BELOW THE RIM
Coronado, San Xavier del Bac, Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Fort Bowie, Cochise Stronghold, Buffalo Soldiers,
Geronimo, Tombstone, China Mary, Pancho Villa, Chiricahua Mountains, Willcox, Amerind,
At first glance it isn't much. An Interstate highway runs through it. Four straight lines form its boundaries. Only about 100,000 people live there in whistlestop towns with names like Willcox, Benson and Douglas.
If you're in a hurry, the barren scene outside your car window will offer you little reason to stop. Mountains on the horizon appear to have been swept off of the desert prairies, along with all signs of life.
But, Cochise County in Southeast Arizona is among the most historically significant crossroads of cultures in the United States. Most of it's residents today are Anglos employed in agriculture, though the land has been home to many diverse peoples.
When Spanish conqueror Francisco Vasquez de Coronado entered what is now the modern Southern boundary of the United States, at a point along the San Pedro River in Cochise County, Indians inhabited and cared for the land. Yaquis and Pimas farmed the valleys in Southern Arizona, while Apaches followed the seasons high up in the mountain ranges that resemble "Islands in the Sky".
Coronado sought mineral riches, of which the tribes had little. He moved his Conquistadors north toward the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola. As he passed through the San Pedro Valley looking for Indian villages layered with gold, Coronado couldn't imagine the precious metals under the surface that would one day bring countless fortune hunters and the giant company mines.
The Conquistadors moved through in 1540, less than two decades after Spain conquered the Aztec and Incan Empires. The route they followed into Northern Arizona and New Mexico, killing Indians suspected of misleading the foreigners, or hiding gold from them, became Route 666, originating in Cochise County. Today it is the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway through the Apache National Forest.
The Coronado National Memorial features a commemorative museum at the site along the Rio San Pedro where it is believed Coronado entered the present-day U.S. boundary.
Missionaries provided support for continued Spanish exploration, and worked to Christianize the Indians. They established missions in the Santa Cruz Valley, between Nogales and Tucson. The Pimas revolted against the Jesuit missions in 1751 (much as the Pueblo Indians had revolted against the Spanish church in Northern New Mexico in 1680), causing the Spanish to build the presidio of Tubac, and later Tucson.
The Spanish Baroque mission San Xavier del Bac, built from 1783 to 1797, was built in place of a Jesuit mission destroyed in the revolt. Today, it is in use by Papago Indians.
Father Eusebio Francisco Kino visited the Pima village of Tumacacori in 1691. The Jesuit mission San Jose de Tumacacori was constructed between 1800 and 1822, which remains today as a National Historical Park.
The extreme Southeast corner of Arizona is named for Cochise, Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, who, more than 300 years after Coronado, witnessed the precursors of Westward expansion of the United States and the devastation of the Apaches. The mountains bear the name of his people. From high up in the Chiricahuas, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts are visible. Apaches traversed the vast deserts as they migrated from their mountain homes to their protected strongholds.
The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ended the United States' War with Mexico in 1848. Extreme Southern Arizona, including the Chiricahua homeland, became part of the United States with the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, leaving Mexican ranchers in the territory under a new government.
In the same year, Tennessean William Walker attempted to claim more of the states of Mexico when he declared himself President of the Western Sonoran lands. The "Gray-eyed Man of Destiny" was only one of the growing number of American zealots who believed in Manifest Destiny.
The Butterfield Overland Stage opened a Southwest route to California, passing South of the Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas and through the Chiricahua Mountains near vital springs in Apache Pass. Cornelius Vanderbilt's Southern Pacific Railroad soon followed.
Fort Bowie was built at the Northern edge of the Chiricahua Mountains in 1862 to protect the Westward traffic. Its location near Apache Springs provided the fort with water, and prevented the Indians from drinking the water. Geronimo's captured son is buried in the fort cemetery.
Under Cochise the Apaches sought peace with the outsiders, but following an incident at Apache Springs where Cochise was arrested, the Apaches took up arms against the U.S. military, and the Mexican army as well.
