The Apaches after the Mexican-American War

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At the start of the Mexican-American War in 1846, many Apache bands promised U.S. soldiers safe passage through their land. When the U.S. claimed the former frontier territories of Mexico in 1848, Mangas Coloradas signed a peace treaty, respecting them as conquerors of the Mexicans’ land.

An uneasy peace between the Apache and the now citizens of the United States held until an influx of gold miners into the Santa Rita Mountains of present day Arizona, led to conflict. In 1851, near the Piños Altos mining camp Mangas was attacked by a group of miners who tied him to a tree and severely beat him. Similar incidents continued in violation of the treaty, leading to Apache reprisals. Another significant incident was the Battle of Cieneguilla in 1854. The battle of Cieneguilla resulted in the Battle of Ojo Caliente Canyon during the same Apache campaign. Later in 1854, a small U.S. Cavalry force defeated an overwhelming force of Lipan Apaches at the Battle of the Diablo Mountains in southern Texas.

In December 1860, thirty miners launched a surprise attack on an encampment of Bedonkohes Apaches on the west bank of the Mimbres River. According to historian Edwin R. Sweeney, the miners “…killed four Indians, wounded others, and captured thirteen women and children.” Retaliation by the Apache again followed, with raids against U.S. citizens and property.

In early February 1861 a band of unidentified natives stole cattle and kidnapped the stepson of rancher John Ward near Sonoita, Arizona and Ward immediately sought redress from the nearby U.S. Army. Lieutenant George N. Bascom was dispatched and John Ward accompanied the detail. Bascom set out for a meeting with Cochise near Apache Pass and the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach station to secure the cattle and Ward’s son. Cochise was unaware of the theft and kidnapping, but offered to seek those responsible.

Bascom was unsatisfied and accused Cochise of personal involvement. Bascom then falsely imprisoned Cochise and a group of family members that accompanied him to the negotiations inside his tent. Cochise was angered by the accusations and his imprisonment and slashed his way from the tent and escaped. Cochise decided upon an equivocal response and took a member of the stage coach station hostage after an exchange of gunfire during further failed negotiations.

Bascom remained unwilling to conduct an exchange and Cochise and his party opted to kill the members of a passing Mexican wagon train. An unsuccessful ambush was then made on a Butterfield Overland stagecoach. Negotiations between Bascom and Cochise remained at an impasse, while Bascom sent for reinforcements. Cochise, realizing the situation was becoming untenable, decided to kill his remaining captive from the Butterfield Station and abandon negotiations. Upon the advise of military surgeon Dr. Bernard Irwin, Bascom replied by killing the Apache hostages in his custody. The short incident became known as the “Bascom Affair” and while a small affair, initiated another eleven years of open warfare between American settlers, the U.S. and C.S. Armies and the Apaches.