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From Cochise to Geronimo: The Chiricahua Apaches 1874–1886

by Edwin R. Sweeney, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2010, $39.95.

 Ed Sweeney’s earlier books on the Chiricahua tribal leaders Cochise and Mangas Coloradas already assured his place as one of the leading authorities on Apaches, following in the footsteps of such influential trailblazers as Dan Thrapp and Eve Ball. This new offering merely seals the deal, though in a big way—From Cochise to Geronimo runs 706 pages. “I see this volume as the third part of a trilogy, an extension of my earlier books,” Sweeney says in his introduction. Mangas Coloradas died in 1863 and Cochise in 1874, and now come the Chiricahuas’ difficult years at the San Carlos Reservation in southeastern Arizona, a period that features breakouts (the last one in May 1885), raids in the Southwest and the seemingly one-sided military campaigns by the U.S. Army to track down renegade Apaches.

Sweeney writes that “the Victorio War of 1879–80 was a direct product of this ill-conceived government policy of concentration” at reviled San Carlos. So Victorio plays a large role in this final entry of the trilogy, but so do Naiche (son of Cochise) and Mangas (son of Mangas Coloradas), who each participated in several breakouts; important leaders such as Nana, Juh, Chatto and Chihuahua; and, of course, Geronimo, a follower of Mangas Coloradas and associate of Cochise who came to overshadow all other Apaches in the minds of the general public. Sweeney elected not to center the book on Geronimo or any other single leader this time around because “the Chiricahuas lacked a dominant tribal chief after Cochise’s death.” For those who can’t get enough of Geronimo—a ringleader in the final breakout and the subject of a mammoth pursuit by U.S. soldiers and their Apache scouts until his September 1886 surrender— there is more good news: Prolific Western historian Robert Utley is writing a Geronimo biography.

The 1880s military campaigns of Generals George Crook and Nelson Miles throughout the Southwest (and extending into the Sierra Madres of Mexico) have gotten plenty of attention in books and articles. Sweeney looks at those goings-on largely from the Chiricahua point of view, using their actual words wherever possible. He relies more on oral history (much more of it is available for the years after 1870) than he did in his first two books and gets much valuable information from the Morris Edward Opler Papers, recently made available at Cornell University. Opler (1907– 96) was an anthropologist who wrote the classic An Apache Life-Way (1941). The bottom line, in Sweeney’s view, is that the Apaches after Cochise were resisting as a last resort to save their way of life and avoid punishment by the military and that this final clash could have been avoided if the government “had simply been more attentive to the needs of the Chiricahuas.”


Originally published in the June 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here