Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief.

Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief. – book reviews

L.G. Moses

Edwin R. Sweeney has written a fairly straightforward, conventional history of Indian-white relations that does double duty as Indian biography. With the close of the war with Mexico, the United States acquired the homelands of a people known collectively as Apaches. Apacheria encompassed many bands in many locations. According to Sweeney, the Apache “were a warlike and nomadic people who roamed the Southwest” (3). He only rarely wanders, however, from the well-trod path of archival sources in the United States and Mexico (primarily microfilm collections housed in U.S. repositories). The author has conducted extensive if not exhaustive research using such traditional sources. It is therefore not a biography based on ethnohistorical sources, but a biography reconstructed from official correspondence.

Cochise of the Chiricahua is described as a powerful chieftain who lived and prospered by war. He was an accomplished orator and an honorable person, though it is an honor according to his own standards, “which were not those of a sophisticated civilization, but, rather, of a tribal society” (xiii). Sweeney has attempted to remain scrupulously objective in his treatment of the Chiricahuas and their leader. Yet would it be fair to describe Euroamerican civilization in New Mexico (and later Arizona) Territory during the second half of the nineteenth century as sophisticated even in a relative sense? Perhaps readers should appreciate both the strength and weakness of this work: the author strives constantly to present all sides to the story, but frequently the Chiricahua viewpoint is absent or buried beneath cliches.

The tone of the work often echoes the biases of the sources – maybe an older style of writing Native American history and biography. In this fashion, the Apaches become a proud, warrior people; Cochise their fearsome chief. Cochise is nonetheless portrayed as a remarkable leader of unusual ability and influence who played a significant role in Chiricahua history between 1830 and 1874. Nevertheless, “[l]ike many Apaches, Cochise was not averse to a good drunk” (xvii). Having written thus, the author observes that on the whole, Cochise “seems to have performed better than any other Apaches” (xxiii). Would the author have been willing to write such a statement were his subject of Euroamerican or Mexican ancestry? Such statements are bound to give ethnohistorians pause. Still, readers will enjoy a work of synthesis and remarkable detail. It may not be the epic of deceit, “machismo,” terror, despair, and heroics so trumpeted on the dust jacket (including “Hollywood should love it”), but it is a creditable reconstruction of U.S.-Chiricahua relations for much of the nineteenth century.

COPYRIGHT 1993 Phi Alpha Theta, History Honor Society, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group