chiricahua Apaches eluded his efforts. Clum was eventually able to roundup a little over a thousand of Tahza’s followers and march them to San Carlos. The above is recorded history available from a number of sources.
What is not generally known is that Tahza and Tom Jeffords skillfully arranged for Tahza’s family clan, of 38, to disappear under the leadership of his young wife, Nod-Ah-Sti, and an old medicine man, De-O-Det. The clan’s names were lost when Tom Jeffords resigned as Indian agent of the Chiricahua Reservation in protest of the United States Government’s breaking of the treaty. The names of the clan were not entered onto military records, or if they were, they were lost, presumably because the military did not want to admit that any Indians had escaped during the forced march to San Carlos.
Tahza and 20 Apaches accompanied Clum to Washington to be interviewed by President Grant two months after the relocation. Tahza caught pneumonia, died, and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery. Clum returned to San Carlos and tried to explain the death of their chief to the Chiricahua Apaches. Naiche, the younger brother of Tahza, became totally enraged and with a number of embittered warriors bolted the reservation. This outbreak began the Geronimo Wars which lasted for ten years, until 1886.
Stories of the Geronimo Wars and those who fought them have been written and rewritten, times without number, by many different authors, each of whom felt they had something new to add or a different angle from which to view the alterations. Singularly missing from these writings is the story of what happened to those 38 nameless ones who fled the Whiteman’s rule on that forgotten day in 1876.
The young wife of Tahza, Nod-Ah-Sti, carried their two-year-old child with her when the family clan rode south into the Sierra Madres of Mexico. Their destination was Pa-Gotzin-Kay (Stronghold Mountain of Paradise) a small hanging bench of land situated deep in the Mother Mountains of Old Mexico. It was bounded on the west by a sheer drop-off into the Nacozari Canyon. On the eastern side was an amber escarpment that tilted upward until it reached the forested, snow-capped ridge that is the spine of that great mountain range. This spine divides the incredible depth of the Bavispe Barranca and the headwaters of the raging Yaqui River. Both ends of the bench were pinched off by boulder slides that prevented entrance by any animal without wings. The trail into Pa-Gotzin-Kay was a winding tangle of ledges wide enough only for sure-footed mountain horses and even they were at perpetual risk as a misstep could result in a disastrous fall. Pa-Gotzin-Kay was a natural fortress. The bench was fertile land with abundant water and trees.
Here on this shelf of fertile red land, the clan arrived. They had eaten little other than cactus fruit, having nothing in the way of weapons other than belt knives. Once at Pa-Gotzin-Kay they made bows and arrows, rabbit sticks, lances and clubs. They were able to kill game. Small game until the bows cured, then deer and mountain sheep fell to their arrows and they ate well. Years passed and the young son of Tahza became chief of the forgotten band of Apache People. He was called Ciye “Nino” Cochise. Incredibly, the band discovered a rich vein of gold. One of the braves found a white prospector by the name of Jim Ticer and brought him to the hidden sanctuary. He lived with the band for a time and supervised the mining ,operation, then took some of the raw gold, went into Magdalena, Mexico and returned with a smelting pot. After this, the gold mine produced bars of gold.
During the first several years at Pa-Gotzin-Kay, the band lived in virtual solitude. Finally, under the wise leadership of Nino Cochise, they started making trips to Tucson and some of the Mexican towns where they trade gold for coffee, tea, flour, guns, ammunition, bolts of cloth, vegetable seeds, and other goods. When on these buying trips, they dressed and spoke Mexican, because an Apache off the reservation was considered a renegade and was arrested and sent to a reservation or shot on site. The gold made it possible for the band to attain a far more stable and comfortable life.
The Chiricahua Apache band of Nino Cochise did not make war on the whites. Nino, as well as his mother, Nod-Ah-Sti, and the old medicine man, De-O-Det, knew that to do so would bring the United States Cavalry to the sanctuary, and those at Pa-Gotzin-Kay wished only to be left alone to live their lives in peace. They hunted, farmed, mined their gold, and lived in harmony with the American ranchers, including John Slaughter and Buck Green, who also had holdings in Mexico.
The Apache scouts of General Crook knew of Pa-Gotzin-Kay and the people who lived there. Mickey Free, the famous half-breed scout, was a frequent visitor as were Geronimo and many bronco Apaches. The Apache scouts promised never to reveal the whereabouts or even the existence of Pa-Gotzin-Kay to the general or his command. If Crook ever knew of the Apache stronghold, he wisely elected to let sleeping Apaches lie. The trail into the sanctuary was always guarded and for cavalry to mount an attack up that narrow, twisting ribbon of death, would have meant nothing less than suicide.
Some of Nino’s warriors were hired as cowboys by John Slaughter. The Mexican State of Sonora levied unfair and excessive taxes on the American ranchers who had no recourse other than to fight the Mexican Army. Slaughter enlisted the help of Nino Cochise whose warriors kept him posted as to the whereabouts of Mexican troops. John Slaughter, Buck Green, and the other ranchers had many hard-fighting cowboys, and with the help of Nino, they were able to keep their cattle and holdings in Mexico. Because of this alliance the knowledge of the Apache band at Pa-Gotzin-Kay became more generally known to the outside world. Still, they were left alone by both the Mexican and United States authorities. The cowboys and Indians, at least in this case, became strong allies.
The same Sonoran tax collectors that had harassed John Slaughter drove a band of over 300 Tarahumari Indians into the Sierra Madre because they had no gold to pay their taxes. The Tarahumari sought refuge with Nino and received his help. Soon they were living at Pa-Gotzin-Kay. The gold mine again made it possible for Nino to feed hungry mouths. The Apache band shared what they had with the new arrivals and Nino sent a party to Tucson to barter for more food and goods. For many years the Tarahumari and Apache band lived at Pa-Gotzin-Kay. Nino married the Golden Bird, the daughter of the Tarahumari Chief. They had no children, as Nino’s wife was killed by Mexican cavalry during a battle with Nino’s warriors.
As the years passed, many members of the band left Pa-Gotzin-Kay to live in the outside world. Finally, Nino himself accepted employment first as a body guard for a wealthy mine owner from Magdalena, Mexico. He soon found himself in California where he worked in the movie industry, but finding the film industry not to his liking, he learned to fly a plane and even did some crop dusting. Nino lived to be over a hundred years old and counted among his friends many of the greats of Hollywood, as well as President Teddy Roosevelt. He made the transition from bronco Apache to a respected member of white society, learned to fly a plane, and even saw astronauts walk on the moon. A. Kenny Griffith who wrote his biography called Nino Cochise “The most outstanding male Indian I have ever met.” No doubt! The genes of leadership run strong in the Chiricahui.
*Written by late great town historian Jinx Pyle
For more history visit www.discovergilacounty.com/history