The world was changing all around the Chiricahuas, while Cochise resisted the sale and development of the Apache territory. Americans were eager to get their hands on the new lands which many believed God gave them following the War with Mexico. Mormons were creating a state which they hoped would one day include a port at Los Angeles. A Mormon Battalion had raised a flag over Tucson as early as 1846. Kit Carson had brought the Navajo and Northern Apache bands under U.S. Government control and relocated them to Fort Sumner, New Mexico in 1862. The U.S. Cavalry was under pressure to end the Apache raids on stage coaches and railroad crews so that Anglo settlement could begin.
The Cochise Stronghold lies in the Dragoon Mountains West of the Chiricahua Mountains. Chief Cochise and about 1,000 of his followers took up defense in the natural fortress. Cochise was known as a great strategist and lost no battles to the superior resources and weapons of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry during his lifetime. After ten years of fighting the U.S. and Mexico, Cochise agreed to peace in 1872. Upon his death in 1874, Cochise was buried in the Stronghold, his gravesite unknown today.
Little activity took place in Cochise County before the death of the Apache leader. It wasn't considered safe as the U.S. Cavalry hadn't subdued the Chiricahua Apaches, even though most neighboring tribes were being indoctrinated into the reservation system. Few ranchers and prospectors settled the land. Tombstone wasn't a thriving community until the 1880s.
The Buffalo Soldiers, the Black regiment of the 9th Cavalry stationed at Fort Huachuca from 1875 to 1890, were instrumental in defeating the Apaches. Along with the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers stationed in West Texas, they were frequently called on to pursue renegade bands into Mexico and participated in a campaign against "Pancho" Villa.
Fourteen Buffalo Soldiers were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor.
Geronimo saw more drastic change in his homeland than anyone before him.
In their own language, Indian tribes usually refer to themselves as "The People". The Navajo call themselves as "Dine", or "The People". The same is true of the "He-mish", who the Spanish named "Jemez". By 1883 the Chiricahuas referred to themselves as "Indeh", or "The Dead".
It was that year that General George Crook was called on to round up Chiricahuas that had fled the reservation and headed for the Sierra Madre in Mexico. Crook had fought against Apaches in the early 1870s and against the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne in 1876, and knew the only way to find and capture the Chiricahuas was to employ other Apaches on his side. With the promise of improved conditions on the reservation, 193 Western Apaches went with Crook and fewer than 50 U.S. Soldiers to arrest the Chiricahuas, who were engaged in fighting the Mexican army.
Geronimo fled the reservation numerous times, as he did in 1885 with Natchez, Mangus Colorados, Chihuahua and Nana, along with 134 others. General Crook, from his Fort Bowie command post, vowed to ship the renegades on the railroad to a prison camp in Florida. Geronimo's final surrender came in 1886 in the Peloncillo Mountains, near the present Arizona/New Mexico boundary. He lived the remainder of his life in Florida and at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Tombstone was founded by a immigrant prospector, Edward L. Schieffelin, who set out from Fort Huachuca in 1879. Having been warned he would find "nothing else but his tombstone," he discovered silver ore and named the site Tombstone. Mining accelerated in 1887, one year after Geronimo's surrender. Tombstone became a mining boomtown with a population of more than 5,000 fortune seekers. 110 liquor licenses were issued in 1892 and Tombstone quickly became the place of Western folklore and fact. Several historic buildings still stand, including the Crystal Palace Saloon and the Bird Cage Theater, it's walls riddled with 140 bullet holes.
Tombstone is most known for it's notorious residents, legends such as John Heath and Wyatt Earp.
The Tombstone Epitaph, a sensational frontier newspaper, chronicled much of the town's history beginning in 1880 with a balance of wit and credibility.
The Tombstone Courthouse dispensed Western justice from 1882 until it's closing in 1929, and remains much today as it was then. It is a State Historic Park featuring interesting exhibits on frontier life and history.
The O.K. Corral, site of the most famous Western gun battle, is located at the corner of Freemont and Allen Street.
Boothill Cemetery, just outside of town, is the final resting place of 250 people, most of their deaths having been unnatural.
