- From Cochise to Geronimo: The Chiricahua Apaches, 1874–1886
In his latest book, Edwin R. Sweeney, an authority on Apache history, takes the reader once more to the deserts and mountains of the Southwest borderlands. This time he has tackled what is arguably one of the most captivating episodes in the history of U.S.-indigenous conflicts, the last Apache Wars. Chronologically organized, the chapters start with the last years and death of the influential Chiricahua leader Cochise and end with the famous surrender of Geronimo and the forced removal of all Chiricahuas to Florida as prisoners of war in 1886. The epilogue briefly describes the further sufferings of the imprisoned Chiricahuas. In all, this is a story of conquest, resistance, and survival. The Chiricahuas lost their homelands and approximately half of their population in a matter of few years after the federal government’s concentration policy in the mid-1870s forced them to the hated San Carlos, to which many refused to go and others declined to stay. Together with the long-lasting conflict between the Chiricahuas and Mexicans, Apache suspicions towards Anglos born from past wrongs, and white racial prejudice, this disastrous policy—and subsequent government inflexibility—fuelled a cycle of violence. The Southwest witnessed a series of Apache outbreaks, raiding, U.S. offensives —including the army’s invasion into the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico in 1883—and often failed Chiricahua attempts at reservation life.
This book is clearly a sequel to Sweeney’s previous works Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief (University of Oklahoma Press, 1991) and Mangas Coloradas: Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches (University of Oklahoma Press, 1998). Taken together, Sweeney’s trilogy constitutes a first-class political and military history of the Chiricahua Apaches and their conflicts with Mexico and the United States during the nineteenth century. Much like in his earlier studies, Sweeney again delivers a skilful narrative filled with details and based on thorough knowledge of archival sources. The author has combed through an impressive stack of original sources, including oral materials, government documents, and manuscript collections from numerous archives.
Although the writing is often passionate and fluent, and the author’s command of his subject is apparent on every page, the book is not without its problems. For one, the text, at 581 pages, could have benefited from some trimming. On one hand, so many pages bring value to the book as the author has been able to dig deep into his topic; to show how complex sequences of events unfolded and to uncover the choices of different players (civilian agents, military men, Apache leaders). On the other hand, the habit of describing how events unfolded and what people did on a day-to-day basis can make for an engaging story, but too many unnecessary details can confuse the casual reader and leave the academic reader yearning for more analysis. While the author’s focus is very thorough, it is [End Page 315] also unfortunately rather narrow. There is little effort to connect the U.S./Mexico-Chiricahua wars to their global context, meaning other colonial conflicts around the world, or to explain local social and political developments in the borderlands between 1874 and 1886. The railroads, the Tombstone mining boom, and the rapid expansion of cattle ranching on Arizona ranges connected the area to the industrialized global market economy and had multiple impacts on the U.S.-Chiricahua wars.
Despite its shortcomings, this book is a must for anyone interested in Apache history, the frontier army, U.S.-indigenous wars, and the history of the Southwest. It is most appealing to those who like their history chronologically organized, action-packed, detailed, and filled with interesting characters.