The Bascom Affair
Bascom Affair is considered to be the key event in
triggering the 1860s Apache War. The Apache Wars were fought
during the nineteenth century between the U.S. military and many
tribes in the southwestern United States. The triggering
incident took place in 1861 in the area known as Arizona and New
The Bascom Affair began on January
27, 1861, when Tonto Apache Indian parties raided the ranch of
John Ward at Sonoita Creek, stealing several livestock and
kidnapping Ward's 12-year-old stepson Felix Ward. Ward
complained about the raid to the nearby military authority,
Lieutenant Colonel Morrison, the commandant of Fort Buchanan,
Arizona, who directed Lieutenant George Nicholas Bascom and a
large group of infantry to attempt to recover the boy.
Bascom and his men were unable to locate the boy or the tribe.
Bascom determined that the raid was done by Chiricahua Apache
Indians. Morrison ordered Bascom to use whatever means necessary
to punish the kidnappers and recapture the boy. Bascom, Ward,
and 54 soldiers journeyed east to the Apache Pass, arriving on
February 3, 1861, and met Sergeant Daniel Robinson, who would
accompany them for the rest of the expedition.
Bascom convinced an Indian leader named Cochise to meet with
him. Suspicious of Bascom's plans, Cochise brought with him his
brother Coyuntwa, two nephews, his wife, and his two children.
At the meeting, Cochise claimed he knew nothing of the affair.
Doubting the Indian's honesty, Bascom attempted to imprison him
and his family in a tent to be held hostage, but Cochise was
able to escape with only a leg wound.
Bascom met Cochise at Apache Pass and captured him.
Cochise escaped and Bascom captured five members of Cochise's
family in retaliation, prompting Cochise to lay ambushes and
capture four Americans whom he offered to trade for his family
On February 5, 1861, Cochise delivered a message to Bascom
pleading for the release of his family, but Bascom refused and
told Cochise that they "would be set free just so soon as the
boy was released." The following day, Cochise and a large
party of Apaches attacked a group of Americans and captured
three hostages, offering them in exchange for his family, but
Bascom maintained that he would accept nothing other than the
return of the boy and cattle. On February 7, 1861, Cochise and
his men attacked Bascom's soldiers while they were fetching
Cochise fled to Sonora. On the way,
he killed the American prisoners and left their remains to be
discovered by Bascom. Several days later, Bascom hanged
Cochise's brother and nephews before he and his soldiers began
their journey home.
The moment when Cochise discovered his brother and nephews dead
has been called the moment when the Indians (the Chiricahua in
particular) transferred their hatred of the Mexicans to the
Americans. Cochise's revenge in the form of numerous raids and
murders were the beginning of the 25-year-long Apache Wars.
The area is preserved today at Fort Bowie National Historic Site.