Tombstone's China Town was run by Mrs. Ah Lum, "China Mary", who, as her grave marker reads, was "Born in China, Died in Tombstone Dec. 6, 1906, Aged 67 Years." As many as 500 Chinese lived in Tombstone, operating businesses and working in the mines following their release from railroad construction in the 1870s.
China Mary, with her connections in China, imported opium, kept a stable of servants who were guaranteed not to steal, and took in the injured, poor and down-and-out.
Nearby Bisbee was the site of a copper discovery in 1875. It became famous for it's rich Queen Mine and later the Lavendar Open-pit Copper Mine operated by Phelps-Dodge. Immigrants came from as far away as Russia, Poland, Serbia and Croatia to exploit the mineral riches. With more than 300 Serbian families came Christmas on January 7, as designated by the old calendar. The Badnji Dan celebration was a pleasant cure for the working community's withdrawal and return to work following the colorful and festive Mexican traditions of the Christmas Fiesta.
During the Mexican Revolution, the Southern Pacific railroad facilitated the transfer of General Coranza's troops to Southeast Arizona, giving him a decisive advantage over Francisco "Pancho" Villa. Feeling betrayed by Woodrow Wilson, on March 9, 1916 the Villistas attacked Columbus, New Mexico just before dawn, killing 18.
General "Black Jack" Pershing led an expedition into Mexico following the attack. Almost one year later, the last mounted cavalry action, which was also the first military campaign to use motorized vehicles, returned with no arrests and no sightings of the Mexican Revolutionary Hero.
The ruins of Camp Furlong are now Pancho Villa State Park. The quiet Mexican town of Palomas rests just across the border.
Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson settled in the Silver Spur Meadow of Bonita Canyon at a site they called Faraway Ranch. Today it is the gateway to the "Wonderland of Rocks". The ranch, operated as a guest house, was instrumental in the establishment of the Chiricahua National Monument in 1924.
Visitors can hike the Chiricahua National Monument among tall spires and through rugged canyons created by volcanic activity and 25 million years of wind and rain. Many of the park's excellent trails were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression.
Chiricahua Peak and Flys Peak in the Chiricahua Wilderness reach nearly 10,000 feet. The range is imposing when viewed from surrounding towns which are only a little above 4,000 feet in elevation. Late winter snow storms can swirl around the peaks making them scarcely visible for days. Black bears forage in the high elevations.
Backcountry trails follow the high saddles and ridges, and are accessible in the Coronado National Forest from Rustler Park. There are also steep access trails from lower side canyons such as Cave Creek Canyon to the East and Turkey Creek to the West.
Willcox, the site of a Southern Pacific depot in 1880, is a good access point for visiting the Chiricahuas and Cochise County. Motels in several other small towns on Interstate 10 have closed, but cattle and agriculture keep Willcox thriving. One famous resident, silver screen cowboy Rex Allen is honored with a festival each October.
The Amerind Foundation was established by William S. Fulton in 1937 to preserve Native American culture and prehistoric sites. It's museum, south of Dragoon in Texas Canyon, features exhibits for public education. Foundation-sponsored work has recovered valuable artifacts from prehistoric villages. Many interesting items in the museum come from Indian settlements which surrounded the Spanish missions.
/Stay tuned, more to come.
Continue to explore Southeast Arizona, Below the Mogollon Rim.
COMING SOON | A link to more information for travelers about Southeast Arizona, from the Mogollon Rim to the Mexico border. There will be information on several unique and somewhat obscure archeological sites in the region, including the Besh-Ba-Gowah Ruins and Casa Malpais Pueblo Site.
The report will include:
Paquime Ruins at Casas Grandes, Chih., Mexico
Besh-Ba-Gowah Archaeological Park
Salt River Canyon
White River Apache Nation
Casa Malpais Archaeological Park
To learn more about Cochise County, see the information on hiking and weather for the Chiricahua National Monument. And, see the report for nearby attractions in New Mexico on the Camino Real.
--Mark D. Lacy
Also, see the Mississippi Delta and the King's Road