The Black Legend: George Bascom, Cochise, and the Start of the Apache Wars by Doug Hocking
With nearly three hundred years of history to investigate the Apache-Spanish-Mexican-American conflict, many historians choose to write about the Bascom Affair of February 1861, that seminal point of ignition of warfare between the Apaches and the United States. Author Doug Hocking is no different. In his follow-up to his award-winning biography, Tom Jeffords: Friend of Cochise, his The Black Legend: George Bascom, Cochise, and the Start of the Apache Wars seeks to overturn decades of published conclusions that Lt. George N. Bascom single-handedly caused the Apache Wars of 1861–1886. Hocking states emphatically in the acknowledgements: "He [Bascom] did nothing wrong and was neither a drunk nor a pig-headed fool as some accounts would have us believe" (p. viii).
The Black Legend represents Hocking's lifetime of interest and investigation—much of it by four-wheel drive and along the tracks and trails of Cochise County's backcountry—into the infamous events and individuals that led to Bascom's fateful encounter with Cochise and his [End Page 219] Chokonen band at Apache Pass. Hocking, well versed in the historiography and scholarship of the well-chronicled Cochise kidnapping and ensuing bloody and unmerciful conflict, carefully lays out his thesis for Bascom's exoneration with the primary sources to back his conclusions. "The memorable story has stayed in the popular imagination, fed by rumors that a stupid lieutenant started the Cochise War. … The only problem with this story is that, apart from the names, none of it is true," Hocking states (p. 3). He continues, "The version of the story began with a soldier, Captain Reuben Bernard, who returned to Arizona in the final months of 1868 to find that he was the only one left out of all of the soldiers who been there in 1861, when the incident at Apache Pass occurred" (p. 3).
Scholars, students, and those new to the history of the U.S. military–Indian conflict in the Southwest will equally appreciate Hocking's detailed and highly informational illustrations, historical and modern photographs, appendices, biographical index, maps, endnotes, and bibliography. The author's thoroughness in providing such well-organized research material in defense of his conclusions on Bascom and the Apache War will cement The Black Legend as one of the most informative and important volumes on the American-Apache conflict ever published. Hocking very succinctly lays out his research on his sources, which should lead to additional research on the topic. As he writes, "For the confrontation between Bascom and Cochise, we have available the two reports made by Bascom himself, a report by Lieutenant Isaiah Moore, an account by Surgeon John Irwin, one by Superintendent William Buckley of the Overland Mail, and by William Oury, station keeper in Tucson, as well as contemporary newspaper accounts," Hocking states. "We also have two accounts by Sergeant, later Captain, Daniel Robinson, and these are lucid, detailed, and complete. These accounts are in substantial agreement, differing only in minor details concerning information to which a particular individual did not have direct access but learned from others. … The accounts are straightforward, and there is no indication of cover-up" (p. 15).
I am hopeful Hocking will follow up Tom Jeffords and The Black Legend with a third book on the Apache War with space to analyze in greater detail the relationship between General O. O. Howard and Cochise, which led to the 1872 peace treaty and the ensuing four years of peace between the Chokonen Apaches and the Americans.
Will all agree with Hocking's conclusion on Bascom? Most likely not, but it will be difficult for naysayers to disprove them because of his use of the primary source material of Sgt. Daniel Robinson and army surgeon Bernard J. D. Irwin. As Hocking states succinctly, "when [End Page 220] a former sergeant told the tale with himself as the hero and Lieutenant George Bascom as the man who started a war with the always friendly Cochise, the story took hold and has stayed with us for 150 years" (p. 13). Yet, only time will tell if Bascom's reputation is restored because, as most historians know, the black shadow of a legend is nearly impossible to erase from popular culture, even when the facts emerge later to enlighten the record with the clarity of the noonday sun.
STUART ROSEBROOK is the editor of True West magazine. He has a PhD in history from Arizona State University and resides in Iowa City, Iowa.