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May 2, 2014

Cochise Stronghold in Dragoon Mountains has rich history

A hiker and his dog set out for adventure in the Dragoon Mountains. Pets are welcome, if leashed.

The current weather conditions make this an ideal time for hiking. A good location is Cochise Stronghold, located in the Dragoon Mountains, with canyons and trails thick with vegetation and oaks. At an elevation of 5,000 feet with granite domes and cliffs rising high above the floors of the canyons, the trails vary in length and difficulty. The stronghold is on the Douglas Ranger District, Coronado National Forest.

Camp at Cochise Stronghold

Those who like to camp might enjoy a stay at Cochise Stronghold before the summer heat arrives. The campground is located in a rugged canyon that served the famous Apache Indian leader, Cochise, as a refuge against his enemies. When entering the East Stronghold Canyon, you pass in the shadow of rocks that likely served the Apache warrior as perches for his lookouts. The haunting shapes into which the forces of nature have carved those rocks helps make a visit to this charismatic place an unforgettable experience.

Campsites are shaded by oaks and surrounded by a diverse community of vegetation that includes plants of both the Upper Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert. To help a visitor become better acquainted with this unusual environment, the Stronghold Nature Trail follows a 0.4 mile barrier-free loop that wanders among the yucca, cactus and rocks.

This short, easy stroll provides a self-guided introduction to a number of desert plants as well as some of the principles of desert ecology. It also provides good views of the rocks that form the ramparts of the Stronghold. A barrier-free history trail in the campground tells of the area’s colorful past.

Those who would like to retrace the steps of this area’s historic residents even deeper into their nearly impenetrable refuge may choose to follow the Cochise Trail past dozens of rock formations as it makes its way across the Dragoons to West Stronghold Canyon and the Council Rocks historic area.

Area was home of Chiricahua Apache

In addition to being a much enjoyed hiking and camping area, it’s easy to understand why the Stronghold was a bastion for the Chiricahua Apache.

Historically, the Stronghold has strong ties to southeastern Arizona as it was the home of eastern Chiricahua Apache Chief Cochise for about 15 years in the mid 1800s. Cochise, along with about a thousand of his followers, of whom 250 were warriors, used this natural, rugged terrain as their home base. With sentinels standing watch on the towering pinnacles of rock, Cochise and his people could live without fear of ambush. Conversely, any enemies stalking Cochise could easily be seen and, without warning, be attacked.

The Cochise Trail connects East and West Cochise Stronghold.

The Cochise Trail connects East and West Cochise Stronghold.

While historians disagree on many of the details, it is well chronicled that the Bascom Affair was considered the detonator that launched the Apache Wars and the decades of raiding, looting, and killing. Until this incident, Cochise had been cooperative, if not friendly, with the soldiers and the settlers.

In early 1861, Apache raided the ranch of John Ward at Sonoita Creek, kidnapping his stepson and stealing his livestock. When Ward rode to Fort Buchanan and advised the commanding officer of the raid and the kidnapping, Lt. George Bascom was dispatched to locate the child and punish the raiders.

Bascom was inexperienced and, some believe, determined to make a name for himself in the military. As history played out, his inexperience and zeal changed the dynamics of the southwest for decades to come.

Bascom had decided the Chiricahua Apache had kidnapped the boy and demanded to meet with Cochise. The chief, suspicious of Bascom’s intent, arrived at the meeting at Apache Pass with his brother and several relatives. When Cochise denied involvement in the raid and kidnapping, Bascom doubted Cochise’s honesty and had him and his family held hostage. Cochise escaped and attacked a Butterfield stage which then led Bascom to have Cochise’s relatives and other Apache hostages hanged.

In retaliation for the hangings, Cochise set upon a decade-long course of bloodshed and violence by attacking, raiding, and killing soldiers, ranchers and settlers. Bascom’s actions also drove Cochise to join forces with his father-in-law, Apache Chief Mangas Coloradas, in order to exact revenge. The two warriors struck an alliance, agreeing to drive all settlers and “white” people out of Apache Territory.

When Mangas Coloradas was captured and killed by U.S. Army soldiers in 1863, Cochise became Chiricahua Apache Chief. He renewed his resistance to settlers, ranchers and soldiers by aggressively attacking and raiding for nearly 10 years.

In 1872, with the help of his only trusted white friend, Thomas Jeffords, Cochise negotiated a new treaty which allowed him and his people to stay on their homeland. Cochise died in 1874 and is purportedly buried in his beloved fortress, Cochise Stronghold. The exact location has never been revealed nor located since.

For more information about Cochise Stronghold and other Cochise County and Sierra Vista area attractions, visit the Sierra Vista Visitor Center located in the Oscar Yrun Community Center at 3020 E. Tacoma Street, call 417.6960 or go to the Coronado National Forest website http://mbreiding.us/ert/Arizona/Rincons/coronado/www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/forest/recreation/camping/sites/cochise_stronghold.




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